days. 10 venues. 120 bands”: let’s do this. September 9, 10, 11 brought one of
the biggest and most vibrant music festivals the Tarheel State has ever known,
and we were there…
By John Schacht
In 2003, Charlotte,
North Carolina’s annual Center CityFest died a much-deserved death,
serving up one last hairball that year with a bill that virtually banned local
talent from the stages. As they’d done for years, organizers relied on the
kegger-and-‘shrooms nostalgia of frat boys (Hootie, Widespread Panic), baby
boomer’s expendable income (Steve Winwood), and stale 90s’ AOR leftovers
(Collective Soul) to fill their coffers. Trudging through the dirt and blacktop
parking lots that year in the shadow of Ericsson Stadium where the stages were hastily
thrown up, dejection and ennui clung in the air like poison gas – or maybe that
was just .38 Special.
Good riddance, then, though it seemed the Carolinas would
have to make do with smaller local festivals, single genre-oriented regional
events like Merlefest, and an occasional shindig like Merge Record’s 20th anniversary.
But in March I got an email from Raleigh’s Independent
Weekly Music Editor Grayson Currin. He and a couple of other staff members
on the advertising side were putting together a three-day festival in
September. Eventually an impressive list of artists rolled out: “3 days. 10
venues. 120 bands.” read the event posters.
When it finally arrived, the weekend delivered on nearly
every level. The gigs featured just about every imaginable genre – rock,
hip-hop, country rock, metal, dance, punk, noise, free jazz, drone, folk and
more – in every conceivable venue, from rail-thin Slim’s with its curb-high riser
to Raleigh’s impressive open public space, City Plaza.
And though the big draws included a reformed Public Enemy (plus marching
band!), Canada’s electric Broken Social Scene, and Animal Collective’s
sound-manipulator Panda Bear, the local and regional acts who comprised most of
the line-up provided the weekend’s finest moments.
Up-and-coming Triangle folk experimentalists Megafaun (pictured at top, above) transported themselves from venue to
venue like Spock, Kirk and Bones (Brad Cook played bass with three other bands
Friday – that we know of). The trio
played packed day parties, hushed evening improv sets, and after-hours jam
sessions. They also hosted some of the nation’s finest experimental drone
musicians in Keith Fullerton Whitman and Greg Davis. At the far other end of
the spectrum, Durhuam rockers Red Collar and MapleStave left their day party
stage splattered with busted guitar parts and their own blood; Charlotte’s Temperance League nearly did the
same during theirs the day before. The sneaky heat generated by The Kingsbury
Manx’s melodic crescendos worked as a perfect buffer between Chapel
Hill neighbor Bellafea’s molten rhythms and the lustrous pop of
Carrboro’s Schooner – all three got the packed Tir na nOg venue primed for the epic
psychedelic folk blend of Philly’s The War on Drugs. And so and so on – “3
days. 10 venues. 120 bands.” Part of the fun of festivals (at least well-run
ones) is the dizzying array of music you can experience in compacted time.
Catching a spine-tingling free jazz set from Chicago’s Jeb Bishop Trio, hopping
down the block for Floating Action’s strangely compelling
Asheville-in-Motown-and-Trenchtown hybrid, then heading down the street for
mind-bending instrumental rock from Tortoise — it’s like avatar-strolling
through your iPod’s “shuffle” button.
But Hopscotch succeeded because it treated the locals and
regionals with the same respect afforded The Big Guns. To feel the love in the
room, as they say, you only had to hear, from stage after stage, bands
expressing genuine thanks to Currin and the Indy
Weekly for their commitment to local music coverage, and out-of-town acts –
from the festival-savvy to those more at home playing house shows –
acknowledging the fun they#were
having seeing the locals play.
No doubt there were hitches and glitches behind the scenes,
and sometimes on stage – musicians are not always the fussiest people when it
comes to schedules. But whatever went sideways was quickly forgotten and forgiven,
or simply went unnoticed via the tap, bottle or aluminum can. And of course if
a band didn’t float your boat (looking at you, Bear In Heaven), the one playing
next door most likely would.
On Friday between sets at Tir na nOg, a couple of us Shuffle Magazine staffers chatted with a
member of Charlotte’s Black Congo NC (they’d played Thursday night), who
posited that what made the Carolinas’ music scene special was that it was a
“state” scene and not reliant on any one city. That dovetailed with why our
humble and amusingly dysfunctional publication (which covers the Carolinas’ music scene) made sense – there’d be little
chance we’d ever run out of shit to write about.
In the end, that extraordinary well of regional talent and
diversity was what the inaugural Hopscotch Festival really celebrated, and what
corporate rock schlock like Center CityFest never understands: A vibrant music
scene only exists if you water the roots.
[Megafaun photo by Derek Anderson]
Schacht is a regular contributor to BLURT as well as editor of the exceedingly
fine Carolinas-based music magazine Shuffle. You can view their latest issue on the web right here.