Arts & Events » Music

Headed to Hopscotch

Popular music festival returns to full strength in Raleigh, North Carolina, with the addition of comedy and a veteran Richmond band.


More than a few Richmonders, as well as one of our most beloved local bands, salsa institution Bio Ritmo, will be headed a couple hours south to Raleigh, North Carolina this weekend for the annual Hopscotch Music Festival. The popular, highly walkable, three-day festival takes over the capital city’s downtown this Thursday through Saturday with art, food, live music, and plenty of attendees navigating day parties and concerts wearing wristbands.

Marlysse Simmons, keyboardist with Bio Ritmo, says it's been awhile since the band has played Raleigh. “We played Hopscotch [many years ago], so we're super excited to be invited back,” she says by email, adding that the band has a following in Raleigh. “We love being part of a bill that evening [Friday, Sept. 8 at the Lincoln Theater] that includes a lot of great artists, including one of our favorites, Jeff Parker [a guitarist known for his experimental solo work and playing with Chicago post-rock band, Tortoise].” Her band is excited to be the only group bringing a Latin dance groove to the festival, she says: “As we are inspired by so many different types of music, these are the types of festival bills we love being part of the most.”

This year's Hopscotch, its 13th iteration, will feature a whopping 117 bands, many from the mid-Atlantic region, and include large outdoor spaces such as City Plaza and Moore Square, as well as many smaller to medium-sized club venues mostly located near each other, including the Pour House, Kings, Slims and Lincoln Theater. That's what makes this festival so nice, everything is manageable; the days are filled with themed parties, VIP deals, and label showcases, while the touring bands play mostly from the afternoon late into the night.

Formed in Kill Devil Hills, psych-pop rockers Zack Mexico are playing this year's Hopscotch. - GARRETT POULOUS
  • Garrett Poulous
  • Formed in Kill Devil Hills, psych-pop rockers Zack Mexico are playing this year's Hopscotch.

Hopscotch was founded in 2010 by Greg Lowenhagen and national music writer Grayson Haver Currin, then with the Independent Weekly, an alternative weekly published out of Durham. The festival was sold to Hopscotch Presents, LLC in 2015, a partnership between the founder of Etix, Travis Janovich, and co-owners Paul Laughter and Ben Wingrove.

Director Nathan Price says that this year, the first to feature comedians, including quirky “Saturday Night Live” featured player Sarah Sherman, marks a return to full strength for the festival.

“We just wanted to get back to where it was pre-pandemic,” says Price, who has been booking the festival since 2014. “We missed the fest in 2020 and did an outdoor-only fest in 2021, then had the poor timing of the Delta [variant] wave a few weeks before the festival. Last year, we tried to keep it reasonable, but it rained … This year, we just did everything we could to make it big again.”

One thing that helped was booking indie rock legends, Pavement (featuring Richmond native Bob Nastanovich and fellow Virginian Steve West), who hadn’t played North Carolina since 1999, which caused a spike in ticket sales, he says. Other artists this year include: Japanese Breakfast, Margo Price, Dinosaur Jr., old school hip-hop legends Digable Planets and ESG (!), Soccer Mommy, Denzel Curry, King Krule, Quasi, Cro-Mags, Kool Keith, Whitmer Thomas, Kaleta and Super Yamba Band, Palm, Rose City Band, and many others. Go here for the full lineup. At press time, Price says the festival was close to selling out.

Noting the festival's focus on local artists, Price mentions the band, Truth Club, as one of his favorite younger bands from Raleigh to catch at this year's fest; “they just signed to Double Double Whammy and have a new record coming, and we put them opening the Pavement bill,” he says.

Price expects the number of attendees this year to be roughly 25,000, and notes that Willie Nelson will be playing Friday night at a separate gig in the city, but he doesn’t anticipate that it will affect the festival in any way.

Rising artist Rosali will be playing in Charlottesville this Thursday with the Rose City Band before heading down to Hopscotch on Friday. She recently signed with Merge Records.
  • Rising artist Rosali will be playing in Charlottesville this Thursday with the Rose City Band before heading down to Hopscotch on Friday. She recently signed with Merge Records.

One of the rising artists who will be playing the fest is former Philadelphia singer and songwriter, Rosali Middleman (who goes by Rosali, professionally) and who now lives in a small, rural town outside of Durham. A lovely singer, guitarist, and deeply personal lyricist, she just signed with respected indie label, Merge Records, located in Durham. Rosali will be playing Hopscotch at the Pour House on Friday, Sept. 8 at 11:30 p.m. with the David Nance Group, the backing band from her stellar 2021 album, “No Medium,” which many critics considered one of the best albums of the year.

In addition to her blossoming solo career, Rosali also plays with a killer garage rock trio, The Long Hots, which has played Black Iris in Richmond before. And most recently, she put out an emotive guitar instrumental record, “Variable Happiness,” under the moniker Edsel Axle. “It’s total free improv, there’s no overdubbing,” she says. “It’s really just being able to explore things without any expectations, which up until recently, I’ve been to shy to share ... It’s close to noise guitar, which I love.”

Some critics compared Rosali’s last album to classic rock influences like Neil Young, Stevie Nicks, and Richard and Linda Thompson. “I grew up on that stuff [in Michigan]. My parents were hippies, big into Fairport Convention and Richard and Linda Thompson, so that stuff is in my blood,” she admits.

Her longest working relationship remains with friend and musician James Schroeder. “Yeah, this forthcoming record is the first time I’ve worked with the same people. We toured a bunch last year and you become so close. It felt like we were just getting started,” she explains. “And Jim and I have a very natural way of working together. I totally trust him – and that’s how it felt right from the beginning.”

Rosali's most recent download release is a cover of a George Harrison song, “Stuck Inside a Cloud,” which the former Beatle guitarist wrote near the end of his life; it was released posthumously on his album, “Brainwashed.” Rosali says she heard the song while mixing her last album. “He wrote it as he was dying … it’s such a great song, and I love that it’s a kind of sad song with a pop feel,” she says. “Then the pandemic hit and Jim suggested covering it during the first months of the pandemic. Everyone was feeling really heavy ... I like doing covers differently.”

Her gorgeous, ethereal version is just a one-off and will not be included on her next record, which she can’t talk about yet, besides noting that it will be coming out in early 2024 and will again feature the David Nance Group. They’ll be playing a few of the new songs at Hopscotch, she says.

So what is it about Philly that produces such an interesting, diverse music scene – one that was strong enough to draw away one of Richmond’s biggest artists in years, Lucy Dacus? “It used to be really affordable to live there, that’s not so much true anymore,” Rosali says. “Fishtown before it was developed; you could get by not working much, be loud, nobody cared. Rent is now higher, fewer practice spaces, more neighbors complain about noises. The community is still strong, but that intense creative space people had, I feel like that’s changed a lot. Also Philly is a tough city, and a lot of the energy comes from that. It was definitely an exciting time to be there.”

Rosali says she is thrilled to be playing Hopscotch again, kind of a hometown festival for her now – but laments that she can’t hang and check out her friends in other bands due to her touring schedule. She'll be playing with the Rose City Band from Portland, Oregon at The Southern in Charlottesville this Thursday, Sept. 7, then Hopscotch on Friday, Sept. 8, then down at the Earl in Atlanta on Sept. 9.

Looking forward, Hopscotch director Nathan Price says that smart growth is the plan for the festival moving forward.

“We have a good footprint of what we can amplify and grow from. Really the main thing is keeping it as diverse as possible,” he explains. “I think we cover the most genres of any festival in North Carolina, and we want to keep it as locally facing as possible – even including bands from Atlanta to Baltimore, we really focus on the mid-Atlantic zone.”

Hopscotch Music Festival takes place in Raleigh, North Carolina from Sept. 7 through Sept. 9. Go here for tickets and more information.