IN A HOPSCOTCH STATE OF MIND: The 2015 Hopscotch Music Festival

 

Held Sept. 10-12, and once again in Raleigh, NC, the big names included Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Dwight Yoakam, TV On the Radio, Chelsea Wolfe, Pusha T, Roky Erickson, Battles, X, Ought, Tycho and Godflesh. We sent two veteran Hopscotchers to the event, and now they have settled in to talk about it for us. We also have Wall’s visual slideshows for each night, below.

BY PATRICK WALL AND CORBIE HILL

Last weekend, the Hopscotch Music Festival turned six. For three days, every September since 2010, Hopscotch has occupied most of Raleigh’s venues with music that runs the gamut from accessible garage-rock to abrasive experimental noise, with all shades in between. This year there was a little less experimentalism and a little more EDM, and downtown Raleigh was packed with festivalgoers — venues had long lines early in the evening, and sidewalks were clogged with revelers from early evening until well after midnight.

There were highlights and let-downs, sure, and it rained like mad Thursday night. Still, BLURT sent music writers and veteran Hopscotchers Patrick Wall and Corbie Hill to cover it. What follows are their conversations from the weekend:

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Slideshow, Day 1:

HOPSCOTCH 2015 — THURSDAYDAY ONE

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 10

CITY PLAZA, 8:51 P.M.

CORBIE HILL: Godspeed You! Black Emperor just played … a song? Two songs? It’s hard to tell where their songs start and stop. It started raining.

PATRICK WALL: There was rain. Rain came down. I’d like to say it cleared out the crowd, but it didn’t.

CH: It revealed the people that wanted to be here.

PW: Programming Godspeed on a City Plaza stage, who’s that for, anyway?

CH: It’s for people who will stand in the rain to see Godspeed… What Patrick and I were emailing about before is that this is a weird thing to put outside. I actually feel like this is the best thing that could happen to this set, is that it could get rained on.

PW: It fits the music so well.

CH: What I’m trying to say is the sky’s an impatient Godspeed fan. The sky mistook crescendo number one for crescendo number 15.

PW: Get to the point, Canadians! (laughs) This is a band that you put them at Fletcher [Opera House], this is a packed house.

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CITY PLAZA, 10:08 p.m.

CH: Matching the predictable joke, Godspeed You! Black Emperor played for, what, two and a half hours?

PW: At least their allotted time plus. I think our last communique was something like 8:45. [Ed: He was close!]

CH: [My friend Andy and I] have seen four bands and this band three times.

PW: I have seen four bands and this band three times. I was thinking to myself, I’ve only seen four bands. At 10 p.m. on Thursday, this is probably the lowest number of bands I’ve seen since the first Hopscotch. I can’t tell if I’m in a slump or I’m just choosing my spots better.

CH: That’s a good thing to think about. At this point, we are Hopscotch veterans, six years each.

PW: I guess. That’s something, I suppose.

CH: Or maybe it reflects poorly on us and reflects some sort of stubbornness.

PW: I did stick it out through the rain during Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

CH: Andy and I went and there is a little tent over a Mini Cooper and we squeezed in, sitting on the Mini Cooper, practically, under this little tent that was hardly keeping us out of the rain…. I wonder if Godspeed is going to play a 48-minute encore.

PW: (laughs) One could only hope.

CH: So I guess we should talk about hopes and dreams for the evening.

PW: I guess it’s about that time. You guys are going to see Acid Chaperone at Deep South.

CH: Who we know nothing about, which is part of the draw.

PW: I know the drummer; he’s in Octopus Jones. From what I know about it, it’s very kraut-y, very psych-y, instrumental, which is right up my alley. But I want to see Solar Halos at Pour House.

CH: It’s almost a pick one or the other situation.

PW: That’s the beauty and the ugly part, I suppose, of Hopscotch, is that you are kind of forced into some hard decisions. For me, I don’t live in the Triangle. I don’t get to see a band like Solar Halos very often. Then again, I don’t get to see a band like Acid Chaperone, also a Triangle band. So there are choices that need to be made. Some of them are difficult and requires splitting sets. I can’t stay for all of Solar Halos because I want to see Phil Cook at Fletcher Opera House, and I want to see Mamiffer at Kennedy and Sannhet at Lincoln.

CH: And those are on top of each other.

PW: They overlap.

CH: I have a three-way overlap between Jenny Hval, Mumdance and Lydia Loveless. Jenny Hval is going to be tough to get into at Kings.

PW: I think so. Battles is going to be another tough one to get into, but that new Battles record is really good.

CH: So what’ve you seen tonight?

PW: I don’t go into Hopscotch with a lot of must-sees. That said, I did not want to miss Jake Xerxes Fussell. I loved that record he put out in January. I love most anything Paradise of Bachelors puts out. That record, in particular, is great. The record, William Tyler produced it and put together a crack team of Nashville guys to produce it. But Jake Xerxes Fussell and a Telecaster and a small Fender amplifier is a beautiful thing in and of itself.

CH: I saw Some Army. I saw the end of their set, and they have a very good record coming out, which is a shame because the songwriter and singer, Russ Baggett, just moved to Alabama. So basically this record they have been working on for years and that they Kickstarted and everything — you know, back when Kickstarter was a thing people did — is finally going to come out when the band is not completely viable any more. They did great. It was Lincoln and the bass was weird and the kick drum was mixed obscenely loud, but they did great. They closed with a kind of a swinging, gentle, easy song that closes on this brutal, accelerating, accelerating, accelerating kraut-rock crescendo. At that point I was glad the bass drum was mixed so obscenely loud, because it just became a wash of noise.

PW: I feel like I need to interrupt you here, because we’re still sitting at City Plaza. Godspeed You! Black Emperor is breaking down and people are still trying to induce Godspeed You! Black Emperor into an encore, which is the exact opposite of what I thought would happen at a Godspeed You! Black Emperor set at City Plaza, outside.

CH: I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve been working out my analogies, and they are the Beatles of this whole post-rock thing, or the Who, or the Stones.

PW: They absolutely are.

CH: For people who like their music moody and indrawn and protracted and all those other adjectives, these guys laid the foundations. There are people who will stand in the rain and cry while they play.

PW: At the same time, up until last year, they were relatively inactive. This isn’t a reunion tour, per se, but, at the same time, I think you can kind of extrapolate this to the rest of the City Plaza headliners. There is a bit of a nostalgia factor to it.

CH: Oh, totally.

PW: Godspeed’s seminal records, your F#A#∞ and Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven ­— those records are 15 years old now. TV On the Radio are much more contemporary, but TV on the Radio was putting out their important records when I was still doing college radio. Dwight Yoakam is a country iconoclast, but you pair him with X and it’s hard not to look at those as — I don’t want to necessarily say nostalgic choices, because I don’t think Hopscotch is going for the nostalgia market a lot of festivals go for.

CH: We’d have the Pixies here if they were.

PW: We’d have the Pixies here, we’d have… yeah, I can’t think of a better analogy than the Pixies off the top of my head. I’m flustered. I don’t think it’s unique to this year. I’m looking at the City Plaza headliners from years past. We’re talking De La Soul, Public Enemy, The Roots.

CH: Flaming Lips. Oh my god, Guided By Voices. They’re like the ultimate nostalgia act. I feel like they were formed as a nostalgia act.

PW: The first couple of years, people lauded Hopscotch for how experimental it was, how weird it was, how boundary-pushing it was. The first couple of years, it was weird as hell. When you put the City Plaza headliners against that, this is easily the weirdest headliner they have had. It’s not like they played it safe. Public Enemy is not playing it safe with a City Plaza show. Mastodon is not playing it safe.

CH: Mastodon in 2014, I would posit, has been the best City Plaza headliner set. They were amazing.

PW: I would go with the Roots in 2012.

CH: Good pick, good pick. They are a crack squad.

PW: They’re a late-night squad now.

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BLOUNT STREET PARKING DECK, 1:47 AM

PW: We just saw Battles.

CH: We saw Battles, but my delightful 3-year-old is going to need somebody up and active and conversation-ready at about 7:28 in the morning.

PW: That’s why they invented coffee, Corbie.

CH: Usually I get out of bed between 7:08 and 7:12. Tomorrow I’m going to sleep in an extra 13 minutes! Because, when all is said and done, I will I have stayed up until 3:30 in the goddamn morning.

PW: It’s the challenge of Hopscotch for the working parent.

CH: No kidding. Every progressive year, as my children get older and more intellectually complex and emotionally developed, it’s what makes this more of a challenge for me, to be, like, “Do I really want to be awake that late?” As good as this is — I mean, I am not going to lie. I have had an excellent time at this here festival. It’s the strongest Thursday in several years.

PW: I did not even try to get into Jenny Hval. I audibled Jenny Hval for Lydia Loveless, and that was a very good idea. Lydia Loveless is five-foot-nothing and just sings these great alt-country songs with this crackerjack backing band and a really great pedal steel player. I’m a sucker for a great pedal steel player. She’s this absolute spitfire. She’s introducing this song and kind of deadpans, “This song is about getting fucked in your car.” How was Jenny Hval?

CH: Maybe we showed up at the wrong time, but it looked like a sketch comedy show making fun of experimental music. I’m not even talking clever sketch comedy; I’m talking Portlandia. We get there and the vocalist is standing in the middle of the stage, and she’s kind of doing this moaning, whimpering, crying thing, and then the rest of her band — there’s three or four of them and they’re all wearing nurses’ outfits and matching blonde wigs and grubbing around and pressing buttons on stuff. I appreciate a clattering kind of collage approach, but it just seemed slapdash and self-aware. There was no cohesion. We lasted about two minutes…. Battles was great, but Lizzo was just amazing. I want to open up with something we noticed earlier, right after our last conversation. The acts on the schedule are color coded, and one of the colors represents “urban,” and she was color coded as “urban.” For so many reasons, that is the worst genre signifier.

PW: She is described in the festival guide as, and I quote, “Born in Detroit and raised in Houston, Lizzo seamlessly bounces between rap, indie ballad, and R&B in her latest trap-based hip-hop collective, Girl Party.”

CH: And that is all true, but this was like if the Fly Girls went on a vengeance spree. It was fierce, it was badass. And she had these two dancers who had a lot of choreography and a lot of it was improv and some of the craziest acrobatic twerking I’ve ever seen.

PW: Every once and a while I miss that kind of discovery at Hopscotch. With these stages set up as they are and so genre-specific now, the stage at Lincoln was kind of the weirdest one all night. You had indie rock early with Some Army and Mac MacCaughan, but then you have Sannhet right in the middle of that. I saw Sannhet, and it was amazing — this gigantic, industrial post-rock using these aluminum guitars and basses, the drummer’s set is right up front. It’s just this assault on both eyes and ears; they’ve got strobelights flashing, they’ve got floodlights coming from behind them. “Oppressive” is a good way to put it. It’s very dry; it’s very 1981 kind of industrial music, guitar and bass tones, but with a big, hard-hitting kind of drummer instead of a drum machine. Then you put that with Battles…. When I think of the club headliners, Hopscotch has built a reputation on being experimental and being boundary-pushing. A lot of the headliners obliterate the boundaries or are relatively unclassifiable. You think of something like Death Blues or even Califone from a couple of years ago. Battles, I think, is a group like that. There’s polyrhythms, and there’s really smart things going on.

CH: And there are the crazy, complicated effects that they understand so well that they can control the chaos and give the impression that it’s uncontrolled chaos.

PW: To that effect, a lot of those effects are, at times, almost comical. Perhaps it’s just my bias as a guitar player and someone who likes effects pedals, but with effects pedals you don’t want someone to know you’ve stepped on an effects pedal. You want your guitar to sound like a guitar. I think for Ian Williams and Dave Konopka, if their guitar sounds like a guitar, they’re doing something wrong.

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Slideshow, Day 2:  

HOPSCOTCH 2015 — FRIDAY

DAY TWO

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 11

CITY PLAZA, 6:52 p.m.

PW: Let’s recap a little bit from yesterday before we get into today.

CH: It was pretty late when we spoke last night and I was pretty wiped out. But, hey, I got plenty of sleep, rolled out of bed at 8 a.m., ready to roll. So what have you processed about last night, since last night?

PW: I think what has dawned on me is that Battles seemed to warp my perception of space and time, Lydia Loveless was spitting fire, Phil Cook got his Ry Cooder on with the Southland Mission stuff. I hesitate to say I was pleasantly surprised with that set, because I know Phil Cook’s work and I know he’s done Ry Cooder tributes before and this is a very Ry Cooder-ish project with Southland Mission, but the last kind of supergroup show I saw at Fletcher Opera House was Matthew White and the Spacebomb Orchestra, and that kind of fell flat for me. But Phil Cook did not feel flat. Fletcher is a seated venue and probably within, like, 30 seconds of Phil Cook starting, he could tell that the audience wanted to get up and move around, so he said “feel free to get up and come to the stage.” And almost everybody did, which is uncommon in a seated venue like Fletcher.

CH: Their ushers tend to be very serious about sit in your seat and behave yourself.

PW: What about yourself?

CH: I’m looking at my list of the 12 festival bands I saw last night, and if I had to pick one essential set, it would be Lizzo, who I sang the praises of last night. She was a force of nature, her entire crew was on-point, the choreography was magnificent, the message was this realistic, super-confident, real world feminism. I thought it was delivered beautifully and to a welcoming crowd. She was a very gracious performer, was obviously enjoying herself, was enjoying her crowd. Andy and I had just come from a bunch of rock shows where everyone was so well-behaved and everyone was following the rules. We needed something that was chaotic; we needed something that had more blood flowing through it than it had carrying capacity to handle, and that was it.

PW: For me, that set was probably Mac MacCaughan. I’m still in awe of that guy. He seems to retain that kind of teenage riot spirit from when you’re 16 and you’re picking up your guitar for the first time and you’re starting a band, and you have that exuberance.

CH: Let’s talk about tonight.

PW: There’s always one night at Hopscotch that’s a difficult night where, you get to 11, 11:30, and there’s just a logjam. I remember Saturday last year was that day for me, and it’s Friday for me this year. This is overly ambitious of me, and I will be both impressed and surprised if I do this: Between 11:30 and 12:30, I’m angling to see 10 bands.

CH: I have eight circled in that same span. I’m running into the same thing. You’ve got Jenks Miller, who we just ran into, and Rose Cross and Father and Mitski all at the same time, all three of whom are exciting for different reasons.

PW: In the same time slot, I’m excited for Tombs at the Pour House.

CH: I don’t have them circled because it had to stop somewhere. It’s worth saying that Hopscotch, yet again, is the same weekend as a massive debutante ball. So as we have these festival crowds and loud rock bands, we also have these people whose outfits cost more than my mortgage every month, just strutting through, looking incredibly uncomfortable and incredibly out of place and annoyed that the little folk are upsetting their party. It amuses me to no end every year. This is the sixth year. It almost feels like there’s a passive-aggressive battle between the two and, as a lifelong Southerner, and as a descendent of poor Southerners, I appreciate that.

PW: As a carpetbagger, I maybe don’t have that perspective, but I’ve definitely noticed that. There is a culture clash, especially as we get further into the weekend.

CH: We are seeing our betters momentarily inconvenienced. That’s about all we can do to them, so we’re gonna do it.

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CITY PLAZA, 7:58 P.M.

PW: Tycho has now lost power twice.

CH: Each time, they roll with it. They don’t get visibly upset.

PW: Which is very commendable, because it seems there is no contingency plan.

CH: Correct, because it takes a long time to get everything rebooted. I don’t know, I’m no electrician, but you can’t just plug it back in. They clearly don’t have a contingency plan.

CH: Can anyone picture the riot if Dwight Yoakam loses power a bunch? [Ed: Not sure if I have ever heard the terms “riot” and “Dwight Yoakam” in the same sentence!]

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SOUTH STREET AT WILMINGTON STREET, 11:11 P.M.

CH: We just came from Tashi Dorji at Kennedy Theatre. Kennedy Theatre is running a little behind, and he played a set that was short and dense and essential. We’re back on time now, and I appreciate brevity — not because I think “Oh now, we need to get back on time!” but when someone says all that they came to say in that span of time, that is an essential and rare skill.

PW: It was such a transfixing set as well, watching him coax these sounds out of the forgotten parts of the guitar, coaxing these very non-guitar tones out of a standard jazz hollowbody guitar.

CH: This is something that dawned on me while I was watching him play: I realized I’ve actually known him for quite a while. I just didn’t put two and two together that this is the same guy I used to work with 10 years ago. I remember seeing him play then as well, and what dawned on me tonight was that a lot of people understand how to play the guitar, but he understands the physics of the guitar.

PW: Yeah. And I think that a lot of the more satisfying sets that I’ve seen so far at this Hopscotch have been guitarists who do that sort of thing, whether it’s Jake Xerxes Fussell or Tashi Dorji or Nathan Golub, even — who had kind of a Daniel Bachman, Jack Rose kind of feel to him, but not in a primitive way. It was very refined. Very traditional, but without feeling recidivist or cloying.

CH: It’s refreshing when a person can approach the blues in a way that is interesting and emotional. I mean, to be able to coax emotion back in the blues in 2015, that is remarkable.

PW: That is uncommon.

CH: What else have we seen since City Plaza?

PW: We’ve seen quite a lot, actually. I was a big fan of the couple of songs we saw by Ace Henderson.

CH: Very confrontational. Very take-no-prisoners, but a party at the same time.

PW: Very take-no-prisoners, but not in an antagonistic kind of way. There was a lot of call and response more than in-your-face grandstanding. I was a fan. The kid’s got a good flow. The DJ he had with him was good.

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BLOUNT STREET AT HARGETT STREET, 1:37 A.M.

PW: Day two, donezo.

CH: We just walked out of the Pour House, where Old Man Gloom is playing a long, long set. They’re a very good metal band. An all-star outfit, in fact.

PW: This is a metal supergroup. You’ve got members of Converge, you’ve got members of Isis and now Mamiffer, in Aaron Turner’s case. When you talk about the trap of nostalgia, Hopscotch has largely avoided that by avoiding the bands that are on the reunion circuit.

CH: Old Man Gloom is in no way, shape, or form a tribute to itself, so it avoids the trap.

PW: This is not the Pixies. And you said Pusha T is already done.

CH: He finished about 1:15 a.m. I felt like he would keep going after last call.

PW: I was kind of thinking that as well. I was hoping to make my way down there after Old Man Gloom. I stopped off to see Steve Gunn and Black Twig Pickers, which was excellent. I love Steve Gunn a lot, man. As a guitar player, he’s one of my favorite modern guitar players. He’s so mutable at what he can do. He can do the kind of Grateful Dead-y, Fairport Convention-y, folk rock-y, vaguely hippie thing very well. He does the avant-garde thing very well. He does the old-timey folk thing very well.

CH: And he can do stuff that even verges into free jazz, and very capably. None of these directions is a hobby.

PW: Before that, I saw Natalie Prass. I kind of felt like I stood around here maybe a little too long to see Tombs and Mitski. I thought I would miss Natalie Prass, and I’m glad I didn’t, because I walked in right as she was starting a Janet Jackson cover. “Any Time, Any Place,” which is a great Janet Jackson song. She absolutely killed it. It sounded like a Janet performance with a live outfit. She had the Spacebomb Orchestra with her. Most of those guys came with Matthew White a few years ago. She has an amazing voice and letting that take center stage, and oftentimes I think it’s overlooked in music that can be adorned with those kind of flourishes. She had some horns, she had a really great guitar player and a bass player and a Wurlitzer player, but I feel like that, after a while, can be a little too much and take away from the focus, which I think should be Natalie Prass.

CH: Speaking of slimming down, I felt like Mitski was a little too slimmed down. It was just her and her guitar and it was very delicate and very beautiful, and there was so little of it. Her set was so short.

PW: It was! It was extremely short.

CH: She was one of the ones I was looking forward to a lot. I feel like as delicate and intimate and personal her music is, I want more of it. By the time she was done, I was just starting to get on her wavelength. I don’t think she gave us time to join her wavelength, which is a shame because she’s a fantastic songwriter and singer.

PW: I certainly agree and I wonder how much of it is — she was at Tir na nOg, which is an Irish pub and there was a standing rock ’n’ roll crowd. I wonder if she would have fared better at Kennedy Theatre or Fletcher Opera House. It almost seems like solo performers, like it would be daunting in a place like Fletcher. Jake Xerxes Fussell fared very well there. Angel Olsen, two years ago, was great. I feel like it can be done.

CH: I guess the only other thing I want to talk about is Pile.

PW: I thought Pile was excellent. Very much a Chavez vibe, and I am always OK with bands that sound like Chavez.

CH: I love their stamina. They summoned this phenomenal amount of energy instantly, and it transferred. There was a good crowd. There were not a lot of people, per se, but it was people who were going to move with it and be into it and appreciate it for what it is.

PW: I feel like as we get later and later into the festival, especially a festival that is a marathon like Hopscotch is, seeing a band like that is refreshing. I certainly caught a bit of a wind after that.

CH: I did too. It has faded.

PW: Old Man Gloom kind of tidal-waved that out of me.

CH: So let’s each make one prediction for tomorrow, the more outlandish and unlikely, the better.

PW: X comes out and joins Dwight Yoakam for a cover of Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday in Cambodia.”

CH: Chelsea Wolfe becomes a born-again Christian midway through her set.

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Slideshow, Day 3:

HOPSCOTCH 2015 — SATURDAY

DAY THREE

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 12

CITY PLAZA, 7:20 P.M.

PW: We’ve survived we’ve made it here to day three, which is a good thing.

CH: Right now X is playing “The Free World,” and I’m having a strange flashback to back when I used to be a Pearl Jam fan and I saw them in 2004 on the Vote for Change tour and they brought out the actor Tim Robbins and covered this song with him.

PW: Oh, wow.

CH: Pretty much.

PW: I literally have no response to that.

CH: For those of you who are reading this, Patrick’s expression I can only describe as befuddlement.

PW: It is befuddlement, bemusement… I am bamboozled.

CH: X is doing great.

PW: We ran into this last year with Death. X, at this point, is very much a legacy band. X’s reputation rides on the fact that they were very active in the punk scene in Los Angeles in the early to mid 1980s, and that’s why people know who John Doe is and that’s why people know who Exene Cervenka is. Much like Death last year, I think that’s reflected in the crowd.

CH: These people are very pleased to see X and X is very pleased to play for them.

PW: Absolutely. That’s possibly a slight on X and a slight on Hopscotch, I suppose, but at the same time, if you’re a band, you want to play in front of people who are excited to see you. To wit, I saw Locrian earlier in the day at one of the day parties, at Neptune’s, and I remember seeing Locrian a couple of years ago at maybe the first Hopscotch.

CH: It was the first. I was at that set.

PW: There were a handful of people to see Locrian in the middle of the day, and I bounced between that and the Friend Island set at Pour House, and it had Nick Sanborn from Sylvan Esso doing a solo set, Jenn Wassner from Wye Oak doing a solo set, it hat Loamlands playing, Grandma Sparrow was hosting it. That was capacity all day. I was surprised not only how easily I got into Neptune’s, but also how sparsely attended a band like Locrian was. But I met up with a friend of mine who was very excited to see Made of Oak and very excited to see Tushka. We had lunch and I said, “you know, I really want to go see Locrian.” And she’s not a metal person, but she saw it and she was blown away by it. I felt really good about that. One of the things I like the most about Hopscotch is the day parties. I feel like in the first few years, and Allison Hussey touched on this in INDY Week this week, was that day parties were a way to mitigate some of the harder decisions to make in the nighttime sets, and they aren’t like that anymore.

CH: Like the Churchkey party: It’s become its own thing in of itself. It’s not so much related to Hopscotch as it happens at the same time.

PW: Or, full disclosure, your day party called Let Feedback Ring, that’s become very much its own thing.

CH: To that end, I’m part of the problem, because when I and the other Let Feedback Ring organizers talk, it’s about what can we do this year, what did we not do last year, what can we change? It’s related to “How do we improve upon our presentation?” rather than “How do we engage with the greater Hopscotch bill?”

PW: Exactly, and I feel like, especially as the years have progressed, the day parties have become a more integral part of the festival from an attendance standpoint as well. I remember the first few Friend Island parties being relatively sparsely attended, and they were a boon for me, because I remember seeing Collections of Colonies of Bees at a day party and saying, “OK, I’m freed up now to see another band at night.” Now I feel like there’s almost as much competition within the day parties.

CH: Something I’m noticing with Hopscotch itself is that things are running very smoothly. I wonder if that is a sign of success or decay, or how do we read this?

PW: My kneejerk is I say, good for them. Let’s use Pusha T as an example for last night. The fact that Pusha T went on on time and ended at a relatively early hour is remarkable to me.

CH: It’s funny because I caught Pusha T’s encore and still had time to see Old Man Gloom play what felt like 80 songs.

PW: I had the opposite experience, where I thought I would have time to see Pusha T. I hustled and saw Pile and Old Man Gloom, and by the time I got there, you were texting me, saying “Pusha T’s encore is over, I’m on my way.”

As far as things going smoothly, I feel like we have to talk about, especially in context of this festival, is the number of cancellations this festival has incurred. Cancellations have happened with this festival before, but in the past they have been very day-of. I remember Big Boi was supposed to be on the main stage a couple of years ago and canceled the day of. Action Bronson canceled the same year.

CH: And then there was G-Side, which basically broke up the week of the fest. That was a letdown, because I adored G-Side.

PW: In terms of this year’s festival, this festival lost one of its big draws in Deerhunter, which was replaced by Ought, from Montreal, which was a set I liked and which put out a record that I liked but which does not have the same cachet that a band like Deerhunter has. The most recent one is Hopscotch had its improviser-in-residence cancel; Owen Pallett backed out the festival yesterday. To Hopscotch’s credit, I feel like Hopscotch always does very well with replacing people that cancel with something that is more or less equivalent. They replaced Owen Pallett as improviser-in-residence with Greg Fox, drummer for Liturgy and Guardian Alien, who is a great improviser. He sat in on a couple of sets. Then they replaced Owen Pallett’s festival set with Waxahatchee. To Hopscotch’s credit, they’ve done well with adequately but quickly replacing them, which speaks to the cachet that Hopscotch has as a festival. Iron Reagan replaced Eyehategod. But they lost City Plaza headliners. They lost club show headliners.

CH: Large club show headliners.

PW: They lost their improviser-in-residence. This has been a rash of very big cancellations for this year of Hopscotch.

CH: But Hopscotch seems to have responded like Tycho did, with a kind of smile and a “stick with us, we’ll have it worked out.”

PW: That’s something Hopscotch has always done very well with.

CH: Want to talk about what we want to see tonight?

PW: One of the things we both have is we both have Boulevards.

CH: Yes. Boulevards is a local guy, Jamil Rashad, who exudes style. Very talented funk R&B guy. Early 80s Lionel Ritchie kind of thing. I appreciate the hell out of the fact that he does that in a way that is not cloying and doesn’t romanticize it. No, he makes radio music, very appealing radio music in that vein. The sheer fact that he gets that this requires style. He recently released a music video where he had two guys in cars Tokyo drifting in circles around him while he stood there with his arms crossed as if it was no big deal. This guy is magnetic and I am very, very jazzed about his show.

PW: He’s somebody I’m very excited to see tonight. I think the thing I’m most excited about this evening is … I mean, we’re listening to X right now. After X is Dwight Yoakam. What I’m immediately doing after seeing some of Dwight Yoakam is immediately going to Fletcher Opera House to see Prurient. Think about that transition — going from a seminal punk band like X, a country iconoclast like Dwight Yoakam, and a huge, abrasive noise act like Prurient. Where else can you see that but a festival like Hopscotch? Hopscotch very much rewards eclectic tastes. It absolutely rewards diverse tastes.

CH: I’m curious about Daniel Romano. I like what I’ve heard from him. With Chelsea Wolfe, I love what I’ve heard of her records. I’ve been listening to her records since her first one came out in 2011 or whenever it was. But — and here is the clincher — I am prepared to be let down. It might be a letdown, and that’s OK.

PW: I have seen Chelsea Wolfe before and I have been let down. I was also not as big a fan of those records as you were. My absolute cannot-miss of the night, though: I really like that Clark record that came out last year, so I am very excited to see Clark and I am looking forward to getting blown away by blown-out bass.

+++

WILMINGTON STREET AT BLOUNT STREET, 11 P.M.

PW: Prurient was this absolutely brain-melting noise set. It was in Fletcher Opera, which is an unusual place to put a noise act, but he had no problem filling that room by himself. We both saw Boulevards.

CH: He came out there and he just owned the crowd. I know so few locals with whom a crowd is putty in their hands.

PW: I know few national acts who can do that. His biggest asset is easily his charisma. The DJ he had with him was great and served as a great hype man as well, but he doesn’t even need one. He has to be the coolest motherfucker on the planet. I am convinced of that.

CH: [Contemporary Art Museum Raleigh] is also where I saw Lizzo, and she was charismatic and she was a dominant stage presence and she turned it into a dance party.

PW: That’s what you have to do at CAM. The sets that I saw that were amazing at CAM were Boulevards, Thee Oh Sees — just people that exude that kind of energy that it’s impossible not to move to. Otherwise, even if people are moving, is very stale. And then we came here to see Microkingdom. There are several other things I could have gone to and I made the decision earlier in the evening to go almost against type. I’m just going to go for what seems the most fun.

CH: I think that’s a good way to close it. I’m looking at King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard as a potential closer just because it’s a big, goofy, psychedelic mess.

PW: This will be the first year, possibly ever, that I did not close out the festival seeing a brass band. They did not seem to program one this year, which is fine. It makes me a little sad that I’m not going to do that, but it’s very unique to me.

+++

MARTIN STREET AT HARRINGTON STREET, 1:31 A.M.

PW: Day three is done. Hopscotch 2015, in the books.

CH: We closed it out with Goldlink.

PW: I realized at some point, I think it was when I was watching Clark, that I made a subconscious effort tonight to see, after Dwight Yoakam, as little having to do with guitar as possible, at least as far as playing guitar in the way in which people usually play guitar. I saw Microkingdom, and Microkingdom had a guitar player, but not in any way, shape, or form what you would call a normal guitar player.

CH: It was almost like free math. It wasn’t free jazz.

PW: Exactly. There was a definite free-jazz influence to it.

CH: It was clangy, and harsh at moments.

PW: It was exactly what I wanted to hear at that moment, but they’re not a traditional guitar band. The point being, I could have seen many, many things, and at some point along the way, my brain said “You know what, man? You saw a bunch of guitar yesterday. Let’s not do guitar.”

CH: For me, as I mentioned earlier, I had four acts circled and not a lot else, and that gave me a lot of freedom. I saw all four and I enjoyed all four. I felt like the freedom really helped. I got to see a lot of good music without feeling like I was going all over the place.

So I want to talk about Dwight Yoakam and I want to talk about Daniel Romano, also a country artist. He’s a very good country artist, I was impressed. But I want to start with Dwight Yoakam. I grew up in rural North Carolina. As people around here tend to call it, I grew up in “the rest of” North Carolina. I will say Dwight Yoakam, in the six years of this fest, is the first headliner that the rest of North Carolina is likely to know who he is or care about. It would have been Big Boi if Big Boi had shown up. Big Boi would have been in that same category of, people I grew up with might have heard of him. That was remarkable to me.

I started the night at that stage and I saw Dwight Yoakam and I enjoyed it. It was really satisfying to hear “Streets of Bakersfield” live. What I appreciate is that he is not a legacy act. He has been putting out music this whole time. He was a new one out that is good, that people like, so “Streets of Bakersfield” is right there alongside stuff that just came out, and it is seamless. It’s not like “okay, we’re going to take it back!” It’s like, “here’s another song.” And I thought that was quite good.

PW: My only complaint about Dwight Yoakam is the complaint I have about every single City Plaza headliner this year. It’s that there was no photo pit. In the case of TV on the Radio, they let 25 photographers in, and that’s it. There were probably 50, 75 of us lining up. The bigger problem is they didn’t tell us until the show started. The show started and the security guards say “Oh, by the way guys, we’re not letting anybody in.” I feel like that is a communication error that could have been handled a lot better.

CH: I saw Chelsea Wolfe. I like her records but, for some reason, I felt like live it would lack something. But it was elemental, it was moody, it was brooding, it was atmospheric. There was a smoke machine, the stage was backlit, and they just moved with patience and grace through these just funereal dirges. It was heavy and loud and thick but with all that space and the haunted atmosphere, it let the folk side breathe. There’s this undercurrent of “The woods are haunted, and you will not survive.” The fact that that could be communicated, that level of elemental darkness, in a live setting, it was great.

PW: I have seen Chelsea Wolfe before. I also though going in, “okay, there is going to be something missing. It’s going to be relatively naked and not impressive.” It was not – I saw Chelsea Wolfe and I would go as far to say Chelsea Wolfe was bad when I saw her. But that’s good. I’m glad you saw that…. I had Clark circled. There was neither a line for Clark nor Zs, and Zs was in the Hive, which was awful. Possibly because they were running almost an hour late. It’s the Hive, it’s a sardine can.

CH: I’ve never been in there aside from Hopscotch, but just from glancing at the menu, it strikes me as the place someone goes for fancy, weird cocktails.

PW: Not the place where one would see a free-math band like Microkingdom or weird experimental like Zs.

CH: Or, in the case of the other night, pure noise. What a weird room for noise.

PW: Zs, what I saw was good. They had Greg Fox, who stepped in as Hopscotch’s improviser-in-residence when Owen Pallett bailed. It was good, but there are times, especially in Hopscotch’s smaller venues, when the room is totally to the detriment of the performance. I feel like the Hive is one of those rooms. I got uncomfortable and I left and I came down here to Goldlink.

CH: The last one I want to talk about is Daniel Romano. I’m not familiar with the bands he was in, but I do know he had a career in indie bands and matured and went back to country, and the press materials say what they’re always going to say, that he grew up on country.

PW: Of course.

CH: So I’d heard the record and I liked it, but in my mind I was all “Oh, authenticity, blah blah blah, does he really own this music?” It’s overthinking. And I went in there and I sat down and I was lucky that there was a place to sit and it was a really good place where I could see the music and it was very well-written country music.

PW: So what was your count this year?

CH: I’m pretty sure that I saw 35 festival bands, plus I think about 11 at the day party I threw with my friends. In fairness, I’m not counting those, so I’m going to go with 35 festival bands.

PW: My overall count is I believe 52, which is about average for me.

***

Ed: thank you, and goodnight, dear readers. Special thanks to the Hopscotch organizers for making this happen. And go HERE if you want to read Patrick and Corbie’s conversation about the 2014 Hopscotch fest, published last year at Charlotte’s Creative Loafing weekly.

 

One thought on “IN A HOPSCOTCH STATE OF MIND: The 2015 Hopscotch Music Festival

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