Guide to Hopscotch Music Festival 2019 in Raleigh, N.C.
Friday, August 23, 2019, 4pm by David Menconi
Update (Sept. 4, 12:30pm): Due to expected weather conditions, Main Stage shows on Thurs. night will now take place at The Ritz (instead of City Plaza). The Ritz is just a short drive from downtown Raleigh—get directions here.
Get more details on the schedule update here.
When the Hopscotch Music Festival made its debut in 2010, downtown Raleigh was still at an early stage of its development. Downtown's Fayetteville St. main drag had only been in place for a few years at that point, and other music festivals like rapper J. Cole’s Dreamville and PNC presents Wide Open Bluegrass wouldn’t hit town for a few more years after that.
But when they did, Hopscotch was well-established in its pole position as an anchor and kickoff of what came to be Raleigh’s festival season. Hopscotch was a hit right out of the gate and quickly established itself as a festival with a reputation well beyond Raleigh.
The alternative-music site Stereogum declared Hopscotch to be “low-key great every single year” back in 2017, and it has continued to live up to that billing. This year’s 10th edition promises more of the same with Hopscotch and the rest of Raleigh’s packed festival landscape.
- Hopscotch Music Festival 2019 is Sept. 5-7
- Three days, 120-plus bands, 11 venues in downtown Raleigh, more than 40 totally-free day parties and 25,000 fans—it's no wonder why Hopscotch is time and time again named one of America's can't-miss music events
- The acts—and genres—are as wide ranging as the venues they play in (the 5,000-seat Red Hat Amphitheater and a tiny dive bar, Slim's Downtown, for example)
- Get the 2019 schedule here
“It’s crazy, how many festivals there are,” said Hopscotch director Nathan Price. “But within the Triangle, it seems to naturally work out. There’s not much overlap with us and Dreamville or [Wide Open Bluegrass]. I went to Dreamville, and the crowd’s median age looked to be about 20—a decade younger than ours, which is probably around 30—while Bluegrass is probably two decades older than us. I hear more people say they want to move to Raleigh during Hopscotch. There’s something about it, this community vibe that really pulls it together.”
A few lineup highlights
Hopscotch X has another stellar top-to-bottom lineup of 120-plus acts. As always, it hits a nimble balance between historically important veterans and cutting-edge newcomers. Some of this year’s more notable entrants include:
This distaff trio emerged as one of the most-heralded alternative-rock bands of the 1990s before going on a lengthy hiatus in 2006. But after returning to active duty a few years back, Sleater-Kinney has released an acclaimed new album, “The Center Won’t Hold” (produced by St. Vincent, who lit up Hopscotch’s main stage back in 2014). Their Thursday-night headlining slot at The Ritz [previously planned for City Plaza but moved due to expected weather conditions] previews a lengthy fall tour that will start in Oct.
After an acting career that began with a child-star turn in a Jell-O commercial at age 3 (for real), Jenny Lewis first gained musical notice two decades ago as leader of the Los Angeles indie-rock band Rilo Kiley. Her solo career has been even better, starting with the late-night moody twang of 2006’s “Rabbit Fur Coat” up to the poppier hooks of her current album “On the Line.” Lewis headlines the City Plaza Stage Fri. night. Perhaps The Watson Twins (real-life twins Chandra and Leigh Watson), who sang backup with Lewis on “Rabbit Fur Coat” and are scheduled to play The Pour House Music Hall later Fri. night, will turn up for a cameo.
Birds of Avalon
Seeing this local acid-rock band Sat. night at KINGS nightclub will make for a quintessential downtown Raleigh experience in more ways than one. The Birds of Avalon guitar battery of Paul Siler and Cheetie Kumar also co-own the venue, KINGS, a very hip nightspot on Martin St. Downstairs from KINGS in the basement of the same building is Neptunes Parlour, a smaller club that is also a Hopscotch venue. And in between at ground level is Garland, an excellent restaurant specializing in Indian and Asian cuisine, also run by Kumar and Siler. Kumar has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards, so you know she’s good. After Robert Plant played Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium last year, he and his band had the late-night after-party at Garland.
From N.C. musicians, literally new music
Hopscotch is always a good time to catch up with the region's music scene, and this year’s model offers the chance to hear some of the best offering up music so new it has yet to be heard. One of the most eagerly anticipated is Little Brother, the acclaimed hip-hop group that formed at Durham’s North Carolina Central University in the early 2000s. Phonte Coleman and Thomas “Rapper Big Pooh” Jones headline Hopscotch’s City Plaza Stage having just released “May the Lord Watch,” their first new album in nearly a decade.
“All I’ll say about it right now, man, is that me and Pooh lived this record, know what I mean?” Coleman said when asked about it recently. “It’s something really beautiful we created that will make a lot of people really happy. And it’s hard as (expletive).”
The new album is Little Brother’s first since 2010’s “Leftback,” which at the time seemed like it might be the group’s final effort. In its wake, Coleman said, he and Pooh were so exhausted they couldn’t continue and they split to solo projects. But Little Brother put on an unannounced, surprise reunion show at last fall’s Art of Cool Festival in Durham, reconvening the original trio with producer/deejay Patrick “9th Wonder” Douthit.
It went well enough for Coleman and Pooh to keep going (although 9th Wonder is not part of the reunion album). Time has been kind to Little Brother’s legacy and signpost albums like 2003’s “The Listening” and 2005’s “The Minstrel Show,” which still sound more relevant than ever.
“One thing I’ve been seeing a lot is people saying that Little Brother means more to them now then when we first came out, which I really appreciate,” said Coleman. “A lot of music seems like it’s trying to take people back to something. But I’m trying to make great music, not a time machine. I am humbled by the fact that people continue to see themselves in the music all these years later. Maybe even more now. That lets me know we’ve been on the right track.”
Little Brother is one of 10 acts enlisted by Hopscotch to curate as well as headline its bill. At City Plaza Sat. night, they’ll appear alongside a stellar lineup including Lute, Raleigh's Kooley High and old-school R&B star Raphael Saadiq.
The aforementioned Birds of Avalon are also serving as artist curators for their night at KINGS. And in a similar role is Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, the acclaimed Chapel Hill country-rock band. Like Little Brother, Shook has new music to show off—although it’s a set of songs that has yet to be recorded, for an album that should emerge sometime next year as a followup to her 2018 release “Years.” Shook said she expects to play “definitely one if not two” of her new songs.
“I can say that the new ones are a little bit different, which I’m happy about,” Shook said. “You don’t want to go too far off the beaten path. But as an artist, you also don’t want to get stuck in the same sort of cycles—especially with this being the third album. That’s when you really want to nail down the next step in your sound as a band, collectively.”
One of the best aspects of Hopscotch is the festival’s free daytime events. Most of the clubs on the festival grid are hosting day parties anyone can just walk into. The Berkeley Café is the site of the annual “Guitartown Day Party,” put on by and for the twangy-music online community Guitartown. Highlights of that one include the gruff Kernersville singer-songwriter Jeff Wall (who also answers to the name Bigdumbhick), and Carrboro jangle-pop singer-songwriter Rachel Kiel.
Pretty much all you have to do to find something worthwhile is head downtown and follow your ears.
“For me, living here with such a well-booked and professionally run festival right in my backyard gives me a feeling of not believing what a great deal I get out of it,” said regional musician Will Hackney, who has played Hopscotch most years but will be attending as spectator this year. “The lineup is always as good as much bigger festivals in much bigger cities. I’ve always felt proud and lucky to have such a good festival locally.”