Hopscotch Music Festival
Downtown Raleigh
Friday, September 8, 2017

Despite the growth of Hopscotch, over its eight years of existence, Friday proved that the festival’s hallmarks—its diverse smorgasbord of options and its ability to remind that North Carolina’s scene can compete on the same platform as national acts—are as intact as ever.

Speaking with Nathan Price a couple of weeks before the festival, the new Hopscotch executive director mentioned his goal of trying to avoid pitting two acts of the same genre against one another as the festival grows—“you’ll end with two metal shows at the same time” and pull fans in too many directions, he suggested.

While that’s logical from a booking perspective, Hopscotch’s appeal for the weekend-long attendee seems to have less to do with presenting consistent bills of one genre and more with offering an array of strong options to suit whichever musical craving hits. The jarring shifts from one style to another, vastly different one is among the festival’s most satisfying experiences.

Friday, for instance, that meant chasing Run The Jewel’s tough, incisive rap bangers at a haze-filled Red Hat Amphitheater by Future Island’s electronic dance party in City Plaza, then flipping the switch with a back-to-back cool down at Fletcher thanks to Dylan Earl’s twangy, new traditional country and Monk Parker’s mournful, moody roots elegance. That the night could have just as easily gone in a myriad of other directions, though, depending on which whims I was feeling is what makes Hopscotch so much fun. Tossing aside pre-planned detours into Neptunes for indie pop, my night was capped instead by Lee Fields & The Expressions’ show-stopping soul revue and Whores’ brutal, unrelenting sludge.

Looking around each venue, it was still a little surprising to always recognize a face—or a few—in the crowd, despite my disjointed approach to the evening; scanning social media proved that nearly everyone I was connected with who was at the festival also spent their Friday like they were listening to their music collection on shuffle. It was evidence again that Hopscotch can be most satisfying for those with eclectic tastes willing to go where the night takes them.

Meanwhile, for those without wristbands, the afternoon also proved that Hopscotch can deliver just as well with the locals that often fill the day parties. Previewing next year’s debut LP, Bat Fangs ripped and shredded through hooky garage tunes tinged by power pop and eighties hard rock after Phil Cook presented a special solo set rife with Randy Newman covers. Seabreeze Diner’s jittery jangles were as catchy as anything I saw all day, while Reese McHenry, backed by the bar band muscle of Spider Bags, rattled Slim’s with a powerful performance that’ll likely end up as my favorite of the weekend. Though Greenville ex-pats Future Islands didn’t seem to energize the City Plaza crowd to the same degree as Sylvan Esso did last year—at least not until the back-to-back surge prompted by singles “Seasons (Waiting On You)” and “Old Friend”—Friday showed once again the Triangle’s artists hold their own against the nation’s best.