Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hopscotch 2014

It's Friday at 1 AM and I am literally the only thing wedged between the raging tide of humanity and the stage at Slim's where the band Diarrhea Planet has four guitarists and a full drum set cramped in a narrow, shallow space.  They walk the careful balance of euphoria and catastrophe, reminding the revelers to be safe on more than one occasion.   I am certain they have an abject fear the crowd will spill over on the stage damaging a piece of equipment.  

Diarrhea Planet @ Slim's.  From nprmusic... the photographer who took this was standing directly to the right of me

I've only experienced a sensation like this one other time in my life, where I could FEEL the music as much as I could hear it, assaulted by wave after wave of reverberation - and that was at my own wedding - when the raucous bar band Megan and her brother Patrick hired pulled us on stage to sing hair metal (and drove out of the room everyone over the age of 50 - good times). 

At some point in the evening, the female lead from the previous band (another great name btw - Guerrilla Toss), is hoisted into the air to crowd-surf.  At other points, at least two people are also suspended in air, practically clinging to the ceiling ducts for dear life.  One guitarist is carried onto the bar top where he continues shredding melodies with primal ferocity.  At some point earlier in the set he was gnashing at his instrument with his teeth.  

I find myself screaming at the top of my lungs about an undead spirit with a certain umm... issue(?) Four guitars are whirling just feet away as the band plays a notorious and absurd song - "Ghost With a Boner".  I had anticipated this moment after reading reviews of their insane live acts, exchanging sarcastic philosophical dialogue with Megan beforehand:  "So, how did the ghost get his boner?"  "Is that a permanent state of being, some sort a punishment for eternity?  Or is it a Halloween costume gone tragically wrong?"  So many questions, so few answers, but it’s Diarrhea Planet for gods-sake – so I was waaaaay over thinking it.

Now I was in the middle of it all, in a claustrophobia inducing venue that smelled of PBR and grundle - experiencing the greatest dopamine rush I had experienced since taking the start of the Boston Marathon in April.  

And that was just how night ONE ended.  I still had two more full days to go.

With running taking a back seat due to trail induced trauma, and having deliberately planned to take a vacation day off of work to spend a long weekend just down the road in Raleigh and crash with my friend Matt in Five Points, I was free to immerse myself fully in the eclectic frenzy of Hopscotch Music Festival.  And that I did.

At a typical festival, you stand in the blazing sun in an open field for hours staring at the same one or two stages amidst a crowd swilling Bud Lite.  Traffic and parking are a nightmarish experience, and at the end of the day you might be able to say you saw [Pearl Jam / Coldplay / Weezer] from a football field’s length away play the same songs you've heard a thousand times over. 

Not Hopscotch.

This is a puzzle of insanity, an adrenaline fueled romp through the streets of Raleigh for three days.

Here you find yourself constantly bouncing back and forth between small venues to see under the radar bands most of whom you know will never make it "big" (whatever that means), but the intimacy of the music clubs and bemused nature combined with sheer talent and energy of some of the artists make for an entirely different concert experience.   A more rewarding one for sure.

Take Sun Club, for example, as they bounced around on stage yelping and shouting with the energy of a bunch of young college kids, because well… they were in fact a bunch of young college kids.  They played before a crowd of maybe a few hundred at the Lincoln – the floor was packed and filled with concert goers of all ages – and the band seemed mystified by the whole experience, perhaps delightfully shocked, to be performing before more than a few dozen people.  After the show I exchanged a high-five one of the guitarists.  “How old are you?” I asked.  “Twenty….. one,” he said with a guilty smile and awkward pause, as if I were ID-checking him after catching him gulp down a PBR on stage.

Friday night (at Slim's again), another young band of women from Smith, Potty Mouth, throw down a short but thunderous set of chords with songs that take me back to freshman year of college.  The bass guitarist screams about a breakup into the mic, "so go ahead, kiss your friend, how's it taste, the bitter END!?!" just before a guy is lifted into the air and crashes square on my head.  In a dazed state of confusion, I scramble to find my glasses on the beer soaked floor, remarkably not broken, and continue head-banging to their catchy melodies.

Potty Mouth from Northampton MA

One would get the impression so far all I did was brave mosh pits and listen to garage bands with bathroom humor names, but this only begins the scratch of surface of everything I saw over three days.  I counted the total... 29 bands, 13 venues counting the day parties - from local bands at the Raleigh Little Theatre (thanks Charles P), folk music at the Fletcher Opera Hall to De La Soul, St.Vincent, Spoon, and Death at City Plaza.  I was surprised by the Velvet Underground-eque Drag Sounds at Pour House, captivated by The Range's gestating buildups, and amused by Mas Ysa's humor ("your chances of getting laid during this song are TERRIBLE")

Saturday afternoon alone, we listened to a DJ spin house music on a sun-soaked patio, saw an amateur WWF-like event on Fayetteville Street, walked around art galleries, saw the Ex-Hex for free (wow) at a Girls Rock NC day party, and skipped down Martin Street with the ubiquitous brass band What Cheer Brigade? like we were in New Orleans.  Maybe the unappreciative downer Mark Kozalek (Sun Kil Moon) called us a bunch of hillbillies, but Raleigh in September just keeps getting better and better.

Even Megan's getting in on the action with What Cheer Brigade?

It was after 2 AM and just as Jamie XX was appearing to wind down a thumping set at CAM, the music stopped for a moment and then unbelievably cranked back up.  I was covered in at least a hundred other people's sweat.  It was time to go at last.  

We exited CAM and the music echoed through the warehouses behind us as we saw the What Cheer Brigade? sitting on the curb dismantling their instruments clearly exhausted from three days of lighting up the streets of Raleigh.  We walked by a dance club with a grown woman twerking on a limousine truck.  I don't remember the last time I was out this late - not even last year's Hopscotch.  I felt like I was in Brooklyn instead of my home state.  We get back to Matt's house and he grabs his scissors and begins cutting off the wristbands.  He has his first kid on the way and I wonder how many more years of three day festivals we have ahead of us.

After two nights of moshing at Slim's, I chose to end my third night at the art museum...
When the artist known as How to Dress Well began crowd-surfing to Jamie XX's energetic set, I completed the trifecta - three nights carrying another human being in the air during the closer

"One of these years we're going to be cutting off these wristbands for the last time," I say in a sullen resigned tone.

Without hesitation, he scoffs, "I'll see you back here next year."


Seen at Nofo

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