The Hangout Fest is one of the best festivals in the country. Year after year, they have perfected and crafted it into one of the most comfortable and uplifting festival experiences in the US. What I keep coming back to not just with The Hangout, but with other festivals, is the lineup.
After almost 10 years of attending, writing about and shooting photos at festivals, I’m getting harder to please. My biggest hang-up is repetition and lack of punch in lineups
One thing I’ve always loved about the Hangout Festival is that year after year they’ve always had that one act that galvanized me to get there. This year for me, that act didn’t exist. In the past it was The Foo Fighters, Paul Simon, and a year ago, Stevie Wonder.
Some names appear over and over at festivals and we’re so used to seeing them and hearing them that they become commonplace. Those would be The Flaming Lips, The Black Keys, Sound Tribe, The Killers, anything with Jack White and a host of other bands.
Then there are the bands no one has ever heard of. These are the up and comers who managed to get someone’s attention that are being cultivated to take larger stages at future festivals. You’ll see them in a tent one year at Bonnaroo, and two years later they’re on the main stage and you wonder why.
A lot of the music that I really relate to was created between 1950 and 1980. Much of that music was undoubtedly groundbreaking. I grew up listening to Jimi Hendrix, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Lynard Skynard, ELO, Rush and a lot of other great bands. Ten years ago, EDM (Electronic Dance Music) hit the music scene hard. DJ’s like Skrillex, Pretty Lights, Bass Nectar, Girl Talk and a few others have gained huge traction with the younger crowd.
I’ve always asked myself why? Is it just a generational thing? Is it just a pretty lights, rave and ecstasy thing? Why have DJ’s become so predominant? Then it occurs to me that most of them are mixing down the work of others, while adding their own flavor and timing. You’re hearing music you already love, but it’s blended with the tactile and aural experience of the rave and tuned by the deft hands and intellect of the DJ.
I think there’s a vacuum in the music world. The blending of hip-hop, rock, country and EDM has spawned some interesting acts but it’s also created a generalization of everything that feels awfully bland. I think the world is holding its breath waiting for the next rainmaker. When they start playing, I hope I’m there.
Regardless of these ponderings, I don’t see it changing any time soon.
What it boils down to is that as festivals experiences go, the Hangout Fest is one of the best. Like they say in Real Estate; location, location, location. In my mind, I always separate the festival experience itself from the music experience. From that standpoint, The Hangout will always win.
One shining star in the 2014 festival circuit is Riot Fest& Carnival in Chicago. Hands down it’s the best lineup of the year. It’s exactly the opposite of what I’ve been complaining about. There are bands I’ve never seen at a festival, like The Cure, Jane’s Addiction, and Cheap Trick, and bands that aren’t overplayed at festivals, like Weezer, Slayer, Social Distortion, The Afghan Whigs and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Pussy Riot will also be there. In case you don’t remember them, they’re the sensational band of Russian women who went to prison for their music. Now that’s a lineup.
In my first year writing about The Hangout Festival, I wrote the most critical article I’ve ever written about any festival. I created a bullet-point list of things I took issue with. As of this year, I’m happy to say that they have fixed or improved on every single problem I pointed out except for ocean access.
Entrance and Egress is much, much easier, water is easier to find, the police presence is much more subdued, there’s more shade to be found, there’s more food to be bought, and the grounds are larger making it seem less crowded. This year I was tantalized with the idea that festival goers were going to be allowed access to the ocean. Ask anyone at the festival why they don’t let you in the ocean, and their answer will be “Because someone will die.” How can you argue with that? It’s a huge liability. At the same time, you have to understand that the festival and the city are just deferring the liability onto someone else, in this case, the people who own the resorts and condos where festival goers stay.
When I arrived at the festival this year and found there was ocean access but it was being used as a marketing tool, I was really disappointed. I understand why they did it, but making people stand in line and get on someone’s mailing list for a chance to get in the ocean seems crass. The water slide was great but there needs to be a huge water feature at The Hangout Fest that’s free and allows everyone the opportunity to get wet as much as they want. It could be something as simple as a fountain or a wading pool, but in order for the Hangout Festival to really have the legitimacy that their name and advertising implies, it needs to be done.
Bonnaroo has always had the mushroom fountain. It gets used by a lot of folks and is universally loved while The Hangout Festival is still more desert than beach. Yes, I know, you can go in the ocean at your condo, yes, I know they had a water slide, but it just wasn’t enough. When you spend 10 - 18 hours in a day slogging through sand to hear music with the ocean off limits and teasing you just yards away, something is wrong.
The promoters of The Hangout Festival have done a brilliant job. These few complaints don’t really shadow the excellent experience I had there with my friends. I was influenced not only by my own experience, but by theirs, which was universally positive.
I did have a few favorite music experiences this year at The Hangout Fest. Capital Cities put on a raging daylight show from the Hangout Stage that had the entire crowd jumping in unison. Moon Taxi managed to play a full set of Rage Against The Machine songs to a rabid crowd in the standing room only Red Bull Sound Select Stage as their alter ego, People of the Sun. It seems as crowd buzz goes, Matt and Kim couldn’t be beat. I also can’t part without mentioning Amos Lee, Portugal. The Man, Blackberry Smoke, The Black Lips and St. Paul and the Broken Bones, all of whom put on great performances. I loved watching and hearing Queens of the Stoneage. Finally, I have to mention Outkast. Celebrating their 20 year anniversary with this new tour, their music is undiminished, and they were crowd favorites. Their music is a mixture of honest, rhythmic debauchery, and they did a great job closing the festival.
I love going to festivals. I love almost everything about them and I’ve been covering them for ten years. I do get bored sometimes, mainly when the music feels boring, but all in all, I’ve grown to understand that we don’t go to festivals just for the music, or the sun, or the ocean, we go to be around happy people. We go for the party, whether you’re drunk or sober, black or white, old or young. It doesn’t matter. When you’re there, the cares of the world are somewhere else, and even a bad day at a festival is better than a good day at work. The Hangout Festival has managed to take this ideal and turn it into a mantra, complete with its own hand sign, the Shaka, which left Hawaii, crossed the pacific ocean , came through the Panama canal and landed in Alabama.
A big part of my festival experience at the Hangout Festival is Spectrum Resorts, The Beach Club. I love this place. This was my fourth year staying there, and I wouldn’t stay anywhere else in Gulf Shores. It’s the perfect place to stay during Hangout, because it’s far enough away to have a secluded feel and close enough to be convenient. The first thing I saw when I looked out into the ocean this year was a pod of dolphins feeding just off the beach behind the resort. I’ve seen hundreds of stingrays migrating there and I’ve seen bioluminescent plankton as far as the eye can see on the Gulf of Mexico on a moonless night. The one thing I can count on when I’m working at the Hangout Festival is that the beach club will leave me feeling like it was worth the trip.
Also this year, in my never ending search for the perfect seafood, I landed at Mikee’s. Their menu is broad, detailed and everything was cooked just right. The prices (according to one of my friends) were very reasonable. Along with the Steamer, I can now add Mikee’s to my list of stuff I love about Gulf Shores, Ala.
The Hangout Festival – 2014 Lineup
The Black Keys, The Killers, Outkast, Jack Johnson, Queens of the Stone Age, Pretty Lights, The Avett Brothers, Modest Mouse, The Flaming Lips, STS9, Wiz Khalifa, Zedd, Childish Gambino, Amos Lee, Conor Oberst, Matt and Kim, Tegan and Sara, Portugal. The Man, Fitz and the Tantrums, Gary Clark Jr., Dawes, Capital Cities, Needtobreathe, Boys Noize, The Bloody Beetroots Live, Ingrid Michaelson, Blackberry Smoke, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Ozomatli, Bastille, Los Lobos, Chance The Rapper, Soja, Allen Stone, Tommy Trash, The 1975, ALO, Claude VonStroke, Andrew W.K., Black Lips, Moon Taxi as People of the Sun, Little Green Cars, Tom Odell, Balkan Beat Box, Valerie June, Mimosa, Caked Up, Wild Belle, RAC, Daedelus, Robert DeLong, heRobust, RDGLDGRN, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Shakey Graves, Bronze Radio Return, Wild Cub, Le1f, Reignwolf, Gemini Club, The Wans, Diarrhea Planet, Bad Suns, The Tontons, Desert Noises, John and Jacob, Ethan Tucker, Mystery Skulls, The Lonely Biscuits, Los Colognes, Empires, The Black Cadillacs, The Electric Sons, Wrestlers (formerly Bagheera), Dugas, Josh Farrow, Underhill Family Orchestra