Hangout Festival | 05.15-17.15

Hangout 2015_75Perfect location, perfect weather, and nearly flawless sets from just about every act on the lineup combined to make a great weekend and one of the festival’s best years.



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“For all you people at home, you should be jealous,” Jenny Lewis said, speaking to the camera live-streaming her set.

Not to rub it in, but Jenny Lewis was right, and if you missed this year’s Hangout Music Festival you missed a party that was equal parts music festival, spring break, and summer vacation. Opening his headlining set on Sunday night, Beck regretted not getting into town earlier, saying, “Nobody told us it was going to be like this.” Perfect location, perfect weather, and nearly flawless sets from just about every act on the lineup combined to make a great weekend and one of the festival’s best years.

Friday, May 15

Friday’s music started early with some of the weekend’s best sets happening before some attendees even walked through the gates. “Gulf Coast Blues Boy” and “Reach for the Beach” contest winner Jamell Richardson kicked off the festival with his passionate take on the blues. The highlight of his set was an emotional tribute to recently deceased legend B.B. King, and his cover of King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” The weekend was full of artists paying their respects to King. In addition to Richardson, there were also tributes from Zella Day, DJ Windows 98 (Win Butler of Arcade Fire), Jenny Lewis, Umphrey’s McGee, and Foo Fighters.

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There has been a lot of discussion about the lack of female headliners at music festivals this summer, and the run of female talent in the middle of Friday alone was enough to give credibility to the whole dialogue. Friday afternoon saw powerful sets from newcomers Halsey and Zella Day and indie-rock royalty Jenny Lewis. When Halsey moved all over a stage that was too small for her large personality, it felt more like something you were a part of than something you were just watching. Speaking to that sense of community and belonging on songs like “New Americana” she sang, “We don’t feel like outsiders at all/ we are the new Americana,” a sentiment that felt honest and true. 

Across the beach, 19-year-old Zella Day delivered a set just as beautiful and powerful. If Day seems to have the stage presence of someone who has already been preforming for years, that’s because she has. Most 19-year-olds would just now be cutting their teeth and getting their feel for live performances, but Day grew up playing in her parents’ coffee shop and already has enough experience in front of crowds to feel confident in her unique style and charisma. Her stage presence and personality were charming, and her songs sounded even better live. Her set was highlighted by songs “East of Eden,” “Sweet Ophelia,” and “Hypnotic.” As soon as her set ended, I was already looking forward to seeing her again in the future.

The next act to play the beach’s main stage was indie rock darling Lewis (of “The Wizard,” Rilo Kiley, and the Postal Service fame). We felt like Lewis’ newest album The Voyager was one of the best of 2014, and her set on Friday was one of the best all weekend. With attire and a stage backdrop that were right off her album cover, she danced around, interacted with bandmates, charmed the crowd, and playfully dedicated songs to everyone from B.B. King to Manny Pacquiao. Highlights of the set included Rilo Kiley songs “Silver Lining” and “Portions for Foxes” and songs from her newest album “Head Underwater,” “She’s Not Me,” and the single “Just One of the Guys.”  Her set may have been my favorite of the weekend.

Across the beach at the other main stage, Umphrey’s McGee brought the funk, the jam, and the rock ‘n’ roll. They also brought out fellow Chicago native Lupe Fiasco for a debut collaboration of his song “The Show Goes On.” Playing for just 75 minutes was less time than a band like Umphrey’s McGee is used to, but they were able to fit in a lot of music without the set feeling rushed.

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The main stages alternated between great sets from indie-rockers Spoon and pop-punk band Paramore.When the lineup first came out, Paramore looked a little out of place, but they fit right in once the music started. They may not have been creating the greatest art out of everyone on the lineup, but lead singer Hayley Williams has a great voice and is a great entertainer, and they put on a fun show. (Not everything has to be Radiohead.)

Friday night’s headliners, the Foo Fighters, opened their set with a cover of The Who’s “Young Man Blues” and quickly transitioned into an energetic version of their song “All My Life” that saw lead singer Dave Grohl scream through the chorus and conquer every inch of the stage. The Foo Fighters blended their own hits, “Times Like These,” “Learn to Fly,” and “The Pretender” with the hits of others: “Stay With Me” (The Faces) with members of Zac Brown Band, “Miss You” (The Rolling Stones), and “Under Pressure” (Queen and David Bowie). Grohl recalled the last time the Foo Fighters headlined Hangout in 2011, calling it “one of the funnest times of our entire lives.” It was clear that he meant it and that the guys really enjoyed playing the festival. The Foo Fighters gave you everything you could want from a headlining set: a retrospective of hits, some deep cuts, songs from their newest album, collaborations (including their Sonic Highways song “In the Clear” with newly made “friends for life” the Preservation Hall Jazz Band), and fun covers that everyone could sing along to. They even played “Long Road to Ruin” for the first time since 2013, along with other singles “Big Me,” “Monkey Wrench,” “Best of You,” and “Everlong.” The Foo Fighters are cool enough that they could end their set with “Sweet Home Alabama” and it felt fitting instead of obvious or cheesy.

Saturday, May 16

Some of the bands on the lineup were made for the beach and as inevitable for the festival as Jack Johnson last year. That’s exactly how it felt with Saturday’s first group, Xavier Rudd & The United Nations. The multicultural group makes songs that seem to be inspired by their respective beautiful parts of the globe, so it is fitting that they were played in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Saturday’s other highlights included sets from Elle King (who donned an American flag jumper and switched between hilarious, raunchy, and engaging throughout her set), The Mowgli’s (who have grown a lot as a band since their last, still impressive set at Hangout in 2013), and Jeff the Brotherhood (their brand of rock ‘n’ roll is no-frills, but their stage show featured giant red car lot inflatables and green aliens). Figuring out whether to see Future Islands (a great band in its prime) or Talib Kweil (an all-time great) was a tough choice during the early evening, so our group spilt up and saw parts of Hangout 2015_Talib-Kweliboth. Future Islands have really hit their stride as a live band, and they were great on this day of the festival. Lead singer Samuel Herring works himself into such a frenzy for each song that his theatrics are as much a part of their live show as their music. Highlights included hearing “Seasons (Waiting on You)” and the apropos set-ending “Beach Foam.” Across the beach in the Boom Boom Tent, Talib Kweli presented his version of “real hip-hop.”  Before the show started the crowd began to chant the tune to The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” (like crowds do at sporting events) just to entertain themselves. When Kweli’s band came onstage, they joined in with the crowd and played the song with one of Kweli’s tour mates singing. It was a fitting intro since Kweli would eventually mix covers of Iggy and the Stooges and The Beatles in with songs from his own projects Black Star and Reflection Eternal.

Father John Misty had one of the best sets of the weekend as he played the Palladia Stage at sunset. His show—which had even more theatrics than his multi-layered songs—saw him sing to an inflatable swan, bring members of the crowd onstage to form a makeshift chorus, and jump into the crowd to blow bubbles. With his talent and showmanship, it is no surprise that he had to get out from behind the drums of the band Fleet Foxes and become the main attraction himself. Whenever people ask me if I like country music, I always say, “I like Willie Nelson, Taylor Swift, and Zac Brown Band,” to which I always get the reply, “Okay, so, no, you don’t.”

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It was clear what people mean by that when Zac Brown Band headlined Saturday night:  They are no normal country band. Their headlining set showed off a wide range of coverage that was too big for one genre. They played some of their mainstream “country” hits, some of their newer genre-defying songs, and then—like the Foo Fighters before them—Zac Brown Band tore through spot-on covers that included Led Zeppelin (“Kashmir”), Charlie Daniels Band (“The Devil Went Down to Georgia”), Metallica (“Enter Sandman”), Bob Marley (“Three Little Birds” with Xavier Rudd), Stevie Wonder (“Isn’t She Lovely”), John Mayer (“Neon”), and Queen (“Bohemian Rhapsody”). When it was over, Zac Brown Band had surprisingly played one of the weekend’s most impressive sets.

One of the highlights of the weekend came Saturday night after the festival had ended for the day. Win Butler DJ’d an almost secret after party at The Gulf in Orange Beach. Those lucky enough to attend got to share a dance floor with fewer than 300 people, including Skrillex, Diplo, Zac Brown, Samuel Herring of Future Islands, and Win’s wife and fellow Arcade Fire member Regine Chassagne.  (I’m going to be so confused if that group ever puts out an album together.)

Sunday, May 17

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Hangout is a vacation as much as it is a music festival. I have friends who go every year and only spend a couple of hours at the festival each day, choosing to spend most of their time at the beach or in the pool. But even though it’s a vacation, all the walking in the sand and running from stage to stage to catch as much music as possible can take its toll. That caught up with me on Sunday, and for the only time during the weekend, I missed a few of the early sets. My day started with Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls, and what a start it was. Turner, whose music fits roughly into the singer/songwriter category.  Vance Joy, another singer/songwriter who played later in the day, had a show that sounded great but was about as exciting as pushing pPlay” in your car or on your computer. That did not happen to Turner’s show. Frank and the boys incorporated elements of rock and punk shows by keeping the energy high and jumping all over the stage. They took that raucous spirit with them after their set as they ran off the stage and jumped into the ocean.

Next, the festival’s smallest stage played host to one of its largest groups for a special show billed as Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Friends. You can tell they are used to collaboration and residencies because they pretty much served as the resident house band for the festival, playing four times over the weekend and sharing the stage with everyone from the Foo Fighters to Beats Antique to Lake Street Dive. Their “and Friends” show also brought out members of Iration and Adam Deitch of Lettuce and Break Science. Per usual, their set was one large New Orleans jazz party.

TV on the Radio put on a show on the beach. Their set was noisy and loud and glorious. Across the beach, The Lone Bellow was beautiful in an entirely opposite way, slowed down, intimate, and soft.

Hangout 2015_Friday_My-Morning-JacketHangout decided to pack a punch to end the festival by cramming in Phantogram, My Morning Jacket, and Beck to close things. Loving My Morning Jacket but having seen them several times, I decided to split the time slot and see half of Phantogram. I rarely do this because I usually end up unfulfilled by half a set and wishing I had stayed at either one show or the other. But this was an exception. I got to Phantogram early so that I could see the beginning of their show from a good spot and then leave to end the time with My Morning Jacket. We got there early enough to be second row and we joined a big group of strangers playing “Catch Phrase” until the show started. Getting to know the people around us before the show started made it even more fun as we all sang and danced together when the music began. Everyone in the crowd was engaged and Phantogram’s music served as a backdrop for one of the weekend’s biggest dance parties. Hangout’s staff threw out giant inflatable pigs and hamburgers into the front few rows as we batted them around like beach balls and used them as props.

It was hard to leave their set when it was so much fun, but I couldn’t miss one of my favorite bands on the beach. We made it to a good spot for My Morning Jacket just as the sun had set and their light show was taking off, and we were rewarded with one of the best sets of the weekend. Jim James and Co. must have sensed our presence, because as soon as we got into place and carved out some space to dance they launched into fan favorite “Off the Record.” Their show not only had substance and depth, but also a light show big enough to make a rave party jealous. Songs from their new album, including “Big Decisions,” “Tropics (Erase Traces),” and “Only Memories Remain” (which they played back to back to back) sounded even better live. They ended their set on a high note, finishing with four of their best-known, hardest-Hangout 2015_Friday_Beckhitting songs (“Victory Dance,” “Wordless Chorus,” “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2,” and “One Big Holiday”).  My Morning Jacket is on tour this summer, and even if you can’t catch them on a beautiful beach, you need to get out and see them live. Please, please go see them.

Just about every other year, Hangout books a headliner that nobody thinks can or should headline (John Legend in 2010, and Jack White in one of his first solo festival headlining spots in 2012). This year’s version of that was Beck. When he was announced as a headliner, a lot of people thought, “What big act is Hangout going to book to be the final headliner?” In keeping with tradition, Beck silenced anyone who thought he wouldn’t be able to close out the festival. It helps that Beck has been around long enough and is diverse enough to have the equivalent of several careers. Beck’s catalog contains music from several genres, including alternative, R&B, singer/songwriter, electronic, and folk. He drew on each of them through his stellar, festival-closing set. Pulling from his deep history kept the set exciting as Beck shuffled through genres and hits, and as you sing along to songs like “Devil’s Haircut,” “Loser,” “Think I’m in Love,” and “Where It’s At,” you remember just how many hits Beck has. His set and the festival ended with a one-song encore (“E-Pro”) and with an explosion of fireworks in the sky. As people walked out of the gates for the last time this year, there was an excited chatter and an already prevalent eagerness to return. Hangout’s unique setting and experience make it one of the country’s best festivals, and this year was especially great.

During Friday night’s headlining set, Foo Fighter’s Dave Grohl called Hangout the best festival in the world. I don’t know if he really believes that, but either way, it’s hard to argue with him. | Matt Wallin

Photos courtesy of The Hangout Beach, Music and Arts Festival Facebook page.

Photo IDs: Bradley Collins, Taylor Hill, Chris Carrasquillo, Oliver Walker, Oliver Walker, and Chris Carrasquillo. 

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