Hopscotch, Raleigh’s annual music festival, is always the highlight of my September, serving as one final summer blowout before autumn hits. This year was no exception. With headliners including Solange, Run The Jewels, Future Islands and Big Boi, as well as a lineup of over 100 smaller acts, the festival offered a great experience for both the independent and mainstream music fan. While I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Run The Jewels for my fifth time, I used most of my time wandering around downtown, catching the smaller acts.
When I arrived on Thursday night, I caught a few sets at the City Plaza stage, starting with the folk act, Skylar Gudasz from Durham. Backing up Skylar were familiar faces such as Joe Westerlund from Megafaun on drums and Molly Sarle from Mountain Man on flute and backing vocals.
Following Skylar was Big Thief, a Brooklyn folk rock group led by Adrianne Lenker. The band had great energy and stage presence and were not afraid to get a little weird at times.
I quickly made my way over to the Pour House to catch Happy Abandon, an emerging indie rock group from Chapel Hill, whose music is layered in flavors of folk, orchestral and indie-pop.
After Happy Abandon, I made my way to Neptunes to catch Reflex Arc, an avant garde duo of saxophonist and guitarist Crowmeat Bob and dancer Ginger Wagg. The two made great use of space, moving throughout the room, even dancing on the bar and a few tables. Although I am not entirely sure I understood the set, it was very entertaining.
Afterwards was an excellent set by Moon Racer, the Casio keyboard rich project of The Love Language’s keyboardist, Autumn Ehinger, with Will Hackney on drums and additional keys.
Next, I headed over to the packed out Lincoln Theatre to catch G Yamazawa. Backed up by a DJ and Alan Thompson from Zoocrü on saxophone, Yamazawa delivered an energetic set, capping it off with a performance of his hit “North Cack” during which he brought out fellow Durhamite Joshua Gunn along with a small crowd of dancers.
I started off Friday night by catching a short performance by Repressed, a collaboration between Mac McCaughan of Superchunk and Kurt Wagner of Lambchop at Kings Barcade. Kurt sang through auto tuned vocals and controlled drum machines through Ableton, while Mac played an array of analog synthesizers, creating a strange, yet dreamy vibe.
After catching a bit of Run The Jewels and Future Islands at the main stages, I staked out the new venue, The Basement for performances by Har Mar Superstar, Lee Fields and the Expressions and Kaytranada. The Basement was located on the bottom floor of the Raleigh Convention Center, a space used conventionally for vendors booths and graduation. Har Mar Superstar and Lee Fields both delivered incredible sets of soul, funk, and Kaytranada followed up with a DJ set of his soulful house and hip-hop beats.
My Saturday started off with Zoocrü at Imurj’s day party. The set started off chill, but quickly evolved into trippy jazz fusion led by hypnotic synths, driving bass lines, a reverberant saxophone and powerful drum fills.
I caught a bit of the wrestling at Ruby Deluxe, then made my way to Neptunes for the Material Girls, whom I initially mistook for the Mineral Girls, also on the Hopscotch lineup. Material Girls turned out to be a chaotic, yet captivating group of drag queens, punks and all sorts of cool weirdos. While the group was mainly focused on CBGB’s era punk music, the group consisted of many multi-instrumentalists and contained both a keyboardist and a horn section. One part Clash, another part Talking Heads, the Material Girls ended up being the best surprise of the whole fest.
I soon caught Phonte, Big Boi, and Solange at the main stages, which wiped me out, but I made it in time to catch Raleigh’s Blois at Kings. The group played a solid set of slow indie pop tunes, which was perfect in contrast with the previous acts of the day.
I started to succumb to my exhaustion, so I decided I needed to sit down, so I headed to Fletcher Auditorium. There I saw Sound Of Ceres from Fort Collins, Colorado who played airy electronic songs accompanied by 3-D projection mappings. I capped off the night with Japanese Breakfast, who blended dreamy indie rock with cinematic synths and occasional auto-tuned vocals.
Although the festival certainly tired me out, and I, unfortunately, had to miss the Sunday programming at Red Hat Amphitheatre, I had an enjoyable time. Hopscotch for me is about the smaller acts, exposing me to dozens of new bands across one weekend in downtown Raleigh.