Hopscotch 2011 Pt 1: A Photo Exhibit and Day 1


I didn’t attend last year’s Hopscotch proper. I’m too old to be much of a hipster and, I confess, I knew of only a handful of the bands that were playing. I used to be pretty up on the Triangle music scene, but that was back when bands like Sex Police, Johnny Quest, Dillon Fence, Archer’s of Loaf, Superchunk, The Connell’s and others were the driving force behind the scene. Still, I was very interested in the festival and was delighted to find out that there would be free “day parties” to go along with the paid events in the evening. So, last September 11th, I ventured downtown and caught a handful of bands playing for free at places like Tir na Nog and Slim’s. After catching such acts as Free Electric State, Lurch, Des Ark and Jeff Crawford, I decided that I really needed to start paying more attention to the local music scene. Soon after, I was able to score a photo pass for the now defunct Troika Music Festival in Durham, and that would reinforce that decision. The Triangle music scene was producing some of the best music in its history. I knew when the next Hopscotch came around, I wanted to be there, camera in hand.

Hopscotch is the week before another great Raleigh event, SPARKcon. I’d become involved with SPARKcon as one of the organizers of the photoSPARK component last year (to great success). As we started brainstorming ideas for photoSPARK 2011, my photography pal Andy Gloc and I came up with the idea of trying to do a joint Hopscotch/SPARKcon photo show that would showcase some of the great concert photography that we’d seen come out of these festivals (and others, such as Merlefest). I took the lead and contacted Greg Lowenhagen, one of the two main guys behind Hopscotch, to give him my pitch. Greg was keen on the idea, and things went from there.

Having sold Greg on the idea, I then started working with the other half of Hopscotch, Grayson Currin, to put it all together. I also started reaching out to various people around town who I knew shot local shows, as well as asking some of my musician friends to let me know names of other talented photographers they’d run across locally. I soon had a handful of photographers sending me photographs, about a hundred in all, that Grayson and I would go through and narrow down to our exhibit. Through a lot of hard work, we secured a space and sponsors and before you knew it, we had a photography exhibit, Moment’s Note, opening to a huge First Friday crowd just a few days before Hopscotch 2011 would kick off.

Between the exhibit and the festival, I knew I’d be swamped, so I took some time off from my day job and had a whirlwind few days of photography and music. It was pretty amazing, really. For starters, I met just a fantastic group of photographers who had become part of the exhibit. We all got to hang out and chat and talk photography and music. And we got to drink a LOT of free beer from sponsor Big Boss (our sponsors were great, by the way! Big, big thanks to Big Boss, ReverbNation and the local Whole Foods!).

The first day of Hopscotch was a busy day of running around getting the exhibit ready to reopen, getting my photo pass, and meeting up with someone buying my extra all-shows pass. We had a nice crowd once the gallery reopened, but quite a bit tamer that the Friday before. As it got closer and closer to night, the anticipation of the shows built. After closing up, I headed over to the Lincoln to catch the start of their terrific night one lineup.

The Lincoln lineup had three local bands, Last Year’s Men, Spider Bags and The Love Language all taking the stage before Atlanta’s Black Lips closed things down. If I’d not had a photo pass, I’d have probably just camped myself here all night. I caught the first three (all local acts that I’d not had the pleasure of seeing before), using the breaks between sets to jump over to the (somewhat) nearby Fletcher Opera House and catch the lineup there. All three acts at the Lincoln were just excellent, providing a truly memorable experience, from the rambunctious finale of the Last Year’s Men set, to the interplay of the Spider Bags members as they worked their tight set, to the infectious music of Love Language, it was just superb. It was with a tad of regret that I left Love Language a bit early to head over to Fletcher for the Necks.

Fletcher was definitely a little strange as far as venues go. A beautiful opera house, it didn’t really fit in with the beer-stained barrooms that made up most of the festival. I first popped in for Rhys Chatham. It was an interesting show, with Chatham joined by a slew of musicians, mainly guitarists, to play his G3 composition. And it proved a good place to just take a breather while you sat and listened to music. But when I returned a bit later in the night for The Necks, having come from a Love Language show that had me singing and dancing between snaps of my camera, I found myself too wired up to just sit in a chair and listen to music. And in addition to not being able to sit still, it became obvious in the 5 minutes I was there that the photographic possibilities were not going to be great. So I wisely bolted in search of something a bit livelier.

I headed over to the Pour House, another venue having a very strong night. San Francisco’s Weekend was playing, a band that several people had advised me to catch. I arrived late in the set to an absolutely packed house. It took me awhile to work my way to the front, where I struggled to get a photograph in the crowded, extremely dark (except for a red light on the floor) club. Weekend was as good as any of the club shows that I caught all festival. They evoked the sound of Joy Division or the Jesus and Mary Chain. I just wish I’d arrived a bit sooner and see more than a few songs.

By then I was really exhausted, with a bad heel blister on one foot from walking all over downtown that afternoon and evening. I made one final jaunt over to Fletcher for J Mascis. I would have like to have seen Black Lips or Cold Cave, also at that time, but J Mascis’s last album had really stood out to me of all the albums I listened to on Spotify in the lead up to Hopscotch (thanks to photographer Abby Nardo and others who had put out some great shared playlist of the bands).

For those not familiar with J Mascis, he was the frontman of Dinosaur Jr and a noted guitar player. I’d seen Dino Jr a couple of times back in the day (and had listened to some albums in college), but hadn’t really listened to him in years.  From listening on Spotify, I had been pleasantly surprised by the beautiful acoustic music he had made on his solo record, “Several Shades of Why”. Much different from the loud guitars of youth. I managed to grab a spot right up front, next to another photography friend, Bryan Regan. With Mascis sitting nearly motionless behind a music stand and just playing and singing, there really wasn’t a lot to photograph. I got a few shots, then put the camera away and just listened. His voice and that music, combined with my state of physical exhaustion, just combined perfectly. I lost myself in the music for the next 45 minutes (which included a beautiful rendering of Edie Brickell’s “Circle”, a song I’d seen her perform only a few dozen yards away at Memorial Auditorium some 20 years before in my first show in downtown Raleigh).

As I left the Fletcher, I was not looking forward to the 20 minute drive back to the suburbs. And I knew that the following day would be even more taxing than this one. But I also couldn’t wait to see what the morrow would bring, with so many great day parties (which really got kicking on day 2), another day of the gallery, and a strong evening lineup that included the outside main stage kicking off.

(to be continued in part 2)