Entering its fifth year, Raleigh’s Hopscotch Music Festival had some changes to face: Grayson Currin, the INDY Week music editor who helped create the festival and served as its co-director, stepped away in January. Former day party coordinator Nathan Price stepped into his role, helping founder and director Greg Lowenhagen book bands for the bulk of the three-day festival. What's more, the September event will be without Memorial Auditorium this year, as it will be closed for renovations. The loss leaves the festival without its second biggest stage, a room that has hosted marquee names such as Velvet Underground alumnus John Cale and oppressive metal legends SUNN O))).
Staring down a benchmark anniversary, Lowenhagen knew Hopscotch’s success wasn't necessarily guaranteed. But there’s ample reason to be optimistic: Advance tickets are selling as well as they ever have, he says. And the initial lineup—unveiled this morning and listed on the poster above—stacks up well against the festival's lauded past.
Mastodon, a metal band that twists through prog-rock influences with stadium-worthy hooks, headlines alongside Spoon, the accessible and deceptively adventurous pop-rock band that has been one of the best-sellers for Durham’s Grammy-and-chart-conquering Merge Records. Both acts play Raleigh City Plaza, with Mastodon joining the seminal punk pioneers in Death and the increasingly eclectic aliens in Valient Thorr on Saturday, Sept. 6. It will be the festival’s first headlining heavy bill. The previous night pairs Spoon with St. Vincent, whose taut, guitar-mangling pop could have owned a top slot, too. Raleigh’s Lonnie Walker opens that Friday show.
“We realized that we were sometimes trending a little towards older acts,” offers Lowenhagen, mentioning more tenured past headliners like Public Enemy and The Roots. This year, both Mastodon and Spoon look to deliver hotly anticipated new albums, while St. Vincent has already released a critically lauded self-titled effort.
“We wanted to do stuff that we thought was current,” Lowenhagen continues. “We wanted to book bands that are working and are playing big stages on a regular basis and putting out music.”
The acts set for Hopscotch’s club bills back up this directive and reinforce the stylistic diversity that has become the festival’s calling card. Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore, scorched metal titans High on Fire, country-ish crooner Phosphorescent and slyly earworming electro-popper Jamie xx are the biggest names slated for indoor spaces. They’re far from the only interesting inclusions among the more than 120 artists announced: Punk and garage fans will be well-sated with White Lung, a Domino-signed blur of Canadian aggression, and Jacuzzi Boys, a sprightly and infectious group from Florida. They join Diarrhea Planet, Screature, Obnox, Nik Turner’s Hawkwind and Greg Cartwright’s The Reigning Sound, among others.
Hopscotch also continues to delve into music's experimental fringes. Foreboding noise specialist The Haxan Cloak and influential avant-garde violinist Tony Conrad will both perform, in addition to a Thursday night show at Fletcher Opera Theater that Lowenhagen is particularly excited to discuss: Immersive drone artist Lee Noble opens, followed by a piece for amplified string quartet and fixed electronics performed by New Music Raleigh, and i i i i, a new outfit blending forward-thinking jazz with subtly sweeping R&B.
But one area that looks a little weak is hip-hop. While a few inclusions—surly and commanding Charlotte rapper Deniro Farrar, world-beat DJ Lunice—are enticing, the lineup currently lacks a name that carries the weight of a Danny Brown or a Killer Mike, marquee acts that have previously elevated the festival. Lowenhagen promises that nabbing at least one bigger hip-hop artist is a priority for the festival as it looks to secure its last 40 slots, but there is worry that an initial list lacking in that crucial category could give some the wrong first impression.
“We have a few holes right now, and I think that those will be filled with the next round,” he says. “But as it stands, I think it’s the best initial release that maybe we've ever done.”