I'll guarantee you something, the two most relieved people in Raleigh, North Carolina, Thursday evening were Hopscotch co-directors Greg Lowenhagen and Grayson Currin -- who dodged a major weather bullet when that day's epic downpour coincided with the day the festival didn't have a big outdoor show. Fingers crossed their good-weather mojo lasts through the weekend, and they get fair (or at least dry) skies the next two nights.
Meantime, night one of Hopscotch III was a fine time. Durham's Wood Ear played a solid set of measured twang rock, far more rocking than the group sounds on-record. Tom Maxwell was fun as ever, especially the cautionary "Jacob Marley." And Charlie Parr's driving, droning country blues sounded like a product of deepest Appalachia (except he's from Duluth, Minn.).
But the unchallenged high point of the first night was Matthew E. White from the Richmond jazz combo Fight the Big Bull, fronting a 30-piece band to recreate his new album "Big Inner." No, that number is not a typo. White himself made it 31 people onstage, an ensemble that included eight string players, an eight-piece horn section and a seven-voice choir. This was something they'll probably never have the means to do again, and it was spectacular. Equal parts soul revue and Phil Spector-ish Wall of Sound, the music was a sinuous and overpowering groove reminescent of some of David Byrne's eclectic explorations.
Early on, Currin scurried out to bring water to the musicians, ducking down so as not to appear obtrusive. Now that is a full-service festival co-director.
Hopscotch continues Friday and Saturday, with day parties around town, Jesus and Mary Chain on City Plaza Friday, The Roots on Saturday (with an after-party to follow at Six Forks Pub) and a total of 175 acts in 15 venues around downtown. For preview coverage, see this story in Friday's paper. And we'll see you around and about.