For many acts, the Hopscotch Music Festival stage is a launch pad for bigger things

Sarah Shook and The Disarmers will perform at the Hopscotch Music Festival 2018 Sept. 8 at the Lincoln Theatre.
Sarah Shook and The Disarmers will perform at the Hopscotch Music Festival 2018 Sept. 8 at the Lincoln Theatre. ssharpe@newsobserver.com

Stuart McLamb of the Love Language remembers the beginning of Hopscotch Music Festival — the very beginning.

He was in Raleigh’s Flying Tiger Sound Studio working on “Libraries,” the Love Language’s 2010 release, when his friend Greg Lowenhagen dropped in. Lowenhagen had some news: He was starting a music festival.

McLamb liked the sound of it, and he was happy to play, but he had no idea how ambitious Lowenhagen’s idea truly was or the caliber of the acts this festival — called Hopscotch — would bring to Raleigh.

“A couple of weeks later, he was like, ‘You guys are going to open for (expletive) Public Enemy,’” recalls McLamb.

Even then, The Love Language already had shared the stage with noteworthy bands, McLamb says, but this was different. This was a legendary act, one that had impacted the music industry as a whole.

“It’s crazy how big (Lowenhagen) was going to do it,” he said. “And that was awesome.”

Since 2010’s inaugural event, the Hopscotch Music Festival has brought its share of influential musicians to town: Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan, the Flaming Lips (who return for this year’s fest), Solange Knowles, Guided by Voices, Dwight Yoakam and Big Boi, to name a few. It’s also consistently featured local artists, many of them in visible support roles or headlining a venue lineup.

This year’s festival is Sept. 6-8 in a dozen downtown Raleigh venues, including City Plaza and Red Hat Amphitheater.

Repeat performance

Performing at Hopscotch, now in its ninth year, is a welcome return engagement for local acts, or formerly local acts like The Love Language, who have found success on the national stage.

“Hopscotch definitely leaves a mark,” says country singer Sarah Shook. “It’s its own sort of deal. It felt different from other festivals that we’ve played.”

Shook, who appears the final night of this year’s fest at the Lincoln Theatre with her band The Disarmers, played her first official Hopscotch show in 2016. She was performing in a smaller club — downtown dive and venue Slim’s — but she remembers a packed room with a line out the door.

There had been a groundswell of attention following the release of her debut with this band, “Sidelong,” and Shook was accordingly making the shift from local musician with occasional regional tours to hard-touring national act. Excitement about her music grew, and Shook remembers friends texting her from outside, saying the room was at capacity and that they couldn’t get in. Then, when the 2016 show started, Slim’s was so crowded that Shook was singing inches from the faces of audience members.

“The Triangle can be kind of weird in that it’s really hard sometimes to get people to dance and to get people into it,” she recalls. “That show in particular was one of the rowdier crowds we’d had up to that point. It was so fun.”

Shook had packed local rooms before, such as hometown venue the Cave in Chapel Hill. That and the Slim’s show were simply a mark of things to come.

A bigger stage

To soul-funk musician Jamil Rashad, who performs under the name Boulevards, his first official Hopscotch show in 2015 at CAM Raleigh — the downtown art museum that sometimes doubles as a music venue — was an eye-opener. It was a springboard to bigger things, too.

“The CAM performance was kind of the one that set things off,” he says.

The year before, in 2014, Rashad had played an unofficial Hopscotch day party. He had just returned to Raleigh from New York and, as he puts it, he was still getting his feet wet. He played to a handful of people.

Then, in 2015, he was asked to play an official bill. Rashad had no expectations. He had released a music video for his song “Got to Go” and worked some with Raleigh Denim, but he didn’t assume an audience would turn up for his set. He figured he might again play to a small crowd.

“I knew Hopscotch was a great festival, but I didn’t know it got this crazy,” he says. “So when I went out there for my first show and I saw 500, 600 people, I remember (Hopscotch Executive Director) Nathan (Price) told me that is the most any support artist has ever had at Hopscotch. People still talk about that performance to this day.”

Rashad still purposefully approaches his shows with no preconceptions. Though Boulevards plays Red Hat Amphitheater this year — a ticketed event — and will open for headliner Nile Rodgers and Chic and Moses Sumney, he won’t give it much thought until the day of his Saturday show. This approach has served Rashad well, including when he played the Montreal Jazz Festival in June. He and his band have proven they can play in front of 25,000 people, he says matter-of-factly, so he doesn’t stress about it.

Hometown show

Shook’s tour schedule, the rigors of which have forged a tighter, more cohesive band, has taken her to the West Coast twice this year and to the Calgary Folk Festival in July, all in support of followup album “Years.” Hopscotch falls within a break in touring, and Shook is glad to make it to Raleigh without having to drive anywhere the next day.

“Chapel Hill is not that far from Raleigh, but I really don’t get over there that often,” Shook says, adding that two members of the Disarmers live in the Oak City. “I think it’ll be a good thing to be back in that turf.”

To Rashad and McLamb, two former Raleigh natives who now live in Los Angeles, that home turf is now across the country.

Hopscotch is Raleigh’s time to celebrate music, Rashad says, and he’s glad that he’s playing early in the evening. This means he won’t be too exhausted to experience the festival and see friends.

McLamb has returned to Raleigh a few times since his West Coast move, but various obligations have kept him from simply going downtown and hanging out. During Hopscotch, when he’ll be performing music off his latest album “Baby Grand,” he’s happy he’ll be able to do just that.

“I’m just excited to see a bunch of old friends and just eat some honey-fried chicken and all those good things Raleigh has to offer,” McLamb says.

Corbie Hill can be reached at corbiehill@gmail.com or follow on Twitter at @afraidofthebear.


What: Hopscotch Music Festival

When: Sept. 6-8

Where: Downtown Raleigh. Multiple venues

Cost: Weekend passes: $199 general admission. $299 VIP. Single-day passes: $75-$89. Single-show passes: $35-$50. See festival site for specifics.

Info: hopscotchmusicfest.com

Headliner schedule

Thursday, Sept. 6

City Plaza: Gates open at 5:30 p.m.

5:50 p.m. HC McEntire

7:15 p.m. Real Estate

8:45 p.m. The Flaming Lips

Friday, Sept. 7

City Plaza: Gates open at 5:30 p.m.

5:50 p.m. Mipso

7:15 p.m. Thundercat

8:45 p.m. Grizzly Bear

Red Hat Amphitheater: Gates open at 5 p.m.

5:30 p.m. m8alla

6:40 p.m. DVSN

8 p.m. Miguel

Saturday, Sept. 8

City Plaza: Gates open at 5 p.m.

5:15 p.m. Zack Mexico

5:50 p.m. Speedy Ortiz

7:15 p.m. Liz Phair

8:45 p.m. MC50

Red Hat Amphitheater, Gates open at 5 p.m.

5:30 p.m. Boulevards

6:40 p.m. Moses Sumney

8 p.m. Nile Rodgers & Chic

Where and when to see

The Love Language: Thursday, Sept. 6, 12:30 a.m., Lincoln Theatre

Boulevards: Saturday, Sept. 8, 5:30 p.m., Red Hat Amphitheater

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers: Sept. 8, 11 p.m., Lincoln Theatre

Related stories from Durham Herald Sun