Local Current Blog

I made a spontaneous Wisconsin road trip to see Hippo Campus, and I have zero regrets

Photos by Maia Jacobson

Yesterday, two friends and I decided at about 2:00 in the afternoon we’d make the hour-long, interstate trek out to River Falls for a free concert by Hippo Campus. We’ve all been Hippo Campus fans for some time now, but we missed most of their home shows this winter and have been foraging for any shows close to home this summer before we leave for college.

Aided by GPS, we pulled onto the campus of the University of Wisconsin at River Falls. There were bright red “FREE CONCERT” signs jammed in the ground, directing traffic to the amphitheater parking lot. It was just a short walk to the amphitheater: a very beautiful setup nestled in the middle of a wooded area that all three of us agreed had magical vibes.

We planted ourselves front row, stage left, and waited eagerly. Fans near the front mingled with each other, finding familiar faces from other concerts. If you looked closely, you could catch the four band members—Espo (Zach Sutton), Turntan (Jake Luppen), Stitches (Nathan Stocker), and Beans (Whistler Allen)—roaming the crowd and chatting.

Looking around at a very eclectic crowd, it was obvious who was there specifically for the band and who was there just for free music, which speaks to the importance of free concert opportunities; so many people are brought together in audiences that otherwise would probably not be together, all due to their communal love and enjoyment of live music.

The band was introduced and the crowd shrieked with excitement as the boys came out onto stage. They started their set with a song that’s not on their Bashful Creatures EP; despite the fact that some members of the crowd were unfamiliar with the song, the band were met with such enthusiastic cries of “I still love you!” that Turntan’s sunglasses slid off his nose mid-song.

They followed that first song by playing a familiar cut from the EP, “Souls.” As they began, to the right of me I heard a group of girls debating whether they should stand up or not. Soon, everyone was on their feet and dancing. Turntan called on the audience to sing with him, and they jammed so hard that Espo lost his hat.

There were a multitude of smiles across the stage throughout the whole show. On stage there was a lot of bouncing and head banging, hopping around in a circle on one foot, and tons of this awkward, inverted knee move that seems to be Espo’s favorite. Stitches got low and bobbed to the music. (In a video that surfaced on Twitter, he showed off some very fancy footwork.) Turntan tends to play off the crowd a lot: engaging in eye contact, smiles, and laughing a bit when necessary. As for Beans, there’s not much dancing you can really do behind a drum kit, but you can catch him playing so hard sometimes that he pops right out of his seat with every crash of his drumsticks.

Hippo Campus played a few slower songs that were said to be on their upcoming release, instructing audience members to find dance partners; it was very nice to hear something a little different than their typical rowdy, indie rock jams. During “Sophie So,” Turntan told the crowd, “Alright, let me see those hands—come on!” and the audience began bouncing in unison with hands waving excitedly. In fact, the ambiance was sort of festival-like.

A fan favorite based on the level of screaming that greeted it, “South” had everyone letting loose; the audience as much as the band really got into this one. They ended their set with “Sula,” another favorite. I had never heard this one live except for an acoustic rendition at an Electric Fetus in-store performance, and I was very impressed. They left the stage hurriedly and the audience waited, fans still cheering; there was one song, the title track from Bashful Creatures, they hadn’t played, and everyone knew they’d come back.

A minute later, the band ran back onstage. They had shed a few layers—all down to t-shirts now, and “Bashful Creatures” began. Turntan took precaution, saying there were bad words in the song, and the crowd cheered; he said, “No, bad words are bad!” When the expletives came, the audience eagerly filled them in for him. When it came time to say goodbye, there were a few bows, two curtseys, and one happy little foot-pop.

Afterwards the band members come out and generously met a ton of fans: signing merch, taking pictures, carrying on conversations. My friends and I met them for the second time in person, and I was surprised at how well they recognized and remembered us. It’s really nice to see a band connecting with fans, staying humble. It’s immediately recognizable that they’re whole-heartedly in this because they really, truly want to be. Thanks, Hippo Campus, for a great night.

Maia Jacobson is a high school senior who takes college courses at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities.