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economics of hipsters/hopscotch

September 15, 2010

Now that the dust has settled from Raleigh’s first Hopscotch Festival, everyone’s feeling pretty pleased about it–as they should. Everything seems to have gone off without a hitch and from what I can tell, almost every performer played to a decently sized, enthusiastic crowd.  I wasn’t able to go to the day parties, because on Friday I was working, and on Saturday I was sleeping off the excesses of Friday’s partying and after-partying, but I did wander through the tail end of the day party on Hargett, and it had the air of a family-oriented block party, with families out enjoying themselves right alongside the all-weekend revelers in the 18-34 crowd.   Hopscotch even got a write-up from Rolling Stone. So let’s call that a success all-around.

Before the fest, I heard some haters complaining about how there was “really only one band worth seeing” and that the $85 all-show pass wasn’t worth it; people called it lame and disparaged it in their status updates. I didn’t see $85 worth of my personal favorite bands on the lineup, but I did see enough interesting acts on the bill to convince me that this was a well-curated festival where I’d be able to show up and hear someone I’d never heard (of) before and totally enjoy myself (and I was right about that). But I bought my Hopscotch ticket for more than just the bands (which  ruled, by the way). I want Hopscotch to succeed because I want for Raleigh (& surrounding areas) everything that the continued success of Hopscotch promises.

I see it working something like this: Hopscotch, in the coming years, continues to have an intoxicating blend of noise, metal, hip hop, hipster dance music, and folk bands that are local favorites or obscure but really good acts from the other side of the country, or totally recognizable, big-time headliners. This gets it talked about a lot in blogs, tweets, and message boards. It gets people saying the stuff about Raleigh/North Carolina that we’ve all said about other states/places with cooler fests. “Wish I didn’t live so far away.” “I’d totally drive down there for this!” “Man, you’re lucky you live there.”  Meanwhile, the out-of-town bands that play Hopscotch notice that it’s nice to play shows in Raleigh and are pumped to tour through NC in the future. The already-healthy music scene here becomes outrageously robust.

The interminable Great Recession will drag on, and so will the extended adolescence of the Millennials.  Kids will keep graduating with liberal arts degrees and no direction or job prospects. They will cast about for someplace cool and cheap to move to while they “find” themselves, someplace with a good music scene and other cool, like-minded people. Raleigh will be on the list. Then, the bearded, tattooed, flannel-swathed hordes will descend upon the Triangle. They will want more dive bars, more burrito joints, more places with vegan food, more food trucks, more bike lanes. And lo, they will be a sort of cultural ballast, to keep Raleigh from tipping too far into awful bland boring yuppie territory: all these “young” people moving here for RTP jobs as developers, video game designers, “analysts” and “researchers” of vaguely science-y corporate-y things–I have run into them before. They’re into Rum Runners and hot wings at sports bars and big planned “mixed use retail” areas with those faux-industrial luxury loft apartments. (These have their place in driving and sustaining growth, but otherwise, blech.)

Raleigh already wants to harvest the hipster dollar. They’ve commissioned a “retail-strategy” for the downtown that says as much. Do some googling about Richard Florida and his theory about the creative class, and you’ll get conflicting opinions as to the wisdom of this particular strategy (see also Berlin–creative types in spades and they’re still “poor but sexy” with double digit unemployment), but RTP is growing with or without so-called hipsters. The success of ventures like Hopscotch (and perhaps SparkCon, this coming weekend) will, over time,  beget more successful creative/cultural ventures that will help keep things dynamic and unique and independently-run and community-oriented.

In sum, hipsters like things I like: good bands, good food, bike lanes, film festivals, dance parties, dive bars, recycling, local food, blue-state politics, the idea of living in an active downtown area, etc. (they also like some things I don’t like–I find their taste in fiction questionable) and I hope Hopscotch is wildly successful in the coming years and I hope one day the area gets light rail and high speed rail and we all live happily ever after in our “revitalized urban core,” or something.

(I hope it is clear that I don’t actually believe that Hopscotch will single-handedly do all of the above. I’m just speculatin’, prognosticatin’, like a crotchety old man in his rocking chair on the front porch.)

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