7 Standout Bands: Hopscotch Music Festival Review Photos & Videos


Words, Images & Videos by: Jake Krolick

Hopscotch Music Festival 2016 :: 9.8-10.16 :: Various Venues :: Raleigh, NC

View Jake’s gallery after his review/list.

Raleigh’s seventh annual Hopscotch Music Festival did not disappoint. After seven years it’s grown into a new, more mature skin, but has retained its homegrown vibes and rebel yell. This year North Carolina Governor Pat McCory made Hopscotch headlines due to his shitty “bathroom bill.” Local artists Grayson and Tina Haver Currin unleashed a massive banner featuring the governor’s face and the word “SHAME” plastered across it. The banner was moved around the city over the course of three days as a perfect statement against the law. For the 2016 installment of Hopscotch, the Red Hat Amphitheater was added as a venue for a concert on Friday night, when Gary Clark Jr. and Erykah Badu played to massive crowds. Most of the tiny venues have been replaced with larger halls, but as is often the case with music festivals, the crowds tended to go to the larger, more popular shows. When you take a chance and apply a bit of research to Hopscotch’s massive artist list you’ll find hidden gold buried in the mix.

Hopscotch had its highs and lows, not all was perfect. Falling short on energy, the much anticipated ’70s band Television let us down on Thursday. Friday was a different story, although there was a tough choice between Gary Clark Jr. and Southern California’s Anderson .Paak, who both wowed the crowds at the same time with energy and musicianship. On Saturday, Future Islands singer Sam Herring showed up at a mid-afternoon Birds Of Avalon show and then reappeared at Mr. Carmack’s late night set, both of which were welcome surprises. Raleigh is a pretty liberal city on the rise, packed with incredible food and itching to make its mark on the national map. The annual Hopscotch Music Festival put Raleigh well on its way musically. Here are seven standout bands at this year’s event:

1. Secret Guest

Yes I discovered Secret Guest at Kings the night before, but it was their day party Friday at the Boxcar that sold me on their greatness. The show was raw, unscripted, rock ‘n’ roll. The crowd applauded when front man Brett Nash exclaimed that this was typical for a Secret Guest show, after all of their guitars had technical difficulties and they had to borrow one to continue. Hunter Park from She Returns From War joined them for a no-holds-barred finale of “Joker City,” which saw guitarist Andrei Mihailovic, Park and Nash pile up in an acrobatic showing of music and mayhem. I can’t say enough great things about this band as well as Hunter Park, who I had first seen last year. These two acts are both out of Charleston, South Carolina and ooze talent in the vein of Diarrhea Planet meets Strand Of Oaks. Do everything in your power to catch them soon.

2. A Giant Dog

Austin’s A Giant Dog ended Thursday night with a bang as sweat dripped from the packed walls of Slim’s. Musically, most of Thursday was kind of a letdown (except Secret Guest) until A Giant Dog’s Sabrina Ellis grabbed attention with her attack and release style of singing. Her voice was strong as she belted out the chorus to “Sex & Drugs” in concord with screaming guitars, banging piano and some churning rhythms. During the song, she rattled off quite a list including “all the people we fucked, and all the hippies who sucked, all the hearts that we broke, and all the liquor and coke.” The lyrics were filled with vile phrases, almost to the point where you cringed, but Ellis had such an amazing voice that you couldn’t help but enjoy their music.

3. Al Riggs

Raleigh native Al Riggs helped usher in Friday night with prominence as he played and sang with his three-piece band. What was striking from Al was his tendency to let the song just work out of him in a casual, almost story/song sort of direction: think Arlo Guthrie meets Drive-By Truckers. Riggs and the band have some musical chops and these were shown in punctuated drumming and some pretty smoldering guitar finger work. Put that all together with Al’s unique vocals and you’ve got a great new band to check out.

4. Adia Victoria

Nashville’s Adia Victoria was all business Friday evening and as much as I wanted to stay for her entire set I had to run to Car Seat Headrest at CAM Raleigh. What I did catch had me snag tickets for her show in Philadelphia next month. She is Gothic blues-based rock in the vein of Cat Power, but with more of a chip on her shoulder, as she sang with what felt like a bit of antagonism riding just under the surface of her vocals. As far as her guitar playing, it was something to witness as she carried herself like she had been on stage well past her age. For Victoria, her guitar acted as another appendage. She bent the strings with comfort and ease, a sign of a well-seasoned musician who made her instrument cry out in fast, short bursts of grungy blues.

5. Car Seat Headrest

Will Toledo, singer-songwriter and visionary of Seattle’s Car Seat Headrest, had me a touch nervous as he slowly began what would be one of the best shows I’ve ever seen at Hopscotch. “Fill in the Blank” went from zero to 60 so fast it hurt, but with a vitality that made me feel like a sadist who craved the pain. Toledo and bassist Ethan Ives kept the energy flying as they jammed out an eight-minute plus “Destroyed By Hippie Powers” to end all previous questions about whether or not this was one of the bands of the year. It’s hard to put a finger on why they are so darn appealing, but it’s something in the dynamic shifts of Toledo’s vocals from low rumbling to piercing power that just impales your soul. It doesn’t hurt that his songwriting is just as incredible. Top Toledo’s vocals off with massive guitar crescendos mixed with the steady drumming from Andrew Katz and it’s hard to contain your inner crazy when seeing them live.

6. Rainbow Kitten Surprise

Hailing from Boone, North Carolina Rainbow Kitten Surprise can put on a rock show that is personal, danceable and filled with wonderful energy. I wasn’t expecting them to translate so well live but I was pleasantly surprised. Singer Sam Melo, flanked by bassist Charlie Holt and rhythm guitarist Darrick “Bozzy” Keller, led this band through a string of incredible indie-pop arrangements that spanned both 2013’s Seven + Mary and 2015’s RKS. Melo was in a zone from the get-go as he ripped his shirt off and grabbed each and everyone in the front of the audience to sing face-to-face. These embraces made for some seriously intimate and special moments for the front of the crowd. The highlight was “Run,” as they expanded the jams into something closer to seven minutes during which Melo sang until he was breathless on the floor.

7. Sylvan Esso

After a spectacular meal at Poole’s Diner, I wasn’t sure I could move until Durham’s own Sylvan Esso took the City Plaza stage and changed that notion. Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath transformed the City Plaza stage on Saturday night into a huge dance party, as they played hits like “H.S.K.T” and “Dreamy Bruises” off their freshman album. Dressed in another anti-Governor t-shirt Sanborn asked, “Could it get any more perfect than this? I mean this right here?” The sentiment echoed out across the city as they dominated our ears and made us move with every ounce of energy left after three days.