Whistlepigs, Basements, and Corporate Biking: Hopscotch 2017 Diaries by al Riggs
*DISCLAIMER: all entries written or typed while wearing shorts.
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 7th, 2017
2:07; wristband get!
I have officially paid my seven dollars for parking so I remain on foot for the day. Writing this from the heart of Wristband City, specifically in front of the big new (?) Hopscotch Merch Section set up in the convention center. Sort of an enclave of $25 shirts with various hopscotch logos on them. Not bad to the touch but right now, day before payday, a bit too rich for my blood.
Ran into Skillet Gilmore at his Crawlspace Press booth. Lots of great posters (as usual) hung behind him. We talk for a few minutes about a dead groundhog (to be henceforth referred to as a “whistlepig”) he found in his backyard a while ago. Not sure if he is wearing Crocs.
2:32; Berkley Cafe
I am here for Reese McHenry and The Fox. When I get here there’s a guitar/drums duo playing. Later I find out their name, Clap Monkey. I order a water and the band kicks into a song introduced as “Goddamn Motherfuckin’ Blues”. The band is two older gentlemen, guitarist has bright blue hair in a fauxhawk. He is living his best life right now and who am I to blame him? There is a cowbell and it is being used. I order fries and Ross Grady appears because I have ordered fries. Skillet shows up and is not wearing Crocs. Upset by this.
3:09; still Berkley
Reese and the Fox/Whistlepig go on. Reese is the Triangle’s best singer and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. RatF are also a guitar/drums duo but pack more of a punch than the Clap Monkeys. They are LOUD and definitely the first band that should be on anyone’s list to prepare one for a night of Ear Ruining Good Times.
4:08; ever still Berkley
Eddie Garcia makes music under the name 1970’s Film Stock. It’s noisy, huge, loud stuff done by one guitar and a metric ton of pedals. I like Eddie, he’s a good man and I’d say so even if he didn’t run Pedal Fuzz (ahem). A little kid walks out with his mom with his hands over his ears. No accounting for taste.
6:15, City Plaza.
Lost my pen. Spent the last hour in the car charging my phone and talking to my boyfriend, the usual Music Festival fare.
Speaking of Usual Music Festival Fare: a black gentleman was from prevented from cutting through city plaza to get to the bus station, now having to make a longer trek. No wristband, no entry. People live on this street, there's senior living. I wonder how often they'll be hassled over the next couple of days.
Skylar Gudasz, a friend, is playing with a full band including Joe Westerlund on drums. This is the first time I've seen Skylar play with a band and the effect is great. There is a huge, swirling sound echoing through the plaza and I see friendly faces everywhere.
8:10; Ruby Deluxe
Coal Miner’s Daughter is playing on the TV because of course it is. The DJ is playing a mix of soul and psych. The bar is mostly empty. Jon, the bartender, helps me craft a drink from whole cloth. Measurements are nonexistent.
-Some Ginger Ale Bitters
Karma dictates I call the drink The Whistlepig. It’s good. A little muddled and Suicide-Soda-Like but I might ask for it again if it doesn’t make me sick later on.
9:00- THE BASEMENT
The Basement is a new venue for Hopscotch; the lower level of the Raleigh convention center. You descend via escalator into a concrete room as big as a football field and almost as high as the building. The Brian Jonestown Massacre will play here later but right now the P.A. is blaring Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”. I run into Walt again who says he is stuck down here to cover everything that happens in the Basement, which sounds a bit more sinister than I intended it to sound.
9:30, Shane Parish at Fletcher
Shane Parish is a guitarist operating in a more blues-leaning American Primitivism medium (why haven’t we come up with a new name for this specific guitar playing yet?). His guitar is both plugged into and mic’d, which produces an interesting sort of ASMR where not only is each note rich and clear but so is every rub against a string, every pluck, every clapping of the pick guard with a knuckle. It’s beautiful.
10:30; Mount Eerie at Fletcher
Phil Elverum is Mount Eerie and he has made ghostly, gorgeous songs about wind and trees and outer space for years. His wife, musician and artist Geneviève Castrée died a year ago from cancer. As a result the sprawling, metaphor-free A Crow Looked At Me was made. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year and is one of the better explorations of Actual Human Grief As It Really Is I’ve ever encountered.
Phil played solo tonight on nylon-string guitar and the first half of the hour-plus set was dedicated to songs from ACLAM. Halfway through we are treated to about six entirely new songs, similar in structure to the last album, but dealing less with the grieving process as we know it to be and more about what happens when you make a well received (and well publicized) album about the grieving process and then you have to take the thing on tour while juggling a homelife. Eggs are made, conversations are had with other musicians at other music festivals, Skrillex pops up. The set is fantastic, I cry a bit, and think about fixing the second string on my nylon guitar before going home.
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 8th, 2017
1:22 pm; Ruby Deluxe
I am surrounded by stylish punks, stylish lesbians, and a surprising amount of older, less stylish, “normal” dudes. It’s day party time at Ruby and the outside porch section has the feeling of a beach bungalow. Drink is everywhere and despite the event being sponsored by Slingshot coffee I cannot seem to find any anywhere.
Bat Fangs, the band just finishing playing, were excellent; a punk trio owing their vocal arrangements to classic New Wave groups. The actual bar, full up when Bat Fangs were on, has now emptied outside, leaving me with the quest of finding my way in.
The Boyfriend has come along with me, taking the day off of work, to take in the multiple free day parties Raleigh has to offer. We make our way into Ruby, which during the daytime is rendered even darker. I wave and greet everyone I recognize; Daniel Tomas who owns Ruby and Kym Register who runs The Pinhook (a great queer bar/venue in Durham, who is sponsoring today’s event). I eventually find out where the free Slingshot coffee is but sadly by the time we make our way over to the cooler it turns out to be recently emptied. Morale is low.
2:00; Mount Moriah at Ruby Deluxe
Mount Moriah are local folks done good. Heather McEntire has a golden voice and a knack for writing some of the best electric country music in the past decade. Jenks Miller plays lead guitar in the band and his experience in his drone metal project Horseback brings a refreshingly technical eye to what to the naked ear sounds like A Bunch of Good Ol’ Boys Having A Time. Phil Cook, who earlier played his own day party at Ruby, shows up for a smooth cover of “To Be Free”, originally made popular by Nina Simone. I pat Phil on the back as we make our way out of the bar to get some lunch.
[NOTE: At this time the diary is stopped being paid attention to as matters outside of covering Hopscotch have risen up. During these two or so hours I drive up to my old apartment in Chapel Hill to clean up my room, load up my car with what I can, and pray somebody buys my mattress within the next week, or else I will just have to settle for having Somebody come and take it out of my hands. The Boy goes to a production of King Lear somewhere in Raleigh and I am left to my own devices. We pick back up at Red Hat Amphitheater.]
6:27 pm, Red Hat Amphitheater
Apartment Emergencies prompted leaving the festival for a couple of hours. Coverage continues.
Rapsody is fun. Live instrumentation, horns, an overall party atmosphere, despite half the amphitheater being completely empty with the majority of the audience up in the pit. I need a water but want to save the $5 on some actual food elsewhere.
7:20; City Plaza
I hike up to City Plaza and join the ever growing crowd for The Make Up. The Make Up are a 60’s throwback garage rock group complete with bowl cuts and shining, pink suits. Led by Ian Svenonius, the band is rollicking and wooly as Ian hams up with the crowd. Call me square or buttoned up but throwbacks and parodies just ring out hollow for me. I’m not enjoying the show as much as everyone else, especially when Ian cuts loose with a real gut buster like “We’ve been told the festival has been postponed due to the hurricane, so this is your last chance to get your rocks off!”. He actually says this. Rock ’n roll, hilarious. I bail.
8:00, Run The Jewels at Red Hat
The crowd at Red Hat, now almost doubled in size, is cheering madly and so am I. Run The Jewels is a rap duo comprising of Killer Mike and EL-P and in the past few years they have created some of the most angry, enjoyable, quotable rap music to grace an ear. They’re a hit. Everyone is chanting along to songs from their third self titled album and the overall mood is joyful while everyone, myself included, raps along to such great turns of phrase as “Top of the morning, my fist to your face is fuckin’ Folgers” and “picture this: i’m a bag of dicks, put me to your lips”. Much needed catharsis.
9:00; Future Islands and the beginning of The Literal Hopscotching
I run back up to City Plaza to catch the beginning of Future Islands. They come out to the instantly recognizable “Just A Friend” by Biz Markie and the crowd starts singing along with it. The first time I saw Future Islands was back in 2011 opening for both Titus Andronicus and Okkervil River at the Cat’s Cradle. They’ve come a long way in six years and can now play stadiums if they wanted to. I take a few pictures as best as I can. Frontman Sam Harring is dancing like Sam is apt to do (very well) and members of the audience are trying to mime his perfect moves.
I bump into a friend of mine and his wife as we start to make our way to Nash Hall to see Arone Dyer’s Drone Choir. We pass by an eTix Party tent where I stop to sneak a photo of a young man’s Reagan/Bush ’88 sweatshirt. He is also wearing a Red Baseball Cap so you can probably write the rest of this sentence from there.
We make it almost to Nash Hall when the first wall of mine is hit. I need something to eat so I break away from the group and head to the Remedy Diner where I have a turkey BLT and chips while the wait staff, in the middle of closing, blare Rhianna and MIA tunes and fight over whose turn it is to pick a song next. I’m off again.
10:30; Museum Mouth at Slim’s
When I get to Slim’s I am shagged out and stumbling from running around all day. Luckily my morale improves when I run into Justin (my drummer and Happy Abandon bassist) and Dax (Body Games). Dax’s girlfriend, Molly, lets me borrow her portable phone charge to charge up my steadily dying phone. Molly immediately enters my book of Good People. We are all tired yet proceed to cheer and yell out respective names of Museum Mouth as they arrive on stage. By the time the band is is chugging through “Alex Impulse” the entire crowd is on their feet. I suddenly feel energized by the wonderful gay feelings pumping through the room. Shouts of “KARL!” and “KORY!” and “MORGAN!” are heard. We know these people, we love these people. All hearts are a flutter.
11- Midnight; Further Running Around and Songs: Molina
For the next hour I am zooming down Wilmington and back toward Fayetteville Street, snapping pictures, texting friends. Networking. God love it. I jolt down into the Basement with enough time to catch two songs by Lee Fields and the Expressions. People should be dancing, not enough people are dancing. There’s a lot of people, there’s a disco ball (albeit one projected onto a screen behind the band) and there is a huge band with horns and pianos and a singer whose voice zooms through the crowd trampling all in its path.
I make my way to Fletcher to catch the last two songs of Monk Parker. Monk and his band make a strange, ghostly sort of country music, reminiscent of early Lambchop. There is xylophone, there is lap guitar, Monk switches between a gorgeously baritone guitar and saxophone. Gorgeous stuff.
The final act for me tonight is Songs: Molina, a tribute band celebrating the work of late Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company frontman Jason Molina. Joining a band made of former collaborators and band members are Skylar Gudasz and Mike Taylor, head honcho of Hiss Golden Messenger. The songs are the perfect balance of sweet and sad and are performed lovingly with little banter between them. I’m weepy by the time “Farewell Transmission” is over. Fletcher is a great place for a show and an even better place for a good cry. I’m pooped.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 9th, 2017
12:30; Justin Lacy and the Swimming Machine at Mark Connor’s Pizza Church (Deep South)
I’m sitting in a booth with Owen Fitzgerald, my bassist, watching a gorgeous and jittery set by Wilmington musician Justin Lacy. He along with myself and everyone else performing at Deep South this afternoon are part of the To Be Heard Booking Hopscotch Party. The free pizza, advertised the heck out of and brought to you in part by Trophy, has not arrived yet.
Justin’s set is great. A skeleton crew of a band consisting of nylon-string guitar, drums, and electric guitar. Very reminiscent of Johnathan Richman and very fun to listen to.
1:15; al Riggs and God’s Heavy Wrath at Deep South
[NOTE: At this part of the show your narrator has gotten onstage to perform. Any attempts to “cover” this part of the festivities would prove meaningless and a conflict of interest so let’s just say that we were fantastic and charming and leave it at that. We pick up later in the day.]
5:20; Body Games at City Plaza
I don’t know how they’ve done it but it feels like incense is being pumped through invisible vents into the quickly growing crowd at City Plaza. It’s pleasant but eerie. After about 20 minutes of Talking Heads songs blaring through the speakers (a great choice), “City of Dreams” (a really great choice) fades out as Body Games comes onto the stage. The music is a perfect mix between loud and calming as mid-tempo techno pop is played and played well. Near the end of the first song, onto the projection screen behind the band, repeating images of Richard Spencer getting socked in the jaw and the exploding Swastika at Zeppelinfeld appear to surprised applause. During a sneak-attack cover of the Pocahontas tune “Colors of The Wind” a loop of Donald Trump’s infamous “we need some global warming” is played over a clip of a Trump effigy being graphically melted. I love this band and would die for them.
6:45; Owen Ashworth Interview
I have discovered the wonders of LimeBike, a bike sharing app that lets you find a bike, scan a code, and ride the bike for $1 a ride. It’s an incredibly clever and (will prove to be later on) useful idea, despite multiple friends, including INDY reporter David Ford Smith, telling me horror stories about the bikes just being left on front lawns and in the middle of sidewalks when riders are done with them. I still like the idea of needing a bike and finding one in the middle of the road, though, and use a LimeBike to zoom over to the Lincoln Theatre for an interview with Owen “Advance Base” Ashworth.
Owen is a tall, kind man. Some would call a “gentle giant”, and I would use that term as well. He is softspoken and generous and I’ve known this for a couple of years now. I’ve seen Advance Base (his newest music-making-moniker after doing away with the more abrasive sounds of Casiotone For The Painfully Alone) about four times now, one of those times opening for him at the Duke Coffeehouse, so the whole “getting to know you” phase is now nonexistent.
We chat in his car about jamming econo, touring with a larger band compared to his current setup of an electric piano, rhythm boxes, and an Omnichord, what exactly an Omnichord is, and how a compact performing style influences studio work and vice versa. After the interview I hop back onto the bike and make my way to Where Food Is.
8:30- Naked Naps at Lincoln
The crowd size at Lincoln will ebb and flow as the evening continues but right now the pit is nearly full for Naked Naps, a terrific guitar/drums duo from right here in Raleigh. Mathier and more groove-heavy than a lot of other punk bands around here. I’ve seen them many times before and with each show they seem to get tighter and tighter and more of the raucous party band they deserve to be. Before their set ends I start making my way to the door and talk a bit more with Owen Ashworth who is running the merch booth before Advance Base goes on after NN. I’m off.
9:10- Solange at Red Hat
I am deep into the pit of Red Hat. The last time I’ve been this close for a show in Red Hat was for Cake about five years ago. There’s a lot more people here for Solange than Cake, however. Trapped in an ocean of young gay men chanting “YASS KWEEN” like a nervous tic and women of all ages talking shop about Solange’s new album and what she plans on doing for the performance. I belong closer to the first group but identify more with the second. The stage is dominated by a huge, faded pink orb that is reminiscent of a backdrop from filmed musicals from the 40’s. As the show begins this comparison becomes more apt.
Every member of the band- drummer, keyboardist, horn section, backup singers- arrives on stage to rapturous applause, which grows even louder when Solange herself appears. From thereon out (at least until I dash away 20 minutes later to the next show) the audience is in (mostly) quiet awe as Solange and co. run through the 1-2-3 punch of “Rise”, “Weary”, and “Cranes In The Sky”, the opening trifecta that opens her 2016 album “A Seat At The Table”. I must say (I must say) the sound at Red Hat tonight is exemplary; the bass is rich without being overpowering, the vocals are incredibly clear, everything else seems to be mixed perfectly. Very surprised that it sounds this good from the pit. I take a bunch of pictures and pedal my way back to Lincoln.
9:30-10:50- Advance Base and Dear Nora at Lincoln
When I get back to Lincoln, Owen is just starting the song “Summon Satan” from his last album “Nephew In The Wild”. Like the best sad and dark songs ever written it’s delivered in a major key with a catchy melody. Much smaller crowd for AB than Naked Naps but everyone here is hanging onto every word and the overall mood in the room is Somber and Respectful, as it should be. I walk upstairs and almost bump into a couple slow dancing to the music which is one of the best things I have witnessed all weekend. As the low bass and (for the show) drumless melody of “Nephew In The Wild” comes on, I have found myself sitting between the two (?????) men’s room doors where there is the only available outlet to charge my phone. I still don’t know why there are two men’s rooms upstairs.
While labeled inactive by Good Ol’ Wikipedia, Dear Nora were anything but; in the 20 minutes I stayed for them they crammed about five or six bouncy, intricately layered songs. I recognize Nicholas Krgovich on the keys and he, along with three others, buoy the sound of Katy Davidson’s no-nonsense approach to indie pop that has been prominent in bands like Waxahatchee and P.S. Eliot (and Advance Base for that matter). The songs are quick and catchy and speaking of both I have another show to catch quickly.
11-12- Aldous Harding at Nash Hall and Loamlands at Lincoln
All of this biking has completely run me ragged. I’m on my second to last leg when I reach Nash Hall; a fancy, “hip” looking church building. The inside is white and chrome and there are chairs facing a short stage in a very-Church way. Aldous Harding comes on, dressed in all white, to no applause but to a steady quieting of the room. She is playing a guitar that sounds like classical, nylon string familiarity but has the body of a futuristic electric guitar. It is also eggshell white. Aldous sings gothic folk songs with a train-stopping voice as her body contorts almost spider-like. It is unsettling (mostly from the setting) and it really does feel like we are in the middle of some sort of worshipping.
I bike on over to Lincoln for the last time to catch Loamlands, a queer roots group from Durham with a refreshing punk ethos (which is fitting considering frontperson Kym Register also runs Durham’s Pinhook, a queer punk-leaning rock venue and bar). Joining Kym and co. are two Cooks; Phil and Brad on keys and bass, respectively. There are a couple of (drunk seeming) bro-types in the front of the crowd and they are losing their respective shit at Loamlands; dancing in circles and pumping their fists as the band chugs through breakout favorite “Little River”, a murder ballad detailing the murder of two gay men in North Carolina on their way to a swimming hole. It is surreal, this dancing to this song.
I head out of the venue near the end of their set. My body is aching, my legs especially, and this time there is no LimeBike available for me to use to get back to the parking garage. I slowly hoof it, records and t-shirts in tow. The entire weekend has exhausted me, today mostly. I am full of love for my home state and my friends in bands and for my friends who are not in bands. The next morning I will be too dead-from-the-neck-down to attempt the Sunday shows at Red Hat. I hear that both Angel Olsen and Cass McCombs are tremendous. I had no doubt in mind. I sleep in and have a late breakfast then drive home to the Boyfriend and rest more.
al Riggs is a musician from Durham, NC. His interests are huge dogs and shirts from Target that fit well. You can find his music by shouting into a manhole and waiting for the Bandcamp link to show up in your mind.