Souvenirs from Hopscotch

Hopscotch can be grueling. During the course of the three-day-long festival, some people will compete with their friends to see who among them can catch the most sets by the over 120 official bands (plus a couple hundred bands playing day parties), like it’s a music festival version of Pokemon-Go. Others will attempt to drink their weight in tasty local craft beers while stumbling between a dozen or so venues across downtown Raleigh.

After seven years of covering Hopscotch for various outlets, I’ve decided to slow it down just a little bit and allow myself to savor the best moments.

Day one I stretched my festival going muscles in a church to the atmospheric saxophone quartet, Battle Trance. Sneaks, the brand new Merge Records signee, was the perfect warmup followed by the genius that is Palm. Ironically enough, I upped the intensity by closing out the first night with The Snails (featuring members of Future Islands).

Day two was an endurance test. After a delicious turkey biscuit at The Morning Times, I ventured over to Kings for the six hour Three Lobed Recordings day party that was chased down with a drink at the Merge Records happy hour just down the street. A quick stop at the hotel for snacks before heading back out to see Gary Clark Jr, Erykah Badu and my Hopscotch Highlight, but more on that in a minute.

Blues guitarist Gary Clark shredding at 2016's Hopscotch in Raleigh, NC (photo by PJ Sykes/ @pjskyes )

Blues guitarist Gary Clark shredding at 2016's Hopscotch in Raleigh, NC (photo by PJ Sykes/@pjskyes)

Day three and we were in the homestretch, and it was time to grab another biscuit from The Morning Times before heading back to King's and easing into the day with some familiar tunes from Mac McCaughan. After a solid set from the Merge Records/Superchunk founder, I slipped out for a few minutes to do a quick portrait session with the amazing Sylvan Esso, and got back in just enough time to soak up some of the sweaty, slapback delay and reverb drenched guitar sounds of the Rock*A*Teens

It should be noted that this much rock works up an appetite, so after last echoes of the Rock*A*Teens bounced of the walls of Kings, we walked a few extra blocks out of our way for some amazing tacos at Jose & Sons. It helps that they are next to Tasty Beverage Co so we could buy a few local beers to bring home. Pro tip: Eat something good at least once a day and rest your feet and ears when you can.

After a quick nap, we headed down to the city center to witness the stunning sonics of Sylvan Esso before meeting up with our Richmond crew for a night at Lincoln Theatre. Ohio's All Dogs, with their fuzzy brand of rock n roll, were a perfect juxtaposition to the 45 minute jam by Kid Millions’ Soldiers of Fortune. But the absolutely crushing melodies of Baroness proved to be a perfect ending to my seventh Hopscotch. (Dear, Baroness I liked you before, but now I love you, please come back to RVA. k, tnx PJ)

Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso hanging out in Downtown Raleigh before their epic headlining set. (Photo by PJ Sykes/ @pjsykes )

Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso hanging out in Downtown Raleigh before their epic headlining set. (Photo by PJ Sykes/@pjsykes)

Now...back to Day 2 for a moment

On the way to Raleigh, my wife and I were listening to the Hopscotch playlist to get stoked when something magical caught my ear. “Souvenir” by Milo was playing, and just as I was thinking, “wow this guy sounds like Mike Ladd” (one of my favorites) he drops the line “I can rap like the son of Mike Ladd.” Get outta my head!

I grabbed my phone and began to track down his contact info. Before we reached Raleigh city limits, I had constructed my fanboy email and requested a quick portrait for this Hopscotch recap. The next day we actually crossed paths on the street, which happens a lot at Hopscotch. I was walking back after being slayed by Gary Clark Jr’s blues and Milo and his wife were trying to catch Erykah Badu. Lucky for me Erykah had missed her flight which gave us some time to hang out. We ducked into the nearby Sheraton lobby to look for a spot and he noted that the setting would be a perfect nod to his alias Scallops Hotel.

Later that night I was waiting front row at Kings after enjoying a smooth set by Kooley High; which included a nice tribute to MCA. I’m in the same venue where I spent all day listening to the incredible Three Lobed Day party, that included two sets by 75 Dollar Bill, another Hopscotch Highlight. Now the stage was empty save for a single square card table, the kind you might find in your grandparents’ basement, supporting a rats nest of cables under dim blue lights.

The crowd had flipped during the intermission and now several young white nerdy kids were up front next to me. Milo steps out of the shadows carrying a togo bag of food that was starting to leaking in the corner, and wearing a small backpack. One of the guys next to me holds up a white slip on shoe and yells “MILO!! SIGN MY SHOE AGAIN!” Again? He points to where he signed it last time. Another one yells “MILO! Will you sign this!” A young woman adds “I’m going to ask him to sign my arm, who has a sharpie?!!” I hadn’t seen this type of devoted rabid fan base in awhile. I’m sure people were excited for many of the performances around Hopscotch and no doubt people want autographs, but this felt different.

"I guess it's picture day" Milo (aka Scallops Hotel)  . (Photo by PJ Sykes/ @pjsykes )

"I guess it's picture day" Milo (aka Scallops Hotel) . (Photo by PJ Sykes/@pjsykes)

Without fanfare, Milo began his set with quiet dialog. He bounced and turned away from the crowd often walking to the back of the stage. His skills as a performer redefine how an MC should deliver by sucking out the energy in the room instead of asking us to “make some noise” every five seconds. Between songs Milo challenged the crowd by repeating the question “What are you doing about your prison?” He was brilliantly awkward and deliberately engaging in unusual ways. A few songs in Milo casually asked if the other mic was on, before introducing Hemlock Ernst (aka Sam Herring of Future Islands) and the group at the front lost their collective shit. Together they perform “Souvenir”, the song I heard driving down, and completed the fandom circle. Milo’s influence is contagious and I’m so thankful I didn’t know what I was getting into beforehand.

So what if I didn’t see fifty-five bands this year or drink a full keg of delicious Fullsteam Summer Basil Farmhouse Ale? I’m still savoring the moment of discovering and meeting one of my new favorite artists. This is what Hopscotch is all about, and I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Photos by PJ Sykes
Click to embiggen

PJ's 2016 Hopscotch Playlist