A Look Back At Hopscotch Music Festival 2016: The Little Festival That Could

Photo: Garret Poulos

When I saw the lineup for the 2016 edition of Hopscotch, my mouth dropped. In glee, I shared the post to my Facebook. What I didn’t expect was the number of people, for whom I love and respect their musical knowledge, not knowing half of the bands listed. I used to joke that Hopscotch Music Festival out-hipstered Pitchfork Festival. Now, I’m not so sure it’s a joke.

The past 5 years has seen Hopscotch grow in both size and name recognition, while remaining committed to supporting the local artists that call the Triangle and surrounding locales home. Sure, more than 1/3 of the lineup is regional talent in which you may never have heard. From rustic Americana to hip-hop, from metal to bleep-bloops to improvisational jams to punk- North Carolina has a rich and vibrant music community that should be shown off.

I was kind of surprised when I found out Wye Oak had just celebrated their ten year anniversary. It’s longer than a lot of the legal marriages I know, which either says I know a lot of people who shouldn’t have gotten married or the duo of Jenn Wasner & Andy Stack still love what they do. Probably a bit of both but more of the latter than the former. 

I forget how much I like them live, at times; by the third or fourth song, I’m usually singing along. I also never walk away from those sets. So many times I’ve seen bands play festival sets as just another performance in a long line of tour dates. No stage presence to speak of- just play the hits and call it a night. Wye Oak tends to make things special. They did just that at Hopscotch. 

While venues had been going on all day, they kicked off City Plaza (the official first show of the festival) in that fuzzed out dream pop that has gotten them to where they are now. 

Wasner cracked jokes while they covered the gambit of the past 10 year- loving every second of it.

In a last minute decision, I left Wolf Parade after three songs and headed to see pure skronk saxophone quartet, Battle Trance. Wolf Parade was killing Raleigh but I knew I would be spending a lot of time at the new venue and wanted to see the inside of the 300 capacity Nash Hall. By the time the 45 minute-ish set ended I left impressed with both the venue and, more importantly, Battle Trance.

Passion seeped from the rawness. Think more Wolf Eyes and Anthony Braxton. Think more punk rock.

One of the main reasons I started going to Hopscotch was the day parties. More specifically, the party Three Lobed Records throws annually. It usually knocks out a few conflicts from the festival and offers a few bands/artists not playing the festival proper. This year’s party featured Philadelphia noiseniques Watery Love, a duo consisting of Meg Baird (Espers/Heron Oblivion) and harpist Mary Lattimore, several sets from experimental Tuareg stylings of 75 Dollar Bill, and the highlight of Bachman – Toth Band doing a twenty minute drone version of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs.

By the time I got to City Plaza for the beginning of the night shows, I received an alert saying Erykah was delayed on a plane in Dallas. While she did show up and play, I decided on Beach House to cure those blues (which I ended up skipping to see S.E. Ward).

The energy for Anderson .Paak was incredible. His close to hour long set which covered the majority of his debut album, Malibu, was dynamic. Backed by his crack team of musicians, The Free Nationals, Paak tore through the heart of downtown Raleigh.

I ended Friday night back at Nash Hall to see Julien Baker perform her stripped down songwriting found on her first solo album, Sprained Ankle. Julien wears her heart on her sleeve for all of the set. I joked about how I felt like I could feel the ghost of Elliott Smith somewhere in the crowd. A few minutes later, I was vindicated when she dusted off “Ballad of Big Nothing” for us. It was an odd way to finish the night, for sure. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

By the time Vince Staples took the stage, Saturday, I was exhausted. This was beginning the third night and I had blisters to prove it. There was no way I was gonna move; I was going to sit and enjoy. Vince made it clear that wasn’t going to happen. By the third song, I was two rows deep.

Sylvan Esso kept the momentum going. The last time they played, in 2013, was right up the street in Memorial Auditorium. That set marked their first show. Three years later, an album and a tease of more to come, the hometown heroes (by way of Durham) duo closed out the last night of the festival’s Plaza shows.  Bodies were moving and voices singing. I’ve seen a lot of shows there but none will stick in my mind quite like this one.

Later that night, the festival came to an end. Months of combing through the lineup and pouring sweat into making the schedule you swear you’ll keep, are finished with it.  Now you wait for the announcement of dates so the excitement can begin again.

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