The Axis of Cool got cooler this weekend. Happy Hopscotch, all. (Or, if you’ve been drinking since noon at Fox while playing hooky at work, Hoppy Hapscotch. Whatever. It’s cool no matter how it comes out.)
Hopscotch, for the uninitiated, is something like a kabillion bands congregating in Raleigh for three days, for an epic multi-genre throwdown. It’s dizzying. There are so many bands to see that it’s hard to know where to start. Do you revisit your favorites, the bands you know you’ll love? Do you pick a venue and camp out for the evening, or do you hopscotch it all over the place to mix things up? Do you invest heavily in big-name City Plaza acts, or see as many up-and-coming bands as you can? Play it safe, or throw yourself into the frenzy of a band so loud that people are regularly carried out of its venues in fits of nausea in order to have a meld-with-the-music kind of experience? I don’t have the answers, my friends. There’s a personality test in here somewhere. I have once again failed at spontaneity, and typed a highlighted, bullet-pointed, Plan A, B, and C list. I’m going heavy on roots music, local bands, and also plaza shows. We’ll see how it goes.
So here’s the Thursday report. The weather broke, the skies lost the summer haze, the light changed, and suddenly we’re getting our first hints of fall. The sunset was golden. It was Hopscotch Magic.
My first stop was Flanders, for a pre-party including old-time musician Frank Fairfield and friends. There was fiddlin’, and stompin’, and clappin’, and hollerin’. The crowd loved it. The old time was followed by smooth jazz from the Hot at Nights. I made my way across Boylan Bridge to check out the scene at Rebus, which looked something like this:
and it was a little terrifying. But there were also food trucks all over the place, and the crowd was having a great time, and then I followed the tikki torches across the railroad tracks, through a field, and back to the Warehouse District at sunset.
My Hopscotch volunteer shift was at Five Star. Easy venue, easy musicians, easy crowd. We had a great time. I’m sure it was a random assignment, but Five Star last night was all acoustic; two solo guitarists and two string bands, which was right up my alley. (Not that I’d have minded any of the lineups, but let’s face it, the thrash metal scene last night at Berkeley, say, would have been a different kind of evening altogether.)
Music: Yair Yona from Israel played a soulful acoustic set; The Black Twig Pickers, along with Frank Fairfield and his crowd, kept everyone rollicking along to traditional string band music; and William Tyler closed out the night with some gorgeous numbers.
Friendly musicians: It was great fun chatting with the guys about their favorite bands, best pool tables around, fiddlin’, and the festival scene in general.
Friendly crowd: Hopscotchers are the most polite, grateful, cheerful music crowd I’ve seen all year (and this is my fourth event since last fall). Way to raise the bar, music people. I’m proud of you.
Five Star: Could not have been nicer. Talking to you, manager, door guys, and the bartender with all the pens in your hair. These guys made it super easy, brought us ginger ales, brought frequent reports on the music scene inside, and helped us translate for Drunk Rickshaw Girl.
Larry’s Beans: Larry, of Larry’s Beans, kept us entertained every 20 minutes when the blinky-light shuttle bus came by. Larry, I owe you a dollar for some bet or other that I lost with you between stops.
Funniest scene of the evening: Drunk blonde girl, very polite (I will point out here that she was not a Hopscotcher, and therefore does not contradict my earlier statement about excellent crowd behavior) wanted to know “wherz it at where ther’ cookin’ the pig?” The door guy is a pro at speaking Slurvian, from years of experience at this spot dating back to when Five Star was The Wicked Smile. He finally parsed out that she was looking for the Pit, around the corner. She put herself in a rickshaw and rode off, giving us a backwards Miss America wave. He told us that when you’re dealing with drunkies, “You’ve really got to read between the lines. Look for the missing pieces. Bring a lot of your own stuff into it. Weave it all together for them.” I fell off my stool laughing.
Organizers: Greg Lowenhagen and Grayson Currin get a huge thumbs-up from me. This thing is organized, y’all. Dealing with big-name bands, and the sheer volume of performers, and the geography of twelve venues, and the meticulous scheduling can not be easy. But they’re making it look that way. Greg came by to check on us three times, each time more cheerful than the last. At two a.m. when my shift was up, he was planning to sleep for a couple of hours, and then go set up City Plaza at 5:00 a.m. Grayson rolled up on his bike around 1:15 a.m., stopped and chatted with the bands, and made sure everyone was happy. When the comment was made about how smoothly everything was going, he laughed and said at 6 p.m., nobody would have guessed it would all come together in time, but of course it did. If there are any complaints, I sure haven’t heard them. Thanks from all of us, for pulling this whole thing off. Y’all get some sleep.
Day 2, and I have fully transitioned from volunteer to listener. Doing stretches and hydrating, so I can head out to Drive By Truckers to kick off the evening. Happy Hopscotch, music fans. See you out there.