Raleigh, N.C. — Well, the 7th Annual Hopscotch Music (and Design, don’t forget Design!) Festival has come and gone. I wasn’t able to see every little thing, but I did see a lot. Here are the highlights and lowlights.
Lavender Country - Saturday night’s set at Fletcher Opera House with pioneering gay country musician Patrick Haggerty turned out to be more of a story-telling session than anything else. But Haggerty, 75, did manage to fit some of his original songs (and one Patsy Cline cover) in between stories about his childhood in Washington farm country and exhortations to vote out the governor in November. The result was a lecture on gay history, mixed with a motivational speech on being yourself, accompanied by a spritely old man singing lewd songs that I can’t believe ever made it to the airwaves. You can order an album (and I know you want to) from Paradise of Bachelors Records.
Beach House - No surprise here. Beach House is known for their awesome live shows, and they delivered Friday night at City Plaza. A spectacle of light and sound and noise, it was dream-pop at its best: magical and ethereal.
Sylvan Esso - All personal and local pride aside, electronic duo Sylvan Esso might have been the best band at the festival. There was some stiff competition, but no one I saw was able to get the crowd quite as bumping as this group, which is comprised of Durhamites Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn. Each band member also has an independent folk music career, but when they come together, a new, thumping dance beat emerges – that, and a bunch of pure fun.
Big Freedia - There’s nothing quite like a Big Freedia show. If you were able to stay up for the 12:30 start time, it was well worth it. There was plenty of rump-shaking, as well as Freedia’s signature, mesmerizing shout/singing about said rump-shaking.
Also worth mentioning: Bond St. District, a hip-hop duo from Baltimore. They kicked off the show at Fletcher Theater Friday night and front-man DDm had some of the same aggressive, infectious charm that makes Freedia’s music so much fun.
Gary Clark Jr. - To watch Gary Clark Jr. play guitar is to watch a star being born. The neo-blues singer-songwriter gave flashes of Prince and Jimi Hendrix throughout his set, which was also notable for the impressive back-up instrumentation. Check out this video of his hit, “Bright Lights” – you’ll see what I mean.
Acts You Might Have Missed
Reflex Arc - Chapel Hill performance-art duo Ginger Wagg and Crowmeat Bob, aka Reflex Arc, put on an energetic and strange show at the Flight pop-up space on E. Martin Street throughout the weekend. Bob’s apoplectic saxophone accompanied Ginger’s organic writhing and dance-scuttling all under a coldly beautiful rainbow light installation by Lincoln Hancock. ‘In Spectrum,’ as the piece is called, seemed to both baffle and delight onlookers, and, if nothing else, proved that art is alive and well in the Triangle.
Parallel Lives - It might be easy to underestimate Parallel Lives front-man Nick White – a slight fellow who’s often wearing a big, goofy grin – but he can really sing. And his band can really play. This earnest alt-country act from Chapel Hill/Carrboro is as fun to watch as to listen to mostly because it’s clear White is having such a good time performing. They seem pretty new and don’t have much of an Internet presence yet, but keep an eye on Parallel Lives. They’re going places.
Sneakers - Not to rub salt in any wounds (they probably know this wasn’t their best performance), but this reunion show of 70s Winston-Salem rock group Sneakers was clearly a better idea in theory than it was in practice. All of these guys are getting up there, and it showed, but that wasn’t the real problem. The real problem was that the band was out of practice – with their instruments and with even just being on a stage.
This was especially apparent when compared to Television, who went on after them, and are of a similar age – but who, by contrast, have clearly played together a few times since the late 70s. In any event, without the polish of a well-rehearsed set, Sneakers’ music takes on a cutesy, moon-in-june aspect that, along with some particularly discordant moments musically, gave the whole thing the air of a middle school recital.
Waiting for Erykah Badu - I can’t say that Miss Badu’s set itself was definitively one way or the other – I didn’t see it. What I did do was wait around for an hour and a half at Red Hat Amphitheater on Friday night for her to show up. After popping over to the Beach House show around 9:00 and then coming back only to find that Erykah wasn’t expected until sometime after 10:00, I decided to call it quits. At Hopscotch, there’s way too much going on to be standing around, doing nothing for two hours!