After enduring a round-trip total of 28 hours in a Rav4 and extreme sunburn, I managed to survive the 2nd annual Hangout Music Festival on the beaches of Gulf Shores, AL. The sold-out festival featured three days of incendiary music, including over 60 acts right on the Gulf Coast. Festival headliners included Paul Simon, Foo Fighters and Widespread Panic, and those were not even the weekend’s best sets.
Gulf Shores was the epitome of a tacky tourist town; think Myrtle Beach crossed with Wisconsin Dells, with an added pinch of southern hospitality. The main strip, Highway 59, was lined with attractions including over the top souvenir shops, an amusement park (featuring the Wild Woody go-cart track, definitely worth the ride), bold colored beach houses and neon-lit restaurants including oyster bars and shrimp shacks.
The festival itself was set on the beach, roughly 25 feet from the coast. Everyday the sun beamed down from cloudless skies, incinerating the flesh of thousands of scantily clad fans. Stumbling through sand, insane music fans and sweaty southerners while watching the likes of My Morning Jacket, the Flaming Lips and Ween made the Hangout Festival a priceless experience. When the overabundance of skin and scorching temperatures became too much, all one had to do was walk a block out of the festival grounds, and take a dip in the ocean. I was honored to represent Hidden Track in witnessing all the glory the Hangout Festival had to offer.
Day 1: Easy Star All-Stars, Umphrey’s McGee, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, My Morning Jacket
Hangout officially kicked off Friday May 20 to 85 degree heat and blazing sunny skies. I started my experience with some mid-afternoon, soul soothing dub-reggae by the Easy Star All-Stars (ESA). The seven-piece collective are best known for their dub renditions of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (Dub Side of the Moon), Radiohead’s OK Computer (Radiodread) and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band). ESA heated the afternoon with signature Dub Side and Radiodread selections. They also performed original songs off their April 2011 release First Light, the collective’s first full-length album of original songs.
READ ON for more on the first day of the Hangout Festival…
Following ESA I wandered towards the main stage for some Umphrey’s McGee. Umphrey’s drew a huge crowd in the midday sun. Fans of all ages boogied in the sand to improvisational instrumental medleys, including a metal break down accessorized with rapid arm thrusts and head banging. As Umphrey’s grew increasingly jammy, I began to wander the festival in anticipation of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Umphrey’s regained my attention when I heard the band cover Girlfriend Is Better by the Talking Heads, which I gleefully danced to while in line for water.
Seductive Grace Potter and the Nocturnals hit the Surf Style Stage in the blazing afternoon sun. Between her short sequined skirt, soul-rock vocals and wind blown hair, Potter had Tina Turner written all over her. This was my third time catching GP&tN this year, and I have to say the Hangout Festival was the band’s strongest performance yet.
GP&tN’s sound traveled through stages of rock and roll; they started out straight rock only to get hot and heavy, and switch to soul. From there the band grooved towards gospel roots, and then followed the ocean in psychedelic disarray. If that was not enough GP&tN organically flowed towards dark and sultry electric blues rock, and rounded out the experience with the heavy progressive rock number Sugar.
Throughout the performance guitarists Benny Yurco and Scott Tournet delivered ample reverb, framing every shriek Potter unleashed into the microphone. GP&tN got down and dirty pre Paris, (Potter’s self-proclaimed naughty song), and requested fans throw underwear on stage. “We need panties on stage!” Potter announced. “We’ll accept leather or lace! We’ll be accepting panties all night long!” GP&tN followed Paris with another sexed-up progressive rock groove, Medicine. The band closed their set with a fitting cover of Heart’s Crazy on You, the perfect ending for a truly dynamic set.
My adventurous first day culminated with a truly romantic performance by Louisville’s My Morning Jacket. By far the most enchanting experience of day one was MMJ’s Friday night performance. The quintet hit the stage in the sunshine and played into the sunset, casting a spell of psychedelic roots rock over the Gulf Coast. The band performed hits spanning their six studio albums, including selections off their latest release Circuital, which drops next week. Each song was loaded with powerful, thunderous drumming by Patrick Hallahan, fanciful slide guitar by Carl Broemel and animated guitar artistry by front man Jim James.
Each member frequented Hallahan’s drumming post, and congregated around him meshing powerhouse rhythms with surreal melodies. From a photography perspective, everything about the set was perfect; the lighting was flawless, the sun was gradually setting and the band animatedly moved around the stage.
While watching their set I was literally speechless and thoughtless; I remember turning to the photographer next to me, as both of us simultaneously said “Wow!” The only notes I took during their performance were: “Holy Shit!” “Wow!” and “This is what live music is about, the shiver.”
Here’s a gallery of Allison’s photos…