I wrote this a few weeks after the actual festival, but wasn’t sure if I should post it. At this point, this is post is for when I’m old and can’t remember what Hangout Fest was. Here goes…
Considering I had been planning and counting down since Feb., I was more than ready to get to Gulf Shores. Our group of 11 found a nice beach house, a block from the white sandy coast and a half mile from The Hangout. Perfect for walking to and from either destination.
The set-up for The Hangout was one of the main draws to the inaugural fest and proved worth of the hype. The check-in area looked similar to all the major festivals I’d seen with a canvas banner above the main entrance. The similarities stopped there. After passing thru security, I was immediately greeted with a giant “hang loose” sculpture and a giant turquoise beach chair, with the Gulf as a backdrop. The Hangout’s set up had 4 stages: Hangout aka main stage, Verizon, Playstation and Jambase stages. Hangout and Verizon all allowed your feet to sink in the white sand, while taking in the music. While Playstaion was located in a small parking lot and Jambase was attached to the Hangout restaurant for indoor seating and some sand.
Friday: After a day at the beach, some of us headed to the fest around 4:30. We were just in time to catch Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Amazingly, we were able to walk straight up to the front on the right side of the Verizon stage. Perfect viewing for the talented band and Robert Randolph’s ridiculous work on the slide guitar. Next up, we crossed from one end of the grounds to the other and took in Black Crowes on the main Hangout stage. I was surprisingly underwhelmed as Chris Robinson danced around like a hippie, but didn’t really do much else. Maybe the band picked up steam later in the set, but we left early to get a prime spot for Girl Talk. I still prefer Girl Talk shows indoors, but I don’ think you could ask for a more intimate festival performance. Mr. Gillis announced to the crowd that he almost didn’t make it due to flight troubles, chugged a beer and quickly got fans dancing. Light crowds again allowed us to move to the front row with ease and made for one of the most enjoyable sets I’ve seen him peform. Girl Talk got rousing reactions from Rihanna, The OJays and closed strong with John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Hopefully, next time he’ll play on one of the beach stages. Friday closed with Zac Brown Band which was great when they kept things upbeat, but the slow country jams made me exit before the fireworks. Good thing I could hear the final songs as I walked towards my temporary home.
Saturday: We caught the early set from Ozomatli, a latin/hip-hop band that was perfect for the sun and sand. One of the coolest moments of The Hangout came when the band played their last song two steps in front of us in the sand. Can’t say I’ve ever seen that at a festival. We took a break at the house until Rodrigo y Gabriela came on near 5pm. I knew they were a must-see, but couldn’t believe how engaged they got the crowd. Seeing their guitar skills up close and personal was unreal. Gabriela sort of stole the show between her percussion work on the base of her guitar and beauty. The duo looked genuinely happy to be playing on the beach and played like it on closer, “Tamacun”. Our group rallied at the Hangout restaurant/Jambase stage to refuel. Nashville-based band Moon Taxi was finishing their set and I immediately noted to check them out more. One of my most anticipated sets of the night came from the legendary Roots. I was pretty much in awe for their entire 90 minutes. Black Thought commands a crowd like few MC’s that I’ve seen, while Questlove quietly directed from the elevated drum kit. The unsung member may have been the tuba player though as he playfully won over the crowd. At one point, Black Thought took a page from Aziz Ansari and proclaimed “Who can top that shit? Who can top that shit?” Headliner John Legend really couldn’t match The Roots energy and pretty much crooned to the older folks in the audience. “Green Light” was a nice way to relax on the beach though.
Sunday: After sleeping thru what sounded like a hurricane, it was time to pack up for the day. A 10:30am check out made for a tiring morning, but we parked close to The Hangout and made our way to the first act of the day. Light sprinkles of rain at the entrance was only a hint of what was to come. ALO put on a surprisingly pleasant set at the PS3 stage as the precipitation intensified. Our group gathered at the main stage as Keller Williams strummed and bounced around behind a tarp of covered instruments. There I’ll always remember standing in a monsoon unlike I’ve ever witnessed. 6 hour drive plus a thunderstorm meant better luck next time. We later found out the fest had to be evacuated for a couple hours, before the music resumed. Sets from Matisyahu, Ben Harper, Michael Franti, Guster were delayed and admission to the fest was opened up to the general public free of charge.
Next time, I would most likely plan to go Friday to Monday, but we couldn’t really foresee rain so much in advance. I still saw most of the artists I wanted to on the first two days of the festival and didn’t even show up at the grounds until 4:30-ish. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a chance to see bands at a fest as close as I did at The Hangout. Attendance was nowhere near the size of Lollapalooza and the other big fests and it was one of the best perks of The Hangout.
Counting down ’til The Hangout Fest 2011…..