In 2012 I saw the Hangout Music Fest’s third effort, and it was a grand one. The sold-out May 18-20 event boasted an eclectic lineup aiming to please a varied crowd. Dave Matthews Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack White and String Cheese Incident headlined, and acts such as indie favorite Dawes, freak rockers The Flaming Lips and New Orleans Bounce newcomer Big Freedia rounded out the bill.
For those interested in possibly making the trip to Gulf Shores, Al. for the 3-day beach fest next year, here are our favorite (and least favorite) things about The Hangout Music Fest.
The big question on attendees’ minds this year was this: is it even possible to top last year’s lineup? In 2011 the festival was headlined by Paul Simon, Foo Fighters, The Flaming Lips (again) and The Black Keys. Many people wondered whether 2012’s lineup could live up to last year’s crowd-pleasing blowout.
While definitely dealing with a lack of legend-status headliners, the quality of this year’s festival didn’t suffer at all. Artists had no trouble delivering the kind of high-energy, engaging shows attendees could expect of a bestselling legendary rocker.
Some of our favorite shows included: The Flaming Lips (performing Dark Side of the Moon), M. Ward, String Cheese Incident, Randy Newman, Sleeper Agent and The Lumineers.
Of course the venue is one of the best aspects of this festival. It’s that one thing that sets Hangout apart from the myriad other festivals scattered across the country. The two main stages are in the sand. This puts viewers only a few yards away from the ocean for much of the day. While smaller stages are a bit more landlocked, a strong ocean breeze is a constant throughout the festival grounds.
And since Hangout isn’t a camping festival, attendees can spend their nights and downtime cooling off in the Gulf of Mexico.
Many festivals take place on farms (Bonnaroo) or in forests (Electric Forest), and this can put patrons miles away from everyday conveniences. The Hangout Festival is right in the middle of a tourist town, and attendees can come and go throughout the day. Don’t want spicy pie for lunch on a hot day? The festival’s proximity to dozens of local seafood restaurants makes that an easy problem to solve.
The Hangout Festival’s organizers have had a busy three years. In 2010, the festival’s first year, it was a much smaller operation. There were between 13,000 and 15,000 attendees per day, and less than 40 bands on the lineup. In the next two years the festival grew significantly, with attendance for both years having to be capped at 35,000 per day.
With such growth in attendance, the festival experienced some overcrowding issues in 2011. The organizers noticed immediately that something had to be done, and doubled the size of the festival site (while maintaining its maximum capacity) to allow for more comfortable, happier attendees.
In this interview with Blank News, festival co-creator AJ Niland discussed more of the improvements made to this year’s event.
Perhaps the coolest thing about the Hangout Festival is the feeling of just taking it all in. There are many things to see and do (and eat) at this festival, and to top it all off, it’s all on the beach. By the first night when the ferris wheel is lit, headliners are performing and patrons are exploring, it is clear that something unique is taking place.
As with most festivals, there will be conflicts. Most festival-goers know they can expect to miss at least one of his or her favorite bands at any festival. (This year it was Dawes). Our best advice is to pick one of the two painfully overlapped shows and stick with it. The only thing worse than missing one of your favorite bands altogether is missing half or more of both shows because you got lost or stuck in a slow-moving crowd on the way to the other show.
If you can afford to stay in Gulf Shores (which can cost anywhere from $80 per night and up), then you’ll have no problems, and may even have an expansive ocean view from your room.
Some of the local hotels even overlook the festival’s main stages, which depending on whether or not you’re there for the event, could be enjoyable.
If you can’t afford these, you may need to stay in a neighboring town about 30 minutes away. This works, but it can be undesirable to drive 30 minutes after a full day of music festival.
The bottom line for all patrons is to book early. The earlier you book, the more likely it is you will find a room that meets your needs.
No Ocean Access
Inside the festival grounds, the ocean is blocked by a small wooden fence. Though this is probably for the safety of patrons and the cleanliness of the sea, it is a common complaint. Many people solve this by taking morning swims outside the festival, or by staying an extra day to enjoy the water.
All in all, Hangout provides one of the most unique music festival experiences in the United States. This is because of the beach of course, but also the eclectic lineup which has grown each year, and is now competing with the country’s most successful festivals.
And for those interested in trying a music festival, but unsure about the harsh environment and physical commitment involved, Hangout is a low-impact event that doesn’t require too much walking or any camping.
This guest post was written by Candace Ramirez. She is a music enthusiast and an accomplished wearer of dresses.