Live From Hangout Music Festival 2011: Day 1
- Article by: Libby Funke, Photo by: Brian J. Waters of Lightning 100
- Posted: 05/24/2011
Thousands of eager music fans are herded and sifted through multiple pathways to get their wristbands. It’s noon, and its surprisingly quiet within the quarantined area where the three-day Hangout Music Festival is set to begin in less than two hours.
Only volunteers, artists and event staff are allowed to enter, scurrying around in a frenzy to cover their next assignments before the gates open. After slathering on another layer of spf 30, I run into some close friends from Nashville and decide to step inside the Gulf Coast Grill, a local eatery just steps away from the line of excited fans awaiting entrance to Hangout. We start the weekend with a round of drinks and a toast: “To an amazing three days.”
Some festivals get started off right, even before the first soundcheck reverberates through the concealed chain link fences, and this is one of them.
As we wade back into the sunlight to get in line with the other 35,000 fans, I rejoice in the fact that I possess a coveted media pass. We break the line, say, “See ya inside” to our friends and laugh off the hearty booing we receive from people wishing they could follow our lead, people who still have an hour to wait in line.
Inside, it’s complete discovery. The Boom Boom tent is an immediate favorite, shaded from the sun, running air conditioning and located directly behind the media tent.
Double-checking the schedule, I take mental notes, running down the lineup for Boom Boom: Xavier Rudd, Big Gigantic, Pretty Lights, Old Crow Medicine Show, Drive-by Truckers, Girl Talk and so many more.
I head to scope out the Sky Bar, a central point in the festival, which turns out to be home to hammocks, palm trees, an upstairs lounge and the beautiful site of waves crashing into the shoreline. The waves are only about 20 yards from the fence—more of an obstacle than a barrier—that was designed to keep the more curious concertgoers out of the ocean.
Upstairs in the Sky Bar you can watch the entire day unfold. The stages are a perfect distance from one another, close enough for walking but far enough to keep stray sounds at a minimum.
The Hangout is the main stage to the far left. Groovshark Stage, Shaka Island Stage, the Ferris wheel and mega drop, a carnival ride that drops you from 145 feet, are on the opposite side of the Sky Bar. Surf Style, a stage prepping to host Grace Potter, completes the oval of activities to the right.
First up: Easy Star All-Stars on Grooveshark.
Hula-hoop girls are staggered around the edges of the entrances, making it difficult to pass through. They’re mesmerizing, probably because they’re quite phenomenal at the sport. At first, I’m caught off guard since I usually associate hula-hoops with third-grade recess, but my train of thought is immediately cut short by a single voice yelling, “You know ... we are feeling the love! This has been a family affair for these All-Stars!”
The crowd collectively cheers as the reggae/rock band dives into a set with a mixture of songs from their older albums spiced up with several of their newer hits.
Time management is not my strong suit, but at a festival this size, judgment calls are essential (see Cee Lo Green on Day 2). Five stages, 55 bands and 36 hours—it’s a boatload of sand and sound crammed into a very small amount of time.
Executive decision: It’s important to see as much as I can, so I head toward Umphrey’s McGee, a band I haven’t yet seen in concert.
The sand around the stage fills up with people. Toward the back of the crowd, blankets cover the ground for people who didn’t care to get any closer. From the air I imagine it looks like a crazy, mismatched quilt. We press on toward the front of the crowd to get the full view.
Standing just right of stage left, we reach the shade, stop, unpack the ice-cold margaritas and get ready for Umphree’s McGee to take the stage. I have to admit, with all the amazing shows I saw, I danced harder and longer during the McGee set than anything else. Brendan Bayliss summed up the perfect set, saying to the crowd, “This is a good hangout (he laughs), no pun intended. No, this is a really badass party. Thanks!”
As Bayliss begins the next song, I look up just in time to see a bright blue, inflatable walrus bouncing end over end throughout the crowd. Only in Gulf Shores are there bouncing beach balls also shaped like walrus pool floats. As the show wraps up, I remember with a smile that, while Umphree’s McGee may be from Chicago, they started their band in my home state of Indiana.
Like any festival, just when one show comes to an end, another one starts. This isn’t the music scene I’m accustomed to in Nashville. At Hangout, if a band is scheduled for 4:40, the first beat reaches the speakers at 4:40, which means I’m already running 10 minutes late for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.
As we make our way through the crowd, I remember the advice I was given about getting the best seats up front. I’d share, but I can’t give up this secret since it worked like a charm.
Sitting smack in front of the stage, I’m envious of Grace’s beachwear: a sheer, breezy white shirt paired with a golden sequin mini skirt. This girl can even rock out the beach in style. Banging on her tambourine and singing “Down by the River,” Grace gets the crowd swaying and singing her song for her.
She and her band command the entire stage, everyone enjoying themselves until “Ooh La La” hits the speakers and the entire place comes alive. Even people standing in line for food hundreds of feet away turned in awe at the Grace Potter stage. If anyone didn’t know of Grace before Hangout, they were aware of her presence by the end of that song.
The rest of the day runs together as we gear up for Widespread Panic. I’ve heard stories, read reviews and listened to friends recount how awesome all 16 shows were, but I’m glad to have the opportunity to listen for myself.
As we meander through the facilities waiting for Widespread, we catch Bassnectar’s cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” My Morning Jacket hits the stage as the sun sets over the horizon.
The best part about Widespread is the people in the crowd. I meet couples, families and guys and girls of all ages ready to listen to all the classics. As Widespread is jamming, about halfway through the set, the air turns chilly and my feet began to beg for solid ground. Ten hours on sand has taken its toll, and I turn to my boyfriend and point out that this show would sound even better if we were listening from a hammock overlooking the ocean.
Thankfully, he agrees.