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Hopscotch: perfection, indeed

It is the nature of events like the Hopscotch Music Festival to either grow to oversized proportions, or wither and die. If Hopscotch's organizers could somehow bottle it and keep the festival right at this year's size indefinitely, that would be a very fine thing because it's really been perfect so far. The clubs have been crowded, but mostly not too crowded, with a great energy at shows around town and out on the street. Hopscotch has brought together a wonderful sense of critical mass -- the feeling that there's not only a lot of people on the town to hear music, but the right people. Bumping into folks I've not seen for a while has been half the fun.

My Hopscotch Friday began with a panel discussion on Simple Words: The Power of Narrative Songs. If you go to that link, you'll see that there were some heavy folks on that panel. So I mostly stayed quiet; said a few things here and there, but I mostly enjoyed having a seat next to Patterson Hood and listening to him hold forth. Everyone had great things to say, even though Stuart McLamb and Heather McEntire took some coaxing. I especially enjoyed hearing John Vanderslice (who has rocketed to a spot near the top of my personal singer-songwriter pantheon, between this panel and his terrific show later Friday night); and it was a special treat to hear a few songs by James Jackson Toth of Wooden Wand; I left there humming "The DNR Waltz."

Hopscotch could not have asked for more perfect weather, and it was a great scene out on City Plaza Friday evening with Drive-By Truckers and Guided By Voices. The Truckers were their usual magnificent behemoth of gothic rock grandeur, with an unusual aspect: This was the first time I've ever seen Patterson Hood onstage without a guitar in his hands. He recently took a fall and cut his left hand, which required 15 stitches. So he began the set standing at the microphone singing "The Fourth Night of My Drinking," playing air guitar. Trooper that he is, however, Hood called for a guitar after that song and gamely soldiered on.

Friday night was billed as the last-ever Guided By Voices show, which no one seems to believe. Let's just say they've said goodbye before. Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster came onstage to introduce the band, declaring that he would eat a fish sandwich for every beer the band drank onstage (it would have been a few) and noting that because this was a festival show, it would be a short set of "only" 71 songs. They actually blazed through 29 songs in a bit more than an hour, and it was ragged boozy fun. Somehow I doubt we've seen the last of them.

Then it was on to a night of club-hopping between the Berkeley Cafe (the aforementioned Vanderslice), Fletcher Opera Hall (the world's loudest, oddest, skronkiest recital with Swans) and Lincoln Theatre (Foreign Exchange with your ubur-cool host, Phonte Coleman). I was up way too late and awoke way too early; but it looks like another perfect day brewing out there, with daytime music and Flaming Lips/Superchunk tonight. I'll see you out there.

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