Hopscotch Music Festival
Downtown Raleigh
Friday, September 9, 2016

Was it something we said? After a smooth start to the festival, night two of Hopscotch was plagued by timing issues that led to extended periods of waiting around and listening to endless streams of piped-in house music, thanks to the delayed sets of two key performers. But amidst those snafus—more on that later—Friday also brought some very impressive highs that helped smooth things over.

First, there was Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals, who claimed the middle slot at City Plaza. Admittedly, I’ve always had a hard time connecting with the performances there—I’ll typically duck out early to catch the first wave of club shows, where the intimate vibe betters hold my attention—so perhaps I had set my expectations too low, even after watching some of Paak’s live performances on YouTube. But the engaging Paak cleared that bar by about the same distance between Raleigh and his SoCal home, putting on perhaps the best set I’ve seen at the Plaza, Hopscotch or otherwise. Paak sprinkled playful banter between his captivating blend of hip-hop and soul that kept the whole block moving. The set seemed to be peaking when the energetic Paak—who bounced around the stage, alternately singing and rapping—moved behind the drums, where he showcased his multi-tasking talent. But that was just the build-up for when he blew the roof off by bringing out hometown hero Rapsody to help him on “Without You,” produced by Durham’s 9th Wonder.

Slotted between the back-porch banjo strums of The Dead Tongues—excellent, as always—and the dreamy atmospheres of Beach House, Paak’s set also set the tone for the kind of intriguing possibilities of Hopscotch’s stylistic juxtaposition. After it became obvious that the wait for Erykah Badu’s headlining set was indefinite, I stuck close by, where I lucked into a terrific full-band show from local singer-songwriter Al Riggs, who shot his introspective lo-fi tunes with rock ‘n’ roll spirit. I finally caught a bit of Badu between punk-leaning sets from The Wyrms and Beach Slang at CAM; she was great, sure, but I think my impression had already been tainted by my impatience.

Similarly, I gave up on Young Thug entirely when the wait for him to grace Memorial Auditorium stretched past a half-hour. My late-night priority was Julien Baker. En route, I dipped into The Pour House to briefly blast my eardrums with Cobalt’s harsh metal howls and brutal, piledriving riffs before settling in a bit early for Baker’s hauntingly beautiful vocals and brutally honest lyricism. Next to Paak, Memphis’s Baker delivered the best set I’ve seen this weekend, with the painful but mesmerizing one-two punch of “Good News” and “Something” seemingly aimed at making a room full of grown-ups weep. Baker’s voice wrapped beautifully around her elegant piano playing on the closer “Go Home,” sending the hushed crowd on their way in stunning fashion.

Staving off sleep for just a few more moments, I passed back through The Pour House where YOB was punishing with thick sludge, letting its vibrations carry me down Blount Street to Lincoln Theatre where Big Freedia’s wild party was still in full effect and the Queen Diva herself was twerking at center stage. I couldn’t think of a much more disjointed half-hour than chasing Baker’s austere emotions with YOB’s deep, dark doom and Freedia’s boisterous bounce bash, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For most Hopscotch attendees, the delays to a couple key Friday night sets were annoying; for someone that schemes their Hopscotch strategy as carefully as I do, the late arrivals of Badu and Young Thug shook up the entire night, for better or for worse. Maybe if Hopscotch returns to the idea of an “improviser-in-residence,” it can nab someone as entertaining as Freedia to keep throngs occupied during any such waits in the future.