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Hopscotch 2014 - Day 3

Hopscotch 2014 is officially in the books. It remains to be seen whether the organizers made it into the black on this run, but from my perspective, with the festival’s profile higher than ever, they continue to offer a musical experience unlike anything else in the country.

With daylight still burning, I arrived during Death’s set at the City Plaza. There’s been a resurgence of interest in the Detroit 1970s proto-punkers after the success of the 2012 documentary A Band Called Death. The band’s funky aggression went over well with the crowd. Bassist and vocalist Bobby Hackney talked of Death’s difficulty finding music industry support when it started out (the band’s name, not surprisingly, was a problem), as well as its plans for releasing new music. Although the trio sounded pretty good, I was most taken by the onstage attire of its members, which I can only describe as something that might have been found on a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome-themed Rick James video shoot.

After Death finished its set I wandered the plaza and ran into the guys from Fabricoh Magazine. Our conversation ranged from the Sun Kil Moon incident of Friday night to (for some reason) Gene Simmons’s infamous 2002 Fresh Air interview. They were a lot of fun and were clearly having a good time.

By the time I walked back toward the City Plaza stage, Mastodon had already started its set.  I was ushered into the media photographer pit, an area between the stage and the crowd. I was treated to a dual show: crowd surfers flailed about behind me while Mastodon’s music assaulted me from the front. At one point, guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds threw his pick into the crowd—and his sweat into my eye. It was very metal. And very gross. I moved back into the crowd and enjoyed the rest of the show from the periphery. Mastodon was solid, although I worry that their increasingly mainstream tendencies will sink them artistically.

I purposefully planned my Saturday night Hopscotch schedule as little as possible. My only strategy was to see as many bands as I could. I caught about 20 minutes of the classic metal stylings of Raleigh’s Demon Eye at the Lincoln Theatre before legging it north on Wilmington where I came across the keyboard and percussion act School Dance performing on the sidewalk at the intersection with Martin. Earlier in the day it had played a set at Slim’s Spazzscotch III day party along with Brooklyn’s Ava Luna. I checked out Ava Luna at Tir Na Nog after a brief stop at The Pour House where I listened to the Raleigh beatmeister (my word) Nikhil Shah, otherwise known as Holygrailers. The performance was fine, but somewhat lacking in energy. Ava Luna was much more memorable: a collision of three-part harmonies, dance punk, indie pop, and Tom Tom Club-like excursions. It was a funky mix, and I dug it.

I would have liked to have seen all of Ava Luna’s set, but I remained committed to the see-as-many-bands-as-possible plan. I returned to a packed Pour House and witnessed an incredible set from ToW3Rs (another Raleigh act) that featured  front man Derek Torres (backed by a full band) working the crowd to exhaustion with a high energy set that included two “acro-entertainers” contorting in silver bodysuits while Torres flung himself repeatedly across the stage. It was a definite festival highlight.

T0W3RS was so good that I broke my rule and stayed for the entire set (thus proving my pre-Day 1 realization that one’s Hopscotch experience simply cannot be planned). By then it was approaching 12:30, and so I headed south again to the hollowed-out Kennedy Theater to close out the festival with Vancouver punk rockers White Lung. The group didn’t disappoint, walloping the crowd with rapid-fire bursts of aggression that made me glad I came—and that I remembered to bring ear plugs. Vocalist Mish Way continually asked for someone to dim the house lights; once done, it made for a cool vibe, particularly from my vantage point at the side of the stage, where I could feed off of the energy of both the band and the audience.

White Lung wrapped up just before 1:15 and so ended my Hopscotch 2014 experience. Physically, it was punishing and I’m somewhat relieved that it’s over. But it was a great experience—the caliber of virtually every act I saw was unexpectedly top-notch. Even if the festival’s organizers don’t make a profit (again) this year, they can take pride in having facilitated an incredible three days of music in downtown Raleigh.

[Special thanks to Sarah Young for all of her logistical assistance before, during, and after the festival. It was indispensable to my reporting. ZJL]