Music festivals serve different purposes to different people. Some events have become a destination, larger than the actual artists who are performing and mainly a place to post on Facebook about. Witness Coachella's sell outs before a single artist was named. Others fill specific demands for certain genres - Mayhem and Maryland Death Fest cater to different facets of the metal crowd, ULTRA and Electric Zoo light up the EDM heads, Rock The Bells takes on hip-hop, Newport Folk Fest is obviously well-known, and there are any number of jam band-oriented festivals to get your inner crust on to. In a certain way, Hopscotch can be seen as slivers from each of these, carefully knit together on a smaller scale but hitting a myriad of musical experiences that unfold over three days. Because of this, you could poll six different festival goers of varying musical predilections and they could relate completely different experiences. With over 170 artists playing, not counting the numerous free daytime showcases that are scattered about the city before the official shows start, it's easy to see how.
While other festivals chase the marquee names to move tickets, Hopscotch doesn't bother with that approach. In their own right, A-Trak, Holy Ghost!, The Breeders and Spiritualized play mid-sized venues at best but they did a fine job filling the city plaza environs with dance-happy club kids or graying indie rock fans. Rather than attempting to write about the massive dose of audio entertainment I soaked in, here's a cross-section of highlights. Previously posted are Day 1 and Day 2 photo galleries.
There was a pretty deep selection of performance spaces in a fairly concentrated chunk of the city, ranging from the spacious Memorial Auditorium and adjacent, elegantly appointed Fletcher Opera House, to cramped, dingy rock bars like Deep South and Slim's. The only misfire was having bands like Purling Hiss and The Oblivians play the brightly lit CAM Center, which was more suited for a canapé-snacking art audience rather than the dried-blood-under-the-fingernails attack of those bands.
The Free Shows
For those who may not want to shell out the modest fee for a three day pass (early bird prices were less than a hundred bucks), there were a multitude of free showcases to choose from. Two in particular stood out: Friday's Three Lobed/WXDU and Saturday's Paradise of Bachelors events. The former was organized by label proprietor Cory Rayborn, who roped into stellar performances by Tom Carter (pulsating solo looped guitar), Glenn Jones (insanely precise open tuned guitar workouts), Desert Heat (Steve Gunn and Cian Nugent loosely jamming to the outer reaches of 70s beard rock) and Caught On Tape, the frenetic improv poundings of Thurston Moore and John Moloney that started at "Ono Soul" and left for a different galaxy quickly. The Saturday show took place two miles away in a beautiful natural amphitheater with highlights including Pelt droning along with Daniel Bachman on guitar, the supremely rocking and hummable melodies of up-and-comers Promised Land Sound, the outre psych-rock stylings of Chris Forsyth and Solar Motel Band, the Appalachian black dirt and coal dust offerings of Black Twig Pickers and a wildly swerving Birds of Maya flight path of destruction.
Last Minute Adjustments
With any large operation with many moving parts, some things don't go as planned. After Action Bronson threw his back out sneezing, Big Daddy Kane was a last minute replacement and had the Lincoln Theater in the palm of his outstretched hand. Another last second addition was the early evening set of Thurston Moore and artist in residency Merzbow, two like-minded veteran noiseniks who rent a large hole in the neighboring atmosphere.
Already mentioned, but worth another one. After the noise holocaust of Merzbow/Moore, the soothing open-tuned guitar and tenor of Ilyas Ahmed was a sonic balm. The swirling elegiac clouds of Spiritualized gave way to the hard-edged, black and white tones of Scout Niblett. Speedy Ortiz' brash take on noise rock was countered by Mount Moriah playing every record they've ever recorded, the beautiful, mournful sounds echoing in the Fletcher. John Cale's vitality into his seventh decade was a right-angled fit to Sleep's massive paeans to the joy of smoking amp heads and/or pot.
Simply staggering. An avant-garde artist with an intimidating oeuvre but sparse live performance history, Youngs played for the first time in North America and captivated the audience with little more than a barely amplified acoustic guitar and his voice.