Hopscotch Music Festival
Thursday, Sept. 10–Saturday, Sept. 12

Various Venues, Downtown Raleigh

Bike racks and chain-link fences almost kept Hopscotch from happening.

In early 2010, nine months before the inaugural festival brought Public Enemy and Panda Bear to its headlining outdoor stage, no one knew how to use Fayetteville Street as a ticketed music venue. When the city reopened that road to traffic in 2006, it added a slight berth at the end opposite the state capitol, intending to use it as a central events space. The city had also designed a hidden infrastructure of electrical outlets and multimedia access points, allowing for easy, adaptable use.

In the years prior to Hopscotch, street fairs and holiday concerts had indeed started supplying new vitality to what had been a withering pedestrian mall. But the next logical moveselling tickets, sealing it off, starting a ticket gateremained a mystery.

In fact, while Hopscotch co-founder Greg Lowenhagen and I sat in a conference room in the offices of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, we were told it couldn’t be done, that the move was too risky for Raleigh. The challenge was to cordon off the area known as City Plaza with temporary walls, much like any amphitheater or rock club might do in order to control entrance and egress. The obvious choice, it seemed, was a combination of medium-height fences and lower metal racks, which would outline the streets and a backstage area.

“But what if something bad happened?” wondered the police and fire officials on hand. “How could people get out without it becoming a trampling stampede?” Their answer, simply and dishearteningly, was that it was impossible. If Hopscotch or any organization wanted to use Raleigh’s public square, safety concerns meant it couldn’t be a private, ticketed event.

David Diaz now laughs at his memories of that rather tense meeting. By that point, Diaz had worked as the president and CEO of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance for less than three years. Part of his charge was to attract and encourage new events downtown, to utilize the space that the city had spent so much time and money building. And here he was with an opportunity that someone else had developed and handed to him. He simply had to get behind it. But he worried he wouldn’t be able to do the job.

“It was understood that, even though the street was built, it wasn’t going to get activated on its own. But the staff and the city were not accustomed to seeing new things. It was pretty straightforward until thena parade, First Night, Artsplosure, long-term events,” remembers Diaz, who still holds the same post. “But we quickly saw the potential of Hopscotch, and we felt like we had to go to bat for it and cut through the bureaucracy.”