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Hopscotch IV -- it's on

Downtown Raleigh's music-festival season kicks into high gear this weekend with the fourth annual Hopscotch Music Festival, which is at a crucial stage of development. How this year's model performs will have a lot to do with the shape and scope of future Hopscotches, meaning that organizers are praying for fair skies and big crowds. And if you're wondering which of the 170-plus acts you should try to catch this weekend, we've got suggestions -- check those out here.

Also, yours truly will be participating in a panel discussion that’s part of the Hopscotch Cultural Series , “On the road – again: The realities of touring for a living.” The panel features a few other writerly types plus members of Future Islands, Mount Moriah, Pig Destroyer and Nightlands. That happens 3-5 p.m. at the City of Raleigh Museum, so come by and say howdy.

Meanwhile, Thursday's opening night passed agreeably enough, starting with Brooklyn's The Dreebs -- just another drums/electric-violin/guitar-with-crowbar power trio -- who opened with the most unsettling blast of noise I've heard in years. Once I was able to adjust to their wavelength, it was pretty cool. Following that, I caught bits and pieces of locals Kingsbury Manx (stately as ever, wish I'd heard more), Beloved Binge (spirited and adorable) and bluesman Ironing Board Sam (excellent, rocking a pink suit, although the overblown mid-set history lesson about his career that some dude got onstage to do was a major, major buzzkill).

Night one concluded with local heroes the Rosebuds playing their first show in two years by covering R&B singer Sade's 1992 album "Love Deluxe," which might be the least-likely pairing this side of red beans and chocolate. Given Rosebuds' scruffy indie-rock, you might have expected them to goof on "Love Deluxe" a bit; but guess again. Playing with an expanded lineup featuring Matt Douglas from Proclivities and Small Ponds blowing a godlike saxophone and flute, Rosebuds co-leaders Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp served up very earnest and straightforward versions of the album's songs, recital-style.

Check out our opening-night photo gallery. We'll be back with more as the weekend progresses...

Good works: Megafaun's members pay tribute to Ry Cooder

Whenever you're trying to pick and choose which shows to attend, here's a pretty handy rule of thumb: If any of the Megafaun guys are involved with something in any capacity, it's going to be worth your time. Friday night brings the latest example, "Boomer's Story: A Celebration of Ry Cooder," inspired by the iconic and eclectic California blues-rock man. For "Boomer's Story," Megafaun's Phil Cook assembled a local supergroup he calls the Guitarheels (featuring members of Chatham County Line, Hiss Golden Messenger, Mount Moriah and others) to present a tribute to Cooder's 1972 cult-classic album, which remains much-beloved even though it was never anything like a "hit."

The show happens Friday at Saxapahaw's Haw River Ballroom. Meantime, a short documentary film about the project hit the interwebs today -- check that out here.

ADDENDUM: There's a very nice video from the show making the rounds.

Hopscotch III: Day Three

Weather-wise, this year's Hopscotch Saturday was the best and worst of times. The afternoon could not have been more perfect for drifting from one day party to another, catching snatches of bands playing outdoors on the streets of downtown Raleigh -- Mount Moriah, Double Negative and Megafaun among them. It was a thrill to hear the iconic dB's do "Love Is For Lovers" and "Ask for Jill" back to back (which might rank one-two on my personal dB's top-10 list); and I got lucky with Megafaun, too, when they did my favorite song of theirs, "The Fade." Lovely as always, if you go in for heart-stoppingly lovely.

Alas, Saturday evening was when the bottom dropped out of the sky for the second time in three days, a downpour that threw the City Plaza main-stage schedule into chaos. For a while, it seemed in doubt as to whether or not headliners the Roots would be able to play. But they finally got started about 9:45.

It was worth the wait, too, because the Roots were capital-A Awesome. If you missed them Saturday night, well, it sucks to be you. It felt like watching George Clinton's P-Funk All-Stars in their prime, or the Meters. The lineup included a sousaphone, which made for all sorts of cool second-line rhythms. Black Thought was a wonder on the mike, and ?uestlove his usual amazing self on the drums.

But I thought the real star of the show was guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas, who flat stole the show with an incredible version of "Sweet Child o' Mine." It rocked as hard as the Guns N' Roses original, but with The Funk and even a sense of humor. The whole set was like that, as the Roots bounced back and forth between hot funk, birth-of-the-cool bop and crushing blues-rock. And not only were they tight as can be, they pulled off stage moves the '60s-vintage Temptations would have envied.

I think my favorite part was watching the Roots pogo up and down during a second-line funk workout, and remembering Chapel Hill's Superchunk doing the same thing during a revved-up punk song on the very same stage at last year's Hopscotch. Getting you in touch with the random interconnectedness of all things is what a festival is supposed to do.

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