Illustration by Nicole Pajor Moore.

Read our guide for this year’s Hopscotch small club shows here.

Many local bands dream of sharing a bill with an act like Pavement. 

Playing tennis with Pavement? Probably not so many.

Dear Blanca, an explosively rumbly indie rock band from the capital city of South Carolina, is poised to realize both dreams during the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, where they will open for their good friends, LA-based trio The Sloppy Boys, in a small underground club.

Dear Blanca singer Dylan Dickerson says that when his group was added to the lineup for the 2023 event he dove deep into Pavement’s catalog, which he didn’t know well. Enamored, he dug deeper, discovering that the band’s Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich had an affinity for tennis, a sport he’d gotten hooked on in the past year.

“I tweeted at Bob and he got back to me and seemed interested,” Dickerson recounts of how the conversation about playing got started. “Stephen tends to bring his rackets anyways and likes to try to squeeze hitting a round in whenever he can.”

After the tweet, Dickerson had Nastanovich on his podcast, and plans solidified. They now have a text thread going about it.

Festival director Nathan Price reports he’s “oh so aware” of the potential for a Pavement–Dear Blanca tennis match.

“I love it,” he says of the opportunities locals get to rub elbows with artists they admire and play for packed rooms. “I haven’t been able to play Hopscotch in years because I’m always so busy. But when you’re playing in that setting where you’re in a full crowd, everybody’s into it, it just feels like how it should feel. And I love hearing from an out-of-towner about a discovery they don’t know, isn’t a huge band, like, they’ll talk about a Dear Blanca or somebody as their big discovery that weekend.”

The chances for popular regional acts to play sports with indie rock royalty and for locals to play crowded venues gets a boost when Hopscotch returns September 7-9. For the first time since the pandemic shut down the event in 2020—and heavily altered it for the next two years—the festival is bringing back ticketed club venues.

In 2021, there were no official club shows, just two outdoor main stages in Moore Square and City Plaza. In 2022, free, mostly local late-night shows were added at Slim’s and the Pour House, both mainstay clubs from the festival’s first decade, when the indoor programming spanned 10 or more clubs and went from the early evening into the wee hours. 

This year, the festival announced that it would have official, pass-required shows at six clubs, also bringing back four other previous hallmarks in Lincoln Theatre, Kings, Neptunes, and the Wicked Witch. When the official schedule dropped, it added Nash Hall and first-time Hopscotch venue Transfer Co., bringing the final number up to eight. And those club shows are once again filled out with some exciting touring acts, including SNL star Sarah Sherman (headlining Hopscotch’s first-ever comedy stage), The Sloppy Boys, acclaimed hip-hop artists Prince Paul and Kool Keith, free jazz legend Jeff Parker, thrash-punk forerunners Cro-Mags, and more. 

Price says the late venue additions were partially due to the festival not knowing if it would be able to use them—but also because high ticket sales made it attractive to have two more places for Hopscotch to spread out its crowd.

An array of club options has always been crucial to Hopscotch, serving as the crux of its choose-your-own-adventure concept (the festival is named after a 1960s stream-of-consciousness novel that can be read in different sequences). Previous years have given attendees the chance to jump between rock and hip-hop, offbeat pop and heavy metal, various shades of folk and country, and a host of experimental outliers—much of it delivered by world-class artists who rarely tour through the state.

But Price says he thinks the renewed excitement around this year’s festival is about more than the return of a proper club lineup.

Booking the main stages this year with acts that got closer to the heights reached by previous festivals—which hosted towering names like Solange and Public Enemy, James Blake and Run the Jewels, Dwight Yoakam, and Spiritualized—was a top priority, an effort to reclaim the prestige Hopscotch held prior to the pandemic.

The headliners at this year’s festival get close to that level. There’s indie rock giants in Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement (who last played in North Carolina in 1999, and whom Price has described as the festival’s “biggest get ever”). There’s an emo luminary in American Football (who has never played in the state). There’s a rapper, hot as anyone around, in Denzel Curry. There’s an exceedingly popular indie-popper in Japanese Breakfast and an equally well-liked country songstress in Margo Price. 

Still, the return of clubs in earnest for the first time this decade is what makes this year’s lineup really feel like Hopscotch again.

And it’s a big deal for Raleigh’s club landscape, which is waking back up as people return to it. 

Kings, the eclectic rock club institution that launched in its second location in 2010 at the inaugural Hopscotch, started its slow reemergence from the pandemic at last year’s festival with a few day parties. This year’s Hopscotch will serve as another point of transition as Paul Siler and Cheetie Kumar are in the midst of working out a deal to hand over the club’s reins to a longtime member of the local music scene, with the details to be announced in the near future.

Siler says he and Kumar (guitarists in long-running Raleigh rock band Birds of Avalon) are excited to see the club go to a team that understands the local music community and knows how to keep Kings going into the future. Siler and Kumar will still be an active part of that community, planning to host shows on the patio at their new restaurant, Ajja, located in Raleigh’s Five Points neighborhood, just outside of downtown.

As for the other two floors in the couple’s triple-decker downtown nightlife hub—Neptunes, the cocktails-and-dance-focused bar in the basement, and Garland, the former restaurant on the ground floor—Siler says they have already handed off the lease for Neptunes and have lined up a good person to take over the Garland space.

Siler is intimately acquainted with Hopscotch, having steered Kings and Neptunes through its energetic chaos throughout the 2010s. He’s happy to see the festival getting back to itself.

“When they made the announcement of the lineup, it just felt like it had the best reaction and reception of any Hopscotch since, like, maybe the first one or the third one,” Siler says, explaining why that’s a big deal when you own a rock club in downtown Raleigh. “This business does not guarantee that it’s going to be enough money— I mean, most of us who do this have other jobs—so it’s nice to know that for three days of the year, you’re going to be busy.”

“Every year that Hopscotch happens, and I walk outside our building, the energy on the street and the type of people that come to Hopscotch, and the feeling around it, I’m always just like, ‘God, I wish this was the way Raleigh was all the time,’” he adds.

And while Hopscotch also highlights some issues he sees with downtown—whether the people who attend the festival could afford the apartments going up in the area, for instance—Siler says the event instills hope, allowing him to revel in what downtown can be at its best.

Adam Lindstaedt, who owns the Pour House, echoes many of Siler’s sentiments, calling this year’s lineup the best he’s seen in a while. 

With his business expanding its purview—working to establish the first mass-production-capable vinyl record plant in Raleigh—he’s eager for excitement to return to the local music scene.

“It’s the most magical time of year for live music in Raleigh. Everybody’s out, everyone’s happy, they’re doing it all day and all night.”

“It’s the most magical time of year for live music in Raleigh,” Lindstaedt says. “Everybody’s out, everyone’s happy, they’re doing it all day and all night.”

The club does great revenue during the event, typically bringing in over four days what it would during a couple of weeks of OK business, with a little more than half of that coming from day parties, and while Lindstaedt says the club hasn’t really seen a dropoff during the past two COVID-altered years, he does see key advantages to being included on this year’s proper club lineup.

“If you buy a club ticket and you’re being able to bounce around from place to place, odds are you’re probably going to stop by at some point,” he says of getting to showcase the club to people who might not know about it—or who, after the pandemic, just need a reminder.

And the clubs offer opportunities for acts outside of rock, folk, and pop.

Abyssal Frost, a relentlessly churning black metal band from Atlanta and Charlotte that’s playing an official set at this year’s Hopscotch, is timing the release of its first single from its second album to line up with the festival, in hopes the appearance can amp excitement for the new record.

“It’s a massive, massive opportunity for us to be able to be not only just playing live in general and having that whole ecosystem moving towards a place where it’s thriving again, but then especially something like Hopscotch,” Abyssal Frost’s Kenan Kerr says. “We know that we’re going to have national acts, so we’re going to have that attention.”

Durham’s Jooseloord, an aggressively thoughtful rapper who is returning to the festival for another official set, also emphasizes the opportunity festivals provide to connect with bigger artists and new audiences, explaining that these advantages are increased when the event happens where you live.

“I feel like it evens out the ground more,” he says of playing Hopscotch alongside bigger national names like Kool Keith and Prince Paul. “A lot of times, especially if somebody is in your wheelhouse, they’ll reach out to you beforehand and be like, ‘Where can we do this? Where can we do that?’ Because you’re an act that’s booked up there as well and they know that people know of you.”

Kym Register is the owner of Durham’s Pinhook rock club and a stalwart local musician who emphasizes bringing “a queer lens to the Southern rock ethos,” per the website for their band Meltdown Rodeo. Having played the festival several times in the past and returning this year with that new outfit, Register is excited for the opportunity Hopscotch provides to a diverse range of acts, and expresses hope that this aspect will expand in the future.

“I think every white-man-run organization or white-person-run organization, including the Pinhook, all of us should have meetings or conferences or groups of people that aren’t involved in the organization to speak out and to get information from about how it could be more inclusive because it’s hard to see that when you are the majority,” Register explains, circling the idea of bringing in outside artists to curate more shows as one way Hopscotch could accomplish this.

Having at least one artist-curated stage was a hallmark of the festival in previous years and, like the expanded club lineup, it’s also coming back this year. The festival has teamed with local hip-hop collective Raleighwood to program the Thursday night bill at Kings.

“We tried to have it as diverse as possible. I think we did a pretty good job, especially on the main stages again,” Price, the festival director, says of this year’s lineup. “We tried real hard to make sure that it was as diverse as possible. And not just, you know, a bunch of indie bands.”

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