The Hopscotch Music Festival is a three-day long event spanning 13 venues scattered across the five interdependent districts of Downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. This year, the festival boasted an enormous lineup of over 150 bands, almost evenly divided between regional upstarts and established artists. Slant contributor Jaymie Baxley, accompanied by photographer Emily Lyons, offers a first-person account…
11:00 P.M.—Our first stop is Xiu Xiu at White Collar Crime. Predictably, the band’s performance was a nervy exercise in avant-garde bloodletting. There wasn’t a feel-good number to be found in the band’s setlist (do they actually have any feel-good numbers?), making their show a pretty disarming way to kick off a festival mostly populated by dreamy, indie-pop acts. But Xiu Xiu’s performance also made for a great expectation-cleanser: I am now officially ready for anything.
12:30 A.M.—Leaning heavily on songs from this summer’s great Arabia Mountain, the Black Lips energized the crowd at the Lincoln Theatre with a sloppy, rambunctious set. Even during the Georgia garage-punks’ slower-paced songs, a few overly stoked fans were still convulsing and attempting to crowd-surf. As we’re leaving the Lincoln, Emily and I bump into a mutual friend from our hometown. “Where are you guys heading?” he asks. “J. Mascis,” we reply. “Don’t do it, guys,” he warns, with a cadence so intense and foreboding I assume the venue must be on fire. “It’s going to be boring!”
1:00 A.M.—Our friend’s prediction wasn’t entirely inaccurate: Coming from the rowdy scene at the Lincoln, I find it difficult to sedate myself for the Dinosaur Jr. frontman’s quiet, ruminative solo show at the classy Fletcher Opera Hall. If I weren’t feeling so anxious, I’d probably be just as captivated as all the pensive-looking faces surrounding me. At the moment, however, I really want to ditch the grownups and head back to the kid’s table.
9:00 P.M.—Earlier this summer, it was announced that Guided By Voices’s headlining stint at Hopscotch would mark the band’s “final-ever” live performance. Strangely, the mood here at City Plaza is generally indifferent. I suspect that this might be because: a) people aren’t convinced that this is really the end, being as this isn’t GBV’s first trip to the retirement home; b) people are beginning to accept that frontman Robert Pollard has reached Danny Glover-like levels of being “too old for this shit”; or c) going into the festival, the band didn’t really play up the fact that this was going to be their final show. Whatever the case, the lo-fi legends don’t appear to be bothered by the surprising lack of fanfare they’re receiving. Assuming this really is the end, GBV might not have gone out with a bang, but they didn’t exactly exit with a wimpier either.
10:30 P.M.—Over at the Lincoln, regional heroes Annuals are struggling with technical difficulties as the audience waits patiently through a series of false starts and awkward PA adjustments. The delay turns out to be totally worth it: The band delivers one of the weekend’s most thrilling performances, characterized by a series of abrupt shifts from gorgeous dream-pop to crunchy indie rock. Lull then shake.
11:15 P.M.—Meanwhile, on South Wilmington St., the Vivian Girls are trying to look cute and disinterested before a packed house at Slim’s. At least that’s what I imagine they’re doing. The small, tunnel-esque venue is so congested that I can’t actually see the stage. Likewise, I can barely hear the band over the audience complaining about how packed it is. I do, however, manage to catch a glimpse of one Vivian’s elbow. It’s a pretty cool elbow. Not the festival’s finest elbow by any means, but cool nonetheless.
12:00 A.M.—I wonder how many people are hooking up at the Lincoln right now? I’m a little embarrassed to admit that, up until now, I’ve totally slept on Twin Shadow. They sound pretty fantastic so far. Also: they’re really romantic. I’ve noticed several couples here who’ve been making out nonstop since the beginning of the set. If Twin Shadow’s music doesn’t get you laid, then I don’t know what will…
1:00 A.M.—Seriously, what will? I’m at the Japandroids show at the Pour House. But I’m not actually watching the band. No, I’m outside the club discussing the upcoming Wilco album with a group of dudes I just met. Fuck Twin Shadow.
8:20 P.M.—When The Flaming Lips arrive at City Plaza, droves of frizzy beards and pastel-colored tank tops crowd the stage (it looks like Black Friday at a Whole Foods out here! Hey-oh!). There’s a guy standing in my beer line who’s having a really intense fight with his girlfriend because he wants to be closer to the stage. It was definitely a smart move to schedule the Flaming Lips as the last headliner; besides being Hopscotch’s obvious main attraction, their spectacle-laden performance would have raised the bar way too high for all of the festival’s subsequent acts. In fact, we’re only three songs in and the Oklahoma weirdoes have already given ticket buyers their money’s worth: Frontman Wayne Coyne is rolling across the crowd in his giant bubble suit; confetti is being blasted into the audience via cannons; provocatively costumed girls are dancing on stage; beams of light are being broadcast onto the downtown skyline; a giant screen is looping nonsensical imagery behind the band.
10:00 P.M.—“Did you guys see the Flaming Lips? They had lasers and everything,” deadpans Toro y Moi leader Chaz Bundick. Despite their comparatively low special-effects budget, Toro y Moi still manage a fun, hype-affirming performance at the Lincoln.
12:30 A.M.—I’m not sure what the current temperature is in hell, but it’s got to be at least five degrees hotter inside Tir Na Nog right now. It doesn’t matter: Titus Andronicus is playing and the crowd here seems more than happy to accept the heat in exchange for one final opportunity to rock the fuck out. The New Jersey punks’ Civil War-inspired anthems allow the festival to end on a vaguely triumphant note.
A brief note about 9/11: Following an impromptu speech from Coyne about unity, the Flaming Lips closed their set on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the attacks with a stirring rendition of the recently appointed Oklahoma state anthem, “Do You Realize??,” the lyric “Instead of saying all of your goodbyes…” reverberating across all of the tall office buildings in downtown Raleigh. After the song ends and the band exits, the audience lingers around the stadium for a while, happy and half-mesmerized. Save for a few drunken requests from the back of the crowd, no one is pushing for an encore. Tonight, it seems, closure is infinitely more important. En route to the Lincoln Theatre, I walk past the arguing couple from earlier. They’re hugging now. “I’m feeling better,” the girl says.