Saturday was the final day of the sixth annual Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh. I had a great time, and at the end of it all, I had a mixed bag of emotions. I was completely exhausted, but I was really happy. The last performance I saw ended up being my favorite thing from the whole festival.
I got my day off to a bit of a late start. The initial plan was to wake up at 8, have some breakfast, do some writing, call my friend Amanda, make it to downtown by 12, start the day party action at 12:30, meet Amanda at some point, and enjoy some daytime music with her before going to the official festival things.
I didn’t wake up until almost 10, skipped breakfast, rushed my writing, texted (instead of called) Amanda, and I didn’t make it downtown until about 1. In my haste, I ended up leaving my memory card back at the hotel, so I was limited as to what kinds of photos I could get. My camera has only a tiny bit of on-board memory, and I ended up not using it at all.
On the outdoor stage right next to the deck where I always park, Jenny Besetzt was playing. I saw them at the 2012 festival, and I liked them a lot. They list my home of Greensboro as their hometown, but they’re sort of from “all over”. I watched them and really enjoyed their set. I didn’t have much on my schedule, so I made it my plan to just wander around.
Amanda met me sometime around 2, we had some coffee, then we walked into and out of a few sets. Nothing notable. Eventually, we had some food at Beasley’s (for the second time in as many days), where I ended up running into some friends. Amanda considered buying a City Plaza ticket so she could see Dwight Yoakam, but in the end, she couldn’t justify the ticket price.
I knew that my night was set because I wouldn’t have to do very much walking. I was going to the City Plaza for X and Dwight Yoakam, then my plan was to spend the majority of the evening right behind the Plaza at Fletcher.
X was scheduled to start at 7:15, but they actually started at 7. There was a forecast for rain, and the skies were threatening. They said they were going to play as many songs as they could as fast as they could so Dwight Yoakam could get out there before the rain. They were great. I’m not a big X fan, and I don’t even know their stuff, but they played well, and the crowd loved it. They finished at about 8, and I assumed that Dwight Yoakam’s crew would rush things along. I went to grab a sandwich, and waited. And waited. And waited. Dwight and his band were scheduled at 8:45, but they didn’t hit the stage until almost 9.
I had already made up my mind that I was going to bail on Dwight Yoakam no matter what, because I wanted to see Ian William Craig, Elsa Ambrogio, and most importantly, Katie Crutchfield. They were playing back-to-back-to-back sets in Fletcher. If time permitted, I also wanted to see some of the Chelsea Wolfe set at Lincoln, but I really my plan was to stay put at the seated, quiet venue. And that’s exactly what I did.
Ian William Craig’s set was exactly what I thought it would be, but it was a little too sleepy for some of the audience. Vocal loops, tape loops, clicks and pops. After his set was over, he sat in the theatre for a bit with a drink, and I went over to say hello. As it turns out, he’s an Oilers fan. He told me that although he’d never played anywhere in the United States, he already knew about Raleigh because of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals. I knew that he was a native Edmontonian, but there was no reason to assume that he liked the Oil. That just made him a little cooler.
Elisa Ambrogio was next. I’d heard a few songs, but I didn’t know anything about her. I wasn’t even entirely sure what to expect. I knew that her music was sort of indie rock, sort of punk, sort of “experimental”, sort of weird. I always think of Julie Doiron as a reference marker. I saw her play a day party collaboration with Tashi Dorji, and it was, in a word, weird. So I had no idea what to expect. What we got was the “this is sort of like Julie Doiron” thing, and I really loved it. Her band played for about 45 minutes, but I would have loved to have seen another 45 minutes.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say again. Fletcher is a great venue, and there’s always an atmosphere of respect. It’s dead quiet in there except for applause. There’s no conversations in the audience, not really even any whispering. Except for the photographers who are working the event, very few people use any devices during the performance. No cell phones, no cameras. Nothing. This isn’t because the artist or the venue requests this. It’s just what happens organically at Fletcher. Two years ago, I made a pretty great video of Angel Olsen playing “Creator Destroyer” at her solo performance in Fletcher, but since then, I haven’t dared do anything like that. I see lots of great stuff at Fletcher every Hopscotch, but I’ve kept my phone and my camera in my pocket. Out of respect for the audience.
Katie Crutchfield wasn’t even on the original Hopscotch lineup. That Saturday midnight set was supposed to belong to Owen Pallett. He was also supposed to be the “improviser in residence” all weekend long. Unfortunately, he had a family emergency and had to back out at the last minute. Greg Fox stepped in as “improviser in residence” and Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) stepped in to fill Pallett’s Saturday night shift. The festival announced this on Wednesday, but I didn’t catch wind of it until Thursday night. Katie joked that she didn’t even know about until Friday.
Two years ago, when Waxahatchee played Hopscotch, I was delayed getting to that set, and I was only able to catch two songs. They were great, but I was really disappointed. This set was something special. It wasn’t the full Waxahatchee band. It was just Katie and an acoustic guitar. Because of the very late change to the schedule, I think a lot of people who would have loved this show didn’t know about it. Either way, it wasn’t as crowded in there as I thought it might be. However, as soon as Katie got started, I knew that we were in for something really special. She played for a little over an hour, and a nice mix of songs from each of her three albums, plus a breathtaking cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Greenville”.
The first Waxahatchee album —American Weekend(2012) is mostly solo, and the songs are great, but the production quality is pretty bad. On the 2013 album Cerulean Salt, the songs were bigger and a little less dark. And played with a full band. And the sound quality was exponentially better. That trajectory continued through this year’s Ivy Tripp. The new songs are big and loud. As big and loud as they are, though, when they’re stripped down to an acoustic guitar and Katie’s voice, they’re really beautiful. And all those older songs that are dark and sad are much more dark and much sadder. What’s even better is Katie’s voice. When she’s singing with full band, she howls and growls with a raspy voice. Solo, she doesn’t have to strain, and her voice is much prettier. I got caught up in the beauty of the songs, and I got a little teary-eyed. Okay. More than “a little” teary-eyed.
Over the last couple of years of Hopscotch, I’ve seen some really great things at Fletcher. Angel Olsen, Low, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig. This Katie Crutchfield set topped all of those. In fact, it was my favorite thing of the whole festival. Waxahatchee (full band) will be touring soon, and I really want to see them, but this was a very special experience.
Although I could have headed over to catch the tail end of Jessica Pratt just around the corner at Kennedy, I decided to let the festival end on a perfect note. I couldn’t imagine anything putting me in a better place than that Katie Crutchfield set.
For the third night in a row, I walked over to the Pie Pushers pizza truck and got a slice before going back to the hotel. This morning I woke up to find myself back in the real world. 52 more weeks until Hopscotch 16.