A guide to Hopscotch 2013

by Ryan Snyder


Follow Ryan on Twitter @YESRyan

Just take a deep breath. Parsing the lineup of this weekend’s Hopscotch Music Festival will humble even the most astute music junkie. It’s a three-day, 15-venue, 175-band survey of all that is right with independent, underground and just plain off-the-beaten path music, requiring a righteous amount of due diligence. But that has helped form the identity of Hopscotch as it enters its fourth year: it has ingratiated itself among the best festivals in the Southeast by flouting the conventional. There’s something for fans of rock, pop, blues, noise, metal and hip-hop, but mostly it’s a music festival for the explorer.


The unofficial start to Hopscotch begins at the Pour House on Wednesday with Brooklyn-via-Israel party favors Hank & Cupcakes, but it’s officially underway at noon on Thursday with a silly amount of free day parties. There’s free pizza from Mellow Mushroom at Slim’s with music from Boone’s turbo-folk heroes Naked Gods; the Art of Cool Project builds toward its inaugural jazz festival next April with Greensboro Afro-boppers the Brand New

Life and George Tisdale’s groovy fivepiece; and there’s a quasi-academic panel discussion at Raleigh Times on giving music away for free (featuring Greensboro’s own Kate Perdoni and Adam Hawkins from Eros & the Eschaton) for those writing this off as “professional development.”For the VIP crowd (you are going VIP, right?), Kurt Vile will play CAM sometime around 5:30 amidst trays of canapés and bottomless Bellinis (probably). The Proles get their first real taste at Fletcher Opera Theatre from cinematic avant-gardist and educator Nathan Bowles, who will likely be sticking to his Primitivist banjo repertoire. If he brings anything to bang on, look out. It’ll get weird in a hurry. Bowles is the entrance to a rabbit hole that could lead deep into the origins of Americana and blues. Melissa Swingle (ex-Trailer Bride/Moaners), who played the haunting rendition of “Amazing Grace” on the saw in the Southern gothic documentary gem Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, threads a tapestry of roots and punk at Five Star before songwriting savant/ swearword connoisseur Malcolm Holcombe rips the fabric up and spits on it.

The decision there, however, is between Holcombe’s gutter spirituals and Ironing Board Sam, a living almanac of boogiewoogie and blues, who recently came out of retirement with help from the Music Makers Relief Foundation to produce one of this year’s most enjoyable and scandalous works of throwback blues. Artists like Black Joe Lewis do well reviving the overtly sexual elements that much of blues forgot, but not Ironing Board Sam. His brief performance at the John Coltrane International Jazz & Blues Festival this past weekend proved that, in his seventies, he’s still a showman with a flair for the dramatic, and his CAM performance will include a backing band of Winston- Salem’s Big Ron Hunter on guitar and drummer Michael Fowler.

But hoo boy, are there other alternatives on the lone headliner-less night. Angel Olsen offers one of the year’s most stunning voices: sober, powerful yet restrained, longing to be heard. She’s opposite the mix-collage artist DJ Paypal, who strains familiar pop hooks and syncopated drums into a cornball, albeit highly danceable, syrup of jazz-fusion and stadium electro.


Blue Ridge outfit Pontiak’s Echo Ono is a raw, moody and cliché-free piece of king-size stoner rock, and it’s almost a shame that they’re not getting a better slot than their 1:30 p.m. day-party slot at CAM, though any bill with Viking metal overlords Valient Thorr is no slight. Expect Pontiak to make an Estrangers-like leap onto the nighttime schedule next year. They’re that good. Arguably the gem of the day-party scene, however, is the appearance of legendary rock journalist Legs McNeil, co-author of the gloriously trashy 1996 page-turner Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, at the Rebus Works party. What’s he doing? Who cares, as long as he brings some juicy drug yarns.

The cancellation by headliner Big Boi probably supersedes last year’s weatherrelated exclusion of Escort as the biggest unforeseen misfortune to befall the festival, but it made things good. Not only was Big Boi rescheduled later this month for a date at Memorial Auditorium, but his replacement is going to put on one of the most buck-wild performances in the festival’s short history. It’s probably moot at this point to call A-Trak “Kanye’s old DJ”; the Fool’s Gold Records co-founder (the other, Nick Catchdubs, played a lower-key set last year) stands atop the mountain of remixers. Point in case: Dirty South Dance, his fusion of great electro from obscure producers with well-known trap and Southern hip-hop remains completely bumpable four years after the release of the second edition. As a replacement, Hopscotch did a hell of a lot better with his acquisition than Bonnaroo did subbing Jack Johnson for Mumford & Sons.

It should be reiterated that the beauty of Hopscotch is that sometimes a roll of the dice is required, and the early club schedule is one of those times. Twentyfive-year-old Idaho guitar virtuoso Alexander Turnquist is not a household name, but his performance at the Kennedy Theater is the turnt-down alternative to A-Trak. A prodigy in the truest sense, his first album of classical guitar compositions came at age 16 and since then he’s been compared to some of the most important artists in the genre.

If there’s a drawback to Hopscotch’s model, it’s that sticking with headliners will spit you out having missed half of the club sets, though the timing for Action Bronson’s Lincoln Theatre set couldn’t be any more perfect. Grantland’s recent must-read profile of the 350-pound rapper compared him to the Beastie Boys for his fondness for esoteric sports and pop culture references, but the fact he spends most of his show sitting on a barstool recalls BB King. Arrive early, not just because the post-A-Trak crush demands it, but because he will spark a carton full of hand-rolled Js and insists the front of his crowd help him finish them. The only logical nightcap, of course, is an increasingly rare US appearance by Pere Ubu, the bastard stepbrother of the Talking Heads, still led by David Thomas, one of the most unorthodox frontmen of the ’80s.


The Breeders’ Last Splash was right there in the sweet spot to be the first record ever purchased by current thirtysomethings (ahem). Lead single “Cannonball” had ultra-cool Spike Jonze-directed video — right before he made the landmark vid for the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” — and the album had the alt scene’s stamp of approval for Kim Deal’s Pixies creds. Otherwise, it was just a great album that likely led to a lot of preteens ultimately working backwards into the Pixies, and maybe the Breeders’ previous, better album Pod (found in a Record Exchange used bin circa 1995 for $3 — score). The Breeders aren’t playing Pod today, however; it’s Last Splash. in commemoration of the record’s 20 th anniversary. They’re also playing second fiddle to Spiritualized, a band prone to be intensely moving as they are intensely boring. In other words, they’re the British Wilco.

A bigger chunk of the club shows will remain at the end of Spiritualized’s set than on Friday, and mostly contained within clearly delineated genre capsules. All the metalheads will be sequestered to the Lincoln Theatre for four hours of sludgy, doom-y metal that culminates in the sludgiest and doomiest of them all in the form of a reunited Sleep, whose epic “Dopesmoker” remains the most you’ll ever invest in and consequently get out of a single track (63:31). There are those who lack the patience for a solid hour of drop-D-tuned guitar fuzz, understandably. The catalog of Scottish songwriter Richard Youngs is suitably more diverse. In fact, he’ll have released at least seven albums in the last three years come Sept. 17. His successor on the Memorial Auditorium stage isn’t bad either; John Cale might be most remembered from a little band called the Velvet Underground. Maybe he’ll bring Legs McNeil out to swap Billy Name stories.