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Hangout Fest: Perfection on the Beach Print E-mail
Written by and photos by HILARY CADIGAN   
Tuesday, 19 July 2011
What’s better than a music festival on the beach? Not much. And what happens when said music festival features a line-up that is literally perfect? It’s sort of like watching your own head explode, yet feeling no pain.

Hangout Music Festival


Gulf Shores, Alabama
May 20-22, 2011

Hangout Music Fest 2011 was a force to be reckoned with. The weather was ideal, the festival grounds were beautiful, and the consistently awesome performances were some of the best I’ve seen, ever.

The sandy terrain sculpted our calves and kept our minds free from worries of strange diseases contracted from the swamp-like mix of unidentified substances that typically coats the ground of music festivals. Note: you should, however, bring a pair of flip-flops to the festival grounds; about 50 percent of the total area is comprised of hot black asphalt. And don’t expect to quickly hop from stage side to ocean deep. While the fest does allow unlimited reentry for every patron, it took awhile to trek out the front entrance and all the way around since the ocean alongside the festival grounds was unfortunately but understandably blocked off. Cops on dune buggies hung out between the ocean and the fence, a barrier that made for some exciting people watching scenarios. This included several strung-out individuals attempting and in a few cases, succeeding, to dive over the rickety wooden fence toward the beckoning waves. This is just before these same individuals getting tackled by an army of blue-suited officers.

Last year, a mere 15,000 flocked to the Gulf Shores beachside to jam out to Trey Anastasio, John Legend, and The Roots, among others. This year, tickets sold out entirely, a rare feat for a festival in its second year of existence, capping attendance at 35,000.

The 35,000 cap was definitely a necessary measure, and at times I wondered if maybe they should’ve cut sales even sooner. While the two main beachside stages were great, the aptly titled Boom Boom Room tent was a bona fide cluster fuck. Because the sides of the tent were blocked off, the back was the only way to get in or out, thereby creating the dreaded bottleneck effect. Worsened only by the fact that everyone inside was dripping in sweat.

As such, despite all the hugely popular electro-acts like Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, and Girl Talk performing in this tent, I went ahead and avoided the Boom Boom Room altogether. Thereby missing a significant number of shows at which I’d planned on shaking my booty quite a bit.

The fact that I enjoyed myself so immensely despite these losses, is a testament to the greatness of the rest of the lineup and to Hangout as a whole. While the festival’s fledgling status was clear, particularly in the face of crowds more than twice the size of the previous year, its organizers’ attention to detail and overall dedication to Hangout greatness outshined its missteps by a landslide. This in turn catapulted the fest this year into the festival big leagues with ease. Yes, the porta-potty placement could’ve been better (wading through a crowd of amped-up festival-goers to reach a fleet of toilets located behind the main stage is not ideal for those in dire need of bladder relief). But there were many perks. How about fireworks every night, VIP-style accommodations for all (hammock and palm tree oasis, anyone?), and the freaking ocean at our feet - so you know what? I was willing to hold it.

Hangout’s success was made particularly clear by the reactions of the artists themselves, who repeatedly took time out of their all too short sets to note the general awesomeness of a music festival on the beach. David Grohl himself said this was the most fun he’d had performing in 20 years—and that’s a serious statement.

Another serious statement: Hangout Music Festival brought me what I can safely dub the most epic festival moment I’ve ever witnessed, or, if I may, The Greatest Festival Fook-Up of All Time. Bear with me.

So, we all know that in the world of music festivals, timing is everything. In order to keep such an intricately arranged event running smoothly, it’s crucial that artists arrive on time, deliver a condensed version of their typical set list, and exit the stage at the end of designated block. Festivals are as much if not more about the overall experience than any individual performance. As such, any dedicated festival-goer will expect the artists to adhere to what I will call festival etiquette, and will likely react in a negative fashion if said etiquette is violated (see: Kanye West, Bonnaroo 2008). Which brings me to my point. On Saturday at 3:00 p.m., one Cee Lo Green was scheduled to perform at the Hangout Stage. A large crowd eagerly assembled, but one thing was missing: Cee Lo. As the minutes ticked past, I began to fear the worst. At 3:15 there was still no sign of Mr. Green, and the crowd let out a communal groan as a festival organizer took the stage. As the guy made his way to the mic and began a feeble, mumbly attempt to connect with the pissed off crowd, I thought to myself, “there is no way this poor dude is going to leave this stage without taking at least one Miller Lite can to the face.”

I was wrong. Suddenly the guy smiled. “Well, it seems like Cee Lo Green couldn’t make it here” [cue the boos], “but we say, Cee Lo, forget you—we got the Foo Fighters!” Whhhhhhhhat? Enter David Grohl himself, exploding onto the stage like a bat out of heaven with a fist-pumping rendition of Alice Cooper’s “Schools Out” that had the confused but elated crowd eating from the palm of his hand in a matter of seconds. Grohl tore through a masterful selection of covers, including Queen’s “Tie Your Mother Down” and Tom Petty’s “Breakdown,” then paused. “We actually really like Cee Lo Green, and if he were here, I’d hope that he’d sing with us,” shouted Grohl, before launching into a spine-tingling rendition of “Darling Nikki.” Then suddenly, out of nowhere, Cee Lo himself appeared at the mic, clad in a velour tracksuit and diving right into his own down and dirty version of Prince’s ode to sadomasochism. As he stripped down to a white tank top and grinded with the mic stand like it was Nikki herself, it was clear that he’d earned full redemption from the ecstatic crowd. Then after a brief break, he re-emerged with the cherry on top of the sundae—a short but spot-on set of hits, including “Fuck You” and a rendition of “Crazy” (from his Gnarls Barkley days) that had everybody dancing madly.

Other highs of the weekend: a gorgeous set from My Morning Jacket, which included songs from their brand new album, Circuital; a magical, multi-sensory sing-along with the Flaming Lips; a rousing hour of pitch perfect blues-rock from The Black Keys; and a delightfully energetic Ween show (Gene Ween, pointing to the ocean: “Hey, everybody look, a boat!” [Everybody turns to look at said boat.] Gene Ween: “FUCK YOU, BOAT”). As one of my fellow festival-goers exclaimed, “There is something really epic about watching your favorite band move the waves of the ocean while feeling the sand between your toes as you dance.”

And what better way to finish off a perfect weekend of music than a performance from one of the most lovable music icons of all time: Paul Simon. Paul wrapped all 35,000 of us in a cocoon of sheer joy as he paraded his way through two hours of back-to-back gold, including cuts from his wonderful new album, So Beautiful, So What, and a generous portion of Graceland gems. To ease the pain of Paul’s departure and conclude what may very well have been the best weekend of my life, the sky exploded into an epic fireworks show. As the smoke cleared, all I really wanted to do was lie down on the soft white sand and bask in the beauty of it all, but sadly, the patrol cars were coming to clear us all away. Gulf Shores, Alabama—I’ll see you next year!

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