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Hanging Out as an Outsider

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The breeze is strong with the type of subtle chill that can only be found when near the ocean’s roar.  The humidity of recently passed thunderstorms lingers in the air only to be pushed away by the gusts of this breeze.  These two meteorological phenomenons dance back and forth in a rhythmic manner becoming of the reason we have all descended upon the pristine white sands of Gulf Shores, AL. Music fans from all corners of the United States and beyond have joined in with their SEC country brothers and sisters for a one of a kind musical experience.  A top-flight, professionally produced mega music festival literally on the beach.  One will not find a finer venue to host such an event anywhere on the planet. Established in 2010 by the local proprietor of The Hangout Bar and chain of Surfstyle shops, Shaul Zislin, Hangout has become a cherished destination music festival for good reason.  The wide conglomeration of music fans that attend represent all ages, demos and tastes.  This is mirrored by the eclectic artist line-up that has evolved in step with the festival’s renown.

Rock, pop, electronic, hip-hop and even Americana are booked.  Six stages provide ample opportunity to showcase these acts.  Years past have included headline names such as Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Foo Fighters, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Matthews Band, OutKast, The Killers and Kings of Leon to name a few.  This year’s big names included Lenny Kravitz, Florence+The Machine, The Weeknd, The Alabama Shakes and Calvin Harris.  As the festival has aged, it has pivoted away from the vintage rock acts that it built its foundation on.  The 2016 line-up was the most pronounced with regard to featuring more dance/pop/electronic than rock.

I’ve been wanting to attend this event from its inception, and this was the first year my star’s aligned to make it happen.  I bought my tickets and applied for press credentials with the line-up sight unseen.  As the line-up was unvieled, I quickly seized upon two artists in particular that we cover on this website:  Jason Isbell and Leon Bridges.  I was excited and anxious to see how they would fit in alongside predominantly pop/dance peers and a crowd of attendees ready to rage.

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THE GETTING THERE

The sky was still black as I hopped aboard the DFW remote parking shuttle bus sandwiched between a middle-class family bound for Orlando and a prematurely gray-headed salesman headed to Ohio.  Small talk pleasantries take on a different texture and tone at 5AM.  Ours mostly centered on the growing TSA crisis and half-hearted concerns about making our flights. As the grizzled graveyard shift tram driver squinted through bifocals from the first Bush administration, we spiraled around the menancing concrete jungle gym that is a major metropolitan airport’s road system. Slamming to a halt at each stop for each terminal despite the fact that the three of us were all heading to B.  Or so I thought.  I bounded off the bus at B, headed to check in and noticed a gate change.  I’d been switched to Terminal E.  That now meant I was headed from truck, to bus to train, to eventually plane.  Alleviating any TSA related anxiety, I was quickly hustled through my security checkpoint and hustled to the Skylink train to make it over to my new gate in time for my flight.

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As I approached the correct gate, the sea of travelers parted to showcase a bevy of fellow passengers on my same Hangout wavelength.  Board shorts, band shirts, floppy hats and flip flops permeated the dull blue-grey carpet.  Our jet was destined to be a small one and before I could even set my bag down and begin charging my phone, the gate agent clicked on the static-filled phone PA system to announce that he had an important announcement.  Our flight was overweight and they needed two volunteers to take the 2:30PM flight.  Nobody budged.  He asked again.  Nobody looked up from their phones.  I certainly was not going to volunteer.  I would be immersed in white sand and groovy tunes by 2:30PM.  2 minutes later he announces it again, this time with the urgency of someone trying to jump inside an elevator as the doors begin to close.  An 80’s era Willie Nelson lookalike in a Grateful Dead hoodie abruptly stood up, and gave false hope as he turned to walk to Starbucks.  Eventually,  two guys negotiated a $600 travel voucher each after the airline first offered $300 each.  And we were soon boarded.  Earbuds in as Dawes’ “From a Window Seat” blared during the taxi process.  In the air and on the way to paradise.

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The flight was only scheduled to be 90 minutes.  With only about 20 minutes left, the captain popped on and said “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s going to be a little bumpy for our approach…we apologize.  There are some thunderstorms in the area. Ahhh, we’ll get you on the ground in ahhhh a bit…ummm as smoothly as possible.  The weather in Pensacola is rainy and 78.  It’s been a pleasure to serve you today.”  Never a good sign when the captain says it’s going to be “bumpy”.  They usually plow through it with the nuance of Dale Earnhardt rubbing Bill Elliot at Talladega in the late 80’s.  As we rode the virtual rollercoaster to the runway I switched my tunes to my Hangout playlist.  Gameface was coming on.  I was ready to be on that beach and jamming out.  Nothing was going to stop me.

Except Mother Nature.

Those storms the captain had talked about were parked out in the gulf and spinning counter-clockwise, continually pounding the entire coastal region.  It was still early in the morning, but we were going to endure a long weather delay.  Rain is one thing.  Lightning is quite another.  I arrived at our condo in short, rain-soaked order.  We met up with our suitemates.  Acquaintances that would fast become friends over the course of Hangout.  We proceeded to do the only thing you can do in such a situation.  Start drinking heavily and telling stories while furiously checking social media and weather apps for optimistic weather updates.  The unease of staying with relative strangers is stripped away with the warm glow of alcohol and a shared appreciation of music.  The Hangout staff kept posting updates that they were delayed…until they weren’t.  Around 3PM, they sent out a mass alert via their app that the doors were open, set times had been adjusted and this party was going to be rocking very soon.

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***Sidebar***That app was a game changer out there.  Even with spotty cell service or wifi it worked like a charm.  Schedules, maps, updates, news, exclusives.  Whoever designed it should be commended.  It was indicative of everything else I encountered at the festival.  Clean.  Efficient.  Professional. Easy.  From the very first email interaction I had with the staff, it was startling how they had truly thought of everything and were striving to make everyone’s experience the best.  These people need to run every festival.  They need to run the post office.  I even nominate them to take over TSA.  It was military level precision at each turn.  The announced and purposefully capped attendance of 40,000 never felt more than 4,000.  That was clearly due to the pain-staking and detailed attention put on every logistical portion of the fest by its excellent staff.  VIP attendees even received ATV escorts down the beach between stages.  From the production staff to the security and hospitality staff…all buzzing around with radios blaring and a smile on their sun kissed faces.  They made painstaking processes like waiting in the security checkpoint lines a breeze.***

As I would soon find out, on a normal Hangout day everyone staggers onto the grounds at different times.  That did not happen on Day One upon the greenlight announcement. We, along with everyone else grabbed some roadie drinks and sprinted to the car.  Cruising down Alabama State Highway 182 in a throng of thousands of music hungry, prepartied music fans was exhilarating. We stopped and went as we headed west on 182 to the tunes of a country remix cd someone had bartered to my buddy for $10.  You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Billy Ray Cyrus with a rap beat.  As we neared close enough to the east entrance that the few local residents who had braved the festival crowds were out and advertising $20 parking in their condo yards, the vibe was palpable.  That’s when we met 2 N Dave.  Or better known as 2nd Ave.  The person in our traveling crew who asked who 2 N Dave was shall remain nameless…but know that she’s a blonde Aggie.

After picking up wristbands and credentials I bounced into the sand under the watchful eyes of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Department with my backpack of essentials over my shoulders, some fruity scented Hawaiin Tropic on my pasty Scotch-Irish skin and iPhone opened to the revised scheduled.  All with a smile on my face and drink in my other hand.  The bag searches and security friskings were more oppressive than what you regularly get at the airpot, but they kept things moving relatively fast.  I soon discovered that Jason Isbell had been moved back from 5PM to 7:45PM.  This was good news.  I was worried the long weather delay would disrupt his set.  I set about getting my bearings.

 

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THE PEOPLE

As she peers through the crowd anxiously searching for the rest of her party, Ashley is buzzed but not overwhelmingly so.  She’s sporting a black bikini top with Jamaican accents.  I ask her if she’s a big reggae fan.  She replies, “Not really…I just thought this was cute.”  She’s accented her festival wristbands with basic beach souvenir jewelry.  Rope bracelets, puka infused necklaces turned into bracelets and a wrist tat of the peace sign.  We make small-talk over Moon Taxi on the Hangout Stage as she continues to scan the crowd for her friends.  She noticed my media wristband and continues to answer my queries with a grin.  She’s a junior from UCF and has been gallivanting on the Gulf Shores beaches her entire life.  This is her third year at Hangout and she’s most looking forward to seeing Florence+The Machine and Alabama Shakes.  I ask her if she’s going to check out Isbell or Leon.  She looks at me as if I’m an alien.  “I have no clue who they are.”  This wasn’t the last time I’d run into this.

He accidentally bumps into me with his backpack while we sway side to side in the security line.  Evan is from Tennessee.  He’s an attorney in the Knoxville area.  He’s been coming to Hangout since the first year.  He wishes they still booked more rock bands like they used to, but then proceeds to say he saw The Chainsmokers the night before and they were “bad f*cking ass”.  News is beginning to trickle in about Calvin Harris‘ car wreck and rumors fly as to what the Hangout organizers will do.  A popular rumor, apparently started online, was that Taylor Swift is going to fly in on her white horse and save the day for her boyfriend.  Evan is very bummed that he evidently won’t be able to see Calvin perform.  I joke that he could email his setlist and we could just push play on the PA.  Evan is not amused.  Despite liking rock music, he obviously loves EDM.  A trend I noticed throughout the weekend.  The under-30 set was all about them some EDM.  They’d rock out with the rock bands, but danced with as much awkward fervor imaginable during the EDM acts.  A definite age gap was happening.  When I pose the Isbell/Leon question to Evan he said he watched Isbell last night and “loved his last record,”…but he was only familiar with the name Leon Bridges, none of the music and would be attending the Cage the Elephant set that would be happening simultaneous to Leon’s later that night.

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I first noticed the gap in his Newport stained teeth.  His accent a dead give away to his Massachussets roots.  John has an old SLR, a photo pass and a try hard’s attitude.  He name dropped a bunch of DJ acts I’ve never heard of and is clinging to relevance harder than the guy in Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Middle Aged Crazy”.  He reminds me of the dad in the HBO documentary Small Town Ecstasy.  He’s wearing a Foals shirt and carrying the type of overweight frame that shows he doesn’t dance at the EDM shows he mentions DJ-ing at. I tell him what type of music I cover and explain the acts I was most looking forward to seeing.  The name Leon Bridges causes him to perk up immediately.  “That’s an act right there, man.  Old school.  He’s fantahssstic.”

Each time I watched a show at the Surf Stage, I stayed in the same relative area.  There was a young Opie looking security guard in his early 20’s at the same station stage right each time.  We talked about security and police presence.  Much like LJT and ACL, he confirmed that to get in trouble you had to be doing something stupid or hurting someone.  He admitted he liked a lot of the music, and was getting paid to keep beautiful people safe and listen to music.  The promptness with which he and all security/paramedic staff got to those in need was astonishing.

As night fell and the Alabama Shakes were soon to arrive onstage, I encountered a large group of middle aged folks who had driven a RV in from Indiana.  Eight of them.  They said it hadn’t been a bad roadtrip and assured me they weren’t on each others nerves yet.  Then I noticed the reason why.  Ron, he of the salt and pepper mustache, was rolling joints at breakneck speed and placing them in his camouflage fanny pack.  As the Shakes tore into “Hang Loose”, the Hoosier crew most definitely was.

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Family was a central theme I saw at Hangout.  There were babies, toddlers, school kids, teenagers and more…enjoying the music with their parents.  I first meet a mother and son at the dawn of Isbell’s set.  They are locals, living about an hour away.  The cherub faced son is a freshman at Auburn and the mother was definitely a fan of 80’s hair metal.  I told them it was my first time at Hangout and they gave me some local spots to hit up.  After I ran through my usual list of questions, the mother turned the tables on me and asked “What the hell do you know about Jason Isbell over in Texas?”  When my response was full of enough descriptors about what I do, who we are and how many times I’ve seen Isbell live she opened her arms, coughed out a smoker’s laugh and invited me and my crew to watch the show with them.  I had passed her test.

Just about everyone I met reminded me that we had to go to the FloraBama.  The bait shop turned mega-level, multi-level dive bar on steroids.  We strolled in to find 7 separate live music acts ranging from piano bar to rock to country.  Rumor had it that Cage the Elephant was there at the same time we were.  Yet, I was more interested in chatting with Leroy the bartender.  He was working in one of the quieter rooms.  His long black hair falling over his shoulders, and wrinkles around his eyes that were an indication this wasn’t just a job…this was a career.  One that he was good at.  He was flirting with a bachelorette party group out of one side of his mouth and talking music out of the other side with me.  Effortlessly.  He could go to work for Jon Taffer and be a hospitality expert.

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The Flying Harpoon is a local dive bar not too far from the festival grounds and near our condo.  We stopped in there and headed to the upstairs bar.  This is where I encountered Red the Bartender.  Three guesses as to how he got his name and the second two don’t count. He evoked the type of crusty character you’d find in Crystal Beach or a Hayes Carll song.  Unprovoked, he informes me, a tourist Texan, that he’s going to run for mayor of Gulf Shores and that by the time I come back, he’ll be “running things”. When I notice a Dos XX poking out from an ice cold bed, I decide that it looks too good to order anything else.  “Hey Red, can I get a Dos Equis dressed with salt and lime.”  He grins, turns around, opens the beer…hands it to me.  Walks away, comes back with a cut up lime and a salt shaker.  “This ain’t Texas bro, it’s Alabama and you can dress that beer your damn self.”  A politician indeed.

THE MUSIC

(video clips direct from Hangout included when available. Otherwise, indicative clips were used)

As you walk into Hangout, that sidebar organization I wrote about above comes in to play immediately.  Everything is clearly labeled.  There are maps, signs and staff everywhere to point you where you want or need to go.  Top of the line port o potty’s, vendors that take plastic and cash, merch area, games, exhibits, rides.  All of it.  A bit overwhelming at first. But, once you succumb to the chill Buffett vibe of the entire deal that anxiety is replaced by calm assurances that you’re right where you need to be.  No matter where that is exactly. Big Boi from OutKast’s new band, Big Grams was bulldozing through the crowd on one of the two mainstages titled the Surf Stage when I first arrived.  The same stage that Jason Isbell and Alabama Shakes would soon inhabit.  All southern music. All different.  Yet the same.  That’s the thread that ran through all the music I took in.  These artists were, for the most part, all authentic and full of soul.  It was just expressed in disparate manners. Due to my press access, Big Boi would later take note of my Shinyribs hat and inform me he was going to check them out. Moon Taxi began to crank up in the distance and they caught my ears so I moved in that direction.  The Nashville quintet had an immediate Needtobreathe quality.

As one of the main acts on my list to see and one of only a handful that I’d seen previous to Hangout, I was beyond stoked to see how Jason Isbell would translate in front of this type of crowd, on this type of stage.  Unsurprisingly, he owned it from the moment he strode onstage to the tune of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” in a red plaid pearl snap and slicked back hair.  Isbell was by far the most folk and country driven artist on the roster and he showcased OKOM in spectacular fashion.  “24 Frames”, “Codeine”, “Cover Me Up”, “Life You Chose” echoed across the fine crystal white sands and were received with just the proper amount of rowdy enthusiasm.  As his set drew to a close, he made mention of losing so many musical heroes lately and said “I want to do a song by what I think is the greatest country songwriter that ever lived…Merle Haggard.”  Isbell then launched into a couldn’t have been more perfect cover of “Sing Me Back Home”.  Effortlessly backed by his finely tuned band featuring wife Amanda Isbell on fiddle/harmony vocals, it was a flawless reminder that Isbell currently holds the same title he just announced of Haggard.  He is our greatest living songwriter.  And he knows how to deliver live.  It helps that he digs Gibson guitars and crunchy amps.  Watching his set in front of thousands in such a deceptively intimate setting in his homestate made me feel like a proud papa.  We are the same age and I’ve been following him since the DBT days, yet his burgeoning influence and acclaim is vindication for all of us that fight for this music among the sea of sameness.  The fact that he couldn’t give a damn less about that acclaim makes him even cooler.  There were new ears turned on to Jason Isbell on this night and I’m glad I was there to witness it.

Next up on my list was Alabama Shakes.  I had some time to kill before they came on as the Isbell offload and their load in was happening at the Surf Stage.  I began to roam.  Walk the Moon was on the other big stage.  People weren’t shutting up and dancing with them though. They were shouting and shaking their tails in gloriously unbridled fashion.  They were much better live than many bands that have top 40 hits normally are.  As I was at the very back of the Walk the Moon throng, I could hear the melodies eminating from the BMI stage that backs up to the water.  Quick app check apprised me that it was The Revivalists I was hearing. This New Orleans conglomeration had the crowd swaying and grooving as the overcast skies and gray cloud shrouded sun sank into the earth and we were greeted with a rising full moon. It was funky as hell and had groove for days.  Definitely want to dig more into this band.

It was now time to hump back to the Surf Stage and stake out a prime spot for the Alabama Shakes.  Many other people had the same idea.  Rookie mistake.  I should’ve gotten over there much sooner, but I still ended up in pretty good viewing position. Brittany Howard is a a force of nature and she was in her element at Hangout.  The funk-soul-rock grooves are just alt enough to be different, yet just streamlined enough to jam.  There’s a reason this band is one of the biggest in the world at the moment.  Howard’s powerfully emotional vocals deliver lyrics drenched with character. On this night, a steady Gulf breeze combined with good times and a sea of thousands that knew all the words to every song to make this a standout set.  At 18 songs, it clocked in as one of the weekend’s longest sets.  The band played everything one could want to hear and more.  In between songs, the chatter among the crowd was minimal and the crash of ocean waves mere feet behind us provided a near spiritual backdrop to pair that culminated in a midset trip through “Hold On”. Hands raised to the sky, attempting to grab the full moon and ride it for the rest of the night.

The moment the Shakes were done, The Weeknd cranked up his Day 1 closing set many hours later than originally planned due to the storms.  The same storms that robbed him of his original stage time had also robbed him of his production pieces.  The jumbotrons at both main stages had been severely damaged.  They still worked, but looked like that TV you picked up at a garage sale that needed a fuse.

And perform he did.  A noticeable portion of the crowd streamed over to The Chainsmokers at the Boom Boom Tent, but a very sizable portion remained.  Those that stayed in place were treated to a new school act going old school.  Due to his production issues, the light show aspects and pyro were at a minumum and The Weeknd sang and danced his rear end off.  It was impressively old school show biz the show must go on.  For an artist that relies on much of that stuff for his live performances, it was interesting to see him own it like that.

Saturday began on time with perfect weather. X Ambassadors were the first act I took in.  I only knew “Renegades” heading in to the set and was pleasantly surprised to find rock n’ roll largely alive and well with this New York band.  The lead singer, Sam Harris, had a commanding vocal presence and could also play the hell out of the saxophone, which he did often.  It was a soulful spin on rock music. Their records have a pop aesthetic…but live it was rock to the core. They saved the tune I knew for the closer, so I was exposed to all sorts of cool, new songs that I’ve since jammed several times.

Kurt Vile was next on my list and to see him, I had to venture over to the AXS side stage which required me to leave the sandy confines of the beach and onto the asphalt.  Yet, the temperatures never got so hot that I couldn’t stroll seamlessly barefoot from the beach to the concrete and back with no issues. (protip–carry a backpack with your stuff and put a caribiner on it to clip your flip flops to). Kurt Vile is an exciting indie rocker we have featured on the website a few times.  He’s also the only act I saw at the festival that switched guitars/instruments for literally every song.  So many different tunings in the Vile catalog. The crowd was sparse when he started, I was able to amble right up to the security barricade in front of his mic.  There was a Kurt Vile superfan that planted himself at my 3 o’clock and proceeded to headbang in time, stand on top of the barricade and scream along with every single lyric.  His passion was inspiring.  Kurt Vile had very little stage banter and plowed through his indie rock folk at a Strokes like pace. By the time he crescendo’d with “Pretty Pimpin'” the place had deservedly filled in nicely.

Time to head back to the beach and I hear some funky guitar tones and scratches coming from the BMI stage.  I discovered an electronic dance band but with a twist.  If any band exuded the combined tastes of the fest attendees in almost wholeness it is Nashville’s Zoogma.  Combining electronic elements with real instruments.  Samples with original lyrics. Best party band imaginable. I heard it described as Sublime with a great dance DJ and that’s pretty accurate.  I bet these guys make a killing on the SEC greek circuit.

A quick driveby of The Whigs proceeded a trip back off the beach and over to Leon Bridges at the AXS Stage.  If the organizers made one mistake, it was putting Leon on one of the sub stages.  His crowd, buzz and show deserved a mainstage slot.  His was the set of the weekend.  Fans of all ages were placed in a time machine back to when Stax and Muscle Schoals were thriving music hubs…but with a Texas twist.  From the vintage stage clothing to the Jackie Wilson/James Brown-esque dance moves, Leon has come extremely far from the sheepish, unwitting star many of us first saw last year.  He has a confidence now that is indisputable. He is a showman and he is in control at all times.  Former Josh Weathers saxman Jeff Dazey was a centerpiece from the moment he first blew during sound check.  The crowd responded as if Nick Saban was leading a Roll Tide chant.  Dazey has added supplemental keys duty to his Bridges’ responsibility and the entire band was smoking from the first note of “Smooth Sailin'”through “Mississippi Kisses”.  Leon smartly chose to encore with “River”, ushering the band offstage and strapping on a guitar for the only time all set. Joined by the ever present backing vocals of Brittni Jessie, Leon left the crowd feeling something timeless, soulful and real.  He also left them wanting more.  Simply amazing.

Sunday’s music began with The Wailers.  I heard most of their set from the security line, but made it in for their last couple.  They were exactly what you would expect and wonderful. They are carrying on Marley’s legend and message with gusto.  Run the Jewels were coming on after them, so I made sure to stay closeby having learned from my Shakes mistake.  I’ve long been a hip hop fan, but RTJ is the first act to get me excited about the genre since Kanye first burst on the scene.  Run the Jewels’ set was raucous, fun and smart.  Their lyrics can be political and divisive, but they united the crowd on this day.  Killer Mike repeatedly mentioned how happy he was to be back at home in South.  The energy they brought can only be compared to peak RUN DMC.  They didn’t stop moving, they kept the beat thumping and the crowd bouncing.  At an early point inflatable unicorns spilled out in the crowd and were passed around for 20 minutes or more.  Epic set.  No videos have surfaced yet, but it was one of the most sincerely awesome things I’ve ever seen regardless of genre.

I bounced around numerous stages for the next few hours.  Many of the acts were kind of meh.  As I was making plans to go ahead and stake out a nice spot at the Hangout Stage for Lenny Kravitz, the familiar strains of the Family Ties theme song hit my ears, followed by soulful crooning that yanked me straight in its direction.  I ended up at the AXS stage taking in Mayer Hawthorne. I had him scrawled on my list of acts to check out and somehow he got lost in the shuffle.  I certainly wish I had paid closer attention to my notes and made it over for the majority of the set.  But, the portion I heard was stirring to be certain.

Lenny Kravitz was the lone vintage rock act on the bill.  And he didn’t disappoint.  The set opened with “Where Are We Runnin'” and went right into “American Woman” after that.  Lenny had brought the 50lb. sledgehammers and was going to slam this place to pieces.  He was backed by a large backing band that is in the running for the best I’ve ever seen including Gail Dorsey on bass, Craig Ross on guitar, Harold Todd on sax and Lu Louis on trumpet.  The number of songs Kravitz played were few, but his set time was as long as anyone else’s.  He was the ultimate rock star amid a sea of posers.  I saw some acts that thought they were rock stars…Lenny Kravitz just is one.  He started 15 minutes late and vamped/jammed each song so long that his entire 80 minute set only featured 7 tunes…and it was pure awesomeness highlighted by “Always on the Run” and an extended “Let Love Rule” that found Kravitz venturing into the rabid crowd and throwing some of his gear to welcoming fans.  The setting was becoming of this too.  During his set, the sun began to fade on Hangout one final time.  The sky took on a purple hue as the highest number of boats I saw all weekend rocked along in the minimally choppy Gulf waters about 100 yards from our beach setting.

My current set-up was so gorgeous, I determined to just stay put for Florence+The Machine.  There weren’t that many people around me and I had a good sightline to the stage.  I was pretty quickly enveloped and taken over by the largest throng I was part of all weekend.  I was trapped by the schedule.  Florence had no other stages to compete with, so all 40,000 attendees had descended upon the same location for one last hurrah.  Florence and her machine proverbially brought it.  I compared their ethereal take on rock music as if Fleetwood Mac was around in 2016 and not as concerned with melodies as they were in 1976.  The outfit Florence Welch wore at Hangout is the same as in this video from Lolla in Chile. Well, pretty much everything about the video clip below could have taken place at Hangout.  Same passionate crowd.  Same stage design.  It was engulfing to see how massive this band is.  They very well could be the current title holder for biggest contemporary band on the planet.  The moment their last note faded, the familiar count off of “1, 2, 3…” and opening riff to “Sweet Home Alabama blared over the PA as a fireworks spectacular boomed overhead.

THE TAKEAWAY

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Hangout Fest is by far the most professional and seamless large-scale event I’ve ever attended.  I was astonished at their ability to control the setting and the forethought they had to make it all so smooth.  Musically speaking, I headed back to Texas with the reminder that as big as our scene it is, it is still very small.  It’s ours and we love it, and protect it.  I ran into maybe 20 fellow Texans over the course of my time in FloraBama and not one person who was overly familiar with OKOM.  I’ve returned with a renewed passion for what we do good down here, and a deepened appreciation for other types of music that are just as welcomed. Apples and oranges to be sure, but we often remain so insulated in our Texas/Red Dirt/Americana bubbles that we ignore or become oblivious to trends and styles happening elsewhere.  We become immune and desensitized to the size of our scene by seeing these guys rolling around in Pevosts and packing out nightclubs, but there’s a whole world out there full of great music.  It was cool to be dropped into that big world for a few days.  We’ve always striven with this community to highlight and showcase any music we thought was cool.  Whether it’s from Abilene, Arizona, Alabama or Alaska.  I would love to see what some of our guys and gals could do one one of the side stages.  Uncle Lucius, Whiskey Myers, William Clark Green, and American Aquarium come to mind as great candidates to officially Hangout.

I also noticed how friendly everyone was.  Everyone.  The staff, the attendees and the artists. I didn’t see one fight all weekend.  Nobody threw beer.  Nobody got aggressive, even in the very front of the pits. It was communal and authentically cool.  Chill, laid back and happy.  Granted, the location has a lot to do with that…and so did some of the mind-altering substances that were floating around, but it really goes back to the type of people that attended.  With a capped attendance, GA tickets in the $300 range and VIP packages from $800-2000 each, this was a crowd of people there for the music.  And they soaked it in.  One girl in line noticed my Texas tattoo and in the midst of our brief conversation mentioned that she’d never been but visiting Texas was on her bucket list.  She said “You guys are supposedly the friendliest, most inviting hosts on the planet.”  I replied that yes we take great pride in that, and great pride in most things.  She chuckled and I asked her where she was from.  When she responded “Mobile”, I told her that her folks down here could give us a run for our money in hospitality.  Lenny Kravitz echoed as much from the stage.  He spoke of the love he was feeling from the crowd and from “everyone involved in putting on this beautiful event.  It’s beautiful.  It’s full of love.  This is the south.  You guys are the future.  You guys are the present.”  The South and love.  Add in a dash of music, a dose of some of the nicest beaches in the world and a tangibly cool vibe.  Hangout is peerless.  I will definitely be back.  With a slew of new favorite bands and plans to check them all out. Like anything this cool though, the secret is now out.  It’s expanded and many Texans have now been turned on to it.  Hangout, we shall meet again in 2017.

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GW To Hangout at the Beach

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For several years now, I’ve been hearing about this ultimate destination music festival that takes place in Gulf Shores, AL called Hangout Fest.  Coachella is corporate LA. Bonaroo is Woodstock redux.  ACL is Austin weird.  Hangout supposedly has taken all the best portions of every music festival, refined them and placed them in one of the most chill, beautiful locations on earth. Years past definitely had line-ups that were more in line with my listening preferences.  2013 alone featured Tom Petty, The Black Crowes, Stevie Wonder, Govt Mule, Jason Isbell and Shovels & Rope to name a few.  A trip through the past few years of showbills will show a line-up that is hard to beat. The opportunity to head to Hangout 2016 presented itself and I jumped at the chance.  Line-up sight unseen.  Even the worst EDM can be tolerated for a bit with the white sand scenery of Gulf Shores.

Originally, I was to be joined by a large group of buddies.  One by one they’ve dropped out down to one, The Mayor.  We’ll be meeting up and crashing at a condo full of mutual friends and acquaintances. Logistics are still fluid.  Everyone already on beach time.  Once it was set in stone that I’d be attending, I applied for press credentials on a whim.  I was ecstatic when I was approved.  I had to pitch my story idea, explain what I wanted to do etc.  I made the grade. I’ll be alongside Rolling Stone, Spin, AXS, MTV etc.  It’s like being called up from the Durham Bulls or Round Rock Express. Definitely in over my head.  There are many great acts on the bill that I’m looking forward to, but chief among them are Jason Isbell, Leon Bridges and Alabama Shakes.  I intend to put a GW spin on the whole thing and report back to Texas/OK with funny, revealing dispatches about the festival at large.  People watching, music discovering and hopefully a cool interview or two.

I’ve yet to arrive and am already super impressed by the way the folks producing this put this party on.  They’re organized, professional and have thought of just about everything.  I’m excited to go live like Jimmy Buffett and write like Hunter S. Thompson for three days.  If there’s an act on the bill you are particularly interested in, drop me a note and I’ll attempt to bring them into the Galleywinter vortex for a moment. I plan to tell the story of the attendees too.  I’ve heard that there’s a mix of everything from 18 year olds to 85 year olds.  I want to find the oldest person there and see what they think of Florcence+The Machine.  I want to see if Calvin Harris brings his girlfriend.  I want to corner The Weeknd and ask him if he knows the signs of a stroke. Maybe Killer Mike of Run the Jewels will prophesize on Donald Trump.  And above all, I hope to play 20 Questions with Isbell, Leon and Brittany.  GW will be in the big leagues for a weekend and I intend to max it out.  I love the saltwater and white sands…as much as anyone with Scotch-Irish heritage can.  I may be covered in sleeves and lathered in sunscreen, but I’ll be soaking it all up.  Stay tuned to our socials!  Full recap when I get back and recovered.See you on the beach Hangout!

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