Just an hour or so away from Elon University, music fans from across North Carolina flocked to Raleigh for the city’s Hopscotch Music Festival Sept. 4-6. For five years, the festival has brought some of the most prominent names in music to the state’s capital — some of them for the first time.
North Carolina is not particularly known for its music scene, despite the multiple big names that call the state their birthplace: John Coltrane, Tori Amos, 9th Wonder, Thelonious Monk, Archers of Loaf and record label Merge, which put out albums like Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” and Arcade Fire’s Grammy-winning album, “The Suburbs.”
Going to Hopscotch, one gets the sense of an overt goal of festival promoters to both advertise North Carolina artists to a larger audience and to introduce the Raleigh crowds to internationally known artists. At this year’s Hopscotch, Durham’s Toon & The Real Laww opened for hip-hop legends De La Soul, and Raleigh’s Lonnie Walker opened for indie-rock heavy hitters St. Vincent and Spoon, and Chapel Hill’s Valient Thorr opened for punk pioneers Death and metal stars Mastodon.
North Carolina music wasn’t only on display at Hopscotch’s City Plaza main stage. During the day, local record labels and promotion companies held free shows to highlight local bands and artists. Even without a pass to the festival, visitors in Raleigh could listen to new Merge albums at a local bar one day, and hear established acts like Hammer No More The Fingers the next.
With only five years’ experience putting on the festival, from one year to the next, Hopscotch evolves. Hopscotch has always had big names in rap take center stage, from, The Roots to Public Enemy to De La Soul this year, but to find hip-hop in the festivals night shows was a little more challenging. After Outkast member Big Boi had to cancel in 2013, he was replaced not with a rapper, but with the head of rap label Fool’s Gold, A-Trak. But in 2014, hip-hop played a much larger role than it did in years past, with venues hosting line-ups packed with rappers two nights in a row.
Weather also remained a challenge for Hopscotch this year, as it had been in years past. As the late summer heat stirs up all kinds of storms, headlining shows in the open City Plaza suffer. It’s happened in past years and during Thursday’s aggressive downpour, anyone caught outside a venue had a hard time making it to another set of shows. While the crowds at De La Soul’s outdoor show stayed and even insisted on hearing more music as the rain was reaching its pitch, walking around the city, it was rare to see anyone else trying to move from Lincoln Theatre to the Raleigh Contemporary Art Museum.
Raleigh’s streets and music-friendly bars were packed with fans, just as eager to see North Carolina locals like See Gulls and TOW3RS as they were big stars like clipping. and Jamie XX.
Hopscotch offered a window into a music scene not often investigated by those in North Carolina. Local artists opened up for foundational musicians, bands were shown an audience they may not have known existed and for a few nights, excitement could be found around every corner in Raleigh, whether it was a musician making innovations at Tir Na Nog or a dance party on Martin Street.