Hopscotch Festival Proved North Carolina's The Triangle is a Special Place for Music

Categories: Commentary

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Kevin Norris of Triangle Music

Last weekend I went to Raleigh, North Carolina for Hopscotch Music Festival. It was cool, and before I go on I want to acknowledge that there was plenty of cool to be found in Dallas/Fort Worth/Etc. music last weekend as well.

There was a growing beer/music music festival featuring cool Cults and cooler Blackalicious, sponsored by Paste, a magazine that has introduced me to many cool things over the years. New Orleans' Rebirth Brass Band played at a venue that does things like replace all the artist promo photos on its posters with cats that embody the spirits of those artists. A small room in Denton, our neighboring town to the north, finished off its annual week of free shows with its perpetually cheap drinks and a set by local band The Baptist Generals, who have spent over a decade on the decidedly cool Seattle-based label Sub Pop. I'm missing plenty.

I went to Raleigh not because I couldn't think of anything to do in Dallas but because I was visiting an old friend there, and he has been telling me how cool Hopscotch is since it started four years ago. He's right. It's really cool. I think it was really cool, but what do I know? So I asked pretty much everyone I met: record store owners, journalists, musicians, hangers-on, students. What makes this scene special?

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Kevin Norris of Triangle Music

They had different answers, all of them. There's no magic formula. Some said it was Merge Records, the indie label run by Superchunck that's responsible for The Arcade Fire's Funeral and plenty more. That label started in Chapel Hill nearly 25 years ago and is based in Durham now. Those two cities, along with Raleigh, form The Triangle, an area with a population with less than a third of the population of our own triangle (Dallas/Denton/Fort Worth). Some people said the smaller size helps make the music community what it is -- it's easier to navigate to all these great bands in every way than it is in a big city. Some people couldn't say anything in particular.

Me? I think the key thing is that everyone I talked to at Hopscotch took it as a basic truth that they were in a special place for music. You get to vote on culture, not just with attendance but also with attitude.

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Future Islands. Photo by Kevin Norris of Triangle Music

And granted, a music-scene-focused event is an unfair sample of the population. The people I met who weren't there for the festival couldn't have told you about the prominence of The Triangle in national music. But they seemed open to the idea in a way many of the people I talk to here in Dallas are not.

Maybe it's a larger civic pride issue. No amount of of Cool Out Monday or Macaroni Island is going to put some heart in all those strip malls. It does seem like there are probably more great bands and enthusiasts here than there, so maybe it's just that they're spread out too far to ring together very often.

This is a diversion -- something to chew on. I'm not really here to judge or diagnose. I'm here to tell you about Hopscotch, because it was among the very best of my thousands of live music experiences.

Hopscotch is taking some plays from the SXSW book. Namely, there are day parties with disparate hosts, though where the monstrosity in Austin has Doritos and MTV, Hopscotch has local punk labels and weird radio shows. Also, it's a venue-based festival. So you walk around from concert to concert, some in places that usually host rock 'n' roll and some that don't.

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Angel Olsen. Photo by Kevin Norris of Triangle Music

What did I see. The lithe rock of Naked Gods from Boone, NC. That was early in the day on Thursday. That night I saw Nathan Bowles play minimalist masterworks on banjo (he marveled at the festival), and I saw brutally spare folk singer Angel Olsen (she marveled at the enthusiasm of her audience here). I saw a blues artist out of his element (they can't all win). I saw garage rock legends The Oblivians crack jokes and sing about peeping on cheating couples. That was night one, and it was not just good but edifying, and it was the least memorable of the three nights I was there.

I don't know how this festival makes money. Tickets are very expensive -- It costs $125 for a GA pass that gets you into all three days. But still. They put some of the artists in an enormous theater that must seat somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000. That building also has a theater that probably maxes out closer to 600 and a performance room that can hold a couple hundred. I cannot imagine how expensive that place is to keep open. Tens of thousands of dollars each night, I'm sure. And that's just three of fifteen stages. There were over 200 bands, many of them expensive.


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10 comments
rocks123
rocks123

i think its really awesome they put on a show for special needs adult fronted bands..good for you hipsters

Oh Jee Nam
Oh Jee Nam

I concur, but I think this is definitely because of the unique layout that is "DFW". It's hard to make it to a show in Fort Worth and Dallas in the same night. But, it is nice to know that whichever you choose, you'll be able to see a great act. Our scene is also full of heavy drinkers which does play a role in the atmosphere of venues but most of the time it just takes the energy up even more. What I've seen at our local festivals- Index/Untapped/DOMA's is just what you were talking about with the "triangle". They merge us. You'll see Birds of the Night with Blackstone Rangers with Telegraph Canyon... I love seeing our crowds come together. We all love the music our metroplex is putting out, we just need a convenient place to witness and celebrate them all. I've been with Spune for a while now and It's been great witnessing them put on these events that tie our scene to the national scene. I think that's what we need as far as our "triangle" goes. So, I guess to answer your original question... "Local music festivals that put our 'triangle' of talent on display with national acts, so we can all get drunk and enjoy the talents near and far, is what makes our scene great.". I'm sorry if I came off harsh, I sincerely love our music scene and wouldn't trade it for ATX's or anyone else's for that matter. Thank you for hearing me out! Cheers to camaraderie!

Kiernan Maletsky
Kiernan Maletsky

Yeah, I love the music here. There are more great bands here, new and old, than in any place I've lived. I mentioned a few things in the article that sparked this discussion and you'll get to hear a whole lot more out of me on the breaking/happening local band front as we head into Dallas Observer Music Award season. I love the venues, too. In all three cities there are clubs I consistently enjoy going to and here in Dallas there are some bigger venues that do a fantastic job as well. What I am finding harder to navigate is the sheer scope of it -- I can go out to five shows in a week and see exactly zero of the same people at any of them. That's part of the deal with a city this size, but it does make the conversation feel a little scattered and/or nonexistent. I don't know if there's a solution to that problem. I'm not even positive it's a problem. But there's something nice about camaraderie, you know?

Oh Jee Nam
Oh Jee Nam

That may be, to some extent. But, more often than not I am reading about artists/shows that have been written about countless times, i.e. Badu... I don't think I'm too far off in saying there's way more music to cover than headliners that have played the TX circuit for years. That's all. Some of your articles come off as arrogant. Do you actually enjoy going to our local shows? What's your favorite venue/band? I do read your blogs, and have been reading THE OBSERVERS' blogs for years. Again, I'm just wanting to read something FRESH about acts that are breaking/happening in our scene. That's all.

Kiernan Maletsky
Kiernan Maletsky

I think to some extent you see what you want to see. We previewed that very show in print this week, and the cover story documents a place that is as Dallas as they come. The other things on the blog today include an interview and video with Forth Worth's The Toadies and a profile of a Denton concert promoter (who incidentally also talks about a lack of cohesiveness in the scene here). And admittedly also a goofy sound guy thing I wrote, which I hope was fun to read.

Oh Jee Nam
Oh Jee Nam

This is exactly what I'm talking about...

Oh Jee Nam
Oh Jee Nam

I read the article. I'm just tired of reading about musicians/music scenes OUTSIDE of our music scene. I feel THE OBSERVER must stay relevant and promote our scene. Dallas has been busy in sculpting a scene that differs from Denton, that differs from Ft.Worth. We want to see coverage of that progress. I lived in North Carolina and toured the whole east coast, it's a different scene, completely. Having shot hundreds of local and national bands at our own "triangle's" festivals, I can say that we have quite a progressive and eclectic scene. I have met more fans of local music here than any other place I've been. We support local music and thrive because of that fact. I believe one thing Dallas does lack is management for musicians. I am friends with many musicians who work their asses off doing their own booking and promotions. They may not be heard by as many as those represented by bands with good management, but they still work hard in reaching new fans and progressing to bigger shows. I think what's great about the DFW-scene is the way we balance each other out... Ft.Worth has some of the best alt-country-rock and folk I've ever heard, Denton is the jazz and indie scene with an incredible roster of progressive bands, Dallas is a bit on the electronic-side of the spectrum with a heavy dose of DJ's but we also have a lot of hip hop, alt rock, and hard rock groups that deserve acknowledgement. It's tough to gauge the fans at our local shows. If you go to an intimate venue such as Three Links or Club Dada, you'll see dedicated fans that know every song on the set list, fans who stay to the end to talk with the band members. If you go to the House of Blues, you'll see trophy wives and people that are into "hype" bands. They're not what I consider "our" demographic for local music... The people that go to the AAC more often than Deep Ellum, Fry St., or Lola's are also not what I consider, "active" fans in our local scene, either. We need to promote the shows in places that are too often bypassed because of old stereotypes and lack of promotion. In conclusion, I'm happy THE OBSERVER covers some of the events in our DFW metroplex that aren't at AAC, Verizon, Gexa, but I'd still like to see more. Our musicians deserve it. They work too hard and put too much of their talents on the line to NOT be heard and written about. What makes OUR music scene "good" is when the talent is recognized, celebrated, and promoted so their shows are even better. Because the music scene is already great...

Kiernan Maletsky
Kiernan Maletsky

Yeah, I mean I'm clearly asking for that comment with this post, but that's really not the point. Let's have a discussion -- I don't think it's too much to ask that you read the article first.

Oh Jee Nam
Oh Jee Nam

Local music festivals that put our 'triangle' of talent on display with national acts, so we can all get drunk and enjoy the talents near and far, is what makes our scene great.

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