Raleigh, NC; September 6-8
From the suits of the Tech Triangle, to the heavyset bros in Wolfpack hats majoring in Agriculture, to the tattooed skinny girls with cute haircuts, to the bearded Blue Ridge mountain boys, Raleigh, NC is a schizophrenic hot mouth full of transplants, locals, and weirdos. I lived there during graduate school and could never really figure out what kind of city I lived in. Now I live in San Francisco. I hate San Francisco. I have bed bugs. It’s full of people trying too hard to BE SOMEONE, and late August/early September brings a cloud of Burning Man babble so thick you can feel the sand of bullshit in your lungs even if you’ve never been to the desert festival.
Hopscotch is nothing like Burning Man, nor is it anything like SXSW, nor is it like SF’s Noise Pop. Much like the city it takes place in, the festival is difficult to categorize or even describe, because it lacks what Burning Man or SXSW seem set out to do, which is to make a point, to posture, to make a statement. Egoless, formless, and yes, kind of messy, Hopscotch is like going home to your family who eats out at Applebee’s and plays Trivial Pursuit on Saturday nights. Sometimes your uncle wants to play metal, sometimes your mom wants nostalgic folk, sometimes your sister wants cute boys thrashing lo-fi guitars, sometimes your brother wants Atlanta rap. It is the best kind of belonging, of knowing, of loving. We’re all family. Sure, folks are there for the music — and there are “major acts” — but it’s mostly just a bunch of living rooms where everyone can hang out and get along and drink beer and sweat together. Perhaps it will change over the years as the festival gets bigger and takes more chances with experimental acts and heavily-funded big names, but for now, it is a pastiche of musical performances, like a quilt your grandmother makes to remind you of home.
Below you’ll find two takes on Hopscotch 2012, one from me (Lorian Long) and fellow TMTer, Matthew Horne.
Matthew Horne: The drive out to Hopscotch on I-40 was full of glee and merriment, promise of a rad weekend with west-end-of-the-Triangle friends (Hopscotch is seriously one of the few times Carrboro/Chapel Hill travels en masse to Raleigh) and amazing music. And the first act, a day show by Carrboro’s (and my friends’) The Human Eyes, was a refreshingly brief set of tight grooves and picture-perfect pop melodies. Unfortunately, this preliminary high was short-lived; as everyone exited King’s Barcade that afternoon, we found pouring rain and reason to hibernate until the night’s festivities began. I hate to mention the weather (actually, I don’t. I love talking about the weather), but the rain (its presence, absence, and threat) loomed over all of Hopscotch. It curtailed much of the day festivities on Thursday and threw a wrench in the City Plaza main events on Saturday.
Luckily, by 8:30, when the real deal began, the nasty weather receded and permitted safe travel without fear of wet socks and ruined hairdos. First up was the tail end of Hillsborough’s Feltbattery (a.k.a. Ben Trueblood) at the Hive. Trueblood’s table-top electro-acoustics were nifty as always, exuding a thoughtful elegance amid the distracting chatter emanating from the rear of the venue; it seemed like not-Scotchers were somehow making it into the bar through a bar entrance. Later, after gulping a few high ABV beers, I was off to the Long View Center for ex-local Chuck Johnson’s brand of American primitivism. A church on the eastern side of downtown Raleigh and a new addition to Hopscotch’s venue lineup, Long View was the ideal place for Johnson’s expansive acoustics, which ended up being one of the more memorable sets at Hopscotch this year.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t bask in Johnson’s Fahey revenants for too long, since I had to jet back over to the Hive to catch Alvarius B, who undoubtedly performed my favorite set at Hopscotch. Instead of being distracting, the din of bar chitchat heard throughout Feltbattery’s set only added to the sleazy lounge (or in my girlfriend’s words “perverted Randy Newman”) aesthetic that Alan Bishop cultivated. The second Bishop brother to perform at Hopscotch (Sir Rick performed last year; I expect Hopscotch to reanimate Charles Goucher next year for a riveting performance of Pint Sized Spartacus), Alan immediately threw down fighting words, calling everyone in North Carolina “pussies” for the state’s in-door smoking ban. Between his all-acoustic, acerbic songs, Bishop boasted such things as having trained a basketball team in China composed entirely of dwarves, who could, against the ACC, slam dunk a basketball with one hand and slap a defender with the other, all while spitting in said defender’s sibling’s cup. I’m not kidding. He actually said that. For 45 odd minutes, I was entranced by his hate and gibberish, making for one of the more entertaining performance I’ve seen in a good while.
Deciding to rotate between only two venues that night, I returned to Long View for my last meaningful set to see Julia Holter. At first, her trio (Julia on vocals and keyboard, a drummer, and cellist) had difficulties — the levels were too high, especially on the cello — but after a song or two, the mix was worked out. In general, her set mimicked my overall thoughts on her music: scattered with a few amazing tunes (in particular “In the Same Room”) and indifference. I can’t stress how fantastic “In the Same Room” sounded in Long View. However, despite my overall tepid reaction to Holter’s set, her performance did provide a soothing come-down from a day-through-night of exhausting boozing, socializing, and awesome music. Before heading to sleep, I stopped by King’s for a bit of Pictureplane, but let’s not talk about that.
Thee Oh Sees
Lorian Long: I started the day off drunk and bra-less at a day show that never happened. No sound guy. Then, we heard there wasn’t any sound guy over at CAM, the Contemporary Art and Design building, where Thee Oh Sees were supposed to end the night. Bands were pissed, club owners were apathetic, and everyone was drunk. The great thing about Raleigh in the late summer is that it is too hot to really give a fuck about anything, so the overall lethargy of the heat lent an easiness to festival goers, allowing us to continue drinking and smiling. There is a chunk of time between day shows and evening shows, which might not be the best schedule to continue with in future years, so by the time Gross Ghost went on at The Berkeley Café, I was tired, still bra-less, and bloated. I think I hoped for a repeat experience of Hopscotch’s first year, where I saw my old friends Future Islands fucking kill the opening night, but the boys of Gross Ghost delivered an overdone sound of guitar scuzz and noisy pop that sounded stale. Their performance was energetic and tight, but I wanted a knockout, not a dull reminder that most garage pop these days is recycled plastic. As frontman Matt Dillon raised his PBR to toast the audience, I walked out in search of something different.