Hangout 2011: The Music Festival
It’s not often people drive hours to Alabama with aims of achieveing new heights in cultural and artistic experiences (Okay, maybe that’s ignorant, but in my defense, they didn’t have gutters). Of course, that’s exactly what I did this past weekend as I took in the sights and sounds of the second-annual Hangfout Music Fest in beautiful, albeit slightly underdeveloped, Gulf Shores, Ala.
It was three days of fun in the sun, hot sand under toes, and gleaming, tanned, half-naked bodies, all to the tune of live music from one of the most varied festival line-ups I’ve had the pleasure to experience. I mean, can you imagine a better environment for day sipping/tripping? Because I’m pretty sure that’s how 85% of the estimated 35,000 attendees got down (There were a few old couples and babies, I’m being mathmatical).
It all started Friday, May 20th, with an epic early morning eight-hour drive from my hometown of Gainesville on a precious three hours of sleep. I arrived at the beach house my friends were renting and headed over to the festival to pick-up my ticket. There was plenty of parking, locals were selling spots on their yards for about $20 a day. Not a steep price when compared to the easily $30-50 you’ll pay in Miami lots for Ultra.
The festival takes place on the closed down West Beach Boulevard, which runs east to west along the Gulf of Mexico shore. Something like seven blocks are shut down and the festival swallows the length of the beach, although the water is fenced off to keep out those who might sneak in out, and those who might drown in some dumb drunken fit from getting access to the water.
I was initially struck by the massive amount of people cramming themselves into line, moving along the shut-down street at if they themselves were traffic. People were herded like cattle through the security entrance, except now the cows are drunk and covered in sun screen. Once inside, I noticed the entrance arch, balloons hanging from the festival namesake, and I was instantly reminded of my fav fest Lollapalooza. I grabbed a schedule and found that Gainesville-based Grooveshark was hosting a stage. I headed over to their tent and found they were giving away water bottles and filling them free of charge all weekend. That’s what I’m talking about.
Here’s one thing that sucked about Hangout: the schedule. Not the order of performances, but the actual, physical schedule. It featured last performances on top and early sets on the bottomg. That’s not how people read, yo. Also, some set blocks were larger than others, even though the two sets were the same time, so some people would missunderstand and not catch a performance they wanted to because they thought they could see it when the other ended. Don’t do that again Hangout, be exact.
Apparently, the shuttle system sucked as well. I heard from a fest goer a few days later that the drivers wouldn’t let the riders off when they wanted, and the wait lasted longer than an hour to catch a ride. Apparently also, the drivers were douchebags, and talked on their cellphones while they drove after lecturing others on safety procedure. Anyhoo.
I continued to wander the grounds. I underwent the “Marlboro Experience,” which include waiting in line, getting a pack of ciggs for $1, free t-shirts and redbull, and charging your cell phone. These cheap ciggs would indeed come in handy.
But the reason for the season wasn’t free water, ciggs or t-shirts. It was fuckin live music!
The first act I really got down to was dance-fusion three-piece Beats Antique at the Boom Boom Stage. If Timbaland and Kenny G went on a trip to Mesopatamia and locked themselves into a studio with nothing but acid for a week, this is what they’d record. The two dudes can and did play almost everything, from guitar to banjo to violin to drums to computer, etc. They’re like a dark orchestra set to a dubstep beat. Meanwhile, the female member belly-dances, bangs a drum, and otherwise hypes the crowd into a head-banging hypnosis. The crowd was in their damn hands. At the end of the show, they donned animals masks (a penguin, a zebra, a polar bear), and that’s basically as cool as it gets.
Afterward, I headed back to the Grooveshark stage to catch some Soja, a 7-piece with horns from D.C. They were jammin’ out just the right kind of white boy reggae, what you wanna listen to while you’re drunk and sweaty on the beach. At one point, the singer stopped and addressed the crowd. Something about karma, 3rd world countries and the earth being round. You see, there really aren’t any borders, just the borders in our minds, and whatever you send out comes back around. So be good, man. Don’t start no shit, won’t be no shit.
Bassnectar was next. As he hit the stage, the bro behind me screamed so loud he almost burst my eardum. he dropped some surf rock, then came the big bass boomer. His set included a lot of hip-hop, a lot of remixes of hits and things. What he never played was the song Basshead, I would understand if he’s sick of it.
For a while, I chilled and grooved to some My Morning Jacket. Then I started wandering around and found the best groundscore of all time (but the details of that part are personal), just in time to float on over to have Sound Tribe Sector 9 rock my face off. They were so tight, and their lights were dope as hell. I ended my night with their last song.
Saturday, okay, I’ll be honest. I raged the night before and consequently slept the whole morning away. Shortly after waking, I started partying again, so the details of the day are hazy. Still, I remember that Minus The Bear playing ocean-side and bubbles in the air being one of the sweetest sets of the weekend. That was followed by three of the sweetest things in the world: Big G, in A/C, on the beach. Those guys wasted no time and started off sexy and heavy as hell. They dropped all their hits, and a funky ass remix of Kanye’s Get Em High. I don’t think anyone had the Boom Boom tent booming as hard as these mothers. Body hits were certinaly taken for the sake of dancing (and prolly other kinds of hits, too).
Meanwhile, at the Hangout stage, Cee Lo Green was suspiciously missing. Not to worry though, the mothereffing Foo Fighters saved the day by coming out on stage and rockin out some Queen, Tom Petty, and other classic tunes. After a few jams, Cee Lo emerged, finishing the song with the Fighters and then, of course, his own set. However, I heard the poor guy was having a hard time singing in the hot sun. He was all, sun, fuck you.
Remember how I said I started partying real early? Well, I had to run back to the beach house midday to reclaim my sanity, and equilibrium. But I heard Primus killed it (I know, I’m a douche).
As I made my way through the closed streets to get back in an hour later, Motorhead blasted through the air. Their singer blared gutteral moans of a throat run raw from years of hard ciggarettes, hard drinking and hard metal, while the guitars gently screeched.
Passed the gate, I hurried to catch the rest of the Flaming Lips‘ set (but I heard they opened all epic with Do You Realize?). The band was flanked on either side by about 15 girls in what looked like German beer maid costumes. Wayne Coyne was directing the band with giant hands as I took my spot in the crowd. The lit-up half-circle behind them was going nuts, flashing eye balls and bright colors and gnarling snouts of animals. As the singer yelled through a smoking megaphone, I felt I was watching someone else’s acid trip. Adding to the ambiance, everyone’s festi-clan markers swam above our heads; sticks or pool noodles with things like feathers, inflatable dolphins, and the Cap’n Crunch man stuck to the top of them.
The band faked out the audience twice into thinking they were finished and leaving. Each time the band walked off for five-ten minutes, more of the crowd thinned out, and I got to be closer. For their second entrance, they all emerged out of a dorr that suddenly appeared in the flashing eyeball images on the stage backdrop. Cue confetti, streamers, bright lights and everything awesome. Of course everyone loved it when Wayne got in the bubble. The performance was epic in every way, but I admit the music was kind of meandering and didn’t keep the audience’s attention as much.
The Foo Fighters closed the night, and I’ve gotta say, they brought it legit style. As I walked up, they were playing My Hero, and that didn’t suck. They basically rocked the fuck out for a lil more than two hours, playing everything from the minor tracks on Colour and the Shape that I always loved to major hits I didn’t even remember they had. Everyone in the band is a great musician, they also all got solos. I definitely didn’t loose the irony in the drummer of Nirvana having solo time for everyone in his band, but I guess people grow up. And I’ve got to admit, Dave’s got jokes, Grohl’s a funny guy. At one point, he polled by round of applause who in the crowd had seen them and who hadn’t. Most of us hadn’t, myself included.
“Seventeen years,” he yelled. “Do I need to come to your house … but I’m glad you waited. We used to suck, and now we kick much ass.” Grohl was also like, fuck encores, they’re stupid and played right through a would be break to fit in more songs. They finished with Everlong, and then fireworks signaled the time to gtfo had arrived.
Sunday, Matisyahu kicked off my musical enterprise. That dude really has a beautiful voice, and he’s a pretty kick ass beatboxer it turns out. Of course, the day before was some failed apocalypse, and the religious man took time during his last song, One Day, to remind us that his beliefs don’t perscribe to some end-of-the-world rapture-style hoopla, but focus instead on making this world good for all people to exist equally. “Think good and it will be good,” he cried. And then some peeps jumped on stage with him to close the show.
I was blown away by the end of Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave‘s set at the Grooveshark stage. They gave one of the purest and funkiest performaces of the whole weekend. A tight band of musicians lead by a lively frontman, who acted in part as director of the whole ensemble. When they covered the classic Shout, everyone put their hands up in the air on command and sang along. It was the kind of act where the crowd is right on the level with the group, and that’s always magical.
Michael Franti and the Spearheads brought a lil bit of sunshine to the beach with their set. I usually can’t stand overtly-cheery musical numbers, but this guy really seems to be that effing at one with himself and the world. His positive messages didn’t come off as trite or phony, and when he brought audience members on stage, he danced with each in turn and no doubt left each person feeling like they were perfect just the way they are, or however the song goes. Franti even jumped over the partition and dances among the crowd himself, which I thought was cool. All the while, his homemade shirt read “the world is still here Alabama.” And Osama is still dead.
Caught the end of Girl Talk, who brought hands-down the largest crowd over to the Boom Boom stage. From behind thousands I could see Mr. Gillis jump on top of his decks and lead a megaclap to his mash-up mastery. The stage was full of happy dancers, though I’m not sure if they bum-rushed the stage or were previously chosen to participate. I prefer to see Girl Talk in a small venue, but no one seemed to mind the festival atmosphere on this day. The tent was intimate enough to havea gay ole time.
Galactic fucking blew my mind. They were laying down some serious swinging jazzy shit as a painter next to the stage brought life to what appeared to be some kind of alien vagina (yuh I dunno, it had a third eye I think). All of us watching busted out our sweetest moves as the band kicked our asses and the singer got higher than heated temperature, I mean, higher pitched, y’know.
I ran over to catch the end of the Black Keys performance, who were bringing it more bluesy than the dancy jam I had just witnessed. For some reason, they finished their set 15 minutes before their scheduled end, but that just gave everyone more time to meander across the sand to catch the final peformance of an incredible weekend, the one and only motherfuckin Paul Simon.
Simon’s set was pure magic. A beach-worth of people singing and dancing with smiles on their face as a real legend transported us with his ageless voice and timeless songs. Everyone young and old sang along to 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, and we were all quiet as he started Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes as a beautiful accapella. After more than an hour, he left the stage and came back solo with an acoustic guitar. “Hello darkness my old friend,” he sang, and I almost died inside. It was truly one of those performances you never thought you’d be blessed to see, but are so thankful to have experienced.
When the day was finally done, it was capped with the most intense fireworks of the whole weekend. Huge bursting balls of color loud as bombs, and giant gold sparkles filled the sky as if some god spilled champagne all over the heavens.
Hangout, you were a time alright. Miss ya already.