Hopscotch Music Festival, Raleigh, North Carolina, September 7-9, 2023 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, April 12th, 2024  

Japanese Breakfast

Japanese Breakfast, Soccer Mommy, Pavement, Alvvays

Hopscotch Music Festival, Raleigh, North Carolina, September 7-9, 2023,

Sep 17, 2023 Photography by Christa Joyner Moody Web Exclusive
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Day 1

It’s good to have goals. And ours for the first day of Raleigh’s Hopscotch Music Festival was to get to town and to up and coming alt-country band Florry’s first of three sets of the weekend. Not only did that work out, there was also time to stop for a bite at Transfer Co. Food Hall where the first taste of the fun and funkiness of downtown Raleigh became apparent. Unbeknownst to us at the time, Transfer Co. was also one of the dozen or so venues where artists would perform over the three and a half day festival.

Florry
Florry

Hopscotch, like Raleigh itself, does things a little differently. With two main stages (City Plaza and Moore Square) that are about four blocks apart and the other club venues scattered between the two, there are acts that play only on the main stages, only in the clubs, or some that do both. The slate of club shows kick off around Noon. The main stages open mid-day. And then it’s back to the clubs ’til well into the early morning hours. The daily schedules are a beast, but the city’s relaxed vibe and the multitude of simultaneous shows makes for a stress free daily adventure. Where it’s also easy to grab a great meal at local favourites like Laotian restaurant Bida Manda (thanks Cliff!) or down-home Southern fried chicken at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey when moving from set to set.

Pavement
Pavement

Being sure to get to Slim’s (a self-described music hallway) early for the Florry set the first day, we were also able to catch 4AD act Anjimile on the venue’s tiny stage. Unfortunately, as the first act of the day there were some sound issues beyond the band’s control leading to a very shortened but atmospheric set. The Anjimile Chitambo led trio seemed unfazed and also had a main stage set to look forward to. Whether learning off the prior band or as a result of the sound guy getting up to speed, the seven-piece Francie Medosch led Florry had no such problems and romped through a half dozen or so blustery cuts from their latest album, The Holey Bible, and some older ones.

Anjimile
Anjimile

After packing tightly into Slim’s it was time to get to the more wide open environs of the City Plaza stage. The day was hot, pushing ninety-six degrees, but the entire plaza was shaded by office towers on three sides. Local band and recent Double Double Whammy signee, Truth Club, took advantage of the opening set to show why they will no doubt be a band to watch. With Pavement slated to play the same stage later that night, Truth Club had more than an air of that band’s legendary sound. They were followed by the discordant and ever chime-y Palm for their last festival set ever as the Philly based band has announced their dissolution.

Truth Club
Truth Club

Interestingly, Hopscotch starts on a Thursday. So with our eyes set for Friday to be our longest day, we stuck around for the final headliners at City Plaza rather than wander back into the city. With the closing acts being Alvvays and Pavement, this wasn’t a hard choice. Molly Rankin and her band played a tight and punchy set pulling from all three of their albums. And Pavement didn’t disappoint, playing a twenty-five songs set highlighted by a couple of Bob Nastanovich scream alongs. There were a few missteps along the way, including a song where several members were in different keys, but it just added to the charm of catching the nineties legends on one of their last remaining scheduled shows.

Alvvays
Alvvays

Day 2

At risk of developing a theme to the weekend, day two started with a rush to Neptune’s to catch Florry’s second set of the festival. Neptune’s, to put it succinctly, is a very cool place. The below ground club gave Florry the chance to move from a letter sized to legal sized stage and gave the band more room to spread out - both physically and musically. And rock out they did with breaks between songs often finding the band tuning up to The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” But the band’s own “Drunk and High” makes for an equally fine anthem. The hardest working band of the festival, they departed this set to head to Richmond to open for Superchunk before heading back for a day three slot.

Florry
Florry

No outdoor festival is without the threat of weather, and unfortunately the appropriately named Sunny War brought the rain to the Moore Square stage. Led by songwriter Sydney Ward, she played acoustic guitar sans pick and the trio of musicians sounded fantastic. Coming all the way from L.A. it was too bad that the group only got in a handful of songs before nearby lightning shut things down for a bit.

Sunny War
Sunny War

Given our schedule was plotted out to go past 2am, we took shelter from the rain with the intent to catch two more Moore Square acts before heading into the clubs. With the rain at bay, the last two acts for that stage were Max Clarke’s Cut Worms project and country rocker Margo Price. Though both put on great sets, performance wise the two are polar opposites. Clarke was reserved and primarily stationary, but the early evening set flavored by equal parts Buddy Holly, Gram Parsons and Hank Williams was easy to consume. Price on the other hand came out guns blazing and didn’t let up. A consummate performer, and one hell of a songwriter, Price quipped about being a long way from Slim’s, where she must have played earlier in her career, and she also took a whirlwind turn on the drums as well.

Cut Worms
Cut Worms

With the main stages winding down, it was time to experience Hopscotch after hours. After a bit of fortification at a nearby speakeasy, it was back to Neptune’s to catch Brooklyn’s Foyer Red. A band we didn’t know much about, but with koleżanka’s Kristine Moore on hand playing lead guitar we didn’t want to miss them. Their heavily syncopated sound with a touch of the tropical made for a fun set and great kick off to the evening.

Foyer Red
Foyer Red

An artist we’ve been following for a bit, Portland’s Rose City Band, was our primary target for the evening. But what came before was totally unexpected. With Rose City Band’s set promising to be a packed one at The Pour House, we got there in plenty of time to be blown away by North Carolina by way of Philly artist, and recent Merge signee, Rosali. Led by Rosali Middleman the group seems unassuming until they start to play. A perfectly sculpted set, where the group started out slowly and were joined by local Skylar Gudasz on some lovely harmonies to start things out. Middleman has a bit of Stevie Nicks’ huskiness to her voice but also shares an inability to bring anything but golden tones when she opens her mouth. The recently signed Merge Records’ artist worked up to an incendiary “Bones,” but also ridiculously undersold a new song with the lyric “I love you, you love me too” that was utterly captivating. No doubt our biggest surprise of the weekend and right up there with the best sets we caught.

Rosali
Rosali

The Ripley Johnson led Rose City Band closed out the night at The Pour House with a 12:30am starting time. A big fan of the group’s last two albums, word was that the band’s keyboardist, Paul Hasenberg, was the one to watch. As the rest of the band tuned up, Hasenberg was the last to take the stage and immediately get into a groove with multiple keyboards, including a Mellotron to his left. The group’s albums are primarily tight affairs with a strong country flavoring, but live, many of the songs gave way to Hasenberg’s extended passages with the rest of the band playing along with eyes fixated on his every move. A stunning display of musicality if not a little removed from what gives the band’s albums their charm.

Rose City Band
Rose City Band

Day 3

After a late night and with more rain in the forecast, our third and final day was shaping up to be a bit more sedate. Fortuitously, we were asked to cover an impromptu photo shoot for one of Day three’s main artists, Soccer Mommy, so we got off to a later start. After the shoot, we (and Soccer Mommy for that matter) headed straight for one of the later announced acts of the festival - the reunion of Jenn Wasner’s and Andy Stack’s Wye Oak after a four year hiatus from the stage. Wasner is one of music’s brightest lights and her level of poise, grace and gratitude were on full display over a beautifully played ten song set. Wye Oak borrowed Japanese Breakfast’s sax player for a few songs, which brought some depth and a bit of humor to the proceedings. But perhaps the best song of all was a cover of Cass McComb’s “You Saved My Life,” played right after introducing Stack’s one year old baby boy (not surprisingly named Cass) to the crowd. With Wye Oak being a must see, we were already pretty late into the day.

Soccer Mommy
Soccer Mommy
Wye Oak
Wye Oak

A fairly rainy evening provided the threat of not knowing if the final main stage sets of the day (Soccer Mommy, Dinosaur Jr. (who we covered last year), and Japanese Breakfast) would make it. Florry’s earlier day three set was in fact rained out, leading to a 1am slot that we were too fried to make. Pushing all sets back by thirty minutes ended up being the solution to allowing all three of the final main stage acts to get in their full sets.

Japanese Breakfast
Japanese Breakfast

Though the rain had primarily stopped by the time Sophie Allison’s Soccer Mommy took the stage, the crowd was mainly pancho’d up for what she described as the “moody vibe” for her set. Having not seen her set since 2018, newer songs “Circle the Drain” and “Shotgun” stood out in an otherwise atmospheric set. And a cover of Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun” served to cheer the dampened crowd.

Margo Price
Margo Price

The final main stage set of the night was from Japanese Breakfast. Again an act we hadn’t seen for several years and it was clear that Michelle Zauner and company have spent plenty of time converting their act to that of a main stage closer. With a gong centre stage that was used for early set favourite “Paprika,” Zauner quickly captivated the crowd with a high energy set that had the packed crowd bounding up and down by the end, with the concrete beneath us somehow springing along (frankly a bit of a scary moment - not sure what lies beneath City Plaza). One of the few bands that played an encore, Zauner closed with an extended and fantastically grooving take of “Diving Woman.” An appropriately entertaining and layered set by a band that continues to dazzle.

Japanese Breakfast
Japanese Breakfast

Though Sunday held a few day parties, we had reached our quota of what a small coverage team could handle. Needless to say, Hopscotch does a fantastic job of coordinating 12+ hour days of live music across a multitude of stages and clubs. The staff of the clubs are to be commended as well; handling press, artists, and fans with equal aplomb and respect. Not easy when likely 3x the capacity of a club are on hand to catch something like the Wye Oak set where not everyone who wants to is going to get in. Fortunately, there was never a moment without several acts available to catch. Integrating the cityscape and its established venues into the festival mix really sets Hopscotch apart from some of the larger multi-stage events. Thoroughly recommended and enjoyed!

Japanese Breakfast
Japanese Breakfast



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