Hangout Music Festival | 05.18-20.12

Chris-Cornell-1w copyGulf Shores is in my backyard and I was jonesing for a festival, though, so despite my initial reservations I decided to go. I am so glad that I did. 
Chris Cornell. Photo: Matt Wallin

 

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Jack White. Photo: Kevin Bub

I’ll have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed when I saw the lineup for this year’s Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Ala. Maybe it’s because they set the bar so high last year (Paul Simon, Foo Fighters, Avett Brothers), or it may be that I liked most of the acts on the lineup but I just didn’t love them. For my tastes, it didn’t have the star power or the rare get that I was used to seeing at a festival. I had wanted to make this year my first trip to Hangout, but after the lineup dropped I wasn’t so sure. Gulf Shores is in my backyard and I was jonesing for a festival, though, so despite my initial reservations I decided to go. I am so glad that I did.

I have always approached music festivals the same way: See who has the best lineup, and then go to that festival. The weekend of May 18-20 and the Hangout Music Festival changed that forever.

As we headed south, I was slightly anxious and still had my defenses up. We arrived in town on Thursday around midnight. As we drove into town, the smell of the Gulf poured through the vents in our car and reminded me that we were about to be at a music festival on the beach. It was like aromatherapy that instantly loosened me up. The temperature was about 75 degrees, but it wasn’t like a normal 75 degree temperature in the south where it can feel like 100: 70 degrees in Gulf Shores comes with a constant, gentle breeze. It wasn’t hot, but it melted away the rest of my defenses. The temperature and location were perfect all weekend, and one of the true highlights of the festival. Bonnaroo may be bigger, and may have a more impressive lineup, but it can’t touch the weather.

Friday

I woke up Friday morning in an air conditioned room in Island Winds West, which is a short third-of-a-mile walk from the festival entrance. Being so close allows you to sleep later without missing any bands, and lets you come back to the room for a break or to eat throughout the day. This is a huge plus.

As we walked in, we were impressed with how small the crowd seemed. While festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo can have as many as 100,000 people, The Hangout only has around 35,000. It can’t be overstated how much that improves the experience.

Each day was packed with bands. My Friday featured sets from Hey Rosetta!, Switchfoot, Rebelution, The Alabama Shakes, Yelawolf, Coheed & Cambria, Dawes, Paul Oakenfold, Chris Cornell, Wilco, and Jack White.

Friday’s first band Hey Rosetta! played the Xbox tent that would later host mainly EDM and rap. Last year’s Xbox tent was on a hot parking lot; this year’s version featured fresh sod, which helped the tent feel cool the entire weekend. They were playing unopposed but had a small crowd for their set as people filtered in and got acquainted with the festival grounds. Switchfoot kicked off the Letting Go stage. Lead singer Jon Foreman spent more time in the crowd than he did on stage. Their covers of “Sabotage” and “Been Caught Stealing” really got the crowd pumped and singing along. It was interesting seeing a self-proclaimed Christian singer like Foreman omitting the “Oh my God” portion of “Sabotage” in keeping with his faith. (Side note: Was that Tony Cliffton on the drums? Rebelution was the first band to play the main stage. They looked like they were having a good time, and their crowd was packed. Their blend of reggae was a great way to open up the main stage and sounded great echoing over the beach.

The Alabama Shakes got a pretty early time slot for a band that has been blowing up like they have lately, and it was packed. Their set opener “Hang Loose” should be the official song of the Hangout. Lead singer Brittany Howard strutted around stage, punching on the guitar and channeling the swagger of James Brown as she played to the crowd and howled into the mic. She’s so confident and cool; their whole set was rocking. It was packed, but it was still possible to get a good spot.

At most festivals, you’ll have to make a decision between people playing at the same time. It’s hard if it’s two bands that you love. When it’s bands you don’t care for, in the case of acts like Yelawolf and Coheed & Cambria, it’s not as hard. I decided to split my time between the two.

There wasn’t a lot of rap at Hangout this year, but Gadsden, Ala., native Yelawolf did his best to represent the genre. He must have said something about being from Alabama 100 times. (I think he’s from Alabama.) The coolest part of his set was a Beastie Boys tribute. After part of his show, I decided to check out Coheed & Cambria. I had never been a fan of Coheed’s music but I was really impressed by their set. It was an epic production and they sounded amazing. I doubt I’ll check them out again anytime soon, but if I ever see them at a festival again I’ll make sure to go. Their show was a highlight for a lot of the people I talked to for the rest of the weekend. It was cool seeing them cover Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” with lead singer Claudio Sanchez’s wife Chondra Echert doing a good job filling in for Kimbra.

Dawes sounded great doing “A Little Bit of Everything” and a cover of the John Lennon song “Jealous Guy.” Their acoustic-based music reminds me of Wilco. Lead singer Taylor Goldsmith spent most of the set making funny faces and really playing to the crowd. Their gentle music mixed with the gentle breeze for a great combination.

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JPaul Oakenfold. Photo: Kevin Bub

I decided to catch about 30 minutes of Paul Oakenfold before Chris Cornell started. After some slow shows, it seemed like a lot of people were ready to rage. I was looking forward to a nice change of pace, but even after the music, started it took Oakenfold forever to get into his set. I don’t know if he was busy with some technical issues or couldn’t be bothered to interact with the crowd. The music sounded good, but he seemed disinterested most of the time. Remixing festival headliners Jack White and Red Hot Chili Peppers was a nice touch, but I didn’t want to risk missing Chris Cornell for a mediocre Oakenfold show so I left his set. Seeing Chris Cornell was one of the highlights of the day. Cornell played at the time of day when the sun is starting to set, but it’s not quite dusk. He played solo, stripped-down versions of songs from his solo career and his bands Temple of the Dog, Soundgarden, and Audioslave. His versions of “Hunger Strike” and “Like a Stone” sounded the best.

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Wilco. Photo: Kevin Bub

Wilco played after Chris Cornell. Wilco is one of those bands that has so many albums that you could love 20 of their songs, go to their show, and not even see one of the 20 songs you love. That’s happened to me a couple of the times that I’ve seen Wilco. So for me, seeing “Jesus, Etc.,” “Whole Love,” “Heavy Metal Drummer,” “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” and “I’m Always in Love” all in a row was amazing.

When Jack White was announced as the third headliner, a lot of message board folks wondered out loud whether or not he was big enough to handle it by himself. Any doubts anyone had have been put to rest. White’s set blazed through songs from his recently released solo album, The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, and Rome. His set took advantage of two backing bands, the first the all-male Buzzards. The Buzzards were really high energy, highlighted by a drummer and keyboard player who stood up, jumped around, and slid all over the stage while they played. White’s all-female band called themselves The Peacocks; they rocked, too, but spent most of their time being laid back and following Jack’s lead. The new album plays live like a lot of older White Stripes stuff and sounded great. Jack White closed his set with “Seven Nation Army” as fireworks exploded in the background.

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