This year's Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shore, Ala., was a bare and burned skin bizarre of music and sand the likes of which the world has never seen. Perfect weather and gentle breezes, punctuated by sea turtles in the sand made what was last year a sometimes laborious grind, a picture perfect outing in one of the most beautiful places I’ve been.
The outcome of this year’s festival is proof that festival organizers A.J. Niland (Huka Entertainment) and Shaul Zislin really care about and listen to the people who attend The Hangout. I counted five water filling stations on the map, compared to last year's poorly-placed one. What might have been last year’s biggest problem, transportation, was streamlined and heavily fortified. There was more shade to be found, more food and the local police seemed more relaxed.
Gone were last year's one and two-hour waits, save for at the very end of the festival when 30,000+ people seemed to leave the grounds all at once.
The festival grounds were expanded to include all of East and West Beach Blvd, and the Surf Style store, which to my eye increased the grounds by at least a third. Not only did it increase the size of the grounds, but it also gave patrons the ability to get out of the sand and walk on solid ground. This expansion thinned out the crowd considerably, and I think made a much happier Hangout for everyone.
I was a little disappointed in the lineup this year. Admittedly, it would be hard for them to acquire another artist with a history as varied and potent as Paul Simon, but they did a good job of pulling in a wide variety of smaller acts and a few larger ones.
Headliners this year were Jack White, continuing his new tour which kicked off at Track 29 in Chattanooga, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and show closer Dave Matthews.
We didn’t have our “Paul Simon” artist this year, but the hugely diverse lineup of smaller artists made up for it.
One local band which has been generating a lot of buzz lately, “Machines are People Too,” played at The Hangout this year, Saturday on the BP stage. The indie dance-pop band has an infectious beat and lives up to their name judging by the reaction of the crowd at Hangout.
Skrillex managed to bulge the Xbox tent like a puffer fish and turned it into a madhouse of flying inflatable sharks and sweating, dancing kids. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time there, but I’m dead set on checking them out at Bonnaroo.
I spent some time with Oliver Charles (drummer), who I became friends with at Bonnaroo in 2007 when he was there playing with Ben Harper. Even though we live on opposite coasts, we’ve managed to stay close and when I manage to grab a few minutes to hang out with him after a show, it’s always nice. Oliver is something of a cult hero to a lot of drummers at his level and is currently playing with Gogol Bordello, who are on a 30 date tour which is taking them everywhere from Portland Maine to Moscow. Their website describes their music as “Gypsy Punk” but listening to it live makes me think it’s more of a hybrid between gypsy punk and polka-unicorn rock on Adderal and red wine. Whatever it is, Eugene Hutz, the singer, and the rest of this 8 person ensemble always manage to work the crowd into a frenzy.
The Flaming Lips, once again, did their experimental “Dark Side of the Moon” show, which is their interpretation of the hugely famous Pink Floyd album, and it was fantastic.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers closed Saturday night. They sounded great and for a band that’s been making music since the late 80’s, they’ve managed to grow not only more musically mature, but to maintain their frenetic stage energy.
My favorite show other than Gogol, was probably Dave Matthews. I’m late showing up as a DMB fan, and I’ve skipped his shows at a couple of festivals. I started listening to him about a year ago, when I managed to pick up his entire anthology at a pawn shop for about five bucks, and I’ve been hooked since. He closed Hangout this year in high style, putting on an electric show that left everyone glad they showed up. Tim Reynolds, the other guitarist in DMB, impressed me more than I thought possible when he picked up the electric guitar. All in all, it was a great night, capped off by a fireworks show that lit up the sky and the ocean for 15 minutes.
My biggest problem this year wasn’t with the festival itself, it was getting motivated to leave my condo at Spectrum Resorts, “The Beach Club”, 12 miles away on the secluded white sand beach at the end of the Island. I really didn’t have a chance last year to indulge in the beauty of the location because of the frenetic pace of the festival. I decided to take it a bit slower this year and invited some family to join me, and we wound up becoming captivated by the amenities at The Beach Club. The condos are well appointed, with full kitchens, laundry and all the comforts of home, but the miles of white sand beach just can’t be equaled, at least not within an 8 hour drive from Chattanooga.
The weather was pristine, and when I stepped out into the surf on Friday, I saw hundreds of stingrays migrating or feeding just feet off shore. They swam in formations like birds, one after another, along with dolphins and other sea life. Last year the Beach Club didn’t have a shuttle to the festival site, but this year, they had a bus dedicated to running the 12 mile stretch back and forth until all of their residents were back safe and it made for a relaxing stay and festival experience. The Beach Club is secluded, but with four swimming pools, a restaurant, tennis courts and a full spa right on location, there’s really no reason to leave.
My favorite part of the Hangout Festival didn’t happen at the festival itself, but at The Beach Club, when I swam out into the ocean at 2 am Saturday night, as tired festival goers lounged on the beach. The moon was new and the sky was dark, and as I swam in the salty water, I realized I was surrounded by bioluminescent plankton. The water was warm and time stopped as I floated with millions of tiny glowing sea creatures.
One thing I didn’t grasp last year which I fully understand now, is why A.J. Niland and Shaul Zislin chose this location for their festival. Gulf Shores is a magical place and the time I spent there left me feeling grounded and more relaxed than I have in months.
It’s obvious that the promoters and everyone else involved in The Hangout, put a great deal of thought into this years festival and the results were fantastic. This is a five star review, not just for the great job done by Huka Entertainment, setting up The Hangout, but for all the great people at The Beach Club.
I lived in Hawaii for four years and in Florida for a couple, and the one thing I miss more than anything living in Chattanooga, is the ocean. I’m glad to know now, that such a beautiful place is just down the road.
"You've got one tiny moment, in time, for life, to shine, to shine, to burn away the darkness."
The Hangout Festival 2012 Lineup
Dave Matthews Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack White, Wilco, The String Cheese Incident, The Flaming Lips, Skrillex, Chris Cornell, Dispatch, Kaskade, Steve Winwood, STS9, Umphrey's Mcgee, Gogol Bordello, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Mac Miller, Flogging Molley, Coheed & Cambria, Paul Oakenfold, G. Love and Special Sauce, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Randy Newman, Young the Giant, Dr. Dog, Cage the Elephant, Dawes, Alabama Shakes, M. Ward, Yelawolf, Switchfoot, Rebelution, Julian Marley, Zeds Dead w/ Omar Linx, Mavis Staples, Shpongle, The Greyboy Allstars, Gary Clark Jr., Allen Stone, Big Freedia and the Divas, The Devil Makes Three, Paper Diamond, Futurebirds, Tribal Seeds, Delta Spirit, Heartless Bastards, Hey Rosetta, Sleeper Agent, Givers, The Lumineers, Archnemesis, Rich Aucoin, Jamie Bergeron & The Kickin Cajuns, The Q Brothers, School of Rock, Big Bang Boom, Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights, Jim Cosgrove, John Yost's Rhythm Revolution, Peter Distefano & Tor, Machines Are People Too, Flannel Church, Fort Atlantic, Zoogma, Space Capone, Gravity A, ZNI, Cherub.