Sealing the deal: Hangout 2012 thrives in its junior year

Written by Pete Mason w/ David Shehi / Photos by Ian Rawn

June 7, 2012

 

Back for its third year, the Hangout Beach, Music & Arts Festival had a lot to prove.

On top of bubbling crude on the ocean floor that kept attendees at bay from the festival that is held on the sandy white Gulf Shores beach, year one had seen a deluge on its final day. Subsequently a mandatory evacuation of the approximate 12,000 attendees was ordered, resulting in what almost was a complete wash out of the day in its entirety before being redeemed by energizing Michael Franti and a raucous set from Trey Anastasio Band. This said, most came home with positive comments about the event, and if nothing else, were vowing to return for year two. 

Year two, though completely sold-out and filled with one of the most solid lineups of the summer, unveiled the soft infrastructural underbelly that year one’s low attendance had kept completely concealed. Cell phones proved to be of more use by being left in the car. Over-touted shuttle services turned into near riotous lines filled with the tired and tipsy. In spite of all this, there was no denying the seemingly well-intentioned Hangout organizers who had spared little expense but had simply been caught with their guard partially down. This, combined with the grandness of a lineup that included Paul Simon, Widespread Panic, My Morning Jacket, Avett Brothers and Foo Fighters, left most with a guarded willingness for a third round that would either be a charm or would be the year that quenched remaining flames of hope.  

 

I was always a big fan of Spring Break, that glorious week of Bacchanalia for the college set. I went to Myrtle Beach, Orlando, Daytona Beach and Acapulco while doing my college bid. It was always one of the highlights of the school year but I never got to experience the true Panama City/South Padre Island/New Orleans style of Spring Break, the one that was always on MTV with awesome musical guests. Fortunately, we have The Hangout Music Fest, which is for all intents and purposes, the biggest Spring Break festival ever sans the binge drinking, puking and roofies… for most at least. In fact, beyond an intoxicated-heat-exhaustion bro-turned-victim, the festival crowd was happy and at a festival, happiness is infectiously good.

Boasting a lineup that was comparable to its 2011 installment, it left room for most musical tastes. From vets like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, String Cheese Incident, The Flaming Lips and Dave Matthews to up and comers such as Alabama Shakes, Coheed and Cambria, Gary Clark, Jr. and Dawes, the festival once again boasted a demographically diversified crowd. Genre wise, the sentiments were the same. From Skrillex and STS9 to Steve Winwood and Mavis Staples, there were plenty of headlining and undercard acts to please most palettes multiple times over.

Providing an ideal spot for both a vacation and festival, Hangout Fest provides a more mature and grown up version of Spring Break for a higher cost than the original get-away-from-it-all vacation in the sun and sand, and much more for those that make the wise decision to splurge on any of the numerous VIP options that the event offers.

A regionally large festival that has grown to a large stature in its third year, the festival sold out its 35,000 person occupancy within two weeks, a number that was much more comfortable as a result of multiple infrastructural changes that were implemented for this year’s festivities.

In direct contrast to its sold-out and grievance filled junior year, the changes made for a much more comfy setting for the en masse influx that now annually descends upon the public stretch of beach that on most days is littered with an estimated average of one umbrella covered chaise lounge chair per every 25 yards. Yesteryear’s lamented lack of plentiful porta potties, ridiculous shuttle lines, treacherous and relentless heat, hour long waits to get into the festival grounds, elbow to elbow shows, etc. were snuffed out by implementing the use of electronic wrist band scanning upon entry, adding more shade structure, mist tents, water refill stations and widening the festival site by approximately 200 feet and lengthening it by the same on each end.

Late night gigs hosted by Hangout Fest really never made sense and this year they were eliminated altogether, leaving a barren festival site that was able to be fully restored overnight while fans thinned out into the nighttime condo, hotel or camping abodes. For those whose musical thirst had somehow not been quenched, there was music to be heard all over the small Gulf town well into the night and wee morning.

Dubbed “The Outer Hang,” bands including EOTO, Papa Mali (with Galactic’s Robert Mercurio, Warren Haynes Band’s Terence Higgins and Chris Spies of The Lost Cause Minstrels), Flannel Church and Up Until Now took to the stages of local pubs; all adding to the huge economic impact that the festival has on the local businesses that bank on tourism to stay afloat.

 

Friday

 

The first day of the festival held much for musical highlights: Coheed and Cambria performed a strong set including a ripping cover of Gotye’s “Somebody that I used to Know,” M. Ward pumping up a crowd of bikini-clad ladies and Paul Oakenfold providing some true electronic dance music for a vibrant early evening crowd.

With so much ear candy to choose from a fantastic addition was the Hangout iPhone and Android app that was particularly clutch when unexpected changes happened in the schedule (i.e. Umphrey’s McGee and Skrillex having set times changed the week of the festival).

Staying true to form, festival stalwart sextet Umphrey’s McGee provided a delicious and  high-energy two hour show that was pleasing to all present members of the vast Umphreak legion. Just as has been the case in years’ previous, 2012 once again found the Hangout alums playing to a wide and broadening crowd that was deep and tight, much like their set that included this monster hour-plus of music: All in Time > Booth Love, Miami Virtue > Higgins, Hajimemashite, Tribute to the Spinal Shaft > Soul Food II > All in Time.

A sojourn down the street to see STS9 was well worth it, rounding out the night with some more proper electronic dance music played to a thoroughly sweaty and jam-packed tent. Jack White had a huge crowd and nearly all talked of how high energy the set was, but for me it was tough to compete with STS9, at least this night.

However, one thing of note bothered me as I left the first day. First, the burning oil/gas rig out in the Gulf of Mexico not too far off shore, providing ominous reminder of the disaster that came at the hand of festival sponsor, BP, happened a little over a week prior to the inaugural Hangout Fest’s and subsequently spoiled beaches and sea life for hundreds if not thousands of miles.

 

Saturday

 

Saturday started off with a guy who possesses the cool of Jules Winnfield, the swagger of Mick Jagger and the blues of ‘60s-era Eric Clapton: Gary Clark Jr. Without a doubt, Clark’s performance was a highlight of the festival. Listening to Clark is like witnessing  the birth of a Hendrix/Muddy Waters spawn; it is miraculous. With the release of 2011′s Bright Lights EP, the Austin native has since made a vertical leap that would make FloJo blush. Reeling through numbers including “When My Train Comes In” and the EP’s title track, the lanky Clark once again reaffirmed the arrival of a 21st century bluesman that can literally take the Pepsi Challenge with all of his predecessors to the point that they should no longer be used to describe him or his sound.

If there was an award for each day’s best performance, Saturday’s would have gone to String Cheese Incident. Opening with a stellar “Rosie” and segueing in and out of “Miss Brown’s Teahouse” and complete with covers of Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces” and Manhattan Transfer’s “Birdland,” it was immediately clear that the Coloradoan bred innovators had come to provide a set that their faithful will not soon forget.

Capped by a rambunctious cover of the Grateful Dead’s “I Know You Rider,” the set closer’s inherent familiarity being played against the backdrop ever-present Cheese fanflair amidst the beautiful sunset filled mix of azure and burnt orange created a moment that spurred one into a space that words will never be able to fully illustrate. It was awe-inspiring. It was the kind of thing of which dreams are made. It was String Cheese Incident on the beach… and it was good.

For those with a flavor for the electronic fare, the festival provided ample representation by following along with the trends of today with a lineup that included Skrillex and more notably, Shpongle, who put on one of the best sets of the festival to the 5,000 congregants that gathered for the well planned and executed spectacle. The only drawback was that by the very nature of a festival, some sets had to take place under the glaring ball of fire, otherwise known as the sun — causing isolated cases of dehydration and exhaustion in the X-Box Tent. Yeah… Skrillex at 3:00PM probably wasn’t the best idea.

 

Sunday

 

If there was a day to get in early, it was Sunday. Alas, the crowd had a collective hangover from Saturday but it was well earned. For those who got in early, The Greyboy Allstars brought out the funk for Sunday morning services while Mavis Staples followed at the other end of the beach, injecting soul into the crowd, as well as a fantastic offering  of The Band’s ‘The Weight’, an ode to the late Levon Helm.

Switching back to the main stage, Michael Franti’s musical Zoloft got the crowd cheering and feeling the warmth of the sun pouring onto them from the uplifting songs of life and happiness from Franti. Being the only act that has been present at all three Hangout installments, no one seemed to mind that the front man’s antics were nearly identical to those of the previous years. Let’s face it: Franti and Spearhead were made for a party on the beach. Corona figured that out long ago.

Trekking back down to the far end of the beach, The Chevy Stage was home to the next two major acts that were not to be missed – Steve Winwood followed by The Flaming Lips performing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

Winwood gave the same great performance he has given over the past decade when a jamband resurgence gave new life to many of his songs. His set started with the Spencer Davis Group original and fantastic opener, “I’m a Man,” followed by new number, “Can’t Find My Way Home,” and a monster “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” arguably one of the best and most complicated rock pieces ever written. “Light Up or Leave Me Alone,” “Higher Love” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy” brought the crowd to cloud nine. With a closing “Gimme Some Lovin’,” the crowd was officially moved, proving that Winwood still has it, never lost it and hopefully never will.

Then, one of the greatest, most surreal musical moments ever happened – watching The Flaming Lips perform Dark Side of the Moon during an actual eclipse that was taking place at roughly the same time as the peak of their set on the other side of the country.

Bringing out Phantogram from Saratoga Springs, NY to help on vocals, as well as the standard festival fare of cabal of dancing ladies, The Lips worked through a series some of the band’s  most crowd-pleasing originals first before working into unique but not far from the original versions of the tracks on the album that most point to as Pink Floyd’s most complete effort.

In an unsurprising move, front man and master freak Wayne Coyne rolled out into his human hamster ball for a spell before returning the penultimate track, “Brain Damage” and segued “Eclipse.”

Focused on the music and not the timing, the experience of knowing a solar eclipse was happening was cosmically and musically amazing. As the final lyrics of “Eclipse” were sung — “All that is now and all that is gone and all that’s to come and everything under the sun is in tune, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon” — it became resoundingly clear that one could not ask much more from a festival or band because the eclipse didn’t just take place during the song, it took place during the entire set. It was as though the cosmos became fully aligned for those brief moments and with all points considered,  it was truly one of the best sets of music I’ve ever experienced.

Closing things down was good old Dave Matthews Band. As they do, the band gave a solid three hour performance with an impressive finale cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” With beer can bowls aplenty, it was fun watching Dave do his thing before a massive throng of smiling faces with sand filled shoes.

What was perhaps most compelling though was hearing the songs I listened to once upon a time on Spring Break on beaches just like the one that had been our host for the weekend. Surprisingly, Dave Matthews and The Hangout brought me full circle that night.

 

Closing thoughts…

 

The beach once again brought out the best in everyone, bands included, and aside from overpriced merch, the event did not miss a beat. As there always are, there were things that those in search of festy Mecca will point out as being amiss, but these are the same kind of people who cannot see the beauty of the forest because the trees won’t get out of the way.

In its third year, Hangout covered all the bases and officially proved itself as a complete music festival and formidable contender  for the crown in virtually every sense of the word. Having substantially matured in stride and by surviving hiccups that inevitably come from birthing a festival, it remains a rising star on the summer circuit. Through savvy sponsorship procurement, festival founder Shaul Zislin has been able to keep his pledge to keep the patron cap at 35,000. Because of this, it will remain to be a draw for those who simply cannot bear the thought of Bonnaroo or Austin City Limits but still have a taste for a bit of mainstream with their jam, funk and bluegrass.

Under the sun and against of backdrop of wonder, Hangout Festival demonstrated that it is most definitely in this thing for the long haul. Indeed, the third time was a charm.

 

Click the thumbnail(s) to view more Hangout photos from Ian Rawn…

(Follow Ian’s photo journey on Facebook and Pete’s Phanart journey on Facebook & Twitter)