Thursday, October 16, 2014

Show Review: Shakori Hills Fall 2014


Paperhand Puppet Intervention Harvest Parade
Every festival one attends has the capacity of becoming a learning experience. Many learn their limits, like how much music you can fit into one day or how many tacos you can eat in one sitting. Many learn how willing they are to stand in the middle of a rain storm to see a band they've never heard of, but for some reason strangely connect with at this point in time. But most importantly a lot of folks learn how to let go of the little things, kick off your shoes and run around in the mud, and soak in the joys of humanity. Shakori Hills is a festival that celebrates all things good in life, music, friends, family, arts and crafts, food, beer, diversity. Really the list goes on. From all around the country folks travel to this 74-acre farm that becomes a temporary mecca for people from all walks of life. Walk around the woods in the middle of the day and you're liable to find a man with peppered grey hair and a braided beard discussing music, life and everything in between with a group of drunken twenty-somethings covered in dirt. Take another turn in the same woods and you can find a couple making french toast for any festivalgoer that's willing to sing them a song. It's a place where everyone feels at home, everyone feels like family and most importantly, everyone can get down.

Whether you spent your days on a back and forth dash between tents, posted up in a lawn chair in the middle of a field, or huddled up in your campsite recovering from the night before, you've got memories and experiences you'll likely cherish for the rest of your life. Getting the chance to see members of Lost in the Trees, Loamlands, Sylvan Esso and Butterflies on stage all at once leading a massive singalong to Lionel Ritchie's "All Night Long," is something that will always stick with me. I got to watch a fur-coat clad Jonny Tunnel lead a trap-fueled dance party inside of the same tent that I saw Frank Fairfield performing hundred year old songs with a fiddle and banjo in tow. Shakori Hills provides an opportunity for people to get out of their comfort zone and listen to something they may not have heard before or befriend a stranger because you obviously enjoy the same music. It's a place where you can gladly fit fifteen people underneath an E-Z UP because it may or may not be hailing, but that doesn't matter because you'll likely be seeing music in another half hour anyways.

Loamlands
This isn't particularly a very conventional festival review, but Shakori isn't really a conventional festival either. Sure there's plenty of absolutely incredible acts that performed throughout the festival's four stages throughout the weekend. Lobo Marino put on a riveting performance at Carsons Grove that blended enchanting instrumentation with passionate, soul-shaking vocals. Lowland Hum somehow made a stomp box feel like a cannonball as they punctuated their heartfelt tunes with brisk, sharp knocks on the wood beneath their feet. Laura Reed put on an R&B clinic, from the moment she began her soundcheck to the end of her star-studded set that featured members of Chit Nasty Band, Saints Apollo, The Beast and more, she had the crowd dancing and shouting along to every song in a joyous fashion. Dark Water Rising, as always, kicked the early afternoon on Saturday into high gear. The band started out with their anthemic song "Love Me" one that always draws folks in thanks to Charly Lowry's soaring vocals and unforgettable melodies. By the time you sprint out of the woods to see what's going on you can see people bouncing around in a field with drinks, hoops and smiles aplenty. Fans drew in close and the show continued to connect with more and more people as the crowd gradually grew. Of course after Dark Water Rising came another one of the festival's highlights, the puppet parade. Lead by an ensemble of local musicians with horns and drums and batons, a seemingly endless line of children, teens and adults alike don absurd masks and carry towering puppets throughout the festival grounds in one of the zaniest yet enjoyable parades I've ever seen. That led into another gorgeous main stage performance from Swear & Shake with absolutely perfect weather conditions.

So obviously there was a lot to love musically about Shakori, but that's only what brings everyone onto the campgrounds. But don't get me wrong the lineup is continually stellar, it features some of the most impressive musicians I see throughout each year of shows. But it's not the lineup that keeps people coming back to this festival tucked away in Chatham County, it's the people. It's the sights and sounds and smells. It's the memories you've made and the ones in progress. It's the experience of shedding yourself of your real world problems, putting life on pause, and simply getting back to your roots. And it's the duck tots. Always the duck tots.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Show Preview: Shakori Hills Fall 2014

Once again we've stumbled upon that serendipitous time that rolls around twice a year. A time where we're sitting comfortably between two seasons with a crisp breeze to ease us into our transitions, where the leaves haven't quite turned or blossomed, but the promise lingers. There's a sense of eagneress and excitement in the air for what's to come, but most importantly theres a weekend long adventure to a place where your worries are left at the mud-covered lot that you've parked your car. Somehow every Spring and Fall Shakori Hills creeps up on me, almost as if I've lost all concept of time and didn't realize that this thing happens once every six months.  Shakori Hills is a congregation of like-minded individuals on a scenic farmland with one sole purpose, to enjoy the beauty of those around us. Whether that beauty be the constant rhythms of a washboard that echoes throughout the woods or the joy of children's laughter as they flippantly chase around bubbles larger than their heads, it's hard not to get wrapped up in the culture of Shakori Hills. Whether you spend your weeks inside of a cubicle or out on the road living out your wanderlust dreams, you're just as likely to call the lands of Shakori Hills home. And that's because of the people, the family, the community that exists inside of these 74-acres.

When you become a part of a such a tightly knit festival community, you can become a bit enchanted by it, perhaps lose sight of how wonderful an event it truly is. It becomes second nature, twice a year you post up in the woods and soak in the sights and sounds of a seemingly foreign land that may be a little more than half an hour away from your snug apartment building. Rarely do you actually consider how truly special it is that there's such an eclectic, but welcoming group of people. When you've got acts like Frank Fairfield sharing the bill with a tribal-house DJ and know full well that you'll likely see some of the same people at both shows, you've come across something unique and indescribable. That's what gets folks so excite for this semi-annual festival, theres as much diversity as their is continuity. You could exclusively see bluegrass if that's something you're into, you could learn hand drum from internationally acclaimed musicians inside of a circus-esque tent. There's a myriad of opportunities abound at Shakori, and within this post we'll outline some of our most excited acts of the weekend.

Thursday
Thursday at Shakori is always a nice way to ease into the marathon of the weekend. Music doesn't start until 5:00 pm, so there's plenty of time to set up a campsite, get yourself acquainted with the lay of the land and still have time to hang out and meet your neighbors before the tunes even kick off. Acts like Milkweed and Steph Steward and the Boyfriends will warrant early trips down to the stages, but things really start to get essential once The Duhks take the Meadow Stage at 8:30. The Duhks are near the head of a new-grass movement that blends bluegrass sentiments with exciting elements of various other genres to make for a high-energy excursion through unfamiliar musical territory. From here it's a bit of a toss-up, as both AJ Ghent and Adrienne Mack-Davis will be performing again on Friday, but Lobo Marino will have their sole performance of the weekend. While Ghent and Mack-Davis will surely have entertaining sets, it'll likely be a better to move to check them out later on Friday night, especially since Lobo Marino will be bringing some entrancing experimental folk music to the Cabaret Tent at 10:00. If Donna is your thing, you'll likely bounce out of Lobo Marino early, but I'd recommend staying throughout the set and checking out AstroHawk, the first of the weekends electronic artists. Boasting a promising blend of acoustic and electronic instrumentation, I'm knowingly staying in the dark on this musician, as I find that acts like this at Shakori are best experienced live rather than sitting at home on your couch.

Friday
Ah, the day that always kicks off way earlier than you feel it should. Usually there's a stellar band kicking things off bright and early on the Meadow Stage and this fall it's no different as Asheville's Woody Pines brings swing-style Americana that assures a riotous time for all brave enough to stumble forth from their campsite into the early morning haze of Shakori. However, after Woody Pines it's best to kind of bounce around and see what best fits your festival needs. Maybe it's hanging out at your campsite and immersing yourself in the community, perhaps it's a drum or hooping workshop in the dance tent. Either way you're likely to fill your time with smiles and good vibes while you wait for the gorgeous sounds of Lowland Hum to fill the air at 4:30 pm. Bringing a stompbox for percussion and two stunning voices that work in perfect unison, Lowland Hum is a local duo that's been receiving some heavy acclaim from outlets like NPR thanks to their beautiful folk music. After Lowland Hum there's a brief lull followed by the equally impressive Loamlands, another folk-centric duo that's done a bit of expanding since their last project of Midtown Dickens. Those bluegrassy days are over now though, as Kym Register and Will Hackney boast a combination of acoustics and electrics to craft sometimes haunting, sometimes uplifting roots-driven songs. After Loamlands though is when things get a bit hectic again. A wide array of sounds are on display across the farm from acts like The Flying Clouds of South Carolina to the boogie-driven blues of North Mississippi All-Stars, so it's best to hop to and fro and see what best fits your needs for the evening. It's probably a good idea to duck out of North Mississippi early to see Adrienne Mack-Davis if you didn't catch her electric take on live hip-hop, but Liquid Sound could be equally exciting for some folks. A rest at the campsite for AJ Ghent seems likely, as Camp Honeybadger is conveniently close to the Meadow Stage, but after that it's full force marathon mode for the Southern rock of Jack The Radio, the soulful grooves of Laura Reed, the indescribable latin-funk of Suenaló and lastly the highly anticipated beat-driven dance party brought forth by Spirit Posse, the new project of Jonny Tunnell (of The Never/The Big Picture).

Saturday
If somehow you can muster up enough energy to roll out of your tent for Yoga at 9:00 am, it can be a really riveting experience. I stumbled through it this past Spring and felt as awake and invigorated as I was hungover and sore. But so it goes. You may just want to hang around camp until the early afternoon rolls around and that unforgettable voice of Charly Lowry belts out through the woods as Dark Water Rising takes the stage. Combining soulful roots with traditional instrumentation and rich harmonies, Dark Water Rising is the perfect Shakori band to take the stage early afternoon on a Saturday, especially considering they're right before the famous puppet parade. Immerse yourself in this zany puppet experience, there's children in ridiculous masks, massive puppets that whisk by the trees and a band at the front of the pack leading the rowdy troop through the festival grounds. Don't stray too far from Meadow Stage though, because Swear & Shake will prove to be one of the weekend's highlights with their poppy take on folk-rock. Washed in harmonies and driven by some stunning vocal performances, Swear & Shake will strike the core of you as a festivalgoer and leave you compelled to check out the whole set, a true feat at Shakori if you ask me. From here it's worth checking out Lowland Hum if you haven't already, then trekking over to Shannon Whitworth, one of the state's most underrated songwriters. Whitworth's sultry vocals display a wide range and showcase an impressive songwriting ability that will likely result in another standout performance of the festival.

After that would likely be the perfect time to hit up one of the incredible food vendors if you haven't already, there's a wide variety of things to check out, whether it be Korean tacos, Indian food, those heavenly duckfat tater tots or some good ol' greasy pizza, you'll find something worth shoving down your gullet. From here you can catch your obligatory Donna The Buffalo set or perhaps get into the swing dance workshop taking place around the same time. Either way, you'd be a fool to miss out on Auxiliary House, a brilliant combination of some of the areas most talented musicians. It's a Trekky supergroup of sorts that knows how to take some standard songs and turn them into an unforgettable live experience thanks to their incredible showmanship and charisma. Nahko & Medicine For The People will be an excellent way to transition from this inclusive Trekky dance party, as they'll surely have a communal vibe of their own going on at their Meadow Stage performance. From here it's another toss-up based on your genre preference. It'll be crucial to check out some of this late-night performance, when I saw him perform in the gorgeous Haw River Ballroom years back it left me awestruck at his talents, it'll likely be a similar display to this partied-out but attentive crew of festival goers. It'll be pretty important to catch some of The Soul Rebels as well though, a promising combination of 8 widely talented musicians that form a New Orleans brass band fused with hip-hop and soul. Lastly, the attendees will choose between a fork in the road of experiences, take the whiskey-soaked gypsy-inspired folk songs of Ellis Dyson & The Shambles or dance until your brain spills out of your ears DJ Bill Kelly, Telekinetic Walrus and DJ Richard McVay. Either way everyone wins!

Sunday
The day of reckoning, where everyone zombie walks to the porto-potties slowly realizing that their 4-day vacation is swiftly coming to an end. Folks are gradually packing up and heading out, new friends are exchanging contact numbers and helping out with the load-out and folks are napping the grass to attempt and transition back into the 9-to-5 grind. Lynda & Patty will be a nice rustic beginning to this low-key day of performances, especially since Frank Fairfield will follow immediately after. Things are fairly back and forth throughout the day until Wassa Pan Afrika Dance Ensemble takes the Meadow Stage at 4:00 pm. A Sunday afternoon world music set at Shakori is the stuff of legends, there's a particular energy throughout the crowd that just can't be denied, it's absolutely something you must check out before you depart for the day. After that there's a few more chances to check out some of the sprawling performers like Elastic Bond, The Duhks and Telekinetic Walrus, but most will post up throughout the night at the iconic Donna & Friends All Star Revue. I for one will be heading out early to check out Flying Lotus at the Cat's Cradle, topping off a positively beautiful weekend, but I'd highly recommend staying as long as your body will allow you to at this beautiful, whimsical land known at Shakori Hills.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Ears to the Ground: "Bllondes" by Ghostt Bllonde

Earlier this year Ghostt Bllonde made the announcement that we'd all been waiting for, signing to a local label. When a band experiences such a meteoric rise in the scene, it's really only a matter of time until they get a crew behind them that can assist with plugging the hell out of their music in ways that bands couldn't even imagine. Negative Fun has done such for Ghostt Bllonde, giving them not only their first vinyl release, but helping them raise their profile throughout the region by pairing them and various other locals with more regionally focused artists on the east coast through their singles series.

When the band announced their Negative Fun signing they'd announced that there would be a collection of demos and unreleased singles, and evidently that time is nigh. This Saturday marks the 2nd annual Cassette Store Day, and while Nice Price Books is the only local participant in Cassette Store Day, that didn't stop Ghostt Bllonde and the Negative Fun crew from rolling out the stops for the event.

This Saturday at Nice Price, and also at Lunchbox Records in Charlotte, copies of Ghostt Bllonde's new cassette will be available for purchase in advance of the official release on Oct. 7. So in honor of the band's new release, we're lucky enough to be able to debut the lead single off of the release, "Bllondes."

Throughout the past year of the band's existence we've seen Ghostt Bllonde solidify themselves as a band who's got a powerful sense of direction and potential. Not only does Marc Kuzio and company know where they want this band to go, they know exactly how to get there. The doo-wop inspired anxiety-fueled vibes that were present on their early work have become somewhat dissipated in their more recent releases, traded in for a sleek swagger that exudes confidence and creativity. Trash-pop no more, "Bllondes" opens with a slow build of reversed guitar lines and vocal melodies before quaintly unraveling into a subdued song that explores some seriously catchy melodies and guitar grooves. Harmonies are abound, both creating rich textures and a full-bodied sound for Kuzio vocals. With harmonies and guitar lines subtly panned to and fro, the band sounds much more polished than before. Whereas their self-recorded lo-fi sound worked for their debut, it seems the band has realized that progression is key, and they're certainly progressing in bunches.

You can check out the single below and purchase the entire cassette in advance tomorrow at Nice Price Books for Cassette Store Day:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Show Review: Slow Magic w/ Kodak to Graph & Daktyl


Slow Magic at Kings on Sept. 21
Electronic shows can really be a crapshoot sometimes, especially if you haven't checked in on the artist and researched what their live set-up is. It's really easy to end up seeing a handful of dudes in backwards fitted caps slamming pads and spinning knobs on an MPD for about twenty minutes, and frankly after three sets of that you're kind of done for the evening. But what took place at Kings was far from that, it was one of the most engaging and exciting performances I've seen in quite some time. While Daktyl and Kodak to Graph had markedly similar styles, and Daktyl may have fallen a little bit into the first category, there was enough versatility throughout the night's performances to keep things exciting until the main event of the evening came around.

Daktyl started things off with a set filled with crunching bass lines, jittering synths and dreamy yet disjointed vocal samples turned into syncopated rhythms. It was a set built on quick build-ups and even swifter breakdowns, there was bukus of noise sweeps and bass drops, but it felt natural rather than formulaic and expected. With releases set in the near future for Mad Decent and some obvious talent under his belt, I'm excited to hear more from Daktyl as he evolves as an artist. There's some exciting possibilities that lie beneath these danceable tracks, hopefully he's willing to dig deeper into the rabbit hole to really define his style amidst a sea of Mad Decent-hopefuls.

Kodak to Graph at Kings on Sept. 21
The evening got gradually more exciting as the subsequent artists took the stage. As Kodak to Graph's stage began to get set-up I pretty much knew I was going to dig this set. His table was packed in with a laptop, multi-colored beat pads and an analog synth that was all facing towards the crowd for some reason. I'm not quite sure as to whether this was done for aesthetic reasons or for ease of playability, but regardless it got my attention. Kodak to Graph was emanating some heavy house vibes while still making sure he didn't fall with into the new "deep-house" trends. Most of the set bounced between bass-laden tracks that were driven by either ambient vocals that were chopped into rhythmic patterns or hip-hop vocal samples utilized as percussive flair and bridges into heavy bass grooves.


Kodak to Graph had an entertaining set, but nothing was going to top the energy that Slow Magic brought to the stage. I'm very glad I didn't come into this show with expectations for what was about to happen, frankly I thought I'd be taking it easy for this show, maybe sitting in the corner and soaking it all in. I was doing a pretty good job of following that plan until I saw the Slow Magic set-up and then I immediately posted up in front of the stage. Driven by two large toms and a mixture of loops and live mixing, Slow Magic put on one of the most engaging and awe-inspiring electronic sets I've seen in quite some time. Many times acts like these are marked by their impressive lights show or their gimmicky set-ups, but Slow Magic seems to do it for all of the right reasons. Shortly into the set he raised a drum high above his head, hopped into the crowd, and lead the crowd in a tightly packed burst of dance to his tribal beats and poppy production. Shortly after that he was high-fiving members of the crowd, letting the front row contribute to his percussion pads and even had members of the crowd toying with the remote that controlled his light show. It was less of a passive viewing experience and more of an immersive event that everyone felt a part of, which is a massive feat for an artist like this. The tracks were all incredible, the live drumming was nothing short of compelling, and ultimately proved to be a phenomenal way to end what could have been a very blasé show. Kudos to this remarkable showman for putting on the show he does, he's won this writer over as a massive fan.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Show Preview: Slow Magic w/ Kodak To Graph & Daktyl

Slow Magic performs at Kings Barcade on Sunday,
September 21. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 day of
Purchase tickets at KingsBarcade.com
The fact that Kings is slowly becoming a haven for heady electronic shows is one of the most exciting parts of the past year for me. While it's primarily seen by many as a hub for indie rock of all varieties, acts like Com Truise, Gent & Jawns and DJ Spinn have all graced the club within the past year. Seeing Raleigh and its surrounding areas finally coming out in full force for folks like this fills me with a huge amount of joy and excitement, especially when shows like Slow Magic come through. Even though it's on a Sunday night I have little doubt in my mind that folks will be grooving like a Friday, when you've got talent on stage like Slow Magic it's hard not to.

Little is really known about the man behind that enigmatic animal mask, but you don't need to know that much about him when you hear the dreamy sounds that emanate from the speakers. On the heels of his second full-length How To Run Away, released Sept. 9, Slow Magic will surely blend some of his newest tracks with bangers like "Girls" and "Hold Still," tracks that builds up to a serendipitous rise only to come crashing back down with cacophonous percussion and screaming synths. There's as much subtlety on display as there is outright abrasiveness, you can be lost within the swirling bass lines or possessed by the snapping percussion but either way you know Slow Magic has grasped your undivided attention. With a whole slew of remixes under his belt as well, you know that Sunday night's show is going to be one with a seamless flow that traverses a myriad of different genres and sounds.

These openers are nothing to balk at either. Kodak To Graph and Daktyl both fit in quite nicely on this bill, blending just enough sensual melodies with party-ready rhythms to make for an eclectic mix of sounds. Both acts have a wide range of sonic possibilities, Daktyl is likely to build up a track only to barrel through the mix with a thunderous bass and pitch changed vocal pattern. Kodak To Graph brings a lot of the same aesthetics to the table, skittering vocal samples create compelling rhythms that brilliantly counter the ethereal synth lines that lay the bedding for these tracks.

Lots of times when such similar acts get together for electronic bills like these they can all bleed together, but each artist has dove deep into their own niche within the world of cloud-rap inspired beats, blending trap percussion with high-pitched vocals to create a dreamlike soundscape with a serious knack for grooves.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Show Preview: Ty Segall w/ Wand & Flesh Wounds at Motorco Music Hall

Ty Segall performs at Motorco Music Hall
on Sunday, Sept. 14 w/ Wand & Flesh Wounds

It's basically reached the point where the term "garage rock" has become synonymous with Ty Segall for me. With an insane amount of turnover, Segall has been churning out excellent album after excellent album for the past few years now and he's shown little signs of slowing down. Before Manipulator, his most recent release on Drag City, it had been 14 months since we received new music from Segall.

Usually one would balk at the insinuation that 14 months is a long wait between albums, but this is coming from the guy that put out four freakin' records last year, all of them ridiculously impressive. This manic garage savant may have slowed his frighteningly swift pace of production, but his output is just as impressive as always. If not more so frankly. Manipulation is by no means a slow-rolling record, but there's a lot more definition packed into these emotionally dense, high-energy tracks.

Thus, one could expect that Segall will be laying it all on the line this Sunday night at their sold-out Motorco show. The night is filled with brilliant, balls to the wall punk music that will leave this garage-esque venue damp and sweaty from all of the ridiculous attempts at moshing, crowd surfing and any other ridiculously amped crowd reaction you can imagine. Segall leads the crowd's antics like a composer, his heartfelt songs bursting forth from their amplifiers physically effects these concertgoers. It compels you to manically bob your head, smack your hands on your pockets like you'd actually know what the hell you'd be doing behind a drum set, and generally experience some cathartic sense of relief. There's just something about losing your mind at a punk show that leaves you feeling reinvigorated, ready to tackle the dull 9-to-5 that you may be headed to early on Monday morning. That's what makes this show at this seldom visited venue for myself, such an incredible outing.

Since Motorco opened it's been a vastly underutilized venue, but when the big names come through it kind of makes you scratch your head and wonder why the hell this venue hasn't taken off in a huge way. Having Flesh Wounds open the show as well just makes the night even sweeter. In recent months the band has been picking up a lot of steam after a quiet year in 2013, with a 7" release on Merge and some rave reviews from their manic energy at Hopscotch, they'll likely be permeating the frenetic vibes to get concertgoers prepped for their highly anticipated headliner later in the evening. But if Segall doesn't bring his "A" game it could be easy for these openers to steal the show, making it all the more exciting to see exactly how wild this show will truly get.

Check out Segall's recent performance on Conan O'Brien below:


Show Review: Hopscotch Music Festival 2014


St. Vincent at City Plaza
I feel like every Hopscotch has just gotten better and better. Each year the lineup finds a new way to break down barriers, to pack in artists of every genre imaginable for one loaded, sometimes spastic three-day marathon of music (or four if you're some showzilla who knows no limits.) 2014, surely enough proved to be my favorite Hopscotch yet thanks to the all of its eccentricities and unforgettable performances. Though this is the first year I was unable to attend the Thursday and Friday day parties, there was still tons of music packed into that brief weekend that we all yearn so long for. Between the prodigal return of Lonnie Walker, T0W3RS' exhilarating full-band debut, and Valient Thorr bringing that Venus weirdness to City Plaza, there was plenty of local love going around downtown Raleigh. Regional acts were some of the most exciting of the festival, but that didn't stop folks like Lunice, Jamie XX, Ava Luna and others from bringing their 'A' game to this nationally acclaimed event.

Thursday
De La Soul at City Plaza
Photo Credit: Agatha Donkar
Things started off late for me on Thursday as I showed up towards the end of an excellent display of showmanship from Toon & The Real Laww. This Durham based duo garners quite a few OutKast comparisons with their lyrical wit and brilliant, charismatic interplay. Throw in their stellar crowd participation antics and you've got one hell of a kick-off to this four-day festival. Things were immediately followed up by the hip-hop visionaries De La Soul, a set that even had the photographers in the pit dancing along with their cameras hanging down. While the evening got off to a hip-hop oriented start, I took off from City Plaza around twenty minutes in to catch the brilliant acts at Kennedy Theater. Body Games brought the venue to capacity as fans were entranced by Adam Graetz's mind-bending visuals. Last year they had one of the weekend's most memorable moments with a Michael Jackson cover, and surely enough they raised the bar once again this year with a "Kiss From A Rose" cover that everybody pretending like they knew the words to the verses. After Body Games came Marley Carroll, the Asheville-based producer with a knack for engaging yet trancey electronic sets. Carroll perfectly blends four on the floor house beats with spacey fills, turntable scratches and serene vocals. It was difficult to pull myself away from the dance marathon, but it's also important to take in some low-energy stuff throughout the weekend as well. Thus, it was next door to Fletcher to check out IIII, the drum-circle marathon that started out strong and ended up droning on.

The drum circle was rooted with an electronic drone that was gradually engulfed by the slew of drummers circled around the stage. It was a nice pause to sit down and mindlessly enjoy some instrumental music, but I'd hardly call it one of the weekend's highlights. It was a nice break regardless, and gave me everything I needed to soak in Deniro Farrar and Lunice with every ounce of energy possible. Deniro played to a small crowd, but you'd never know by the energy and showmanship that he displayed throughout the evening. Rapping about pampers while staring lanky photographers in the eyes, spitting out profanity laced statements that proclaim himself the king of cult rap. Frankly I wasn't expecting to enjoy this show as much as I did, but it was emanating heavy Danny Brown vibes, Farrar has a keen stage presence and knows how to get a crowd involved with his set. Regardless of whether he was simply sharing his brothers music or baring his soul on the mic, he's a man that knows how to get the people going. Farrar was also the perfect segway into Lunice, the early 20s trap wunderkind. Lunice provided a set filled with originals and remixes that ranged from a handful of Kanye West tracks to Future, mostly sticking to heavy rap throughout the night. While that made the pacing a bit difficult for those of us that danced throughout the whole set, it's one hell of a way to end an evening. Lunice had another surprisingly small set, but once folks planted themselves inside of Kennedy they stayed through the duration. A small pack of dedicated fans beats a crowd full of bored concertgoers any day.

Friday
Spoon at City Plaza
City Plaza once again kicked off the night's festivities and provided for some truly surreal moments. Getting the chance to see brand new Lonnie Walker tunes amidst a sea of thousands is something that fills folks like me with an immense amount of joy. I got into local music in late 2008 and Lonnie Walker were the kings of the scene, pounding out show after show of high-energy singalongs that struck your core as much as your sense of rhythm. While their newer tracks are a bit more subdued, they're just as powerful as the fan-favorites, making for an incredible comeback show for this high-profile local favorite. While the transition from hopped up, twangy indie rock into the art-rock auteur St. Vincent was a bit shaky, Annie Clark's guitar mastery more than made up for it. While I'm a huge St. Vincent fan the set felt a bit impersonal, perhaps it's the wide-open spaces of City Plaza or maybe it's the choreographed stage antics, either way the content was still precisely on-point. Fans of St. Vincent sang along in unison to favorites from her latest self-titled record, Strange Mercy and some deep older cuts as well. After what felt like a brief St. Vincent set, Spoon took the stage as the crowd was at its peak. Going into this kind of blase was the best thing I could have done, because Spoon frankly surprised the hell out of me with not only their live energy and performance but also by their songwriting. I've moved a bit past the straight-forward indie rock that they showcase but I'll be damned if they don't do it well. I left about a half-hour into the set though to trot over to The Pour House for one of my most anticipated sets of the weekend.

Dark Rooms at Tir Na Nog
Crowdsource kicked off my night of venue shows and proved to be one hell of a way to start the night's marathon. Blending sprawling midi-arrangements with pounding rhythms and stunning visuals, Crowdsource's crowd grew swiftly throughout the set and compelled all in attendance to get some dancing on. I ducked out early to head across the block for Enemy Waves, mostly because heavy psych-rock in a church is so Hopscotch it hurts. Seeing sax-lead psychedelic jams inside of a gorgeous church hall is something you can really only experience at a festival as unique as Hopscotch. It's one of the perfect examples of a show that seems to be totally bizarre on paper but brilliant once you step foot in the door. After a bit of jammage it was off to check out Celestial Shore at Fletcher, a set that was exactly as perfect as I'd imagined. Expansive indie-pop just works inside of this opera hall and made me yearn for more shows at such a gorgeously built venue. The acoustic lent itself to Celestial Shore's reverb-washed style and made for an excellent chill set to refresh your energy at. From there it was off to Tir Na Nog for Dark Rooms, arguably one of my favorite sets of the weekend. This was an invigorating set that blended dream-inducing violin lines and Daniel Hart's earnest, evocative brand of songwriting with some melodically focused indie rock. While I only caught the first four or five songs, it was a set that relied heavily on ambition and it paid off immensely, as their gorgeous harmonies and unique arrangements stuck with me throughout the weekend. I darted off from here to check out Mas Ysa, but sadly enough I almost immediately left as I simply couldn't get down to what I was so excited to see.

After a trek out to CAM, I decided (poorly) to see what was going on with Sun Kil Moon at the Lincoln. Apparently I walked in shortly after those fuckin' hillbillies got berated because the crowd was sparse and the vibe was all kinds of odd. I took that as my cue to check out what else was happening around town. I walked in for the last moments of Purling Hiss then booked it over to CAM to catch as much of NGUZUNGUZU as I could. After vibing for a while to their skittering remixes, I decided to check out the greatly hyped Clipping. over at The Pour House to end my evening, and man was that a great call. Jarring beats with a surprisingly smooth flow lead the sizable Pour House crowd to jumping, bobbing and swaying their way through the evening.

Saturday
Valient Thorr at City Plaza
The first full festival day for me was also of course the last festival day. Things got kicked off early with some delicious brunch from Fiction Kitchen and a few sets over at Legends. Family Bike, a new project from Karl Kuehn of Museum Mouth, stood out amongst the early sets but shortly after that it was time to post up at Trekky's day party for a bit. I walked in to see Hi Ho Silver Oh in the middle of their full band set, and frankly it was one of the best sets I saw all weekend. Last year I was floored by a stripped down set from Casey Trela, but finally seeing the full band experience got me totally sold. Their cover of Tom Petty's "Time To Get Going" was without a doubt the most beautiful track I heard all weekend, a sparse arrangement of a classic tune that ends in a subdued singalong. The rest of the day was great, including some great sets from Celestial Shore, Phil Cook and Caitlin Rose and a rooftop view of Lonnie Walker at Slim's, but Hi Ho Silver Oh definitely won the day parties for me. Things swiftly changed direction though once City Plaza started and the metal fans poured in in bunches. It was one of the most unique crowds I've ever seen at Hopscotch and it was fucking excellent. Valient Thorr has become one of my favorite bands to see live because they're just such excellent showmen. I'm not really the type to sit around and listen to them in my house, but I'll be damned if I won't throw my fist in the air when prompted by some dude from Venus. Death and Mastodon were equally impressive, but really when you've got Valient Thorr opening it's hard to live up to that kind of energy.

T0W3RS at The Pour House
As quickly as I fell into the metal hole I came back out to check out the highly touted set from See Gulls at Deep South. It was one in one out and packed wall to wall, which is always a fantastic feeling when you're checking out a swiftly rising local act. I'm sure the NPR coverage didn't hurt in terms of attendance either. See Gulls' gritty garage pop was an excellent way to transition into Y'ALL, a band featuring various regional musicians producing some pretty simplistic but interesting pop-leaning indie rock. After that I surprisingly decided to forgo the soft folk at Fletcher and rock out to some orchestral metal from Subrosa. I was surprised at how in to this band I was, but I feel that for my level of intoxication I shouldn't be too surprised. My drunken self did make a pretty excellent call though in foregoing a trip out to CAM to check out How To Dress Well (which I'd have positively balked at if you'd told me a week ago), to check out Ava Luna and T0W3RS at Tir Na Nog and The Pour House. T0W3RS put on hands down the most elaborate, engaging and all-around incredible performances of this year's Hopscotch. T0W3RS has kind of grown into the Hopscotch band for me, really. It started with a shoulder to shoulder day party at The Hive, grew into a psych-rock excursion at CAM and has ended up at electronically oriented indie pop mastery. Whether T0W3RS was cranking out the brilliant tracks from the forthcoming album TL;DR or pulling out Don Henley covers (seriously though, "Boys of Summer" was the last thing I'd have expected from this Hopscotch), the band was giving it 100% the entire time. Plus some of the most talented artists in the Triangle were rotating around the stage to provide support for what is already an impressive one-man show. So getting to see the T0W3RS experience as it should be was easily the most enjoyable aspects of this year's Hopscotch.

Jamie XX at CAM
Ending the night at Jamie XX though. I feel as if I need to type out a moment of journalistic silence in appreciation for how incredibly arranged that set was. Mastering the push and pull of energy, Jamie XX's pacing allowed fans to lose themselves in the melody or dance until they fall out. Frankly there was a good bit of both. Roaming throughout the venue one could find dance circles, crowd surfers, bathroom pot smokers and pretty much every type of person you could imagine just jamming out and enjoying the music. It was the perfect way to end this year's festivities. With us all under one roof raving.