I'd been wanting to make it to Raleigh's Hopscotch festival for a while, so with some of my favorites like The Afghan Whigs, Oh Sees and The Brian Jonestown Massacre on the bill, I made certain this was my year.
Hopscotch features shows on the central outdoor City Plaza stage, the nearby Red Hat Amphitheater, "The Basement" of the Raleigh Convention Center and several music venues throughout the downtown area.
Proudly heavy on regional and local bands, Approximately 20% of the festival’s performers hail from in-state. Even Baltimore's Future Islands trace their roots back to North Carolina.
Durham based Skylar Gudasz opened the festival Thursday for the early birds coming down from their office perches to the City Plaza stage in the heart of downtown Raleigh. Still relatively unknown, Skylar has a talent that will continue to draw admirers.
Margo Price has been heralded as country's "next big thing" since she released her solo debut Midwest Farmers Daughter on Jack White's Third Man Records in 2016. She is without a doubt too good for the Music Row treadmill of sameness. With the rise of more authentic country in the form of other successful "outlaws" like Chris Stapleton, I hope she can take home some well deserved recognition and bigger paychecks.
Stoner-psyche rockers All The Saints kicked off my night of dark psychedelia in "The Basement". I'd seen these guys open for Oh Sees the night before in their home town Atlanta and they totally blew me away. Propulsive, dissonant, trippy. Consider me a fan for life. Unfortunately, they drew the short straw of beginning the underground portion of the evening and played to a small crowd.
Asheville's aggressive Nest Egg was up next. This was the first time I'd seen or heard of these guys and they lived up to the raves of their many supporters in the audience. Dunno the drummers name, but he in particular, kicked ass.
Only recently not THEE Oh Sees, Wow! I'd been wanting to see these guys for the past several years, so I booked my summer vacation jaunt around being able to see them three times in as many weeks. They did not disappoint. The dual drummer attack of Paul Quattrone and Dan Rincon is something to behold. Prolific front man John Dwyer lead these guys through a hell bent garage manifestation of loud, fast, rules. They are the most exciting band in rock right now.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre's trance-like slow jam and psychedelic light show made me wonder what was really in the falafel I'd just scarfed down. I've loved these guys brand of woozy drone fuzz for years. It was great to have them back with some stellar new Kraut-rock influenced material from their latest album Don't Get Lost. There was a hilarious moment when guitarist Ryan Van Kriedt invited a female admirer of founder Anton Newcombe, who'd been shrieking about how he was her "hall pass" all night, to "shut the f*ck up". I nearly spewed hummus. Forever the gentleman, Anton said she was OK...but it did the trick.
Then, the dreaded festival dilemma. I was so entranced by BJM I didn't risk running off to Metz at a club venue a few streets over for fear of missing most of both. Metz are the one that got away.
I last saw The Make-Up at what amounted to a house party my friends put on in Nashville "back in the day". Ex-Nation of Ullysses frontman Ian Svenonius on vocals took a sip off from a soda, and proceeded to go absolutely berserk on early onlookers that were in no way prepared when he jumped into the crowd and danced along the front barricade like a tightrope. Great to see this band active again.
Atlanta's Run The Jewels are huge. They don't need me to sing their praises. If you are still out of the loop on these guys, check out Run The Jewels 3 and work your way back to their accidental beginnings when Atlanta hip-hop artist Killer Mike and producer EL-P decided to make their obvious chemistry a permanent thing. They were the only act to lure me over to the festival's largest venue, Red Hat Amphitheater. I would have definitely have been there for Big Boi, Solange and Angel Olsen were I able to stay longer.
I'd only heard rumours about what would happen next with Har Mar Superstar. My decision to stick around after the other photographers left paid off. Sean Matthew Tillmann aka Har Mar Superstar pouted and preened his soulful offerings to an adoring crowd. I get the feeling though, some of ladies in the front row were just there for the beefcake. Superstar did not disappoint. Check out the pictures.
North Carolina's own Lee Fields, along with his Impressions turned out some Stax/Motown sounds that made me forget what decade it was. Fields has an incredible voice and is a master performer. Its so easy to fall into the trap of James Brown comparisons that get tossed his way, but you can't help but notice his nickname "Little JB" is well earned and well deserved. Over 40 years of soul personified.
Running a few streets over, I caught the tail end of Preoccupations, the Canadian band that began life as Viet-Cong before changing their name in 2015. Killer post-punk noise. Drummer Mike Wallace was particularly exciting to watch.
I'm pretty sure you had to be a pudgy middle aged white guy in a black t-shirt and cut-off camos to get in to see The Afghan Whigs at the Lincoln Theater. So I fit right in. My clone army knew all the words and devoured the palpable electricity from our long departed heroes as if our raggedy Converse All-Stars were brand new. And although they never had any real "hits", the Whigs didn't play anything close to what might be considered one. Because that's the way they raised us. Hell yeah.