It began the climactic night of Hopscotch with a decision to make: Boulevards at Red Hat Amphitheater versus Speedy Ortiz at City Plaza. I like the local synth-funkster and the visiting alt-rockers equally well, and I might have had to flip a coin if not for the Bulleit whiskey stand in City Plaza, where you could get four free shots—OK, half shots, but still—for the price of showing your I.D. and maybe selling your soul in a promotional snapshot with a spokesmodel in a cocktail dress. When domestic beers are going for $10, that’s a scale-tipper.

Speedy’s spiky nineties-indie throwbacks were a perfect aperitif for the Actual Nineties Rock of alt legend Liz Phair, who would take the stage next. Her singing as punchy and pitchy as ever, her strumming as slashing and sure, Phair generously returned a fervent mouth-along audience to its glory days. Her concert was part of a slate of nostalgia bookings (MC50, a Prince-less Revolution, Nile Rodgers & Chic) that starkly highlighted a focus on spectacularly checking demographic boxes at the expense of creating a cohesive, cumulative overall experience.

The savvy Speedy-Phair pairing stood out among more desultory bookings and combinations. Of course, a music festival should be eclectic and diverse. But if it’s to be more than a massive branding exercise, it should also tell a coherent, compelling story about what matters in music or culture right now, teaching listeners through narrative and association, not dartboard-bombardment. If the concept is basically “What if a rock festival, but Miguel,” then what results is a strangely inert, inorganic cultural space—one in which a surprising number of core attendees have never heard of the headliner that indisputably gave the weekend’s greatest set to one of the festival’s smallest mainstage crowds, Nile Rodgers & Chic.

Rodgers is the flame-keeper and inimitable guitarist of the legendary disco band behind “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Le Freak” and the writer, performer, or producer on pop hits by anyone from Sister Sledge and Diana Ross to Duran Duran and Daft Punk. We heard them all.

Rodgers’s funk is still immaculately silvered and feathered, and the sixty-five-year-old guitarist was backed by a hardworking drummer, two spectacular singers (it’s a good thing Red Hat is already roofless, as Kimberly Davis would have torn it off), a strutty bassist flinging notes around the neck wherever he wanted, two side-stepping horn players, and a keyboardist who teared up when Rodgers told the cancer-recovery story he must have heard a hundred times before.

I love bloopity electronic noises and people playing windchimes through pedals, but that was a goddamn band right there, and it slightly ruined me for other music that night. Plus, everybody learned something. (Rodgers produced “Like a Virgin,” who knew?) If Hopscotch slacked on telling a story about music and its meaning this year, Chic picked it right up and made it dance.

Out of journalistic interest, I pried myself away and went back to City Plaza to catch a bit of MC5—excuse me, “MC50.” This is too bizarre for a segue, so I’ll just blurt it out: Who remembers the baffling thing uttered by Wayne Kramer, the founding guitarist reanimating the corpse of the Detroit proto-punk band’s Kick Out the Jams, a canonical classic I’m not sure anyone who wasn’t young in 1968 still listens to? I wish I had the exact quote, but between songs near the start of the set, Kramer definitely told the crowd that he saw “a lot of white faces” but that they had “soulful hearts.” He continued to develop this line of thought, but my mind was reeling so fast I didn’t register what he said next, though I had the impression it continued to be nuts. Some audience members got very alert and still, as if a trap were about to spring, while some side-eyed each other as if they knew they’d be offended by what he was saying if only they could grasp out what it was or why he was saying it.

It’s possible Kramer was archly commenting on his audience’s homogeneity somehow, but it didn’t land that way, and satire hardly fits in the band’s earnest, messianic wheelhouse. (Besides, dude, what did you expect? You’re playing a half-century-old white-counterculture touchstone. In Raleigh. Against Chic.) It seemed like he was using “soulful” as a flattering euphemism, trying to paint a middle-aged white audience with a cool black brush. But surely not even someone representing the band that founded the White Panther Party would say that out loud, into a microphone, on a stage, in 2018. Right? Anyway, it was super, super weird. Someone help me out here.

I’m not saying that Hopscotch having a white stage and a black stage on Saturday night was racist, but it indicates something it knows about its audience, something it is not rising to challenge. After Chic, the lineup went almost completely pale again for hours, until Vic Mensa at 12:30, which, in the nightmarish sonic hellscape that is The Basement—the concrete hangar below the Raleigh Convention Center—sounded like three different Bomb Squad productions playing at once inside a giant aluminum trashcan. Hopscotch, I say this as a friend, enough with The Basement!

Perhaps a more carefully curated presentation would have made the transcendent Moses Sumney an oasis in this nocturnal desert, rather than planting him before dusk and before Chic, and then leaving pop fans adrift in a world of Mind Over Mirrors and Gang Gang Dance later. Sumney’s cool, effervescent digitized soul, at once earthy and otherworldly, implied a sort of postmodern (even posthuman) Stevie Wonder; his ethereal runs and stark live backing extended into virtual space with live electronic processing.

One of the most memorable moments of Saturday night—even though it took a couple of tries after some tech troubles—was when Sumney entreated the crowd to group-harmonize on a bass note as if he were Pauline Oliveros, weaving us into the composition in a way that felt authentic and augmenting, as if the giant electronic bass were rolling out of my throat.

If I’m being hard on a festival at which I had a good time, it’s because Hopscotch is established and popular enough to withstand it, and as it moves toward the center, it risks losing its unique local identity. In its early days, it catered to rock fans and focused on bookings that weren’t often seen in the area or at other festivals. But many bands this year had been to Hopscotch before or tour in the region regularly. Hopscotch has been successful in branching out into experimental music, and has made strides with rock and pop, but it has not yet figured out how to connect them so that they talk to one another and their audiences cross over.

The risk of the something-for-everyone approach is that none but the most eclectic, historically steeped music nerds can get the most out of it. Many people will buy a ticket for the big show they want to see or buy a wristband and wander around without any clear path through the metal and experimental bands for long stretches.

A festival can be inclusive without abdicating the need to tell a story beyond, “Here are some popular or renowned acts we were able to schedule at this time.” It was enough to make Hopscotch worthwhile, if not especially exciting this year (though our plea regarding The Basement also applies to The Flaming Lips). The question is whether it will continue to be in the future.