Hopscotch Music Festival’s evening shows, regardless of venue, carry an air of spectacle—with each set structured to ensure everything goes without hitch. While this is an important and deeply personal way to connect with music and the musicians playing, there are other ways that are no less impacting.
The day parties, in the context of Hopscotch, exist as perfect analogs—all similar in nature, but each showcase its own unique feeling and terms for inclusivity. The day parties offer up a different and sometimes more raw show experience; a more informal type of context that connects show-goers to bands, community/show organizers and even local businesses. In this way, day parties showcase a different sort of element than the main stage shows—in that you can be fed, rejuvenated and entertained, as well as better connected to the people who make music and those who support music.
In the dark red and shimmering dance cauldron known as Ruby Deluxe in downtown Raleigh, the bar was packed with spectators trying to get a glimpse of the band Museum Mouth. Ruby Deluxe has really no natural light to speak of, and it became evident how easily one could spend most of the day there catching sets without actually realizing what time it was.
Museum Mouth played an extended set, did a couple plugs for their main stage show later that night and even brought a friend on stage to do guest vocals on a song he didn’t know the words to. Nobody cared, though. It’s little things like this that make day parties so much different: a clear sense that this is about enjoyment, and the people who come out to these day parties are here to really get something out of it. It’s not about just getting drunk and checking another cool band off their “must-see” list.
Along with super-intimate shows such as the Museum Mouth show, the day parties occasionally came along with free breakfast (thanks to partnerships with local vendors), community organized events and even real-deal wrestling matches outside the clubs. With all of that, it seems appropriate to weigh out some of the legitimate questions that go along with understanding how day parties operate, and also what they mean to festival-goers and for the bands that play them.
First matter of interest is whether or not a day party leads to a future main stage slot. The answer is likely no—but it also can’t hurt, and further, it probably shouldn’t be the point. As Arone Dyer from the duo Mistresses puts it:
“Getting onto the main stages at this or any other festival likely has more to do with an act’s album cycle, management, label push and national interest rather than a day party glimpse of genius.”
The metric of festival booking seems to be a complicated mix of who you know, what label you are on, what you have to promote and perhaps most importantly, what type of work you’ve put in locally over the years. Scott Hicks of Greensboro’s Totally Slow contends that there are more important things than fixating on the main stage.
“I think playing day parties is extremely fucking fun and you will make connections there and you’ll in your own way be part of the circus, which is what you want,” he says. “So, do that—and in that moment, that’s your process. And isn’t it great to get to do your art in front of anyone? Maybe that gets you on the aforementioned radars for other day parties, or the main lineup. Maybe not. You shouldn’t care. Enjoy the process, man.”
Hopscotch does a great job at providing widespread attention to a lot of local and regional acts, but it’s the day parties that reinforce that effort—both by utilizing some of the most renowned local venues and creating very diversified bills with a variety of genres and notoriety all meshed together. Ryan Oslance, Hopscotch veteran and drummer for both Mistresses and N.C.-based band Ahleuchatistas, said this of the festival: “It’s a wonderful festival with a lot of care put into including a lot of local and regional acts, which I think really sets it apart from many festivals. Since I live in N.C., it feels really good to have that support and to see so many friends there and getting a larger platform to share their work.”
One could really get the impression that, perhaps thanks to the festival mentality of the show-goers, no matter how early the set was, acts were attracting decent crowds—which is not always something that can be expected in a non-festival environment. The venues themselves also help engender an environment of engagement and unity both at night and during the day. One could end their night with King Woman at Pour House, wading through soot and sweat of people deep within their own ritualistic moments, reaching way down to connect with the sounds of growls and dissonance. Alternatively, that same person could start their morning at the same place—now bathed in light—and in communion with friends, other bands, local vendors and show organizers, having a completely different emotional experience and context for the music being played.
Over the course of the weekend, all of the bars and clubs began to have their own signature feel: Slim’s or Ruby Deluxe were the spots to get sweaty and intimate. You’d visit King’s and Pour House if you wanted to blend in or disassociate. Or, go to Legends if you wanted to see something unexpected. The cost of perusing all these cool spots, though, is that they are just spaced out enough that you’re going to miss some cool shit that you wanted to see while trying to get from venue to venue.
By and large, bands kept to a pretty tight performance schedule, and sometimes it took an extra five to 10 minutes to even get out of the venue due to crowds. Dyer put it like this: “The venues were spread out just far enough that it would be difficult to see an act at one stage on one side of town and make it in time to see the next act across town. Had I known this dilemma and had the means, I would’ve brought a razor or a scooter or a skateboard or roller skates or a bike or a kite or a bird.”
However, the distance between venues is an anticipated externality of going to almost any festival. You have to make a plan. Speaking of a plan, Oslance mentions that it wouldn’t be a terrible idea for Hopscotch to print out some sort of day party roster, so that more people could catch some of these incredible shows.
“I was kind of surprised that the official festival didn’t have more daytime events, but I guess it leaves room for the day parties to happen,” he says. “Although, the festival should probably just print the day party schedule, too, so newcomers to the festival can find those shows.”
Despite there not being a physical or accumulated list of all the day parties happening at every venue, that didn’t stop numerous show-goers from getting creative with Excel and making their own spreadsheets and rosters to disseminate.
“I [had] met a lot of people who actually do some serious homework about who they’re going to see, printing out spreadsheets for themselves,” Hicks noted. “A young gentleman showed me his, he had given star ratings and one-sentence impressions based on 30-second Googling of every single performer.”
It’s a big deal for a lot of musicians to make people’s main-stage lists, but for people to put together lists for day parties, too, really shows the tenacity of fans and the popularity of day parties in general.
The people involved in organizing Hopscotch Music Festival clearly care deeply about dropping serious cash on serious headliners, but also making sure that the festival showcases many diverse styles, ethnicities and regional acts. But the thing that really puts it over the top is the level of dedication put forth by the local clubs and venues as well as local vendors who provided food and other resources to show-goers. These entities went above and beyond to ensure that bands had what they needed to put on great sets, and that Hopscotch attendees and non-festival show goers alike had a great time hours before the main events even began.
With that said, if your band aspires to play these day parties, or especially Hopscotch proper, one will need to start early, and really work on making contacts. Hicks offers his advice: “Day parties are all about being on people’s radars when they’re putting them together. They’ve become a lot more of an institution since we first played them several years ago, so it might take a bit more pro-action than it used to. So, make friends. Go see their shows. Keep in touch with the curators in the spring …
… It’s no different than any other band stuff you need to do to get shows and put out records.”
Photo by Jade Wilson.