Raleigh, N.C. — Hopscotch is one of the most unique music festivals and overall experiences in the United States. Criss-crossing downtown Raleigh, more than 160 local bands, national up-and-coming artists and iconic indie rockers are carefully curated and presented in a manner that you are bound to discover a new favorite band.
I recall stumbling into the Long View Center in 2012 only to become enamored by Secret Cities, a Fargo, N.D., trio playing dreamy twee pop tunes. And that’s the nature of Hopscotch -- as you move from one venue to the next, discovery is the goal. Because of that, every schedule is a rough draft and not a single one is safe from being busted.
With that all said, I have my rough draft of bands I’m hoping to catch this year, but I also fully expect to miss a good portion due to any number of reasons. Of course, I don’t want to miss the City Plaza shows, but some of the artists with early billing in the clubs demand attention as well.
Take, for instance, Grandma Sparrow, the bizarre yet whimsical side project of Megafaun drummer Joe Westerlund. Dressed in his Grandma Sparrow guise, Westerlund will take the stage at Kennedy Theatre on Thursday at 8:30 p.m., meaning you’ll have to ditch the Godspeed You! Black Emperor set a bit early to catch one of the not-to-miss shows of this year’s fest.
Then there’s the moody instrumental drone of Lost Trail, a Burlington-based duo playing at 9 p.m. on Friday, just 15 minutes after TV On the Radio is scheduled to hit City Plaza.
These are decisions you’ll face throughout the entire fest, and that is part of what gives Hopscotch its charm -- the reason why it’s been called “one of the best and most eclectic music festival in America."
Grandma Sparrow - Kennedy Theatre - 8:30 p.m.
It’s hard to pinpoint Grandma Sparrow other than to say you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more unique and impressive experiences. Megafaun drummer Joe Westerlund’s performance of avant-garde children’s music in the yellow-beaked guise of Grandma Sparrow is as much a performance piece as it is a concert.
Mac McCaughan - Lincoln Theatre - 9:30 p.m.
Mac McCaughan is one of the most recognized indie rock veterans playing Hopscotch this year, having fronted Superchunk the last 25 year. For the first time, he’s touring behind his own name rather than with one of his iconic bands. While Portastatic has long been recognized as Mac’s solo outlet, this year’s “Non-Believers” is a departure from even it, trading in guitars for synthesizers.
Phil Cook Presents Southland Mission - Fletcher Opera Theater - 11 p.m.
Another piece of the Megafaun trio, Phil Cook has built a name for himself as a folk composer, earning a place among Blues greats like Charlie Parr and Blind Boys of Alabama, both of whom he worked closely with in recent years. Joined by members of Sylvan Esso, Bon Iver and Mount Moriah, Cook will be celebrating the release of his new solo album, “Southland Mission,” which drops the Friday of Hopscotch.
Battles - Lincoln Theatre - 12:30 a.m.
“Mirrored” was one of my favorite albums of 2007 and I’ve long wanted to catch the Brooklyn-based band responsible for it. Now a three-piece, Battles will be a week shy from releasing their eagerly anticipated third album, “La Di Da Di,” which promises glorious repetition and the further blurring of the lines of electronica and live instruments.
Lost Trail - The Hive - 9 p.m.
If black-and-white photographs could make sounds, Lost Trail would be the vignette on a daguerreotype. Burlington-based Zachary Corsa and his wife, Denny, build lush layers of sound that fill the room with a chill that lifts the hairs on the back of your neck. Dense landscapes are painted with Corsa’s tape machine and effects pedal, only to ever-so-carefully taper off as the crescendo fades into the distance, leaving the listener gasping for more.
SkyBlew - Lincoln Theatre - 9:30 p.m.
Chapel Hill emcee SkyBlew is just one of the many emcees who prove the Triangle is a breeding ground for some of the smartest hip-hop in the game. Ranking up there with Dr. Dre protege King Mez and really just about anyone on 9th Wonder’s Jamla squad, SkyBlew turns out socially conscious lyrics accompanied by soulful, vintage samples.
Moon Duo - CAM - 11:30 p.m.
Listen to just the first 30 seconds of “Animal” off Moon Duo’s third full-length LP, “Shadow of the Sun,” and you’ll be reminded of Coil, Bauhaus and Echo and the Bunnymen. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a garage band with an affinity for psychedelia, body-moving synths and perhaps a bit of the Cure on Xanax or even U2’s “Zooropa.” I fully expect the walls of CAM to melt into a babbling brook of sound.
Natalie Prass with Special Guests - Fletcher Opera Theater - 12 a.m.
If you see one show at Hopscotch this year, let it be Natalie Prass. A labelmate of the previously recommended Grandma Sparrow, Prass isn’t just the other side of the Spacebomb coin, she’s a whole other currency. Her self-titled debut is a slow burn of concise compositions that is perfectly suited for Fletcher Opera Theater. Prepare to sit back and take it in Prass’s symphonic arrangements to close out night two.
Hotline (Oulipo) - Neptune’s - 9:30 p.m.
Raleigh’s Oulipo built a strong following for the high-energy dance parties their concerts frequently spurred. After having recently rebranded as Hotline, I’m eager to hear if their new tunes stand up to the former’s reputation -- knowing frontman Ryan Trauley and Co., and considering their new, bright, neon logo, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.
Zack Mexico - Pour House - 11:30 p.m.
Not many bands are invited back to Hopscotch year after year. Zack Mexico is one of the few, and that’s because their raucous performances have earned them a level of notoriety that draws a huge crowd. From throwing guitars into the rafters of the Contemporary Art Museum in 2012 to stripping down and donning dresses at Deep South last year, Zack Mexico certainly knows how to elevate their brand of psychedelic surf rock.
Chelsea Wolfe - Lincoln Theatre - 11:30 p.m.
Obviously there’s a conflict here as Chelsea Wolfe is scheduled to take the stage at the same time as Zack Mexico. Lucky for you, the Pour House and Lincoln Theatre aren’t too far apart to catch two acts in the same slot. I would suggest Zack Mexico first followed by Wolfe, to allow for her hazy electronic flourishes to be that chilling cool down you’ll need before heading over the Fletcher for Owen Pallett.
Owen Pallett - Fletcher Opera Theater - 12 a.m.
Ever since I first heard Owen Pallett’s 2006 album “He Poos Clouds” (then recording under the moniker Final Fantasy), I have been anxious to catch the Canadian composer live. Since then, Pallett has built an impressive resume, having earned a Polaris Music Prize for that very album, and even an Oscar nomination along with Arcade Fire’s Will Butler for the “Her” soundtrack. Most recently, Pallett worked with Brian Eno on 2014’s “In Conflict,” which placed him on the shortlist for another Polaris Music Prize.