By a number of different measurements, this weekend’s 2016 edition of the Hopscotch Music Festival should be the biggest one ever.
This year’s overall budget of $1 million represents a new peak, up 25 percent from last year’s figure. And for the first time in Hopscotch’s history, the lineup includes a show at downtown Raleigh’s Red Hat Amphitheater – Friday evening’s pairing of R&B chanteuse Erykah Badu with rising guitar god Gary Clark Jr.
Elsewhere, year seven of Hopscotch has its usual eclectic slate of 120-plus national and local acts in downtown clubs and theaters, from Boulevards’ R&B to the metal of Baroness. But with its capacity of nearly 6,000, Red Hat’s addition to the venue grid marks it as Hopscotch’s most eye-catching development for 2016.
According to Hopscotch director/co-founder Greg Lowenhagen, what made that possible this year was the same thing that made last year difficult: the sale of the festival. Lowenhagen sold Hopscotch in February 2015 to Etix owner Travis Janovich (with two of the Morrisville-based ticketing company’s other employees also having ownership stakes). And even with Lowenhagen staying on as director and providing continuity, it’s taken this long for things to fall into place.
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“Behind the scenes, 2015 actually felt like kind of a makeshift year,” Lowenhagen says. “Because of the sale, we were behind on everything and never felt fully caught up. But when we sat down afterward to look at 2016, it felt like we had true stability for the first time. It just seemed like the time was right to try it. I’ve said all along that it makes no sense for Red Hat to be dark during Hopscotch, but it also makes no sense to program it if the deal’s not right.”
Hopscotch did take a financial loss last year, which has been the case most years – it has finished in the red four out of six years while turning profits in 2011 and 2014. The latter year remains the festival’s high-water mark in terms of total attendance (20,000-plus) as well as the bottom line.
“Knock on wood, I think we’ll surpass wristband and single-ticket sales this year,” Lowenhagen says. “We did lose a little money last year, but it’s always basically the same story financially for us. We’ve never lost more than $80,000 in one year and the most we’ve ever made is $120,000, in 2014. It fluctuates year to year, and we’re able to stay in business. The goal is to get back in the black for 2016. We are spending a little more, and we hope to make a little more.”
There will be one other major change for the festival after this year, behind the scenes. Lowenhagen, who has run Hopscotch since co-founding it in 2010 with then-Indyweek music editor Grayson Currin, is stepping down to go to work as development director for a local non-profit.
Taking over for Lowenhagen will be talent coordinator Nathan Price, who notes he has “played every Hopscotch I haven’t booked.” Price has been working for the festival since 2013, and his tenure as director begins once the books are closed on this year’s model.
As for Lowenhagen’s departure, he says the urge to move on grew from contemplation of his upcoming 40th birthday.
“I’ve spent most of my 30s fully consumed by Hopscotch, living on a September-to-September calendar and focusing on it year-round,” Lowenhagen says. “My experiences the past seven years with starting, building and running Hopscotch is that it’s essentially been solving a series of problems with logistics, scheduling, planning. It all comes down to taking in a lot of information, sorting through it and figuring out the best solution moving forward. I wanted to apply that process of large-scale problem-solving to society’s fundamental problems rather than rock concerts. And next year, I’m looking forward to attending Hopscotch as a fan and actually having a little fun myself.”