Monday, September 16, 2013

Full Report | 2013 Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina

Photo | Agatha Donkar

Well folks - another Hopscotch Music Festival has come and gone, and like always, it's taken us a week to recover from the madness.  In short - it was awesome. Unplanned day shows, followed by a meticulous schedule we derived after months of research for our evenings.  Below, check out what we saw during the "club shows" portion of the festival.


Thursday

Nathan Bowles

Photo | Nathan Bowles by Agatha Donkar

I arrived at Fletcher Opera Theater expecting a sparse crowd for festival opener Nathan Bowles. Not due to lack of excitement for his set, but because it can be hard to fill a venue, particularly a big theater like Fletcher, for the festival's inaugural performance. Especially considering said inaugural performance consisted almost entirely of instrumental banjo tunes. I got there a few minutes before doors opened, and was surprised to find a mass of about seventy-five people eagerly waiting to get in, making it tougher than I had anticipated to stake claim on a spot in the front. Mr. Bowles took the stage promptly after I found my first row center isle seat, and following a friendly greeting and a few sips of beer, donned a worn brass slide for his first song.

I'd never seen someone try slide on a banjo before, but the warm, plucky tone of the instrument complimented the lyrical quality of slide playing well, resulting in a sweet amalgam of haunted blues portamento and bluegrass twang. And hot damn could that boy twang. Bowles picked up speed for his next few songs, displaying a nimble mastery of his instrument, although it's clear that he draws influence more from solo acoustic guitar players than true banjo virtuosos. Think Jack Rose or John Fahey rather than Earl Scruggs. Bowles continued his clawhammer excursions with a rapt audience, painting minor key landscapes of Appalachian Mountains and fresh moonshine until it was time for me to make a trip over to Kennedy Theater to see The Dreebs. [Dylan Newcity]

The Dreebs

Despite it only being approximately 200 yards from Fletcher to Kennedy, I was almost leveled by bicycle rickshaws twice on the walk over. The second time was due to a big dude on the rickshaw causing too much downhill momentum and brake failure. Yeah, it was no joke. After narrowly skirting death outside, entering Kennedy was a bit like descending into hell given The Dreebs punishing wash of distortion and shrieking emanating from the back room. I had to quickly make my way to the far side of the venue to avoid being blasted deaf by the monitors at the entrance, but once my ears adjusted a little it wasn't too painful. The Dreebs hail from Brooklyn, NY and use only an electric violin, guitar and drum kit to craft droning horror stories. "This song is for all the high school quarterbacks," violnist/vocalist Adam Markiewicz declared before launching into a feedback-drenched barrage of noise, held together by the Meg-White-does-metal drumming of percussionist Shannon Sigley. There were soft passages of effected violin that were actually quite beautiful, and some melodic singing that would have you forget the chaos that had just ensued, if only for a moment.

I love the noisy no-wave vibe, and the band does it well, but I felt like the performance could have used a tad more dynamic space. It seemed that it was always either ear-bleeding cacophony or dulcet quiet sections, with little middle ground. I did leave 3/4 of the way through their set to get ready for Sylvan Esso, so admittedly I didn't get the whole picture, but I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw, even if I'm now five percent more deaf on my left side. [Dylan Newcity]

Angel Olsen



I’ve said it before, but Hopscotch is more of a Marathon than a sprint, so I decided to start things off by going to a set where I could sit down, in an air-conditioned room, and just chill for a bit. And that is exactly what greeted me, when walking into Fletcher Opera House to find Angel Olsen onstage.  Not being familiar with her work, I was pleasantly surprised.


Talk about your perfect pairing of artist and venue – Olsen’s voice completely filled the hushed room. And when I mean filled, I mean COMMANDED that hushed room,  performing a set that may have been the most “enchanting” of the festival for me. Her lyrics are folk-storytelling at its best, and  I can now see why the likes of Bonnie “Prince” Billy would snatch her up and take her on the road with him. 

We’ll be hearing much, much more from her I am sure when her debut LP comes out on Jagjaguwar on some future date. [Matt Smith]

Sylvan Esso

Photo | Sylvan Esso by Dylan Newcity

I've discovered my new favorite band, y'all.

Sylvan Esso has only put out one double A side single so far, and while those songs (here and here) are amazing, hearing a full set of new tunes amplified my excitement for this band tenfold. The confident duo of vocalist Amelia Meath and electro-groove master Nick Sanborn spin silky electronica, utilizing thunderous synth bass squelches, pumping rhythms, and elegant vocal passages in equal measure. Harmonies are recorded on the fly, and before you have a chance to blink, Amelia's lone soprano becomes an angelic ensemble of counterpoint voices, hovering softly over acidic hip-hop break beats. The music is irresistibly danceable, and the crowd happily obliged while both performers threw out hand gestures and busted moves typically reserved for emcees. Even a self-proclaimed white boy of the dance floor such as myself couldn't deny the mojo, and after an hour of breaking it down in Memorial Auditorium it was clear to me that no other show all weekend would compare to this one in terms of straight up fun.

While there isn't a lot to go on for now, expect great things from Sylvan Esso in the future, and if by the grace of God you have the chance to see them live (perhaps on tour with Volcano Choir in the coming months) don't miss it. [Dylan Newcity]

Golden Void

Picking up my musical pace, I rickshawed it on over to Deep South, do check out SoCal guitar shredders Golden Voice…which looking back, was an odd choice after sitting in an opera house to see Angel Olsen.  Walking into the bar, I was greeted by a room of sweaty dudes (and ladies!) getting down to Chapel Hill’s Bitter Resolve, which immediately got me in the mood to get pummeled by guitar.

And that’s exactly what Golden Void did – they came out, confidently, and worked through a set of chord-heavy riffs, that sounded like the lovechild of Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi.  It was the perfect way to break out into full festival mode, which I did, by donning a bandanna (rolled…Karate Kid style), hopping up and down, and tastefully drinking a pleasant IPA (it couldn’t be all badass…sheesh.) [Matt Smith]


Marnie Stern


Photo | Marnie Stern by Agatha Donkar

Rickshaws were bountiful Thursday night, so I hopped in another outside Deep South, and some dude worked me up the hill to Lincoln Theatre to catch Marnie Stern.  Ooooh Marnie Stern…

She was ontstage when I entered, so I quickly made my way to the stairs to see the woman behind the voice I’d heard a thousand times on the radio.  I had pictured a tall, dark-haired lady, maybe with a tat or two on her forearm, because let’s face it, of all the female artists on the indie-scene right now, Marnie Stern play the most bad-ass music. But holy shit if she’s not a small, petite blonde – who looks like she could have just left the house next door, hopped in her Volkswagen Cabrio, parked (legally!) on the corner, unpacked her guitar, and proceeded to fucking wail onstage like she’s been possessed.

I was shocked, and pleased all at the same time. [Matt Smith]


Kurt Vile and the Violators

Photo | Kurt Vile by Agatha Donkar

I can’t think of a better way to bookend an evening filled with very loud music, than a set by Kurt Vile.   And while guitar seems to be a theme for Thursday night’s Hopscotch, this is guitar work of a different kind. Chill and melodic when combined with Vile’s trademark croon (“yeeeeeah”)  it was a true gift at the 12:30 timeslot, allowing us to come down gradually before making our way to our homes.

There was nothing shocking here, or surprising –  and maybe because I am so familiar with Vile’s music, but the set felt safe.  I mean, it may have been because it was his second set of the day and he greeted the audience just before 1 am, but the songs sounded, for lack of a better comparison, exactly like the records.  And as we've learned this year, that isn't always a bad thing (see Foxygen review.) [Matt Smith]

On to Friday!


Friday


Desert Heat

Desert Heat I accidently saw this band, but that is totally the beauty of Hopscotch. Walking into Kings, I filtered in past a random smattering of smokers, people drinking coffee (because it’s only like 1 in the afternoon at this point), Thurston Moore, and people unloading gear. You know, the normal crowd hanging out outside Kings on a Friday afternoon. After almost peeing myself and telling everyone around me that a rock legend is just hanging outside, Desert Heat took the stage after a hearty introduction by some record label dude. He let us know that we’d be seeing the first live performance by Steve Gunn, John Truscinski, and Cian Nugent as Desert Heat – all three names familiar for some reason (Steve Gunn is a guitarist in Kurt Vile’s band.) They ripped through a set of extremely intricate guitar songs, playing off each other, and feeling one another out, musically as the progressed their jam-ish set. It was hilarious to watch the crowd, me included I’m sure, as they started with a slight head nod, and as the band layered and picked up pace, their knees got into it, then into full bounce. An awesome set. [Matt Smith]


Wool

Photo | Wool by Dylan Newcity

It's a safe bet that you'll come away from Hopscotch having discovered a few up-and-coming North Carolina bands that strike your fancy. The festival is scheduled so that the large-drawing headliners play first, eliminating conflicts later in the night so you can "hop" from club show to club show checking out as many of the smaller acts as your heart desires.

I began my Friday night with Wool at Berkley Café. The Raleigh based foursome delivered a set of sparkly dream-pop in the vein of Slowdive and Smashing Pumpkins, but without most of the fuzz and all of the arrogance of those bands. Whispery vocals lilted over atmospheric chording, while a strong bassist/drummer dynamic ensured that it all stayed well grounded. Somewhat poor mixing left a little to be desired in the lead guitar department, but despite the minor sound problems I was very impressed by what I heard. These guys are a great reminder of why I’m so proud of the Triangle area music scene, and their debut EP is due out in October so keep your ears to the ground. [Dylan Newcity]

Turf War

We’ve featured Turf War a couple times on this ole’ blog now, and they were one of the first permanent marker circles we made when filling out our schedule. They’re that perfect blend of heavy guitar and melodic sing-a-long you look for when seeing a festival show. You can imagine the crowd, not knowing who they are really, getting immediately into it – which is exactly what happened.

In all honesty, I had pictured a more confident group onstage though. These guys are young, and performing at 9:30 pm, so I’m saying this strictly because it’s one of the things that stood out to me, but I had envisioned a more rawkus scene.  The audience didn’t care though, and really, neither did I. [Matt Smith]

Rose Windows

Photo | Rose Windows by Dylan Newcity

I like to say that a venue can’t hold a band as a hyperbolic compliment to their huge sound or impressive stage presence, but in the case of Rose Windows, I mean it literally. The seven-piece psych-soul collective from Seattle couldn’t quite fit on the cramped Berkley Café stage, so guitarist Chris Cheveyo and bassist Richie Rekow set up on the ground in front of the monitors. And if that wasn’t foreshadowing enough of the epic-ness to come, there was a pretty female flautist. That is always a good thing.

A foreboding, Doors-esque Hammond organ set the stage for feisty frontwoman Rabia Qazi to shine; imagine a folkier Janis Joplin but with better vocal range. The flute and lead guitar filled out the upper register nicely, while a rock-solid rhythm section kept it all glued together. A beautiful portal to the 1960’s opened up in Berkley that night, spewing forth these self-described “Hard hitting hippies” to teach us their mystical, psychedelic ways.

I then made the most unfortunate decision of Hopscotch 2013: About two thirds of the way through Rose Window’s set I decided to leave in order to catch Night Beds at Fletcher. To my dismay, Night Beds had to cancel their performance due to a medical emergency, but I resolved to make the best of a bad situation and walk the six blocks up town to see Vattnet Viskar at Slim’s, which I didn't realize was only 21+. I was turned away at the door, having walked almost twenty blocks and seen no music. [Dylan Newcity]

High Highs

Another band that made a very quick impression on me when doing Hopscotch research was NYC’s the High Highs. So much so, we gave them one of our coveted Jam of the Days, and made it a point to get to Memorial a bit early to catch their entire set.  We were not disappointed in the least.

For those of you who don’t know, Memorial is a LARGE venue – a big, broadway-esq theater, two stores tall, and probably holding upwards of 2000 people.  Not exactly an easy place to play, and honestly, it has to be intimidating when only 1/15 of the way filled for your early-evening set at Hopscotch.

Mic stands wrapped in twinkle lights, the duo that make up High Highs completely kept their head above water, not being swallowed by the cavernous room in the least.  Light, melodic, and enthralling, people actually began to move from their red-velvet covered seats, down to the stage to get a closer look at the pair.  The sound – wonderful. Festivals like this, that feature both high-dollar venues and local rock clubs, showcase how good a set of PAs can sound when you drop a few million dollars on a soundsystem.

They High Highs – sounded like those million bucks, and made a complete fan out of me. [Matt Smith]


Local Natives

I was disappointed after missing Vattnet Viskar and Night Beds, but knew that as long as I was there to see Local Natives burn down the house in Memorial Auditorium the night would end in all smiles.

After a prolonged setup due to a troublesome bass amp, the Los Angeles based indie rockers took the stage to much applause. The lengthy set drew heavily from their 2013 release, Hummingbird, but favorites from their first record still revealed themselves throughout the evening. The massive room and PA system in Memorial Hall perfectly suited the band’s dynamic arrangements, which included complex vocal harmonies, as many as three guitars, multiple keyboards, both electronic and acoustic drums, and fuzzed out bass. Upbeat, rhythmic rock tunes rubbed elbows with quieter, piano based songs, but never did I feel like the pace slowed down; the energy level throughout the set was very consistent, until the last three songs or so. At that point the pulse of the crowd quickened, and it was evident that this set was going to end on a high note. After finishing up Gorilla Manor gem “Who Knows, Who Cares” the band thanked everyone for making it a “special evening” and launched into set closer “Sun Hands.” Everyone was very excited, and the increase in energy was not only palpable, but also audible as most of the crowd echoed the song’s characteristic screamed bridge section.

These Cali boys are bona fide indie heavyweights, and deservedly so. The emotional depth of their music is impressive, but it’s supplemented by so much smart instrumentation that it takes a few listens before you even realize how moving the songs truly are. May the festival gods take mercy on your soul if you missed this one. [Dylan Newcity]

Waxahatchee

Ok, first bit of negative feedback for the Hopscotch folks.  Do not use Kennedy Theater as a venue. It sucks every bit of life out of you, and the music, upon entering the building. 

Leaving Local Natives, I was pumped to see Waxahatchee.  I love her record, Cerulean Salt, and couldn’t wait to hear her live, having read positive reviews of her stage show.  By the time I’d walked around the back of a massive building, entered a hallway that looked and smelled a lot like high school,  and into a black box theatre where the mood was…somber, by excitement had waned to a point of no return.

Waxahatchee sounded amazing, but the mood in the room was really weird. Especially for such a late timeslot on the second night of the fest. [Matt Smith]


Saturday


San Fermin

Photo | San Fermin by Agatha Donkar

With an impressive list musical credentials that includes a degree from Yale (yeah, that Yale,) 23-year-old composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone has already proven himself as an exceptional talent. Now, as chief composer, arranger, and lyricist for San Fermin he uses his classical training to breathe life into the tried and true rock band context, crafting some of the most intelligent pop music I’ve ever heard.

Mr. Ludwig-Leone plays keyboard, while Allen Tate and Jess Wolfe split lead vocal duties, and a full band of electric guitar, baritone saxophone, trumpet, viola, and drums flesh out the intricate compositions. The luscious acoustics in Fletcher Opera Theater complimented the band perfectly, adding yet another layer of resonance to a band who was already more harmonically rich than most orchestral ensembles. Tate’s dark baritone was a great contrast to Wolfe’s high harmony vocals, and the diverse array of tone colors coming from the stage made it feel as if I was listening to some sort of modern day big band jazz group. Ludwig-Leone’s vivid arrangements consistently yielded the dignified, catchy chamber-pop that so many young artists strive to make these days, and not once during their hour-long set did I lose interest or feel like the music had become redundant. I’m a sucker for a good drummer, too, and San Fermin’s was one of the tightest I saw all weekend, staying in the pocket all night without ever overplaying.

San Fermin was one of only a handful of sets where I stayed all the way through from beginning to end, and it was the only one that I hadn’t planned on staying for beforehand. I tip my hat to you, Ellis. [Dylan Newcity]

Lonnie Holley

Longview Center is a church, and that may be the reason I loathe it as a venue for Hopscotch.  People whisper while inside, even between bands, so it’s a real mood killer when inserted into the middle of your evening.

That aside, Lonnie Holley was exactly as I had imagined. Entrancing, emotional, and different than anything I’ve ever seen or heard, his mix of soul, Sigur Ros style piano plunking, and spiritual style actually made a lot of sense in the venue. And looking around, the people in attendance were taking themselves, and him, very seriously.


But even the fact he was playing with members of Bon Iver and Megafaun wasn’t enough to get me over the FEEL of the place, and the mood-drowning sense that if I didn’t get out of there, and quickly, that my night would not recover and I’d sulk back to my car, deflated. [Matt Smith]

Kopecky Family Band


Photo | Kopecky Family Band by Agatha Donkar

I interviewed a few of the Kopeckys earlier in the day, which basically makes them my new BFFs.  So, never missing the shows of ANY of my BFFs, I wandered over to Tir Na Nog, to catch a band from Tennessee in an Irish pub.  I was greeted by a bartender snatching a beer out of a drunken patron’s hand and kicking him out, so I knew I’d hit the right place.

It was late, and I was tired, so my memories of this show are a bit scattered, but my big takeaways on Kopecky Family Band is this.  They’re talented as hell, both from a musical standpoint as well as writing.  They’re a tight band. And lastly, they freaking love the hell out of what they do.

They were given a tough timeslot – closing the festival down after midnight.  People are worn the fuck out, but that didn't stop the packed house from jumping around like it was noon on Thursday.  They killed it, and sounded amazing doing it, so hats off to them. 

Can’t wait to catch them when my energy tank isn't down to just fumes. [Matt Smith]

2 comments:

  1. Good job SIC covering this Hopscotch. Even with the terrible Berkeley Cafe venue, I had another incredible time for my 4th attendance. It would have been only better if I saw all the bands you covered.

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  2. Learning to play an electrical fiddle isn't a lot of totally different than learning to play the standard fiddle. you need to still be able to master the fundamentals like standardization, posture, holding techniques, and therefore the numerous disciplines of changing into a musician.

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