Photos and text by Brian Etling
It wouldn’t be fair if my recap of the final night ofHopscotch was only about one performance. It wouldn’t be fair to all of theother musicians who played really solid sets â€” I’m looking at you, VinceStaples, Andrew Bird, and Mr. Carmack (whose seemingly endless set is probablystill going on at the CAM) â€” to say that the most important, most exciting showof Hopscotch proper was finished by 9:45 p.m. It wouldn’t be fair to thefestival’s organizers to suggest that they may as well have saved the money and86’ed any event not taking place at on the main stage around 8:30 last night.Then again, it wouldn’t really be fair to Durham’s own Sylvan Esso (or toanyone who missed the show) not to linger a little longer on how theytransformed a historically calm City Plaza crowd into a sweaty, sexy danceparty from the minute they stepped on stage.
Sylvan Esso is something of a hometown hero at the HopscotchFestival â€” they hail from just 25 minutes down the road and the first show theyever played together was, believe it or not, at Hopscotch 2013 in a small venuefar from the main stage. It’s a narrative so cliche and downright unrealisticthat it borders on kitsch, but I’ll be damned if the performance (if you caneven call it that) put on by Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn on that City Plazastage last night was anything like an old chestnut. Meath never quit dancingfrom the moment they took the stage and, to their credit, the crowd didn’teither. After blasting threw a couple of old hits like “Dreamy Bruises” and”H.S.K.T” (yes, that’s an acronym for “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”), theydebuted a few new songs that haven’t even hit the internet yet. In an interviewwith SPIN last year, the band joked that they had given themselves “fullpermission to just make bangers.” Turns out they weren’t joking. The new songswere definitely new, but still decidedly Sylvan Esso.
I said it wouldn’t be fair I didn’t give ample time to allof the other amazing performances of the night, and I meant it. Spoiler alert:that’s exactly what’s going to happen. The limitations of a word count (and theenormity of Sylvan Esso’s performance) dictate that I only have a little bit ofspace left to mention all kinds of incredible things that happened like: AndrewBird’s super long set at the Memorial Auditorium, the building-sized poster infront of the Pour House of Pat McCrory’s face with “SHAME” printed on theforehead, and Sam Herring of Future Islands showing up basically everywherefrom a mid-afternoon Birds of Avalon show to Mr. Carmack’s late-late-late-nightset. I heard tell of an amazing set by Container earlier in the evening. It wasan incredible night of music.
One of my favorite things about a really good festival isthat there always seems to be that one performance I’m still hearing in my headwhen I wake up the next couple mornings. In years past at Hopscotch, the mostmeaningful performances for me have always arrived unexpected, at a smallervenue in the dwindling hours of the night. It’s extremely rare for an 8:30 mainstage headliner to steal the show â€” but Sylvan Esso didn’t steal this show,they shared it with us. “Could it get any more perfect than this? I mean thisright here?” Nick Sanborn asked midway through the set, gesturing at the crowd.
I can think of a lot of ways it probably could, but I feelcomfortable responding for the audience and saying that, in that moment, it didfeel pretty perfect.