Year three of any startup annual event tends to be a big one – a make-or-break year that will either cement the event’s status as an ongoing happening, or stop it dead in its tracks. The Hopscotch Music Festival is no exception. The third edition happens this weekend in downtown Raleigh, and organizers are keeping their fingers crossed it goes well.
“We were profitable last year,” says Hopscotch co-director Greg Lowenhagen. “Based on that, we’ve expanded. This year will be our biggest financial risk, even more than year one. If we break even, we’ll be very happy. It looks like we’re going to.”
Hopscotch was a gamble when it debuted in 2010. While it didn’t break even that year, it did establish the festival’s brand. Year two enhanced the brand and went better financially, turning a modest profit as it inspired this year’s more ambitious agenda.
For its third edition, Hopscotch has expanded by about 50 percent over what year one presented. This year will have 175 acts on 15 stages, ranging from small clubs up to the city-plaza mainstage. The venue expansion has boosted how many wristbands Hopscotch can sell, up 2,000 over last year to 5,300.
A key addition to the 2012 rotation is 2,277-seat Memorial Auditorium, giving Hopscotch another big stage for popular acts including Yo La Tengo and the doom-metal band Sun O))). The outdoor headliners are the venerable Scottish alternative-rock band The Jesus and Mary Chain tonight, and hip-hop band The Roots on Saturday.
“I’m proud that we’ve maintained an experimental edge despite selling a good amount of tickets and appealing to the middle-of-the-road music fan more than in years past,” says co-director Grayson Currin. “There’s a core of accessibility that we hope serves as an inlet to weirder things.”
Where local rock bands were a major focus of the first Hopscotch, this year’s schedule has more international acts and also a beefed-up hip-hop presence. But local music still accounts for some of the most intriguing entries on the schedule. Durham singer-songwriter John Darnielle (leader of the internationally known folk-rock band Mountain Goats) will perform a set of heavy-metal covers on piano. And the local rock trio Megafaun is premiering a new piece they’ve collaborated on with experimental composer/visual artist Arnold Dreyblatt.
This third year also finds Hopscotch in transition in terms of its relationship with The Independent, the local alternative-weekly paper. Steve Schewel (who was elected to the Durham City Council in 2011) owns both the festival and the 29-year-old paper. That will change on Oct. 1 because Schewel is selling The Independent to the owners of the Willamette Week in Portland, Ore.
But the sale does not include Hopscotch. How this weekend goes will have a lot to do with what form the festival will take in the future.
“This is a big test year, and the size I think we stay,” says Lowenhagen. “There are a few things to do for next year, maybe add the amphitheater and some bigger spaces like the convention center. But in terms of clubs, there’s no desire to keep adding rooms just to be adding them.”
Menconi: 919-829-4759 or blogs.newsobserver.com/beat