By Grant Golden
August 29, 2019
Throughout the past ten years, the Hopscotch Music Festival in downtown Raleigh has proven to be one of the nation’s most impressive and eclectic annual events. Through the festival’s diverse, ornately arranged lineups, each of the 10+ venues at Hopscotch serve their own purpose, helping to house a very specific kind of experience throughout each day. One day you may find yourself headbanging to a night full of metal at The Pour House, but pop by the next day and you’ll be immersed in an evening full of jazzy international music. This unique experience is what makes Hopscotch such a compelling event and has led to it becoming a yearly cultural staple of the North Carolina music scene.
With venues ranging from Red Hat Amphitheater’s robust 5,000+ capacity to the aptly named Slim’s (which can fit about 100 people), attendees have a constant struggle to choose between intimate musical affairs or an all-out over-the-top production. Never before has there been a local festival where you have so many ways to build out your very own niche weekend. Do you hang around to get a good spot for James Blake’s headlining slot or risk your chance by jetting over to Lincoln Theater for a chance to catch local standouts Truth Club? If there’s anything I’ve learned from Hopscotch’s past, it’s to follow your intuition. Do ample research, dig into those schedules and find that weird local acid-jazz band that’ll be ripping it up at Neptune’s, but get there early because chances are there’s countless other local-heads as amped as you are.
While it’s important to follow your arrow wherever it may take you, there’s a handful of acts that we’re particularly excited for and recommend checking out during your busy Hopscotch weekend. So suck down that Emergen-C, lace up your running shoes, and let’s get ready to Hopscotch!
Fans of modern music know that James Blake serves as somewhat of an aural cartographer, bridging gaps in musical genres and styles that push his own style into rich, uncharted territory. Productions credits range from Beyonce to Frank Ocean, and features on his own tracks include a wide range of artists like international star Rosalía, Travis Scott, and Bon Iver. Blake’s live shows boast some chest-rattling basslines and his musical soundscape is an easy one to get lost in. This is a set you’ll definitely want to catch.
Jenny Lewis’ jangly indie pop vibes have permeated the indie rock scene for two decades now. Initially the lead vocalist of Rilo Kiley and under her own solo moniker for the past 10+ years, her music sinks its hooks into you with ear-worm melodies and her lyrics are centered around dense world-building, making for an immersive listening experience. With strong yet subtle songwriting, Lewis churns out intelligent pop/rock songs that are guaranteed to get your body moving.
Philadelphia’s slack-rock king, Kurt Vile, makes excellence look easy. But anyone that’s been following this prolific songwriter throughout the past decade knows that Vile’s psyched-out take on folk-rock has been diligently crafted and is ever-evolving. While the indie-rock behemoth poked his head into mainstream fame with the 2015 single, “Pretty Pimpin’,” Vile’s sound has maintained its original low-key haze. Last time Vile came through Hopscotch he seared his way through the Lincoln Theater, brilliantly balancing his set between wistfully withdrawn folk diddies and jam-heavy ragers. Expect much of the same dichotomy for his return.
Local music has always served as the backbone of Hopscotch; North Carolina-based acts will go that extra mile and pull out something special for a Hopscotch set. After all, it’s one of the biggest stages many of them get to be on throughout the year. That’s what makes the return of Little Brother so special, especially for North Carolina hip-hop heads that missed their last-minute reunion at Art of Cool last year. Little Brother helped to spearhead the early 2000’s rap resurgence, inspiring and collaborating with artists like Kanye West and Drake. While they won’t have producer 9th Wonder at their side for this return, Phone and Big Pooh are behemoths in their own right and this homecoming of sorts will be a Hopscotch moment for the record books.
If Little Brother is the beacon representing the hip-hop days of yore, then Lute stands tall as one of the young upstarts, quietly observing and ready to snatch the throne from whoever is in his way. While Lute has been grinding through the Charlotte scene since the early 2010s, positing himself with clever wordplay and earworm hooks, it was his 2015 signing to J. Cole’s Dreamville label that gained him national notoriety. With his placement on chart-topping Dreamville compilation, Revenge of the Dreamers 3, Lute is in a fantastic spot to blow up and put North Carolina hip-hop even further on the map.
Wild Pink’s music lies at an enchanting intersection between outward hook-heavy pop brilliance and introspective experimentation. After a long day of bouncing between venues, Wild Pink’s nostalgia-soaked, anthemic indie rock will be a perfect way to unplug. Wild Pink’s music is vast, emotive, and lush, evoking imagery of wide-open mountainscapes and a yearning for days of yore. Fans of early aughts indie rock will want to mark this one as a must-see for the weekend.
Old heads of R&B need no introduction to this iconic producer and songwriter, Raphael Saadiq. The Grammy award-winning artist is behind some of the most monumental tracks the genre has seen over the past several decades. Saadiq’s producing credits are lined with legends like D’Angelo, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Whitney Houston and more, but his own solo work is nothing to gloss over. Saadiq just released his first album in eight years with Jimmy Lee and, given his heavy workload, one shouldn’t expect to see him back in North Carolina for quite some time. Saadiq’s music lies at a unique intersection between modern/futuristic R&B and the Motown days of old, giving a little bit of joy for folks of all ages. To top it all off, Saadiq is on one of the most exciting bills of the weekend with Little Brother, Lute, Kooley High and local neo-soul standouts Icky Bricketts. Posting up at City Plaza for Saturday doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
One of Hopscotch’s strongest assets is its diversity. You can walk out of a dimly lit theater filled with ethereal folk, trek a few blocks down the road and suddenly be transported to a sun-soaked desert in West Africa. Mdou Moctar is an international treasure that blends Nigerian desert rock with psychedelic stylings to make for a sound that’s simultaneously traditional and innovative all at once. He’s recently opened for acts like Tame Impala and received a co-sign from Jack White, so there’s a slim chance of seeing him at a spot like Kings for very long. Mdou Moctar is a visionary artist that crosses cultural and linguistic borders through the universal language of music, so bring an open mind and some ear plugs because this one’s gonna shred.
This Brooklyn-based crew is hard to nail down. Feverishly blending elements of jazz, psych and punk, Sunwatchers creates a densely packed cushion of sound for the listener to fall into. Their music is informed; they know where the listener expects them to go but they boldly blaze their own trail, rapidly switching time signatures and melodic phrases to bring in new and refreshing direction. While the trek out to Wicked Witch is often unforgiving in the midst of a heavy schedule, it’s absolutely worth it to see this explosive act.
Ric Wilson is a young Chicago stand out that makes party-ready hip-hop with an intelligent twist. Wilson’s funk/disco-infused take on rap stimulates both the mind and body with robust percussion, buoyant vocal arrangements and triumphant instrumentation. Cut from the same cloth as artists like Chance the Rapper and Saba, Wilson’s music is playful and poignant, with youthful innocence that’s still ever-aware of the difficulties life may throw at you. But instead of lamenting and brooding, Wilson chooses to bask in the beauty of it, dancing through the struggles while remaining acutely aware of his emotions. It’s the perfect way to bounce into your first night of Hopscotch.
Check out the full 2019 lineup for Hopscotch Music Festival.