By Grant Golden
Cover photo: Hopscotch
September 13, 2019
Few festivals can hold a candle to Hopscotch. It’s a perfect coalescence of so many different cultural corners that it’s hard not to spend the whole weekend with a smile on your face. The patch-donning, denim vested punks are side by side with the fashion bloggers sharing a cool PBR at the rock show at Slim’s, while several blocks down the local hip-hop heads are soaking in the sounds of a D’Angelo cover at City Plaza. For three days the music community comes together in downtown Raleigh to celebrate the rich diversity of our scene, leaning on local curators for venue bills and showcasing some of the city’s finest. For anyone who has spent time in the local music scene, Hopscotch is like a family reunion, a chance to come together and forget about your day-to-day responsibilities. Gone are the daily scrums and project deadlines, your biggest woe is how you’ll make it to Wicked Witch and back before the next set starts.
Hopscotch is a music marathon in every sense– with over 100 acts you can’t catch them all– it’s about pacing and plotting and hydrating grabbing that Lyft when you need it. Between day parties, main shows, and after parties (some stretching to the wee hours of the morning), you’re guaranteed to catch some surprisingly life-affirming sets. You may find yourself taken to church by the great James Blake in an after-hours party at a boutique clothing store or enchanted by the desert-rock vibes of Mdou Moctar. Maybe you’ll get lost in the deep bass house beats of Chanel Tres or glued to your seat at Fletcher with the confessional pop of Cate Le Bon. Either way, it seems that every attendee has their own “come to Jesus” moment at this sprawling festival, so here’s a few of the sets that gave us ours.
Few electronic acts put on a live show as engaging and compelling as James Blake. For his Friday night performance, Blake brought a tight trio setup and wowed the crowd with an impressive showing of live looping and sampling, chest-rattling bass lines, and transcendental vocal displays. Whether they be longtime fans or new-comers to Blake’s music, most attendees left with jaws agape at his powerful musical display. With a setlist spanning the duration of his career, fans were treated to favorites like “Retrograde” and his breakout single, a cover of Feist’s “Limit To Your Love.” Near the end of his set, Blake tore down the aural barrier between himself and the crowd and spoke on his struggles of depression and anxiety, lending reassurance to those that may struggle with their own issues. Moments like these can help take a performance from good to great. Not only can Blake speak to the crowd’s innate desire to dance themselves clean of their woes, he can also transcend that surface-level engagement and speak to their hearts. He turned this fair weather fan into one that will be catching him anytime he’s within range.
As Jooselord and members of his Krawzbones crew took the stage late Friday night at Neptunes there was a palpable energy in the room. You could tell that Joose had a message for the eager and tightly packed crowd, a message that “we’re fuckin’ here and we’re not going anywhere.” Donning all black and ski-masks, Joose and crew commanded attention, bouncing, shouting, swaying and moshing through a high-energy marathon of a set. It’s rare to see a performer that’s both as vulnerable and confident as Joose, which is what makes him so relatable to his diverse fanbase. After sharing a story of being denied entry to this very room for his friends’ set at Hopscotch years back, one can’t help but feel that this set is the Krawzbones’ victory lap. From lackluster crowds in years past to a packed-out headlining set at one of the festival’s best venues, it’s clear that Joose is hitting his prime and has no intention of slowing down. I’d say to keep your ears to the ground for him, but there’s no need– he keeps that shit rattling.
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As one of the most anticipated acts of the festival, the reuniting Little Brother had a lot of hype to live up to but, within minutes of their first song, one could tell that this triumphant duo hadn’t skipped a beat. With the thousands in attendance throwing their “L’s” in the sky, Big Pooh and Phonte cruised through a mixture of old fan favorites and stand-out bangers from their newly released album May The Lord Watch. With topics ranging from gentrification (like white folks walking their dogs on Lenoir St.), faith, and redemption, Phonte and Pooh built a brilliantly crafted and fluid set. While the duo had one of the biggest crowds of the weekend at City Plaza, their set felt personal and intimate thanks to the innate charisma of these masterful emcees. Most of the crowd has been listening to Little Brother’s music for decades and anxiously anticipating a live show for over nine years, so this set was a moment of cathartic relief for both the legendary duo and their attendees. At last the behemoths are back and they’ve truly hit the ground running.
Boogarins emanated effervescence during their Saturday night set at Kings, an energy that only made their already impressive set of Brazilian psych-rock that much more enjoyable. Donning ear-to-ear smiles, the quartet glided through dreamy, densely packed tracks that entranced the crowd. Shows from international acts are uniquely interesting in that the vocals can take on their own instrumental aspects, serving as a textural addition for folks that may not be fluent in the language of the artist. So while all of the Kings attendees may not know Portuguese, they all certainly tapped into that universal psychedelic haze that the boys of Boogarins blasted through the speakers. Their music is heavily informed by the tropicália movement of the ‘60s, beautifully blending the experimental and avant-garde with straightforward pop sensibilities. You don’t need to know the language to get the earworm hooks of Boogarins stuck in your head, and their Hopscotch set proved it.
I’m not here to say that an appearance by J. Cole is necessary to cap off a stacked hip-hop bill including Joey Purp, Injury Reserve and Ric Wilson, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Earthgang’s set started around half an hour after the official release of their debut studio full-length Mirrorland but this Atlanta-based duo had been grinding for nearly a decade prior to its release, and that hard work has clearly paid off. Lincoln Theater was electric, brimming with energy, bouncing with anticipation and reeling from an evening of top-notch hip-hop, and Earthgang rode that wave with ease and swagger. Their production is steeped in southern influence, with hints of jazz, blues and soul, and Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot meticulously weave their vocals through carefully crafted beats with a blend of both finesse and brutishness. The two interplayed perfectly and held the eager crowd in the palm of their hands. By the end of the set it was clear that they won’t be playing rooms the size of Lincoln Theater much longer.
Orville Peck was the perfect soundtrack to the golden hour on Friday. This mask-wearing troubadour took City Plaza by storm on Friday night with his one-of-a-kind cosmic country twang. Peck’s sound is akin to a careening railroad car: it’s firmly rooted in its country foundations but at any moment can skew from the tracks into a dreampop-fuzzed out jam. While Peck may don a mask on stage, he’s lyrically exposing himself in remarkably vulnerable ways. Traversing sexuality, loneliness and life’s fleeting nature, Peck captivated his audience and kept them hanging to every word. Coming into Peck’s set fairly oblivious to his nature, aside from his masked persona, his high energy and contemporary take on classic outlaw country left this listener nothing but impressed.
Learn more about Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina.