Hopscotch Highlights – Day 1
Review by Kim Ware
Photo Courtesy of Hillery Terenzi
The first rule of attending any music festival such as Hopscotch, a three-day extravaganza in Raleigh, NC, is to make a plan. With so many acts appearing at the same time, it’s best to do the research and make an organized schedule so you don’t miss out on the bands you really want to see. Seems logical, right? But if this is true then the second rule must be throw your schedule out the window. Inevitably, schedules will change, bands will cancel or go on late, the weather will put a damper on the outdoor shows, etc. Or, you might get sick. Take all of the aforementioned possible kinks, throw them in a blender, and you’ve got my Hopscotch 2012 experience. Nevertheless, I did manage to see some amazing shows, catch up with old friends, and even eat some fantastic food.
I arrived in Raleigh for night 1 of the festival a bit tired after a 7-hour drive, but ready for some good music. We picked a great place to start, as the appropriately named Slim’s was kicking off their showcase with a set from former Squirrel Nut Zipper Tom Maxwell. We snagged a perfect spot right at the stage and got our fill of high-energy ragabilly-swing swagger courtesy of Maxwell’s ultra-cool stage presence and a super tight band that featured the best vibes player I’ve ever seen. Seriously a joy to watch. I admit I had never been a huge fan of the Zippers or the throwback trend that they, with help from the movie Swingers (ironically one of my favorite movies), seemed to be largely responsible for. But Mr. Maxwell, I’m now a convert. From the first note, I don’t think I stopped smiling. I particularly appreciated Maxwell’s snarky attitude and tendency to make fun of himself, evident in the very fun “Why I Smoke” off last year’s Kingdom Come (note to self, pick that one up).
We scooted out near the end of Maxwell’s set so we could make it to Berkley Café just in time to catch Gross Ghost, a Triangle-area outfit led by singer/guitarist Mike Dillon. Dillon and company served up some catchy tunes that merged that Chapel Hill indie rock sound with a hint of Brit-rock influence (particularly in Dillon’s vocals). Gross Ghost played to a full house and not only provided me the second wind I so desperately needed, but also set the bar very high for the rest of the festival.
I was destined to be let down I suppose, as the next band I’d hear over at White Collar Crime left much to be desired and had me wishing I had remembered earplugs (surely the third rule of festival-going). Seemed like the perfect time to venture over to a local bar with a television and check out our POTUS, so that’s just what I did. Bonus—said bar (Brewmasters) served the best BLT I’ve ever had. Double bonus—the bartender offered me a sample of their candied bacon. Yes, candied bacon is as perfect as it sounds. I made a mental note to return to Brewmasters again during my stay in Raleigh, but in keeping with rule number two (throwing plans out the window), I didn’t make it back.
Back over at White Collar Crime, Delicate Steve was set to take the stage. Disclaimer: I don’t care for what I like to call “guitar wankery.” I like simple songs, with simple structures and catchy vocal melodies that you can sing along to. Delicate Steve are not that. Instead, they lean more towards the “guitar wankery” spectrum. But they are also completely mind-blowingly awesome. There’s nary a vocal melody to speak of, but instead there’s intricate guitar interplay and jaw-dropping solos, anchored by explosive, tribal-like drumming courtesy of Mike Duncan (who deserves just as much credit as the guitarists—easily one of the best drummers I’ve heard in a while). It’s always refreshing (but more and more rare, these days) to hear a group of musicians who are clearly masters of their instruments, not to mention the fact that their music is unlike anything else I’ve ever heard—a combination of prog, world music, classic rock, and other genres that either don’t have a name yet or I’m simply unfamiliar with. An unexpected surprise for sure and a nice ending to my short but enjoyable first night in Raleigh. (Read more about Delicate Steve in my interview with the band’s guitarist and founder Steve Marion).