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Interactive panels enrich Hopscotch experience

To most, Hopscotch Music Festival means nothing more than its title—that is, a long three-day stream of concerts and gigs in downtown Raleigh. For those seeking to supplement their festival experience with more than just music, however, Hopscotch will again present a series of daytime panels featuring musicians, writers, artists and critics discussing everything from narrative songs to the burden of traditional musical influence.

The panels, together formally titled the Edward McKay Used Books & More Artist and Author Series, aim to engage music affiliates and the general public in conversations about the interdisciplinary nature of music in pop culture. With titles such as “Present the Past: Honoring and Outstripping Influences,” “Simple Words: The Power of Narrative Songs” and “The Bubble: The Limits of Pop Music,” the panels center around specific themes that invite multiple interpretations.

Grayson Currin, the music editor for the Independent Weekly and the curator of Hopscotch, said the idea for the panels came about organically in discussions with his colleague and festival director Greg Lowenhagen.

“Greg and I are always in this battle to come up with cool ideas to make the festival better,” Currin said. “[Last year] we had friends coming into town who are writers, and we tried to find a way to put them into conversation with some of the bands [playing at Hopscotch].”

Last year, the festival’s inaugural run featured similar panels dealing with different themes. One panel focused solely on the poetry and artistic experimentation of Black Mountain College in the 1940s and 50s, featuring a live re-creation of “happening,” a multimedia experiential art form pioneered by John Cage and Merce Cunningham. Another panel dealt with the roots of North Carolina-based music, while the third explored the social influences of hip-hop. Panelists included Megafaun band member Phil Cook, Duke Professor of African and African-American Studies Mark Anthony Neal and Broken Social Scene band member Andrew Whiteman.

This year, Currin and Lowenhagen hoped to bring together a similar conglomerate of speakers to work with new ideas.

“The [panel] ideas come from thinking about the bands we have here and looking at the schedule and when they’re in town,” Currin said. “We try to think, ‘What’s a conversation we can create that’s interesting that could shed some light on something?’ Then we stare at the bands’ schedules until something pops out.”

One of those bands is Mount Moriah, whose lead singer and lyricist Heather McIntire will participate in the panel “Simple Words: The Power of Narrative Songs.” McIntire, who holds a BFA in Creative Writing, is fascinated by the power of storytelling through music.

“To me, narrative songwriting is basically storytelling, and that’s something that is particularly rooted in Southern folk/Americana music, which—in writing for Mount Moriah and growing up in the South—I’m deeply inspired by,” McIntire said.

She also stressed the benefits of incorporating the three panels into the Hopscotch festival at large.

“As an artist, [these panels] offer a forum where we can communicate our creative processes publicly, learn from each other and learn about ourselves,” McIntire said. “For festival attendees, they reveal the complexities of making music and the idiosyncrasies of the artists who make the music we listen to.”

Brian Howe, a freelance arts and culture writer and editor of Duke Performances’ blog The Thread, shared a similar sentiment, praising the types of audiences in the Triangle area that would be drawn to these panel events.

“To me, the inclusion of these panels speaks to The Triangle’s impulses for conversation and community-building, which are what make it so special and have kept me living here for so long,” Howe said. “It’s a place that it big enough to feel justly proud of its arts scene, but not so big as to be cynical, and in arts presenters here I find a real energy and verve for pushing beyond the practical mechanics of presenting and engaging the community in novel ways.”

The Edward McKay Used Books & More Artist and Author Series panels will be held at 3 p.m. on Sept. 8, 9, and 10 at the Raleigh City Museum, and are open to the general public.

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