“We’re gonna play some newer songs,” Dinosaur Jr. told the crowd packing Raleigh’s Moore Square on Saturday night. “Not that new, though.”

Indeed, Dinosaur Jr., is—as my fellow INDY writer and pal Bryan Reed noted during the band’s headlining set, on one of the Hopscotch Music Festival’s two main stages—two times a legacy act, at this point, with its initial run of acclaimed reunion albums now sitting more than a decade in the rearview.

And they were a perfect fit for Hopscotch in 2023.

The trio’s wall of wooly sound, boosted by band member J Mascis’ triple-Marshall-stack riff-ing, was thunderous but cozy, with many of the songs’ melodies and vocals tilted affably toward classic rock.

A key piece of indie rock history that’s also profoundly accessible, the group that regularly plays large rock clubs these days packed Moore Square on Saturday at Raleigh’s Hopscotch Music Festival.

And this year, Hopscotch, a three-day festival anchored by indie rock that expands out into a variety of other niches, made a great case that it could be entering its own successful second act.

Hampered to varying degrees the past three years by the pandemic, including an all-out cancellation in 2020, the festival brought back ticketed club shows this year, programming eight indoor rooms a night to compliment its two outdoor main stages.

And the result of bringing back those clubs was exactly what I hoped I’d see and feel: a prismatic array of engaging sounds greeted by crowds that were consistently big and consistently excited by familiar favorites and new surprises alike.

As with the acts I bounced around after checking out Dinosaur Jr. Saturday, this year’s festival kept a firm foundation of established indie rock while pushing into directions that could lead into the future: Japanese Breakfast’s sweetly reverberating indie pop ably filled the festival’s other main stage in City Plaza, Raleigh rapper Jooselord lived up to his nickname “The Moshpit Messiah” as he got down into the crowd and got them jumping with gritty abandon, the party-hardy Sloppy Boys indie rock and pop into a glorious joke, and Setting’s immersive acoustic drone was a perfect end-of-night come down.

Balancing what has worked for Hopscotch in the past and what will take it into the future was crucial as the festival reclaimed its full strength, four years after the 2019 festival, a year-10 blowout that brought a lot of big names but shrank the festival’s stylistic frontiers as a result.

That balance showed through on the main stages, where crowds were entertained by the still perfectly Slanted and Enchanted indie rock riffs of Pavement and the unstoppable flow and showmanship of rising rapper Denzel Curry, the old-school rock and country spectacle of Margo Price, and the perfect-for-2023 indie pop of Alvvays.

The balance also showed through in the clubs. The festival’s biggest room, the Lincoln Theatre, was flexed to showcase rap (Jooselord), comedy (the sharply zany and confrontational Sarah Sherman led the festival’s first-ever stand-up stage), and experimental oddities (the-hard-rock-meets-modern-classical chaos of Judge Schreber’s Avian Chor was one of my favorite surprises).

Comedy, in particular, became a fun and fresh through line at the festival, as acts like The Sloppy Boys and Eshu Tune, the hip-hop project from acclaimed stand-up favorite Hannibal Burress, injected laughs in the clubs and main stages, respectively.

Metal and punk made a welcome return in the smaller rooms. North Carolina upstarts Doomsday Profit and Abyssal Frost both brought intricately constructed cavalcades. Australian Merge Records signees’ Cable Ties were sharply catchy and propulsive. Daikaiju set its crowd ablaze with literally fiery cymbals, relentless riffs, and equally relentless crowd surfing. 

During her set Thursday night, Sarah Sherman made appropriate fun of the amount of 30-somethings struggling their way through an experience that was easier in their 20s, mocking the size of the unwieldy key chains clipped to the belt loops of many indie rock dudes in attendance.

This was the 13th Hopscotch. I’ve been to 12 of them.

Looking around this weekend, I saw many longtime festival regulars, showing up (like me) with grayer hair and leaving with more pronounced limps than in years past (same here).

This year’s Hopscotch proved the event is poised for the future and ready to draw the crowds it will need to propel itself through its second decade.

Comment on this story at music@indyweek.com.

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