Photos by Dave Vann (Courtesy of Hangout)
Saturday, May 28th, 2011:
Here I sit, on the beach that I grew up on, in Gulf Shores Alabama, looking out at the break as the tide rolls in. Just a week after Arena Rockers The Foo Fighters and The Flaming Lips shared stage with seasoned Jam veterans Widespread Panic, along with the legendary Paul Simon. It was the most amazing lineup of music to ever hit our coast and now it is back to the normal craziness of a typical summer.
It is surreal reflecting back on the event, and seems like much more than a week has passed since I was dancing my nights away alongside the 35,000 other patrons that had gathered from everywhere (and all points in between) to attend the way sold out 2011 Hangout Music & Arts Festival.
As a “native” and true music lover, having a super fest hosted in the “Redneck Riviera” has been a dream come true. Having this overwhelming sense of honor, coupled with “home pride”, is something that I have never truly gotten from a music event (that was not produced by my own company, EYE DAWG Productions) anywhere, ever.
I have been all over the nation seeing shows and festivals, but this experience holds something much more for me. Sure, it has been great to see people from all over the place exposed to our beautiful Alabama white sand beaches and the truly unmatched “real southern beach culture” which mixes the likes of good food and good folk to make way for the best salt life you find anywhere, hands down.
Yet the true glory for me has been how our local color has taken to the experience and watching how they are reacting to the roots culture insurgence, at its best, through the power of music. I found myself for the first time thinking “they are finally getting it”. Something so crucial for the lower Alabama coast’s evolutionary mindset, which is so needed in all of us, as Americans moving forward as a whole.
The importance of acceptance to the culture brought about by this event is utmost, and brings forth hope to heads like me that steadily strive so hard, and in so many ways, to elevate higher conscious living (found more abundantly in places like California, Colorado and the Pacific Northwest) which has been mostly missing from the Deep South. I am beginning to see it as a late awakening being triggered and inlay-ed by its own decree that accentuates the twang and slang that makes Alabama its own breed. The coastal culture also has something hidden down here to show the rest of the head-heavy nation. It is something working itself out in both ways.
This year’s installment of artists surely and closely rivals last year’s inaugural event as far as band lineup and such goes, but we were left locally with a more overall sense of success. That is the trophy. No BP Spill gloom, no one wondering if everyone made out alright at the door on sales, just simply press play and enjoy. Now let’s rewind.
With small clouds dotting a clear blue sky above, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe seemed to get us all in the right groove, as usual, with smooth care to that soul and funk detail. Then we came to the first tough decision of the day; Umphrey’s McGee or Beats Antique? This was a split decision for me. I know that UM was a crowd pleaser, but I went ahead with following my gypsy instinct by choosing Beats. They are their own brand of Folk and Electro mash, using banjo and fiddle licks with a next level middle-eastern caravan type of sound, yet bass friendly for the club kid in you.
Next, a “no brainer”, Ms. Grace Potter and her rock-smith band The Nocturnals. This girl is smokin’ hot and has it all. She is the full package, a true triple threat. Her encore of Heart’s “Crazy on You” ended with every man (and woman) in attendance going ‘crazy on her’, and falling completely in love with Grace for life. Frenchy (The famous live performance painter from NOLA, recognized for his work with the New Orleans Saints – www.frenchylive.com) got all caught up on her too and really put the colors together right in his live painting of her set. She made her way back on stage with Warren Haynes for another round of crowd pleasing with a Rolling Stones cover of “Honky Tonk Women”. Did I mention this girl is smokin’ hot? Ask Warren, he’ll be sure to tell you all about it too.
Then I came upon the next tough decision of the day, and quite possibly the entire festival; My Morning Jacket or STS9 (Sound Tribe Sector 9). Coming off of a tough winter of canceling dates due to STS9’s David Murphy’s (Murph) cancer treatment, it was a very emotional experience for the band and fans alike. I felt like it was important to be part of the support, and was so very glad I made the choice. I had never seen the band in daylight and it was a quite refreshing change of pace. They were all over it, and I feel like everyone was blessed and bliss-ed by what they were putting out. Murph looked great and I felt the music was therapeutic for all.
Just yesterday I received links to the live audio torrents for MMJ’s Hangout Fest 2011 set. I listened to it in its entirety, then, I listened to it again. It was an amazing set that I missed out on. I must say, I feel I made the right decision by choosing the STS9 set, but MMJ has a masterful sound about them that can not be ignored. Jim James is one of the greater songwriters of the current generation, and I am surely to be front and center somewhere this summer to catch up on what I missed out on from the Hangout Fest set.
Finally, it was the moment we were all waiting for, Widespread Panic closing it all down for the night. They ripped it up and sounded as good as they get. I witnessed a bunch of festival goers that had never seen or truly listened to them in complete awe by the band and enlightened to the fact as to why everyone was so crazy for these guys. I’d say we were all good to go, and what a great way to end a perfect Friday at the Hangout Fest 2011.
When I think of beach, music and perfect weather, Reggae always comes to mind. How about some of the hottest and freshest out there right now? That would be So-Cal’s own Slightly Stoopid. I am all about these guys. Picking up where Sublime left off, Stoopid offers a surfer-punk type hip edged style with major roots appeal that is driving kids everywhere wild. I was feeling it for sure and they set the festival back on its track for round two.
Then there was the “hick up” that turned into a beautiful burp. Cee Lo was fashionably late (seems to be a trend of his) and as everyone sat confused as to who, what and why, the super hero like band of The Foo Fighters stepped up and saved the day by playing Rock anthem covers by Queen, Alice Cooper, Tom Petty and ended with Prince’s song ‘Nikki’ (in which Cee Lo slid on in to try and redeem himself). Nice try Mr. Green, but the Foo Fighters respectively stole your thunder, and rightfully so.
Then marathon of music flowed, built for only the most highly trained of festivores. It started with Primus. Ah, yeah, Primus just getting deep into the muck of musical goo that unconditionally brings out the freak in us all. The heavy ‘THUMP’ of Les Claypol carried over into a moment of afternoon ‘WOMP’ with the deep sounds of the neo-bass era’s prized artist, Pretty Lights, laying down the most sought after style of Dub-Step out there.
Being coined the late night king of Hangout Fest 2011, PL was more so just that, your man for late night, and I found myself needing to quickly move on to my VIP pool party engagement on the Hangout Stage with The Avett Brothers. I must admit that I was not so impressed with my first sighting of these guys at The Suwanee Spring Fest in April (2011), but was willing to give them that second look. I was ever so glad I did, because they managed to get my attention this time with their Folk lure, and believe me I was not the only fish hooked on the line. They had just about every girl at the festival, in bikini, dancing and singing every single lyric to every song.
Then it was back to the freak show, with The Flaming Lips. On point, with a top notch show that is unmatched in my books. This was a band that has been on my radar that I have yet to see live. I have listened to them for years and adore them. They canceled their set at last year’s Hangout Fest and I, along with many others, was very disappointed. Needless to say, it was a highly anticipated set and they did not let us down. What a trip. Entertainers to the bone, making me laugh, dance, sing and stand mesmerized at their wild display of show antics. You could tell they had done this before.
Back to the pool for one more closing set full of what beach festivals are made of. I must admit, I was never ever sold by the Foo Fighters. I liked some of the songs I have heard on the radio over the years and such. Dave Grohl seems like a nice guy, and covering Cee Lo’s ass earlier in the day earned some points on the books for me, but I never truly “got” them. I contribute it to me being a Nirvana snob of sorts and not being completely opened eared to them.
That has all changed now. These guys rocked. They are such a complete class act, talented, full of fun, and possibly the best touring rock band around right now. I found myself in the water moshing with my friend, and fellow seasoned festovorian, Jaques Leonardi (owner of Jaque-Imo’s Café in NOLA, which is a must try for all of you), having the complete time of my life. EVERYONE was having a blast, and, most obviously, the band was too. They set the tone and made a whole bunch of new fans during that set, including me. You will see me at a Foo Fighters show near me soon, bet on it.
The third and final day had now come upon us. The funny thing was that I was feeling better than I did on Friday. The main contributing factor that sets the Hangout Fest aside from all these other major festivals is that you are not getting lagged or burnt out from on-site camping and lacking amenities. Everyone is staying somewhere in the area at plush condos or houses (or, at least, The Gulf State Park/Luxury RV Park), at arms-length from the festival grounds. This enables you get re-vitalized, re-grouped and re-charged between days. Getting some good full meals, showers and much needed R&R away from it all makes way for a major lift in your festival strength and ability.
I went through an amazing spree of sets by Keller Williams, Matisyahu and Drive By Truckers. The early part of the day was dedicated to keeping myself contained and pacing myself with heavy hydration, moderate dancing, and mostly “sand couching” as we called it. Sand couching is the art of digging sand up into a mold to perfectly fit your body shape and covering the creation with a towel to snug your body into as per your customized reclined position.
Then it was time to go all out for one of my personal favorites, Ween. I decided to “hang out” with some close friends during the set and not be spoiled with my VIP access. They were on the Surf Stage, and to be honest, it was a little overwhelming to get comfortable on this stage the whole weekend. It did bottleneck a bit, and people were too “in and out”. so to speak, bumping you as you tried to dance and enjoy the music. Everyone was being courteous, but it was distracting and just the nature of things. I feel like this took away from my Ween experience. The band was a bit off it seemed and ended up being a disappointment for me here, but I know I will see them somewhere else down the road and be redeemed.
My hardships were soon yesterday’s news with the most ultimate beach festival set available provided by Michael Franti and Spearhead. Enjoyed poolside, back to the VIP style, you could not ask for a better way to watch the sun begin its drop below the horizon. He took the cordless microphone out into the middle of the crowd, and became interactive with fan love pouring onto him in every direction. He has to be a good 6’6”, and you could see him as he bee lined through the crowd from one end to the next. He then made it back on stage and proceeded with his highly interactive set by bringing a stage full of kids and “seniors (60+ years old)” on stage with him to dance and sing. It was a crowd pleaser; however my “senior” friend Hank (owner of the Maple Leaf in NOLA) that was enjoying the likes of the pool party with me was not as gung-ho on the senior outreach program, and we all found great humor in that.
I waited months to see the Black Keys. They are the hottest band touring that I have yet to check out live. I had been non-stop raving that they were the No. 1 band on the bill for me to check out. As it turns out, after the trials of the Ween set on the Surf Stage, I opted out on this set to better prepare for Paul Simon. I was comfortable with good company and we got the pool to ourselves for a little while, and also kept key position. It was a major executive decision, but I never look back. I will see them somewhere soon and will give them the proper attention they deserve. The reviews from their set were off the charts, so I know I missed out, but so be it.
And here it finally was, and after all I saw, it still was feeling like it came too soon; closer of the 2011 Hangout Festival, the legendary Mr. Paul Simon. There is nothing like having Central Park on our beach in beautiful Gulf Shores, Alabama. I had never seen Paul, and it was nothing short of magnificent. It was such a beautiful display of sound, talent and genius song writing. It was just what we all needed to close the mother down. You forget just how many classics you know of his, and he played as many as he could until the fireworks rained through the skies over head above.
There it is for you, the 2011 Hangout Music and Arts Festival in retrospect. From a boy that has lived the beach life on the Alabama coast and dedicated his life to getting people to come enjoy all that it has to offer. It seems that this festival has made my job a lot easier and I hope to see all of you making footprints in the sand, at a festival here soon. So come on down now y’all, we’ll be waiting for you.