Given its size, the Carrboro/Chapel Hill/Durham/Raleigh area (i.e., the Triangle) is blessed musically, offering its residents a diverse menu of acts. The scene pales in comparison to New York or Philadelphia in terms of raw quantity, but I’d wager that if our metric for comparison was aural quantity per capita, then the Triangle could go punch for punch with most any city on this coast. Because of this ‘musical density,’ it seems logical that the area have a music festival; after all, Asheville has one. Now in its second year, the Raleigh, NC-based Hopscotch Music Festival has been seeking to fill that void.
In its inaugural year, the Independent Weekly, the curators of the festival, lost $50,000 on the event. Writing that off as a “gift to the musicians, to the clubs, to Raleigh, to music fans from the Triangle and all over,” the local paper doubled down and expanded the festival to 135 bands and 12 venues (up from 120 and 10, respectively). Whether the festival turned a profit this year is uncertain, but that the festival and its tertiary components were well-attended is certain. From Thursday evening through Sunday morning, Raleigh was bustling with out-of-staters and cross-Triangle residents alike. The event felt like the place to be in the Piedmont that weekend, and indeed many, myself included, had a blast in Raleigh. However, this elated feeling was seldom due to the official components of Hopscotch, which at times even frustrated and disappointed. However, I realize that much of my dismay was rooted in different strokes sentiments. I understand that many probably appreciated that they could hear Wayne Coyne projected throughout the entirety of Raleigh’s downtown on Saturday evening. My growing ire toward Rhys Chatham’s Guitar Trio was an unpopular opinion after his set. Many in fact love Merge Records. Etc. So, instead, I will focus on what I enjoyed during this September weekend.
Oneohtrix Point Never on Thursday evening. Dan Lopatin’s set was by the far the best I attended while in Raleigh. Despite the venue’s (The Pour House) clunky dimensions/acoustics and the crowd’s reticence to both approach the stage and express any reaction to OPN mid-set, Lopatin killed it. The physicality of his performance was overwhelming; he didn’t achieve a timbral nuance, but the lower tones he emitted rippled throughout every body in attendance. It was a particularly affecting set, one delightfully juxtaposed by his nonplussed laptop fiddling (a friend remarked in amazement, “He’s doing this all with a ThinkPad?”).
Later that night, after stumbling across Raleigh, I was treated to Dan Melchior Und Das Menace at White Collar Crimes, though again not because of the venue. Arriving toward the end of Xiu Xiu’s set (which was absolutely abysmal; a new lineup minus Angela and last-minute sound-checking were seemingly to blame), I was able to witness a diaspora away from what was likely the best act playing at that time. Although at first well-attended, I counted under 10 spectators by the end of Durham-residing Dan’s set; sucks to be the people who left. I had seen Dan Melchior play several times before, but never before had I been so enraptured by his set.
The remainder of my Hopscotch highlights revolved around the Day and Night parties (read: extra, free shows) on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, I once again found myself at The Pour House catching Steve Gunn and local favorite In The Year of the Pig. Gunn was joined by drummer John Truscinski, who added a primal gauze to Gunn’s primitivism. This wasn’t the first set Gunn played at Hopscotch, nor was it his last; in fact, I felt like I saw Gunn everywhere in Raleigh that weekend. I decided to skip his first set on Thursday night at Fletcher Opera House, knowing that I’d have several chances to see him play throughout the weekend. This was a recurring theme at Hopscotch: many of the musicians in Raleigh played several sets, many of which were at these free day shows — a generous offering that is a suspect business decision. In The Year of the Pig were as entertaining as always, enveloping The Pour House with their unique brand of sludge, which isn’t a simple task. For this set, I decided to spectate from the upper balcony; a band like In the Year of the Pig, whose volume matched OPN the night before, are capable of tackling the dimension of this venue, though I suspect other acts who are not heavier than a death in the family got swallowed up by the venue’s crevices.
The final joy of Hopscotch was where I spent most of Saturday, at Lump Gallery for All Day Records’ festivities. The Carrboro-based record store, just one year old, camped out at the Blount Street gallery all day and night, culling together several Hopscotch-performing acts — William Tyler, Des_Ark, Brain F≠, and, of course, Steven Gunn — as well as non-‘scotchers — Meg Baird, Secret Boyfriend, Cheveu, Extreme Animals, among others. Everything was exceedingly lovely, from the acts to the space. Although truly everything I saw at Lump was a treat, what stood out most was (disclosure alert) my good friend Secret Boyfriend’s (a.k.a. Ryan Martin) set. I’ve seen Ryan play a billion times now, even the songs he performed then, and in most circumstances they entertain me. But because they were performed in a new environment, his performance was particularly affecting. Toward the end of his set, Rymar ventured outside of the gallery and into the sea of beer-guzzling, partygoers to secrete his sensitive sounds of Carrboro, which was, to a weirdly enjoyable effect, enveloped by the din of Raleigh’s drunken streets.
Despite how much time I spent at orbiting-Hopscotch events, I am very thankful and appreciative of Independent’s festival. Although many of the acts weren’t my cuppa, #Hopscotch11 was an exciting time and a galvanizing fun-force often missing from the Triangle. And none of this would exist if it weren’t for the publication’s efforts and investments. I hope for an equally ecstatic festival next year, which will feature hip-hop that isn’t Yelawolf, some serious improv, and Sir Rick Bishop again (so my lame ass can make amends for missing his set this year).
[Photos: Julianna Thomas]