Raleigh, N.C. — Headliners are great. They serve a vital role in bringing in the masses to downtown Raleigh for the Hopscotch Music Festival every year. But as any seasoned Hopscotch veteran will tell you, the under-card is what makes this festival special. Go into the week with an open mind, and you are guaranteed to stumble upon some band you've never heard of, only to come out a hour later a new fan.
With 166 bands on the lineup, not including day parties, Hopscotch always goes out of its way to bring in an immense variety of sounds and styles. It has been their modus operandi since the festival began five years ago.
The 2015 version is no different. From the throwback Country Western ballads of Daniel Romano (Tir Na Nog on Sept. 12), to the sax-based punk outfit, Pill (Deep South on Sept. 11), to the scatalogic experimental sounds of Jenks Miller and Rose Cross NC (Kennedy Theater on Sept. 12) and everything in between, there is literally something for everyone.
All that being said, here are some of the acts I have never seen that I have circled on my lineup, knowing full well that the odds are good that I will discover someone else completely by accident who blows me away.
Thursday, Sept. 10
Grandma Sparrow - Kennedy Theater - 8:30 p.m.
This is easily one of the strangest acts on the lineup, but quite possibly the one I am most interested in experiencing first hand. Helmed by Joe Westerlund (Megafaun, Gayngs, Mount Moriah, Califone), Grandma Sparrow is a children's album given the full Willy Wonka treatment, a trippy experience that manages to keep in mind that the whole thing does not work if the music behind it is not actually good.
This project came about after 2012 Hopscotch veteran Matthew E. White approached Westerlund looking for something unique for his new label, Spacebomb Records. Behind the quirky kid's themes, Grandma Sparrow employs some of the sweeping "bigness" and slow-building crescendos that are a staple of White's own performances. You'd never mistake the two acts, but it is not too hard to tell that there is a connection.
Jenny Hval - King's Barcade - midnight
A Norwegian solo artist who spent the first part of the year touring in support of 2014 Hopscotch headliner St. Vincent, Jenny Hval has a wistful voice with a touch of soul. She will not bash listeners over the head with overpowering sound; instead, Hval's songs tend to settle into little themes playing underneath while her voice does the heavy lifting. She packs a lot of passion into her performances, and this set at King's Barcade is sure to be an intense experience.
Friday, Sept. 11
Must Be The Holy Ghost - King’s Barcade - 9 p.m.
The latest effort from North Carolina’s Jared Draughon is layer after layer after layer of sounds and music that work together producing a climax. He uses a heavy dose of guitar loops, synthy boops and beeps, and drum machines to complement his earnest, emotional singing voice. Draughon has already taken Must Be The Holy Ghost on stage in support of such acts as 2012 Hopscotch vet William Tyler and 2014 Hopscotch vets Toon and the Real Laww -- so he’s already in good company.
Nocando - King’s Barcade - 11 p.m.
A word of advice for those listening to Nocando (aka James "Jimmy" McCall) on the mic: pay attention. He maintains a steady flow of rapid-fire delivery with smart quips that somehow ends up sounding relaxed and effortless. It is hard to pin down the music underneath Nocando’s rhymes; he’s all over the map, which just makes him all the more unpredictable. As one of the MCs-in-residence at Los Angeles’ legendary Low End Theory club night, Nocando brings a sparkling hip-hop resume to Hopscotch and is easily one of the highlights of a strong Friday night hip-hop lineup.
Moon Duo - CAM - 11:30 p.m.
Moon Duo, a two-person San Francisco outfit formed in 2009, lists its genre as “Repeat-o Rock” on the band’s Facebook page, and it’s hard to argue with that short summation. Keyboardist Sanae Yamada and guitarist Ripley Johnson take head-bobbing rhythms and build spacey, fast-paced, (and yes, repetitive) melodies on top of that pulsing base. Johnson’s guitar has a ghostly distortion that serves as a nice counter to their often-upbeat singing, and it all packages up nicely into a psychedelic garage sound that should be a lot of fun.
Saturday, Sept. 12
Ameriglow - Tir Na Nog - 9 p.m.
Despite the fact that the band’s own Facebook page describes Ameriglow’s music as “Anti-Americana,” a lot of people would probably have a tough time believing them at a glance. Doug Pug, Yakob Darden, and Kelly Tahey weave together dusty tracks on acoustic guitar, lap steel, electric guitar, piano, and a handful of other instruments to put together tunes that are firmly based in country, bluegrass, blues, and the Americana side of indie rock. Songs like “Dinner Bells” offer just enough of a little something different to make you think the band might be telling the truth, but don't believe them for too long.
Axis: Sova - Pour House - 9:30 p.m.
The crunchy distortion of Axis: Sova’s guitar is a garage rock staple, but the drum machine keeping time behind that guitar throws you for a little bit of a loop. This started as a solo act for Chicago’s Brett Sova, but he now tours with a full band. Many of Axis: Sova’s songs march towards these nice slow builds that feature frenetic guitar play over lazy beats. The 7- or 8-minute extended cuts are a little different than you might expect from punky psych garage acts, but these represent some of the band's strongest hooks.
Boulevards - CAM - 9:30 p.m.
Raleigh’s Jamil Rashad, aka Boulevards, wants you to dance. Seriously. He is bringing the funk to Hopscotch in a big way, with a solid thump that will get booties shakin’ all over CAM on Saturday night. His synth-heavy party funk pairs well with his upbeat lyrics, and if he gets traction with the Hopscotch crowd he’ll have impeccable timing, considering his EP is set to drop on September 25. Right now, Boulevards only has four tracks posted on his Soundcloud page, but “Got to Go” and “Forgot to Mention,” in particular, will have even the stodgiest of wallflowers bouncing their heads in appreciation.