Hangout Music Festival | 05.17-20.13

Hangout 75This isn’t just another festival. This is the best beach party in the world sound tracked live by the people you would be listening to anyway.






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 Ellie Goulding (photo: Ashlei Wallin)

Festivals spend all year battling for the title “Festival of the Year.” Hangout Music Festival doesn’t fight fair. What other festival provides a star-studded lineup and takes place on one of the best beaches in the country? Breezes of the perfect temperature cover your body as notes from bands fill your ears. It’s the perfect combination. The talent and the location combine to bring in a crowd that is made up of those who are there for a music festival and those who are just there for a good time. No matter which category you fall under, the Hangout Festival is a good time for everyone.

Thursday 05.17

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St. Paul and the Broken Bones (photo: Ashlei Wallin)

Hangout started out as a three day festival and by most accounts still is, but like Bonnaroo before it, the people’s demand for more music has led to a “pre-party” Thursday that is packed with bands. This year’s Thursday crowd was much smaller than the weekend’s and served as the perfect way to ease into the festival.

My weekend started with two soulful and energetic sets from St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Lead singer Paul Janeway has a background in preaching, and it’s easy to see when he gets red in the cheeks and calls on the crowd like he’s looking for an “Amen.” The guys played two sets and mixed their original songs (listen to “Sugar Dyed Honey Pants”) with covers of songs by Tom Waits, Otis Redding, and Sam Cooke.

After catching partial sets by Quixotic and Hayes Carll, I made my way over to The Hangout, the on-site restaurant that the festival is centered around and takes its name from. We were able to get an outside table so that we could enjoy our food and still catch a band. We watched a DJ set from The Madd Wikkid; unfortunately, he wasn’t really that “madd” or “wikkid.” Getting some good rest and service while we enjoyed a good meal was the best part. Our night ended with fun, laid back sets from Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, and Railroad Earth.

We left a little early so that we could beat the crowd home and enjoy our own headliner for the night: some time with our friends in the hot tub at our condo.

Friday 05.18

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Passion Pit (photo: Ashlei Wallin)

Friday was the day most people really started their Hangout Festival experience. I imagine that most people were excited about the weekend, got up early, and got out to the festival sometime in the morning or early afternoon. For us, Friday was the day that we lost our car keys at the condo and got out to the festival later than we would have liked. Losing our keys for a couple of hours stressed us out, and we decided to trade a few of the earlier bands for a few extra hours on the beach to recharge our own batteries and restore some of our sanity. We took advantage of the beach, the built-in stress reliever the Hangout Festival offers. After swimming in the ocean, taking a shower, and getting a good meal at the condo, we finally made our way back out to the festival.

We arrived just in time to see Jim James, the front man for festival giants My Morning Jacket. James and company opened up with perfectly articulated verses of “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.),” and then continued to play the rest of James’ “Regions of Light and Sound of God” in order and in its entirety. The set was closed out with “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” from My Morning Jacket’s last album, Circuital. As I watched one of my favorite musicians close out his set in what seemed like an odd yet fitting setting, I had a thought: If you don’t step back and look at this from a distance, you can miss the forest because of the trees. This isn’t just another festival. This is the best beach party in the world sound tracked live by the people you would be listening to anyway. And it’s amazing to see people who wouldn’t normally listen to this kind of music enjoying it in what is much closer to their natural element than to mine.

I was quickly snapped back into reality as I realized that I would have to walk to the complete opposite end of the beach to catch the next act, Grizzly Bear. The beach is a blessing, but walking in the sand all day is no joke. I recommend walking around your block or doing some calf raises before the festival in preparation. Grizzly Bear’s show was relaxing, and I’m always impressed with bands whose members trade instruments and vocal duties.

As Grizzly Bear closed out with “Two Weeks,” I booked it back to where I had started, on the complete opposite end of the beach, for Passion Pit. Passion Pit’s set was my favorite of Friday and may have been my favorite of the weekend. The electro-pop songs translated great to a live performance, and any signs of stage freight or anxiety that lead singer Michael Angelakos usually deals with were nowhere to be found. Passion Pit’s set was packed with jams and turned the beach into a giant dance party. Fans sang along to every song and either kicked up sand or splashed water in one of the nearby pools as they danced. One plus for this being a vacation festival is that a lot of the artists stay and party for the whole weekend. As I looked around the crowd at Passion Pit’s set, I realized I was standing beside Public Enemy’s Chuck D, who was there taking it all in. Chuck D did less dancing, and much less singing along than I did, but he looked like he was having a good time. Throughout the course of the weekend I also watched shows with The Weeks and Kings of Leon.

After Passion Pit’s amazing set, back across the beach, The Shins started as the sun set. I’ve always liked, not loved, the Shins, but their songs played at sunset were exactly what I needed. After jumping in the pit to take some pictures, we walked to the back of the VIP and media area and sat down on beach chairs that were angled for a great view of the stage and the large projection screens on either side. As is often the case, the sound was even better towards the back than up front. The Shins even brought out Jessie Baylin for help on several tunes, including “Simple Song.” Shins lead singer James Mercer said that earlier in the day he had stepped on a sea shell and broken it. My response? “Thanks for coming to Alabama and ruining the beach. This is why we can’t have nice things.”

Looking at the crowd during the Shins’ show made me realize that, for the most part, Hangout has less people obsessing over the music than they do people obsessing over the event. The idea is to experience, to see and be seen. It’s normal for people in the back not to know all of the words, but people up front didn’t always know the words to songs either.

On the other side of the beach (Did I mention that you do a lot of walking?) Friday’s headliners, Kings of Leon, drew a big crowd to close out the night. They came out a little flat but worked themselves into it, sweating by the fourth song and hitting their stride. Their set list included hits like “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody,” songs from their first album such as, “Molly’s Chambers” and “California Waiting,” and a brand new song from their upcoming album, “It Don’t Matter.” The show was good but not great, and could have been better if the guys seemed like they actually wanted to be there. Overall, the biggest bang was the fireworks show at the end that closed out the night.

Saturday 05.19

My Saturday started out much better than my Friday. I was at the festival with my feet in the pool a few minutes before Shovels and Rope took the main stage. Shovels and Rope is a husband-and-wife duo for fans of old school country/twang from when it was called Country and Western and for fans of the toned-down White Stripes. Their show felt locked in and special, maybe due to the fact that they used to vacation in Gulf Shores, and their parents were in the crowd. Watch their version of “Hells Bells” here.

I took a break from the main stages to catch The Mowgli’s on the BMI stage. I had been looking forward to this set ever since I first got their song “San Francisco” stuck in my head. The Mowgli’s have the community of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros without coming off as homeless or as members of a cult. “Love, love, love.” That’s the gospel message that The Mowgli’s preach. Between happy, dance inducing songs, the members of the group took the time to talk about “Random Acts of Kindness” and charities like Charity: Water. Their show was one of the day’s highlights.

As Saturday progressed, I went back to the main stages and was able to catch sets from Gov’t Mule (Warren Haynes killed it, per usual) and The Roots. It was fun rocking with the legendary Roots crew. The sound was greatly mixed, and Black Thought clearly annunciated every line. I now believe that The Roots band can play anything from rap to jazz. They are a jam band. This was the best Roots show I’ve ever seen.

After rocking out in the sun for a while, I decided to meet a friend for dinner at a nearby restaurant that was only one block away from the festival. We were able to sit down, order dinner, enjoy a good, hot meal and some A/C, and only miss a small amount of music. Our dinner break left us feeling recharged and ready to get back into the music. When I got back, I caught the second half of Kendrick Lamar. I was there just in time to hear the hits. The sound was once again mixed well, and Kendrick sounded loud and clear. Kendrick and the crowd were on the same page as he yelled out, “I don’t know if you came to see a show or a concert, but when you come to this, you come to a party.” The packed tent was a party and only started clearing out as the kids in neon shirts headed to Bassnectar and took the party with them.

Bassnectar was by far the biggest party of the weekend. His time slot may have had him playing the second main stage before the night’s headliner took the stage across the beach, but it was clear that he was a lot of people’s headliner. If this was in a typical venue, it would have been a sold out show. The party started as the sun was setting, and, amazingly, Bassnectar matched the energy of the packed crowd. Unlike a typical band where you might need to know the lyrics to appreciate them, anyone could appreciate the Bassnectar show, and it felt like everyone did.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ heading show was one of the weekend’s most anticipated sets. The crowd was full of diehard fans, old hippies, and kids who just wanted to see some of a legendary show before making their way back to beaches and condos to party. Petty had something for everyone, including covers of songs by Muddy Waters (“I Just Want to Make Love to You”), the Grateful Dead (“Friend of the Devil”), and even a Traveling Wilburys song that he co-wrote with Bob Dylan (“Tweeter and the Monkey Man”). Petty also poured through hits as though his intention was to play one of his greatest hits albums in its entirety. One of the coolest moments was a great crowd singalong to “Learning to Fly” that gave me chills. Petty ended the show with an encore of “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and “American Girl,” and Hangout once again ended the night with a fireworks show that lit up the sky as people hurried home to keep the party going.

Sunday 05.20

A late start and a short nap meant missing Beast Coast, which I had really been looking forward to. We parked and walked into the festival in time for Baauer. He teased “Harlem Shake” for his entire set but never did it. Good one, Baauer. I’m going to tease talking about your set and then not do it.

After leaving a lackluster DJ set, I headed to a side stage to see Moon Taxi, who I had seen and loved before. Their set provided I tried to get into their show this time, but they weren’t loud enough—the only problem I had with the festival’s sound all weekend. Their set seemed like it would have been fun, but I had to work too hard to even hear it. I tried a few different spots in the crowd to see if the sound would improve, but it never did, and so I moved on.

Stevie-Wonder-1Thankfully, Ellie Goulding and Imagine Dragons both sounded great on their respective stages and played to huge crowds. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ show was one of the best of the weekend. Karen O came out wearing a Michael Jackson shirt and wearing one red glove as they opened with their newest single “Sacrilege.” Yeah Yeah Yeahs proved that good music can be made even better when coupled with personality. Karen O has so much personality and stage presence that it’s impossible not to at least be intrigued by what she’s doing on stage at all times. And, she’s weird. Weird is always good. And does their drummer smile more than anyone else, ever? They joined in the spirit of Hangout, closing their set by rolling out a huge, inflated eye ball, the biggest beach ball of the weekend.

After three straight, loud, high-energy shows, it was nice to change pace with Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit as they packed out and closed the fest’s smallest stage. Their folk/country/rock take on Muscle Shoals music was the perfect way to unwind and relax. It was especially cool to hear “Alabama Pines” and other songs littered with references to places in the same state that we were seeing them in. As they closed out their set with heartfelt thanks, I left to grab some food. I walked out and grabbed a huge piece of pizza and found a place that was selling cookie cake. With 45 minutes before the weekend’s final headliner started, I was actually able to walk and not run and had plenty of time to enjoy my food before Stevie Wonder took the stage.

A few months ago when Stevie Wonder (photo right) was announced as the final headliner, the Internet seemed to let out a collective, “Boo,” or at least a collective, “Meh.” There seemed to be a sense of, “Been there done that” among the message board and music festival faithful. It came as somewhat of a surprise, then, when the weekend’s final show was the most packed show of the weekend. It may have been that everyone came to their senses and realized what a rare opportunity they had. It may also have been the case that the crowd was filled with people who didn’t want the weekend to be over. Stevie Wonder represented the last chance to hear music, and people really embraced it. That might be why the crowd stayed packed from start to finish. Other festivals drain you, but Hangout leaves you with energy to spare and wanting more.

Wonder started his set by walking out and playing keytar to the Marvin Gaye song “How Sweet it Is.” The stage was packed with musicians, and Stevie needed a 15 person band to create his sound. The set was a two-and-a-half-hour jam session where a set list was relative. Wonder would play planned songs and then say things like, “I know we didn’t rehearse this, but I want to do something,” before playing songs like “Is This Love” by Bob Marley. The set also seamlessly blended songs like “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” by Parliament, “Day Tripper” by the Beatles, and a tease of “Love the One You’re With” led into “Part-Time Lover.”

There were emotional moments for Wonder and for the crowd, as he told stories about his life and the motivation behind some of his songs. At one point Wonder told a story about his daughter Aisha (who is one of his backup singers) and then played “Isn’t She Lovely” for her as she cried. Another touching moment happened when he talked about his mother’s birth in Alabama. Wonder said, “They told her she wouldn’t be anything, and all these years later here I am playing for you here. I want to thank you for that.”

The show ended with jammed-out versions of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” “As,” and “Superstition.” Musically, the show had its highs and lows, but it was hard to complain about such an overall great end to the weekend and the fact that we were lucky enough to see Stevie Wonder perform on the beach. Wonder, playing for what was mainly a young crowd, was a gift from Hangout and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The night and the weekend ended with a final fireworks show.

Last year I left the final headlining show and drove the six hours home. I got to work about 15 minutes late the next morning and worked all day. This year I took advantage of the vacation, took an extra day off, and went to the beach and the pool and out to eat. My returning day to work was much more peaceful and productive. That’s one of the advantages to Hangout. Hangout plans to be back next year, and so do I. | Matthew Wallin

All photos, Ashlei Wallin

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