By Tomris McDaniel and Deanna Mitchell | Photography by Stan Chambers
In its third year running, the Hopscotch Music Festival brings a new twist to the concept of club hopping. Music lovers venture from one club to another throughout downtown Raleigh in anticipation of seeing popular independent artists perform a quick set before moving on to another gig. It’s a smorgasbord for Indie lovers of all genres including rock, alternative, country, hip hop, dance, classical, folk and more, with a few mainstream acts to spice things up.
Out of 175 bands playing at night and day parties, an estimated 35% are local; reigning from Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Durham, while others have traveled hundreds of miles to be a part of the three day event. With some of the bigger names rocking out on the same stage, artists and fans experience a collage of art through sound.
Some Army, a sextet of talented musicians from Chapel Hill, who often switch instruments while performing a set, offered a dreamy atmosphere that filled the Deep South Bar with a wave of soft rock relatively similar to European alternative. Boy Friend, a group from Austin, TX, who performed to a crowded Berkeley Café, despite severe flooding earlier in the day, have a flare for the unusual, adding pop and new wave traces reminiscent of the 80s era with what lead singer Christa Palazzolo calls “crazy, emotional, moving elements.”
“The best part about playing in a band is traveling, meeting new people, and having people sing your songs,” said Palazzolo, “I’ve always been interested in pop music and super catchy stuff, and we throw in weird elements like raw guitar, and dance-y stuff.”
What makes this festival unique is that it isn’t only the audience who are jumping from spot to spot, but band members as well. Local bands such as Some Army, are known to have musicians that are a part of other bands. In situations where one group is scheduled to perform right after another at a different venue, some band members rush to get their instruments and stage broken down, and transported to the next gig, while others hang out and make their way to see friends and fellow bandmates perform.
“We played this afternoon, so now we‘re going to go watch a bunch of people,” said bandleader Russell Baggett after his last performance on Thursday night, “we’re going to try to see the Thee Oh Sees at CAM [Contemporary Art Museum] and see the Matthew White thing, there’s like 40 people on stage playing at the same time…hopefully [I’ll] find some new bands that I want to buy their records.”
Artists not only stood out with individual sounds colliding into a mash up of weekend glory, but also with off-beat senses of style that reflected each performer’s individual taste. Boy Friend brought a unique fashion sense to match their groove of emotional intensity; the lead singer draped in a sheer, vertically striped shirt that came down to her knees, the guitarist rocking a bleached tie-dye shirt and the drummer standing out in Aztec patterned leggings with suede wedges. An all female rock group, the girls are fond of high fashion and often look through VOGUE publications and bargain hunting for bursts of style inspiration. Their style-goal? To create a look that is a visual reflection of their music.
“Part of traveling that I love is seeing how people dress all around the world, getting to absorb different cultures,” said Palazzolo, “I’m really drawn to contrast; light and dark and really moving pieces like this chunky [jewelry], and bleached tie-dye…part of playing shows is that you get to show off what you’re wearing. Even if it’s really crazy…”
The Southern hospitality that the attendees and musicians are privy to during the organization doesn’t go unmentioned. “Everyone here is so nice,” said Palazzolo, “We’re used to South by Southwest in Austin. It’s such a giant festival, so we don’t get the super sweet treatment that we’re getting here, and we’re like, ‘Oh my God, I would love to come back here’.” Musicians from near and far commended the organizers and host city for creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
Many attendees proclaim this to be “the most wonderful time of the year” when it comes to Raleigh living. But it’s not just the club-hoppers that thrive off the festival. Organizers, hosts, and local businesses, all acknowledge the significance of the musical extravaganza; both in terms of the boost to the economy, and for further establishing Raleigh on the music map. Rapper L.E.G.A.C.Y played host at Friday’s day party at White Collar Crime at the request of D&D Sluggers out of Wilmington, NC. “I love the city of Raleigh, I love Hopscotch,” said the talented rapper, who had just gotten off the stage following an impromptu performance. L.E.G.A.C.Y, who is currently working on his new album ‘Amerikkkan Psycho’, is no stranger to the festival, having performed at Tir Na Nog the previous year, and he definitely appreciates the value of such an organization, “It’s a good time, a lot of tourists discover the city that I love.” Hopscotch-ers enjoyed the sunny day on the porch, sipping beers and singing along to the performances that could be heard through the large open window. Smoked Out ‘N Fried catered the event, feeding the hundred-plus attendees with delicious North Carolina barbecue, followed by chocolate and banana moon pies.
Over at The London Bridge Pub, an unofficial Hopscotch venue, fans gathered on the back patio to enjoy an afternoon packed with bands and a rich selection of brews. Winners of Best Rock Band at the 2012 Carolina Music Awards, Young Cardinals, were among those who were present to share in the spirit of the festival. Darren Bridger, owner of the establishment that opened in November 2011, certainly acknowledges how Hopscotch enriches and supports the music scene, “I think it’s fantastic…it’s giving bands a chance to recognize good venues in Raleigh, and venues a chance to get to know good bands.”
Built to Spill played to a growing crowd at City Plaza on Friday night, as a mixed generation of music lovers gathered to see The Jesus and Mary Chain rock the stage. Over at the Fletcher Opera Theater, Canada native Tamara Lindeman of The Weather Station paired up with guitarist/keyboardist Elysse Thebner and drummer/keyboardist Patrick O’Neill, both of Some Army, to play a repertoire of bluegrass and ballad tunes. While fans were mostly able to jump to the shows of their choice, some venues reached capacity and went to a “one-in-one-out” system. Baltimore native Dan Deacon’s high-voltage show at the Pour House Music Hall was one such show, and it’s no wonder; the crowd fed off of his electric presence and the energy of the music.
Saturday marked the third and final day of the three-day extravaganza. SHOPscotch provided an alternative for those who wanted to take a break from the day parties while still enjoying some live music. House of Swank clothing with their graphic print t-shirts, and Good Girls Studio, Inc with their revamped vintage jewelry, were among 21 local artists who set up booths and tents to showcase their craft and talent. Local food trucks such as The Humble Pig and Klausie’s Pizza kept shoppers fed as they had done throughout the festival, making the Hopscotch organization a true marriage of the eclectic culinary, artistic, and musical talent that North Carolina has to offer.
As the clouds blackened, it became clear that a torrential rain storm threatened to disrupt the festivities. Hopscotch-ers took to their phones to check weather alerts, and concerns began to circulate in the form of whispers. Despite the impending rain storm, Director of Hopscotch Greg Lowenhagen, kept the crowd informed and eased concerns via on stage announcements, and social media in the form of regular tweets addressing fans in an upbeat and encouraging way. “The Roots…very soon…let’s celebrate this weekend right. #hopscotch” read one tweet, keeping the positive energy of the festival alive.
The rain may have come down for close to two hours, but organizers and fans were not going to let it rain on their music loving parade. It was worth the wait, The Roots brought their unique vibe and the crowd fed off their energetic stage presence. Their rendition of Guns ‘N Roses’ 1988, ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ took the crowd to the next level, with fans bobbing their heads and singing along, the rain a distant memory.
The Hopscotch Music Festival marks a new era for downtown Raleigh, a place that has a growing music and entertainment scene. The city is slowly but surely building a cultural repertoire that involves live music and fashion with an inviting atmosphere for distant travelers. Hopscotch has become one of the most anticipated annual events for music lovers, bands, and local businesses a like. So in response to rapper Black Thought’s question, yes, we can dig it. We can definitely dig it.