Attention John Vanderslice: my personal Hopscotch weekend competition is now your game to lose. You are front runner in all of the following categories:
- best overall songwriting
- most expressive voice
- most engaging audience engagement
- best can-do spirit
- best hair
In music, there are always shows you know you’ll enjoy. There are always shows you feel like you should love, but leave you a little empty. The shows I live for are the ones that blindside you with talent, or likeability, or tunes you’ll still be thinking about tomorrow.
I should back up. Friday was Day 2 of Hopscotch. Most of the world had to work this morning, including me. However, I had two pieces of Hopscotch magic occur: 1) I did not have anything important which needed to be accomplished today, and 2) the boss decided to leave town. Conditions were perfect for a half-day. Starting at noon, at Fox Liquor Bar, with The Small Ponds playing. Lunchtime music and rum punch with Veronica may have dribbled into lunch at Dos Taquitos, followed by my second coffee run of the day at Morning Times. Veronica, because she is responsible, went back to work; I went instead to the panel discussion on narrative songwriting at Raleigh City Museum.
Well. That was fascinating. Turns out, even the pros agree that songwriting is often arduous, and nearly everyone on the panel said they often felt like a vessel, or someone observing a song being created; the song itself seems to take over, and become whatever it needs to become. I hadn’t entirely committed to my plan for the evening, but after hearing John Vanderslice, James Jackson Toth (Wooden Wand) and Heather McEntire (Mt. Moriah) talk about their process, I decided to park myself at Berkeley Cafe for a good chunk of the evening and see what happened.
and yes. Yes, I did feel like an angel, when I saw the little halo on my sticker. Thanks for the love, Hopscotch peeps, your volunteers appreciate it, for real. I started the evening at Posterscotch, and then meandered into Shopscotch, and on to City Plaza with Drive By Truckers, which was a good show with a happy crowd. My music friends were scattered between plaza and pop shows and mostly heading for Swans; I lingered for a little Guided By Voices (last show ever?) but realized a few songs in that I’d be happier at Berkeley.
And I was. Brice Randall Bickford started things off, then it was right into Wooden Wand. (Favorite line of the set: “when we met, you looked like the kind of girl you’d win in a drag race.”) Mount Moriah closed; I’d never seen them before, and loved everything I heard. But as I said from the beginning, it was John Vanderslice who blew me away. You know how, sometimes, the one guy/one guitar, singer-songwriter cliche can get a tad too earnest? Vanderslice never wanders into that territory. His songs are witty and direct, and impactful without being sentimental. Towards the middle of his set, someone shouted, “Unplugged no mike!” And he looked at her and said, “That will happen. That will absolutely happen, for you.” And he was true to his word. On the last song, he unplugged, hopped offstage, and stood in the middle of the audience, directly under the disco ball. Unwilling to turn his back on any fans, he did the entire number while rotating, singing, and playing, and enticing folks to sing along. That, friends, is commitment. And engagement. And love for your fans. Oh, and talent.
Wow. I can not wait to see what Day 3 has in store….