Now in its ninth year and well within its stride, the Hopscotch Music Festival returned to downtown Raleigh NC on Thursday September 6th. The annual music festival known for its diverse and wide-ranging lineups again featured more than 120 bands playing at numerous venues across downtown Raleigh, ranging from the intimate and aptly named “Slims”, all the way up to and including the 6000-person capacity of Red Hat Amphitheater. The one deviation from last year’s event was a slimming of the schedule back to three days, with the Sunday performances at Red Hat dropped from the official schedule. However, for those looking to enjoy a music-filled brunch and a “low-key” afternoon before easing out of the weekend, there were plenty of local venues filling the gap with post-Hopscotch day parties.
Speaking of day parties, Thursday afternoon kicked-off the Hopscotch weekend with a run of the now traditional Hopscotch Day Parties, which feature a variety of acts all playing at free shows around town leading into the evening festival proper. We started our weekend, as we often do at Hopscotch, at PotLuck’s annual “Rock ‘n Roll Pizza Party” at Slims. The party, now in its fifth year, treated the early bird Hopscotch partyers to performances from: Gardener, Knurr and Spell, The Dirty Little Heaters, Sun Studies, and more. Like the name suggests, Hopscotch, is all about hopping from venue to venue. So we bounced over to Foundation to check in on the Merge Records Hopscotch Happy Hour before heading to City Plaza for the kick-off of the Festival proper.
The opening main stage shows stuck to a similar genre format as last year, with the bands mixing a subtle country and indie vibe. Local singer/songwriter H.C. McEntire started off the proceedings by playing songs from her debut solo album, LIONHEART, released earlier this year. The set was enthusiastically received and garnered a warm reception from the hometown crowd. Heather was followed by New Jersey indie rockers Real Estate. The band Led by singer-songwriter and guitarist Martin Courtney, delivered a gorgeous laid-back set that shifted between being earnest, meditative, and melancholy, to moments of lush, psychedelic, pop-tinged sweetness. Closing out the evening on the main stage was the visual joyfulness of Grammy award winning band the Flaming Lips. Frontman Wayne Coyne was as much a showman and ringleader as he was a singer, as he emerged in a blue suit with fuzzy cuffs and sporting a sequin bedazzled eye patch. As the band played through some of their notable hits including, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and “She Don’t Use Jelly,” they were at times showered in confetti, backed by a giant inflatable robot, and joined by dancing eyeballs. Coyne, ever the visual artist, pulled out all the stops including sporting giant hands that shot laser beams over the crowd, making his traditional journey over the crowd in a giant inflatable hamster ball, and even singing one song while riding through the crowd while being pulled on a glowing unicorn.
After the sensory overload that is a Flaming Lips performance, it was time to wander between venues and catch some of the assorted bands playing simultaneously at multiple venues. Some of the opening night standouts that we caught included, Sun Seeker and Dex Romweber, before closing out day 1 with back to back fantastic performances from Meg Remy’s experimental pop outfit, U.S. Girls, who brought down the house at the Lincoln Theatre, only to be followed by the soaring melodic, and often anthemic, indie-pop of Love Language that simply razed the building and any members of the crowd still standing.