The beach-side Hangout Music Festival saved the best for last on an action-packed Sunday night headlined by a greatest hits-type set from the GRAMMY award-winning Beck.
A wonderful weekend at Gulf Shores all came to a close with Beck wasting no time getting to the classics. My media wristband allowed me access to the VIP area, and one of the benefits of that at Hangout was being able to rest my feet in the stageside pool — something that was much appreciated after putting a lot of wear and tear on my dogs the whole weekend.
Right off the bat, the crowd was treated to “Devil’s Haircut,” “Loser,” and “New Pollution” within the first handful of songs. As time went on, you began to realize just how many hits the critically-acclaimed musician has in his catalog.
Beck was the only headliner that went unopposed. On the previous two days, those that were there to rave and fistpump had the choice to see Jack U and Major Lazer against the more traditional Foo Fighters and Zac Brown Band. Those that weren’t really there to rock wound up leaving the fest early, or getting in a crazy long line to ride the ferris wheel before heading out. Their loss.
In the pool, there were a few people splashing around with little care for those that were resting with full beers nearby. Something funny unfolded as one of those that was splashed threw a condom into the pool (FYI, it was unused). People in the pool freaked out and kept discarding it onto the outside of the pool, yet it kept finding its way back into the water. Being on the inside of that joke was an entertaining side plot to Beck crushing his festival-closing performance.
At the end of his set, Beck went with “Where It’s At” and “One Foot in the Grave,” introducing his band to the crowd. When it came time for keyboardist , a guy leaned in to share a story. He told me how earlier in the weekend he met some girl who was bragging about how she hooked up with Beck’s keyboardist during the festival. When the keyboardist was on the screen, the guy realized that it wasn’t the same guy who claimed to that girl to be Beck’s keyboardist. In the age of Google in the palm of your hand, it’s ballsy – and scumbagg-y — as hell to go for a story like that.
Back to Beck’s performance, he turned out to be a much better closer for a festival than I would have figured. His talent shines even brighter on stage than on his many quality records, and his encore of “E-Pro” sent fans packing with a smile on their face.
The rest of Sunday’s lineup leading up to Beck served as a tasty appetizer. On the Palladia stage, Phantogram was the perfect sundown choice. Sarah Barthel rocked some leather pants and Cleopatra-esque bracelets. They’ve grown as live performers even just from last year when I first saw them. On their hit “Black Out Days,” Barthel has begun to hold the note on the final chorus to the point that it gave me chills and sent the crowd into a frenzy.
“Fall in Love” and “Mouthful of Diamonds” got the expected pops as well-known songs of theirs, but even the deeper cuts had a good portion of the crowd into it. They also dialed things back right as the sun began to set, and the songs that featured Josh Carter more prominently on vocal found a great home throughout the set. At the end of the set, a number of people around me expressed appreciation for a band they admittedly knew very little about.
Performing simultaneous to Phantogram over on the Beach stage was My Morning Jacket. Their crowd was far deeper than their counterpart’s, and Jim James rocked out as well as anyone all weekend. The amount of My Morning Jacket t-shirts I saw all weekend was a surprise to me — they’re right on the verge of headlining these types of festivals.
My Morning Jacket
Foster the People were the last band to play the main stage before Beck closed the show. Their set was also high in attendance as it stretched quite far back. Aside from a May 29 date at Bottle Rock Music Festival in Napa (which we will be at) and Firefly, they’ve got just one date on the books until late August. They performed as though it was their last show for awhile and they left it all on the stage.
It’s always difficult for someone who primarily plays an acoustic guitar to have their sound carry to the back of a large festival crowd, but Vance Joy was able to accomplish that on Sunday. Though he saved his big hit until the very end, the singer-songwriter proved he’s capable of being more than just a one-hit wonder. His vocal and songwriting style reminds me of David Gray (remember that guy?) and he left a big impression on those that were only familiar with the song that has infested mainstream radio for the past year.
With hundreds of millions of plays on streaming music sites, pop star Tove Lo doesn’t need any gimmicks to get people talking. Yet on the Beach stage, she flashed the crowd during her set and it isn’t the first time she’s done that. The raunchiness in her songwriting is what made singing along to songs like “Talking Body” and “Stay High” so fun — and the beach setting went well with her music. For her part, she claimed Hangout Fest to be her favorite festival in her young career.
I was able to walk over and catch the end of the tropical sounds of St. Lucia on the Palladia stage — enough to catch the sing-along to their hit “Elevate.” Every time I’ve seen them, there’s been a crowd of people holding up a South African flag, and that afternoon in Gulf Shores was no different.
Los Angeles’ Robert DeLong blew people away who are used to electronic artists that just push play. During his set in the Boom Boom Tent, he bashed on some drums, he live mixed all sorts of sounds — including the voice of a female fan — and proved that he’s as talented as they come. I was rather surprised to see how many were familiar with his stuff and how packed the tent was for him so early in the afternoon on the final day.
Indie pop act MisterWives were also able to bring out a large crowd for their 12:30 PM set. Throwing in a cover of Cindi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” singer Mandy Lee’s energy was unmatched by anyone who would take the stage the rest of the day. Despite talking about how the heat was having an effect on her, she threw down a couple pushups and ran around the stage like a madwoman. There were just as many guys as there were girls singing along to “Reflections” to close out their set.
I got into the gates in time to check out firekid, aka Dillon Hodges and his band from nearby Muscle Shoals. It was an entertaining performance, with them covering “Golden” by fellow Hangout performer My Morning Jacket, utilizing a Nintendo GameBoy in the process.
— Overall Hangout Festival Wrap —
Of the six festivals I was to be covering, Hangout Fest and Bonnaroo were the two that I had the highest expectations for. Still, the Gulf Shores fest managed to blow away what I thought it would be.
I consider Hangout Fest to be almost like a miniature Coachella. The music appeals to the same kind of demographic with a fair amount of big-name rock, pop, and electronic acts. The beach appeals to people showing up in their swimwear and a “no shirt, no shoes, no problem” vibe.
The festival itself was run like a well-oiled machine. Throughout the entire weekend, i never had a problem getting a bite to eat, getting to a water station, or a toilet. Oh, the toilets. There were FLUSHABLE Porta-Potties that would get cleaned by staff almost after every use. It was incredible. Though the weather was looking grave a week before, it turned out to be quite perfect. The clouds the first few days provided a little bit of coverage from the heat, and the third day was beautifully clear.
I also wanted to shout out how accommodating the PR staff was for us. Like Shaky Knees, the set times were not staggered, making it hard for photographers to cover two sets that came on at the same time. In almost every case, we decided to just shoot one. But on Sunday, the My Morning Jacket and Phantogram clash was one we were bummed to have to choose. After clearing it with Phantogram’s team, we reached out to the PR staff of Hangout to see if they would allow us to shoot after their first three songs (the standard) since we would be shooting My Morning Jacket during that time. They made it work without question, and that was just one of the instances where they were more than willing to help us accomplish what we wanted. Their entire staff was a pleasure to deal with and always had a smile on their face or enthusiasm, and though it might not seem like much, it goes a long way in making the experience that much more enjoyable.
The ONLY downside I can think of from the weekend was the pat-downs getting into the festival. The first day was just like any other festival, but on Saturday AND Sunday, I felt a little bit violated by the way they searched me. On Saturday, the person who searched me put his fingers down the waistband of my boxers and traced around. On Sunday, the guy came up from below with his hands and made contact with my groin. I understand trying to find weapons and illegal substances, but there should be some sort of line.
Though Hangout Fest was mostly comprised of people from the south — surrounding states like Tennessee, Louisiana and the like — I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a destination festival in the coming years. It also wasn’t the first time at this beach-side rodeo for a lot of the people I spoke with. It didn’t have many people come from across the sea from what I could tell, but if you were from outside the States and wanted to hit a festival that isn’t Coachella, Hangout would be my No. 1 recommendation so far.
I managed to secure a spot in a condo a 10-minute walk from the gates right on the beach through Reddit. There were seven of us crammed into a two bedroom with a pullout couch but we made it work and it turned out to be all really cool people. The ability to walk out to the beach from your condo in less than two minutes was something that made coming back from the festival each night feel like you were getting more bang for your buck. There were drum circles and light shows and fireworks going off on the beach all throughout the night. People would stop you and say “Happy Hangout” and all of a sudden you found yourself in an hour-long conversation with someone you didn’t know. The water in the gulf itself was bath-water warm, something I’m not used to given how freezing cold it is on the beach in LA.
I have a feeling it won’t be long before I’m back in Gulf Shores for another round. It won’t take a ridiculous lineup for that to happen either. Because as much as music festivals are about the music, let’s be real — it’s also about what the entire experience can provide. In that regard, Hangout Fest has something in spades that many festivals don’t: complete and utter uniqueness.
Words: Mark E. Ortega
Photography: Tom Dellinger
Foster The People
Lake Street Dive
Want more photos from HangOut Fest 2015? Check out the photo gallery below!