Ilive here, so I forget how good we have it. Between Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill (not to mention peripheral towns like Hillsborough, Saxapahaw, Bynum and Pittsboro), the Triangle boasts a world-class music scene, both in scope and quantity. With the combined clubs of the three cities, plus outlying specialized stages, there's music to be seen every night of the week. Quite a bit of it is really, really good.
"You can't put a label on us," says Adam Kincaid, executive producer of WKNC's The Local Beat. He has been with the N.C. State student radio station since 2007, even remaining on air after his 2011 graduation. "But what is even more amazing is the quality of the music that comes out of our region. It's like each band feeds off the others and, in turn, it makes everyone better."
And there's an incredible variety of local music, rather than one dominant genre. Ross Grady—who has been intimately involved in local music since the early '90s as a critic, DJ and general commentator—reckons the boundaries between previously discrete scenes have blurred, especially recently. He sees many of the same people out at shows, regardless of what kind of music is happening, and says "the audience-level crossover feels like it's at an all-time high."
This year, nearly 60 Triangle acts play the official Hopscotch Music Festival, most of them for the first time. Some have been making music for years: Carrboro's Black Skies have pounded away at smoked-out, hard rock riffage since 2005, and Durham urban explorer folkies Midtown Dickens have been at it almost as long. Both bands presaged now-healthy strains of their respective genres in their respective towns.
Then there are the veterans, bands like Corrosion of Conformity, Pipe, The dB's, Work Clothes, Roman Candle and Shark Quest. These bands formed as many as 30 years ago, with hiatuses or lineup changes following intermittently. Conversely, the menacing sparkle of Carrboro doom-pop four-piece Airstrip didn't even exist last September, while Raleigh heavy metal hybrid Grohg played its debut show a month and a half after 2011's fest.
Hip-hop ranges from The Beast's sociopolitical jazz-rap to Drique London's talk of slick shoes and big dreams. There's the same variety to Triangle metal, folk, Americana and even the uncommonly healthy experimental fringe—respectively represented by MAKE, Hiss Golden Messenger, Calico Haunts and harsh drone duo Tomas Phillips and Craig Hilton, to sample.
It's a chicken-and-the-egg phenomenon, but such a healthy ecosystem drives its own support mechanism. "Great audiences want great radio and newspapers, which want great bands, which need great venues and record stores, which creates great audiences," Kincaid explains.
But local music-lovers can see Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham bands all the time, really—many of these play Triangle venues every few weeks. So why see locals at Hopscotch when there are dozens of fascinating traveling acts? Doesn't that just make it easy to decide between one and the other when the show times coincide?
Not exactly: No matter how many times you've seen a band, you probably haven't seen them play Hopscotch. If these locals really are world-class, then Hopscotch—which sees Raleigh packed with internationally recognized musicians, both upcoming and established—is a chance to see these bands in their proper context. Many rise to the occasion.
"What I have noticed though is that, for one reason or another, our local bands tend to play better at Hopscotch than any regular show, even an album release show," says Kincaid. "Those are the memories that stand out to me the most, more so than the non-local acts playing a regular set."
Last year, Chapel Hill's Horseback closed its usual set of long-form drone-metal meditations with an unexpected cover of The Stooges' "TV Eye." This year, the Mountain Goats will play their first-ever all-covers set. Durham improv-loving folk-warpers Megafaun closed out the inaugural fest with a massive celebration, culminating in a mid-crowd encore.
"When we play our normal club shows in the Triangle, we're usually just trying to give people the best representation of what we've been doing while on tour in places around the country and overseas," says Megafaun percussionist Joe Westerlund. But with so many talented musicians around, Hopscotch lets Megafaun stretch the boundaries of what a live show can be—and really explore the kind of collaborative spontaneity they crave.
"Hopscotch does provide locals a great opportunity to try new ideas for a wider audience," says Jenks Miller, guitarist for progressively minded country quartet Mount Moriah and soundsmith behind Horseback. "Its diversity allows bands to revisit their material in a new context."
This year, Raleigh's Whatever Brains will become the only band to play the festival for a third time. They are a restless, constantly evolving punk-ish outfit with dendrites in seemingly every neighboring genre; none of their sets have ever sounded the same. This year, the band organized its own bill.
"This will be a six-piece Brains show, which is still fairly new to us and very exciting. We probably won't be playing shows for a while after Hopscotch, so we've got nothing to lose," says guitarist and vocalist Rich Ivey. Ivey offhandedly admits Whatever Brains' set might be great—and it might not—but says his band won't play like it has something to prove. "But I'm also not sure what'll happen if I see ?uestlove's Afro peeking from the back at Slim's."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Sustainably sourced."