We got a late start on Hangout Fest again this year, but it was a glorious first day nonetheless. The rain held off and the clouds kept things from getting too hot. The improvements to the state park have really paid off for the fest. The Sunset Stage and grassy knoll are the heart that we didn’t even realize was missing. Caroline Rose was outstanding at the Mermaid Stage. I’m pretty impressed with the massive talent booked into that space this year (we still have Greta Van Fleet and Noname to see there). Jamaican reggae singer Etana was a revelation over on the Sunset stage. I really like this new space – it has just enough room for shade and dancing. Folks are gravitating toward the grove naturally and its fun to see. Portugal. The Man was once again the highlight of the day. These guys are at the top of their game and clearly having a blast. They finally have a real hit and they came to their success on their own terms without abandoning the weirdness that got them together in the first place.
We’re are off to a roaring start here with more to come.
We’ve heading out to Hangout since the second fest and one of the things that strikes me about this festival is that—while it is always fun—sometimes everything lines up perfectly for a extraordinary day. Saturday was one of those days. After great early sets from Amy Shark and Bleachers we got marquee performances from Anderson.Paak and The Free Nationals, Manchester Orchestra, Noname and St. Vincent.
Noname on the Mermaid stage was utterly charming. Despite the heat and a bit of trouble getting into her flow, the performance remains the best thing I have seen all weekend. Every now and then the festival will book an excellent young hip hop performance on this small stage and it really becomes something special. Noname was confident and excited. Her exuberance wrapped the crowd up in its wave and carried us along on her lyrical stories.
We ended the night with St. Vincent in the Boom Boom Tent. For her new stage act Annie Clark and her band are figured as androids. Clark and her bassist wrapped in latex while her drummer and keyboardist remain hidden behind masks, Warhol wigs and matching jumpsuits. The conceptual vision of the performance casts the group as wholly mechanical with Clark’s outsize performance seeming just as scripted and artificial as her completely affectless band mates. Each performer is isolated on a separate square of elevated space and illuminated by a separate bank of lights. Clark began the show by walking across the stage to the figure we started calling “the puppet master”. A figure identical to the other faceless players but dressed in black and clearly meant to be orchestrating the performance. After that initial walk each performer remained within their assigned space. This was very similar to what David Byrne did in Stop Making Sense except that in SMS the idea what the sum being more than each additional added part. Here the pieces were intentionally left discrete bound by their assigned role and the technology supporting it. The visual impact amplifies the feel of Clark’s work and elevates her insane skill on the guitar. Her position is far stage right another piece among others but unique, straining to be more. I like this staging even more than the last.
Another great day and more to come!
The final day of Hangout is always a bit bittersweet. It seems like everyone has finally acclimated to the heat and settled into a serious groove when things start to wind down. For the last day we had great weather and stellar performances from Alex Lahey and the Struts on the Beach Stage—as well as monster sets from Big Boi and SZA. Big Boi’s groove works great out on the beach. It was my first time seeing Greta Van Fleet in person and I was very impressed with their already excellent stage presence. They manage to invoke the 60s and 70s without openly feeling like a throwback or nostalgia act. They remind us that we listened to that music because it was exciting and made us feel bigger than ourselves and that there is no reason to abandon the big rock sound altogether. Kendrick Lamar’s closing set was plagued by sound issues but what we were able to hear was divine as usual. I’ll have more observations next week, but it was another wildly successful year for Hangout and Gulf Shores. The Fest went off without a hitch and the town was as inviting as ever.
Check out Greta Van Fleet playing “Highway Tune” below: