The 2nd Anuual Hangout Fest is Just Around the Corner and JBO Talks to Founder AJ Niland |

The 2nd Anuual Hangout Fest is Just Around the Corner and JBO Talks to Founder AJ Niland

May 13, 2011

Article by Lori Sky Twohy

If you missed last year’s Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama, you cannot miss the opportunity to go this year. From feed back and pictures I have seen from the 2010 event, a good time was indeed had by all in attendance

JBO: Let’s get started by hearing the story of how the idea got started to have a music festival on the beaches of Alabama?

AJ: Well, we had been wanting to have a festival for a while, and striving to do something different than what was already out there and looking around the country, coming up with lots of crazy options, but then one day in Oct 2009, we got invited down to a music venue at a restaurant near the coast called the Hangout to talk about another event and at this meeting, we just looked around and thought, “holy cow, if we could get access to the beach, this would be a perfect place for a festival” and within 24 hours we contacted the city and made progress and 7 months after that we had a festival.

JBO: Awesome! Well, that just plain sounds like it was meant to be?

AJ: Sort of, yeah, the main thing was that we didn’t want to do just another camping festival like Bonnaroo or Rothbury who kinda have the market on it or a park themed fest like Lollapalooza or Coachella. It just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to do the same thing as them, but we never even thought that we might discover the perfect place to be in our own back yard.

JBO: Wow, you just answered my nest 2 questions. Which were “Why Alabama and not Florida?” And “How did you get the ball rolling?”

AJ: Well the community of gulf shores as opposed to anywhere in Florida was just so very open to it and of course this is where we are from.

JBO: I would imagine that having a festival like yours, with so many great big named acts, would help with the tourism economy of the town of Gulf Shores and help kind of “put them on the map” so to speak?

AJ: Yes, that is something we definitely took from year one; that we were able to help get there tourist season kicked off, in despite of the oil spill. We are proud of the fact that we were able to help keep the economy going by first holding the Hangout and then the following free concerts with Bon Jovi, Jimmy Buffet and Brad Paisley. We were able to kind of put a band aid on our own community with rock and roll and we got to help people see a different side of Alabama from the typical stereo type. I think there are a lot of people, including a lot of the musicians, that didn’t even know that Alabama had a beach.

JBO: Exactly, to be honest, I was one of those people. I did not know there were beaches in Alabama until I herd of the Hangout fest last year. I also used to think of the state of Alabama as a kind of backwards place and I now feel that the fact this festival is held in a southern state and on a beautiful beach is definitely what makes it unique.

JBO: You mentioned the oil spill which happened only a month before you were getting ready to launch the festival last year. Did you totally freak out when you realized the seriousness of it and were you worried it was going to impact your ability to move forward?

AJ: When ever to take on any adventure in life, you take a risk and accept that things can indeed go wrong, but I never dreamed that there could be an oil spill. In fact, the day it happened, we were at the beach working on the festival and we could actually see the fireball out there, but didn’t know what it was and found it odd. Then the next day when we found out what it was on the news, it really didn’t sink in too much, but then after a few days, we thought, “holy crap, this is serious!”  It was intense and there was a time of just pure confusion and a little bit of terror about what we were going to do. I mean, where is the guide or hand book on dealing with an oil spill? But we paid close attention to where the oil was traveling and we decided that the most important thing was to let people know that Gulf Shores (where the economy is based on tourism), is still open for business as well as our festival. We donated our profits to the relief and we moved forward.

JBO: Was this you first festival and how were you able to get so many very well known artists to jump on so quickly last year and again this year?

AJ: This definitely was the first major festival that we produced, but we have been putting on other events over the last seven years. Over that time, you build up relationships and trust with different managers and agents and you build up a sense of loyalty. I would like to say its all who you know, but it’s also being able to prove yourself and deliver a good show and develop a reputation for getting things done.

JBO: My final questions are, what is your vision of the future as far as new ideas go and who would you like to get booked that you haven’t been able to get?

AJ: Oh man, of course there are those iconic bands like U2, the Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney, but being that we are down in Alabama in a strange place that might not happen.

JBO: Paul McCartney did recently play Coachella fest in the middle of the desert, so I don’t see why not.

AJ: Well hopefully there is a chance out there one day. As far as other visions for the future, we have a long list of things we want to do like late night shows for example. Some will be implemented this year and some will slowly happen as years go by, but I really do hope we are doing it for the next 20 years and beyond and we just want to keep improving and making it better and we have already made huge improvements from last year to this year in many areas. In fact, I saw very little music last year, because I spent the whole time fixing things that needed to be fixed in the moment. We had a huge list of changes that need to be made last year and I am sure we will have another one this year. The one thing we probably won’t change is the amount of people we can hold, because the city can only handle so many people. So it’s definitely our goal to keep improving where we can, but also to keep it intimate.

JBO: Well I think you are on to something here. I have been going to festivals most of my life and when I first saw the ads for Hangout last year I was blown away by the uniqueness. I though, “wow, I can’t believe no one thought of having a huge festival on the ocean already!” So thank you AJ, it was great talking to you and I am really looking forward to attending this year!

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