Spotlight: Hopscotch checklist

The crowd from last year's The Flaming Lips show at the second Hopscotch Music Festival. Year two enhanced the brand and did better financially, turning a modest profit as it inspired this year's more ambitious agenda. 2011 NEWS & OBSERVER FILE PHOTO

The crowd from The Flaming Lips show at the second Hopscotch Music Festival.  Travis Long, The News & Observer

Three months of music in three days

by Jessie Ammons

Hopscotch, the eclectic downtown-wide Raleigh music festival, is back and better than ever. “We’ve programmed a really balanced, well-rounded, diverse lineup, which is what we’ve become known for,” says Greg Lowenhagen, director of the annual event, now in its seventh year. “Of course, we want to get better at it every year … This is one of the best – if not the best – total slates of artists.”

He’s not just rattling off a marketing spiel: Lowenhagen first pitched the idea of a multiple-venue music festival in 2009 and made it happen in the fall of 2010. Since then, the festival has snowballed in both popularity and talent, becoming “one of the best and most eclectic music festivals in America,” according to Spin magazine. Its thousands of repeat attendees agree. The success is due in part to Lowenhagen’s ingeniously simple vision: to produce “incredible performances in mostly really intimate spaces for music lovers.” Almost any genre or region you can think of is represented, which means there’s no fan or musician left behind.

If you find yourself downtown during Hopscotch, you couldn’t be left behind if you tried: The festival takes over. (Even its name encourages attendees to bounce around from performance to performance.) The lineup is jam-packed, with at least four hours of music at 12 different venues for three straight nights, this year Sept. 8 – 10. “Hopscotch is like seeing three months of music in three days, and that’s kind of what it’s about.”

Performance locations include CAM, Memorial Auditorium, Fletcher Opera Theater, Neptune’s, The Pour House, and King’s Barcade, among others. Historically, a main stage sets up at Raleigh City Plaza, and this year also features an even bigger spot. “We have our first headlining show at Red Hat Amphitheater, which is a venue we haven’t produced before,” Lowenhagen says. Jazz-rock player Gary Clark Jr. opens for neo-soul singer Erykah Badu there on Friday night.

The next night features a local headliner, which is a big deal. Hopscotch’s signature is its North Carolina focus: Acts are always 30-to-40-percent local. But they usually take “a middle or opening slot” to bigger-name acts from across the nation. “This year, we’re lucky enough to have a local band that can carry the headline, and that’s Sylvan Esso.” The Durham-based indie duo plays at City Plaza Saturday night. “We love the fact that people who come to Raleigh from out of town get to see the local bands perform, and we love the fact that local fans get to see out-of-town bands that they don’t see that often. It’s a great combination for the fans, and it seems like local artists are behind it as well because they’ve continued to support us.”

Also garnering support is the Hopscotch Design Fest, a series of talks and workshops by graphic designers, urban planners, makers, thinkers, and influencers. Design Fest began three years ago as a prelude to the music; this year, the two will merge. Design Fest fills the Thursday and Friday daytime schedule before the music cranks up at night. “It’s easier to come on Thursday and Friday than in the middle of the week,” Lowenhagen says of overlapping the festivals. “We’ll have a couple of street parties to connect the two.”

All in all, the seventh Hopscotch Music Fest doesn’t look to be losing any steam. Rolling Stone has called the weekend “extraordinarily cool,” and the admittedly biased Lowenhagen agrees that the festival “feels like it’s in a really good place.” Choose your own adventure by buying tickets to a few single headlining shows, a day pass, or the full 3-day wristband. Attend with an open mind, and likely walk away with a new favorite musician. “At the end of the day, the festival is about music. It’s about bands performing.”