For some reason, the good folks over at Charleston Grit sent me to Raleigh’s flagship Hopscotch Festival to listen to some of my favorite artists and chill with the cool kids.
I went to college in Chapel Hill—a 20-minute jaunt from where Hopscotch goes down—and for some reason I never went until now. I think it’s because in my late teens and early twenties I was DEAD SET on leaving Charlotte, the Triangle, and the South as a whole far behind so I didn’t really feel any need to engage the community. I don’t regret that, but since moving back from New York a year-ish ago, I’ve been having the time of my life rediscovering my home state.
To put this into context, I’m a black gay man who left New York City to reestablish myself in North Carolina in the era of HB2 and Black Lives Matter.
I don’t know either.
Anyway, Hopscotch reminded me of everything I love about NC.
It feels distinctly New South—I was so impressed by how poppin’ and cool and urban Raleigh felt but there was still this very Southern air of community. I arrived late on Thursday (because I’m a grown-ass man with a full time job in Charlotte) to a BASS HEAVY set by Kelela.
I might be getting a little too Grown-Ass Man, because the bass made my ears hurt, but mama worked the stage. I tried, to no avail, to catch Kingdom’s eye as he watched stage-side, but no hard feelings, boo.
I ran into all the right people from my tenure in the Triangle and felt immediately at home. I drank my lil’ vodka sodas in the background and just took it all in then headed over to Ruby Deluxe (my new favorite local spot) with Triangle nightlife legends Jermaine Landon and Breniecia Reuben (aka LuxePosh).
Day 2 of Hopscotch revealed some other layers.
I missed Anderson .Paak’s set because a #MimosaSituation happened, but made my way back downtown in plenty of time to let Erykah Badu bless me. Her flight from Dallas was delayed, but the DJ held us down with throwback hip-hop records.
I “blessed” kind strangers with palo santo while my friend bought and downed a $34 bottle of three-dollar wine. Anyway, we made our way mere feet from the stage. I eventually lost him when the wine set into his bones, but this was honestly one of the most important live music experiences of my life.
Photo Credit Hillery Terenzi
I’ve loved Erykah since 1997’s Baduizm dropped. Her new-yet-familiar brand of Southern Black funk spoke and still speaks directly to me. I’m not exaggerating when I say I know every song she’s put out damn near backwards and forwards (yes, even Worldwide Underground).
She sounded amazing. Her energy was amazing. Her floor-length braids were amazing. I got my life. And most other people did too. The sense of community was palpable.
But there was an element of disconnection from black entertainers and how they engage their audiences, and how black spectators engage performers. Two separate groups of white concertgoers physically tried to either move me or admonish me for taking up too much space.
Red Hat Amphitheatre’s security also yanked me out from behind because he thought my palo santo stick was weed. I get that not everyone likes to dance and sing along to legendary R&B performers who burn down the stage, but if you’re in the standing-room-only pit, maybe get the hell on somewhere else.
Can you tell how much I was enjoying Ms. Badu? Photo Credit Nader Hilmi
Ok—fast forward to Young Thug’s show at Memorial Auditorium aka The White College Undergrads Who Scream The N-Word Southeastern Conference.
It was weird. On one hand, I moshed and mobbed for Thugger. I love him, and he is a f*cking rockstar. He has stage presence, bonafide hits, and knows he’s the indie darling of the moment. I love that he is the kind of person and artist that the [overwhelmingly white] art world would typically ignore or outright decry as the death of hip-hop.
On the other hand, it was unsettling to see white people younger than me (because racism’s supposed to die out/no longer be a thing, right?) interacting with Blackness this way. I haven’t been to a rap show in forever but damn—is this just par for the course?
Do white people give themselves an unspoken pass to drop all the n*ggas they want when they’re consuming black art? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I really care I just know that it was… weird.
Anyway, after Thugger (and another vodka soda with lime because I am a Grown-Ass Man) I made my way over to Big Freedia’s set with just enough time to catch the last 10-15 minutes.
Initially, I was bummed that I missed most of her set, because I hadn’t gone to anything dancey at that point. But after hearing stories of [white] audience members touching her and her background dancers, I’m glad I missed it.
Thugger is a magical black boy. Photo Credit Austin Trevor
I’m also glad I didn’t have these conversations until after it was all over. I’m glad I got to mob to the glam-trap icon du jour without wondering why these sentient Vineyard Vines catalogues feel so comfortable screaming n*gger at this young black man on stage. I also want to not feel weird that I tuned a lot of this out in the moment.
It didn’t really hit me how gross it is that amphitheatre security felt it appropriate to physically restrain me because they mistakenly thought I was smoking.
It didn’t hit me how entitled and violent it was for these two groups of white strangers to curse and shove me for occupying space in a way they didn’t like. And why did the handsy fans at Big Freedia not realize that you can be a spectator without making a spectacle of the performer?
All in all, the festival was a great time. It mirrored my time in college in the Triangle in that there was so much engaging my sense of discovery, but not realizing how odd it can be to be black in those spaces until I’m a bit removed from them.
I know it’s not necessarily a festival organizer’s job to create inclusive spaces, but one thing I think could address the lack of diversity is having options to buy tickets to individual shows. Erykah Badu drew a fairly diverse crowd in part because you weren’t required to have bought the almost $200 wristband to attend—you could buy a ticket to that event only.
With that in mind, I might not have had to deal with a thousand drunk white dudes screaming the n-word if there had been some way to diversify that space.
All that being said, I rather enjoyed the festival. Everyone I managed to see actually performed their asses off (also shout out to Tennis Rodman and Mr. Carmack—GREAT set!).
If you get a chance to see Erykah Badu live, you HAVE to do it. While I wish everyone were more mindful of how they occupy space, sometimes, when the music is good enough, you don’t notice that you’re the only one in the room.
Austin is a twenty-something living in Charlotte, NC.