Festival Preview: Hopscotch 2013

Today I’m headed on a road trip to Raleigh, NC for my second Hopscotch Festival. As with last year, I plan on taking in shows by a variety of undiscovered, bubbling-under, and critically-acclaimed acts from around the USA and abroad. Because there are so many venues – eighteen, in fact – with performances running concurrently, it’s physically impossible to see all of the acts. In fact it’s not practical to see more than a small fraction of them. So sacrifices must be made, and advance research simply must be done. One doesn’t want to run the risk of getting home only to find out that the breakout performance of the festival was missed altogether (though that remains a distinct possibility).

So in the run-up to Hopscotch, I’ve mapped out my itinerary. My work schedule is such that I’m missing the first day (Thursday, yesterday) altogether. But with all due respect to Thursday’s lineup, most of the most buzzworthy acts take the stage today or tomorrow.

Now, on the ground, the facts may be a bit different, and one of these acts might be so good (or so unappealing to me, though that’s less likely) that I modify my plans on the spot. But I’m a planner by nature, and seeing fifteen acts is my working plan. Here’s a rundown of the ones topping that list.

  • Brett Harris – A key player in three musical success I’ve enjoyed in the past year: The dB’s live set at Hopscotch 2012, Chris Stamey‘s latest album Lovesick Blues and the live dates to promote it; and the Big Star tribute concerts (the last two of which I saw at last year’s Americana Music Association Festival in Nashville). I have never heard Harris’ solo material, but his contributions to these other projects was so impressive, I feel certain his own material will be worth hearing.
  • Mikal Cronin – When Cronin released his 2011 self-titled debut album, I had no end of good things to say about it. Not, strictly speaking, a revivalist, Cronin makes music that nonetheless sounds like it could have come out in the 1960s. Hints of folk-psych pop up in his music, but an electric jangle keeps things grounded in rock territory. And unlike so many of today’s crop of indie acts, he doesn’t sound like Fleet Foxes.
  • The Breeders – I will admit I didn’t pay a lot of attention to this band in the 90s; I was more interested in Jellyfish, Fountains of Wayne, Ben Folds Five and Matthew Sweet. But their most well-known material – like the hit “Cannonball” – have worn reasonably well, so checking them out this year seems like a good bet. I am approaching them as Hopscotch’s 2013 answer to 2012’s where’d-they-go/here-they-are acts, The Jesus and Mary Chain.
  • Aleuchelistas – I live in the smallish mountain city of Asheville NC. Musically, this region is known primarily as host to bluegrass and Appalachian acoustic sounds, neither of which bring me a scintilla of joy. We also have some singer/songwriters, but then who doesn’t? But in recent years, Asheville has developed a reputation as a laboratory for more outre styles, and Aleuchelistas certainly fit that description. Jazz? Skronk-metal? Avant garde? A qualified yes on all three counts. Oddly, I’ve never seen them, but now I’m driving four hours to see a band based mere blocks from my home.
  • John Cale – This choice needs no explanation, no justification. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of his Velvet Underground classic “The Gift,” and in general I prefer the post-Cale Velvets (Loaded especially) the most. But I also greatly enjoy Cale’s 70s solo work, and some of his later collaborative efforts (most notably with former bandmate Lou Reed, and with Brian Eno). I have no idea what to expect from Cale’s Hopscotch headlining performance, but I know I don’t want to miss it.
  • Other acts I plan to check out include Spooky Woods, Turf War, Rose Windows (I interviewed them earlier this week; look for a feature soon), Airstrip, Nightlands, Estrangers, Plume Giant, Solar Halos, The Beets and UBT.

I’m tired just writing that list. Stay tuned for my reviews and essays after the festival, and check out my Twitter feed for some real-time dispatches live from the clubs and other music venues in Raleigh. And if you’re at the festival, let me know via Twitter or Facebook, and maybe we can meet up so you can buy me a drink (I’m kidding).

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