Hopscotch Music Festival
Photo by Nick Pironio
Boulevards and friends, at CAM at Hopscotch 2015
Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015
From solid last-minute substitutions
to serendipitous encounters with fellow festivalgoers, Hopscotch is known for the unexpected. My final day started with a minor dose of the latter when Grandma Sparrow
arrived to introduce Phil Cook’s daytime set at The Pour House to the bewilderment of many. That soon turned to amusement, though, as Sparrow—the alter ego of Cook’s Megafaun and DeYarmond Edison bandmate Joe Westerlund—led the capacity crowd in a sing-song chant for “Philippi the banjo man,” set to an improvised stomp-clap beat that mimicked “We Will Rock You.”
Billed as a solo set, Cook, at least for a few songs, welcomed a mini-version of the ensemble that supported his tour de force Thursday night performance—Ryan Gustafson on guitar, James Wallace on keys, Kyle Keegan on drums. Cook also enlisted the audience’s voices as his backing choir for the gospel fire of “Take Your Burden To The Lord And Leave It There” and the soothing “Time To Wake Up,” dedicated to his son, Ellis, whose bright green noise-blocking headphones. They were probably needed the most after the loud welcome he received once Cook pointed him out.
Such intimacy made for an even more enjoyable performance than Cook’s rightfully raved about festival set at Fletcher on Thursday night. I’ve long joked that, if robots were to take over, it’d be easy to discern human from machine by whom was able to watch the joyful Cook perform a tune without breaking into a grin. The toothy smiles that spread across the crowd proved I was among mere mortals on Saturday, especially when Cook divided the room into thirds for a rousing multi-part singalong during “Sitting on a Fence Too Long.”
With all due respect to The Tills and Sheer Mag—who each ripped through rowdy riff-fests of raw rock ‘n’ roll—Saturday belonged to the locals for me. In other day party action, T0W3RS’ blissful electronic-and-live-band hybrids—destined to follow in Future Islands’ footsteps, it seems— matched the constant positivity of theatric leader Derek Torres. In a shimmering purple top, flanked by a pair of acrobats, Torres showed love to the Triangle acts playing a couple blocks apart on Davie Street. “Let’s keep doing this forever, or until our government collapses,” he shouted.
While providing direct support for punkabilly pioneers X—who turned in one of the most gratifying City Plaza sets in memory, leading the gentleman assembling my sandwich to inquire about the quartet with curiosity—American Aquarium used its platform on the big stage to give shoutouts to Cook, Gustafson and the absent Mount Moriah between playing songs that referenced NC State and Slim’s. The fact that the latter’s house band, The Vibekillers, actually played Fayetteville Street seemed like a joke that only Raleigh residents were in on, though that’s not to disparage the surly bar-rock vets. They delivered a tight, spirited set of their own.
Dwight Yoakam was predictably stellar, too, but after a handful of songs, I had to go. After all, Boulevards—one of my few must-see acts of the weekend—was scheduled to soon kick things off at CAM. Jamil Rashad kept his antsy fans waiting, though, as his DJ continued to spin and intermittently hype the crowd for the first 15 minutes of his allotted set. That hype, though, was entirely unnecessary: From the moment Rashad hit the stage in a teal suit with matching baseball cap, he commanded complete control of the room in a way that shouldn’t be possible for an act who has performed so few live shows.
Photo by Nick Pironio
Boulevards, onstage at CAM
Repping Raleigh throughout, Boulevards didn’t even have to prepare the crowd for the call-and-response moments that dotted his hybrids of electro-funk beats and retro hip-hop. The as-yet unreleased cuts from Boulevards’ forthcoming EP did little to dampen the party spirit, but the rapturous throng didn’t take over the stage to dance alongside Rashad until he led into “Got To Go,”
the irresistible lead single. After running through the song once, Rashad requested another go at it, performing a reprise surrounded by bouncing bodies at the center of the floor.
Though I caught some fine performances after Boulevards—including Daniel Romano’s killer country tunes—that unbridled energy didn’t return until King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s festival-ending set at The Pour House. Shortly after reuniting with my new Australian friend, who I’d met on Thursday night after happening to spot his credit card being kicked down the steps of Kings, I was watching his countrymen conjure a wild psych-rock racket that created a sea of movement with the weary souls left standing.
“Are these guys big in Australia?” I asked Aaron, wondering if the long line that still stretched down Blount Street would be commonplace back home. “Mate, no one knows them there!” he responded as we toasted PBR tallboys and carried on with the band until after closing time. That King Gizzard and company would find so many enthusiastic followers halfway around the world seemed a suitable end for Hopscotch 2015 and its unpredictable outcomes.