Photos by Lori Sky Twohy
“It’s important to gather in large groups and celebrate life together. There is power in numbers and there is power in unity”- STS9. Who wouldn’t love to have a vacation on the beach anyways? Your toes in the powder white sand; the kind that’s so soft it squeaks beneath your feet, bodies sun-kissed and salty, surrounded by friends and great people. Now, how about a triple day shot for your visual and auditory senses; some fantastic live music, all weekend long in a picturesque setting. Constructed on the beach of GulfShores Alabama, the Hangout Music Fest of 2012 offered that and so much more.
This third annual music fest, on the gulf’s sparkling shoreline was like no other. Intrigued by the line up and of course the venue, a spontaneous decision to ‘let loose’ and go hang out for the weekend came to mind. So we made it happen pulling everything together last-minute, of course. How could we not after listening to most of these top artists for decades and attending at least a handful of some of the other great artist’s on the bill. It was a unique opportunity to catch these great musicians, live and back-to-back, all in one weekend on the beach. May 18th– 20th was a spectacular start to a perfect summer.
With heavy headliners such as: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack White and Dave Matthews. Along with classic sets from Steve Winwood and Randy Newman, this fest brought together and celebrated the success of many longtime, elite musicians. This oceanfront fest also lassoed in afternoon performances from: Rebelution, Gogol Bordello, Heartless Bastards, Dr. Dogg and Cage the Elephant. We also received a back to back, double dose of Alabama born bands. Locals were in full attendance showing support for hometown heroes the ‘Alabama Shakes’ and followed by a salty-licked set by ‘Yelawolf.’
Friday and Saturday night came alive as twilight descended. Rave kids demonstrated their skills, playing with an assortment of glowing, trippy light up gadgets during high-energy sets by Shpongle and STS9.
Tossing out some flavor and spice to the mix were bands like: Wilco and Flogging Molly, followed by a knee-slapping, foot stomping show by the 12 piece band “Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.” These artists, along withCarolina’s “Umphrey’s McGee” and “G. Love & Special Sauce” seasoned the attendee’s sun-kissed bodies during sunset with their energetic “feel-good” vibes.
I was fortunate to catch an acoustic performance by Chris Cornell in Asheville last year and I was determined to catch it again; hence the reason for speeding eight hours to get to the coast. After thanking the crowd “for allowing him to sing depressing songs in this positively perfect setting,” he opened with a feel-good Nick Lowe cover, ‘What’s so Funny about Peace, Love and Understanding.’ Clouds of bubbles created a nice effect as they floated above us during “Sun Shower,” his song for the film, Charles Dickson’s classic: ‘Great Expectations.’ Stating, “Why they asked me to write a song for it, I have no idea.” During mid-set, Audioslave’s ‘Like a Stone,’ ‘I Am the Highway,’ and ‘Doesn’t Remind Me of Any Thing,’ in fact does remind me; like it’s off the soundtrack from a previous chapter in my life. Music has the power to do that. It’s interesting how certain songs, especially witnessed live; get to our emotional core.
He also played tribute to a deceased pianist: Natasha Schnider, placing her recording of ‘When I am Down’ on the turntable, sang and strummed along with mellow chords. Creating a chill breeze through the barefoot crowd, he ended his set with a soul-drenched nod to Lennon, “Imagine,” and the sun melted into the sea behind him.
Strobe lights, glistening hulas and glowing totems ignited Friday night while ‘Umphrey’s MeGee’ fueled, the mostly younger crowd, with a contagious shot of colossal energy. Making my way through the masses, just minutes before Jack White’s set, I grabbed a fish taco, a complimentary brew, and breezed through VIP to sit and enjoy the sun with my feet in the pool. I highly recommend the extra buck for the perks and convenience’s of a VIP pass.
Jack White came out looking sharp and mysterious wearing all black, complete with a top hat. Along with his all male band: The Buzzards. They began a radiating set in front of an ice-cold, blue-lit hue to enhance the monochromatic feel. Squalls of White Stripes accompanied by ferocious riffs were heard in new arrangements of ‘Hello Operator,’ ‘Black Math,’ and ‘Hotel Yorba.’ New songs like ‘Weep themselves to Sleep,’ was particularly huge with a terrific, acoustic guitar solos, while stretching his voice over multiple octaves provided White’s righteousness as a rock star. Sharing the spotlight was piano rocker Ikey Owens, who magnetically hammering a bluesy-baroque ballad, sometimes even bending backwards to tickle the keys on the second piano behind him. These bad boys delivered funky get down vibe to all on ‘Ball & Biscuit,’ and while pounding out the last rolls of the track, the drummer finished by collapsing over his drum set.
As the Buzzards disappeared in to the darkness; Illuminating in white an angelic Ruby Amanfu graced the stage and added her haunting-like voice for a duet of ‘Love Interruption’ with Senior’ Blanco. Then, while seamlessly flowing into ‘We’re going to be friends,’ one by one The Peacocks strutted out, alike in white (thanks to the last-minute help from local seamstress: Kati Hare) and added their flair to the musical magic. There was such a badass display of power from his all-female ensemble. I thought it was a great gesture to switch it up mid set, changing the band’s gender and voice. The set was a melancholy ride filled with truly weird and dark lyrics, but oh so good and emphasizing again, from the back of the catalogue, a couple from Raconteurs: ‘Top Yourself’ followed by ‘Carolina Drama,’ which primed the scene for an infectious rip of their anthem-like ‘Seven Nation Army.’ A fantastic mix of new songs and re-workings of the classics left the crowd begging for more. The explosive display of fireworks behind them was mind expanding. The crowd continued the roar of the bass line on their way out, completing the spellbinding night.
Jack White, with both bands, explored various genres and musical styling. They put on one hell of a show and approached each song with a fierce intensity, shaking the soul out of the song and all who was watching. It was a great way to finish the first night of “Hangout.” In my opinion, it was definitely one of the best performances at the oceanfront fest.
Before the smoldering heat kicked in on Saturday, the harmonious sounds of cellist Garth Stevenson was heard by those loosening their ligaments while following the instruction of yoga master Kelly Morris. Hangout also stretched the effort by making this a well-rounded family event. There was a kids’ stage and a ‘ShakaIsland’ offering an exclusive place for youngsters to play, appropriately equipped with an instrument petting zoo. Oh, did I mention they had a ferris wheel, mega drop, ride and slide and spinning sky swing, which looked amazing to ride at sunset?
Unfortunately, ‘Flogging Molly’ had battling set times with ‘String Cheese Incident,’ so I opted to get my first experience of cheese instead. Some trying to catch a little of both were tangled and consumed like a fly in the yards of string that was threaded throughout the crowd. Along with the barefoot party around us, we danced our asses off. There was even an incident where I brought a spinning, dizzy Lori (our photographer and editor) back up to her feet from a powder sand spill. Elements of funk and rock mixed cleanly, creating a bouncy and layered show. I completely enjoyed every string they shed.
Leaving us hungry for more, we immediately hopped on the boardwalk down to the ‘Red Hot Chili Peppers’ set, which was sure to keep the energy flowing. Wearing a purple shirt under a turquoise lined tuxedo blazer, the word “OFF” on his hat hints what happened next. Anthony Kiedis bared chest and joined a shirt-less ‘Flea’ (Michael Balzary) before blazing into a classic night of, you guessed it, classic Chili Peppers songs from as far back as “Higher Ground” from their 1990 album “Mothers Milk” to many hits off of “Blood Sugar Sex Magic, Californication, By the Way and Stadium Arcadium to a coup new songs off their new album “I’m With You.” It’s hard to believe these guys have been together for almost 30 years and still do not and CAN NOT slow down, especially on stage.
After the Chili’s blew everyone away, people were anxious to add more spice to the night. They were right; there were no limits, late-night at the “Outer Hang.” Catering to the most energetic festival goers, it consisted of multiple venues, offering a musical variety equally including local talent.
To set the tone for Hangout’s after party at “The Keg”- SCI’s dueling drummers: Michael Travis and Jason Hann were back in the house for a second night just after a completing a two and a half hour show earlier at the fest. The duo led EOTO’s high-energy dance party with their steady electronic beats and throbbing bass. Focusing on the tempo, they creatively weaved and infused organic instruments into the mix. Leaving the crowd in the zone for what ever was to follow.
Not distracted by the multiple artist’s exploding and sharing their sound around them; our host, Jon Cook, was sitting in with local bluegrass favorite ‘Red Clay Revival.’ Their play list included precise finger-pickin’ originals along with some grass-rooted classics thrown in along with a snazzy ‘Shakedown Street,’ which moved the listeners from the bar, on to the dance floor.
We were fortunate to receive such great southern hospitality and an insider’s look on the local character. Long after performing sets on the shuttle busses and the Outerhang, we were entertained even further by our host and his friends. Creating impressionable music in the moment with a rendition from ‘Old & in the Way,’ ‘Midnight Moonlight’ (A#- key change solo, Ah-huh was a highlight). Each holler had its own take on traditional songs. Just before, Ryan Balthrop, from Mobile, dished a little stanky, dirty south freestylin’. Jamie Cook added some playful slides on the dulcimer.
The third day of any festival is always the hardest and Saturday night’s festivities led to a late start for most on Sunday. I spent most of the weekend trucking around barefoot in the sand, as did Michael Franti, who joined the crowd strumming his guitar and leading the audience in a sing-a-long to ‘Say Hey.’ This was his third year performing at the fest; he talked about how far the beach has come since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Due to circumstances beyond my control, I missed the inimitable Steve Winwood. He played “Can’t Find My Way Home,” Higher Love’ and after a block of “Traffic,” he encored with a ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy.’ He still remains one of the most creative geniuses from the 1960’s and it’s obvious that time has not altered him at all with his clear voice and dexterity. The multi-instrumentalist icon helped lay the foundation for great rock standards for future generations of musicians.
Chillin’ on the sand waiting for Flaming Lip’s to appear on the Chevrolet stage, I could almost feel the thump from the knee-stomping pulse, pounding from the crowd at Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. The echo of Jade Castrino’s voice was carried in the salty breeze and was followed by a distinct roar from the crowd “Alabama,Arkansas” from their hit ‘Home.’
With Cheese and Peppers still on the palate from last night’s authentic set, The Flaming Lips did not disappoint pulling off their usually silly antics of confetti, sexy school girl dancers, and men in fuzzy costumes, they performed many of their usual songs, but with the added pleasure of covering most of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon; a very nice spectacle for the eyes and the ears.
Next…Dave Matthews Band delivered the cherry atop this five-star fest. The friendship between the members was apparent and added to their sincerity. The band’s unique sound is defined by each musician, producing a valuable element of musical depth.
Off on a late and slow start, somehow the band managed to build the energy to such an incredible level. What first began camouflaged as a three-minute warm-up, “Funny the Way it Is,’ screamed out for attention. The musical flow was powered by subtle key changes of density and crescendo. In a raspy, perhaps wine soaked voice, “I Love Ya” was playfully inserted from Dave before the audience joined him in a 12 minute long suite ‘#41.’ Goosebumps were felt but not just by me, it was all around along with smiling faces and bodies swaying in a rhythmic motion. Dave nods with a squinted eye and Boyd Tinsley enters a warm saw-grassy solo. Then the brass blew a rich lead, tossing it back and forth to bass chords and smooth drum beats from the always smiling Carter Beauford.
After all these years and the innumerable versions of ‘Two Step,’ this is still my favorite one. “Celebrate,” they did while showcasing samples of individual talent through the 16+ minute encore. The devil almost came down from Georgia to battle the fiery fiddling of Tinsley’s mastery game. At times it looked like he was going to saw his violin in half. I’d love to see a showdown between Boyd Tinsley and Lilly Mae, the violinist for Jack White.
On bass guitar, “Fonzy” came out for his solo and warmed up under the spotlight with a Prelude from Bach’s, cellosuite #1. Then, it wasn’t until Dave raised his voice from a whisper and jolted our attention with the verse, “No reason to get excited,” followed by a sand shaking down beat, before they revealed the final song of Hangout 2012, an exceptional take of Bob Dylan’s, ‘All along the Watchtower.’
This coastal shindig was the ultimate way to start the summer. There was a generous amount of concession stands (but noticeably no healthy/vegetarian food for the hippie jam bands fans that most other festivals offer), clean and conveniently placed restrooms and an organized shuttle system, equipped with great local live music. The crowd was full of spirit and they were obviously enthusiastic about all the involved talent and events packed in throughout the weekend. Showcasing what these festivals are all about, the foregathering of the music and the appreciation of the natural atmosphere that surrounded us sincerely captured what was brought to the stage.
Music therapy was left in the hearts, bodies and souls of all who took part in ‘hanging out.’