The sixth annual Hopscotch Music Festival happens Sept. 10–12 in Raleigh, NC. While music is still its heart and soul, Hopscotch has thoughtfully expanded into an event that is most accurately described as an aesthetic festival. In 2014, the organizers launched the Hopscotch Design Festival, which precedes the music event by a day, with a little overlap. This year, it'll happen Sept. 9 and 10.
True to its name, the Design Festival features an assortment of careful chosen speakers and design industry professionals—"designers, thinkers, makers and storytellers, who are shaping what's next right now"—and has all the look and feel of something that was allowed to grow organically, as opposed to being a forced occurrence. This year's speakers include Kate Johnson (CCO and CEO of Intelligent Platforms, GE), Ashleigh Axios (Creative Director for the White House Office of Digital Strategy), Steve Frykholm (Vice President of Creative Design at Herman Miller) and many others.
Then there's the long-running parallel event Posterscotch, which runs Sept. 9–12 at the Raleigh Convention Center. As you might have guessed, it's an exhibition and point of sale for fine poster artwork, a celebration of the unique aspects and challenges that are embodied in poster design and a place to meet some standout design artists.
When I've covered Hopscotch in years past, I've concentrated on music, as well as the festival's organizing principles and business sense. But as the event has grown, I've found myself itching to attend the design portion, too, which is a separately ticketed event. I'm not a designer, by any means, and the heady lineup of speakers is completely over my head. But where other large events that feature such things always seem by fault or design (pun!) buffered by a sense of exclusivity, Hopscotch's presentation is in line with the way the festival has always presented music. That is, "Here's very cool stuff by people we admire, and even if you're not already a fan, come check it out, because you're definitely going to find some things you love."
What Hopscotch is not is an event that caters to the lowest common denominator. What it is, is an event that welcomes everyone. Don't know who harpist Zeena Parkins is? That's cool! Just head to the Fletcher Opera House and check her out. Not sure what a live hip hop show can be like, because you've never seen one? No sweat. This year Hopscotch has got you covered with Pusha-T, Lizzo, Le1f and more.
This year's headlining music at City Plaza again features a top-notch set of bookings. Thursday, Sept. 10 features Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Montreal post-punk band Ought; Friday, Sept. 11 hosts TV on the Radio, Tycho and Carlitta Durand; and Saturday, Sept. 12 is a total knockout featuring Hopscotch's first major country booking, Dwight Yoakam, Los Angeles legends X, American Aquarium and the Vibekillers.
There's also a dizzying array of free and open-to-the-public day parties taking place between Wednesday and Saturday. (Full disclosure: I'm personally involved and invested in a day party Saturday, Sept. 12 at Ruby Deluxe featuring Athens' own Eureka California and Cinemechanica, along with Asheville's River Whyless and Ontario, CA's Daniel Romano.)
One of my favorite things I ever experienced at Hopscotch was seeing John Cale perform with a full band at Raleigh's Memorial Auditorium. Although it's a stately, seated venue, several hundred in attendance forwent sitting and stood near the front of the stage. After a few songs, there was a lull of silence while the band tuned up for a minute. Out of the darkness came this impossibly innocent woman's voice tinged with just a dash of North Carolina drawl: “Y'all sound real good!”
Cale, who had been stoic and serious until this point, cracked a smile and acknowledged her. This moment, more than almost anything else, has stayed in my mind as a defining moment of the overall Hopscotch experience. You don't have to know everything. You don't have to know anything. You just have to go.
Tickets for Hopscotch range from $35, $40 and $50 for City Plaza shows, $85 for a single day pass and $165 for full festival access. Visit hopscotchmusicfest.com. Tickets for Hopscotch Design Fest are $175 for individuals and $80 for students. See hopscotchdesignfest.com.