Hangout Festival Manages to be Everything to Everyone
As a five-year veteran of Hangout Fest, I’ve seen almost all of what it has had on offer over the years. This weekend everything was aligned for a banner year—in October the Gulf Shores city council unanimously voted to extend the festival’s permit through 2020, last year the festival attendance was raised to 40,000 people, and the festival grounds have expanded ever outward from the beach. As the profile of the festival has risen, the lineups have become more refined. This is not to say that the selected bands have tended toward a certain sound but rather that the festival organizers have done an outstanding job of building tracks of affinity throughout the weekend. If I wanted to only hear EDM, I could mostly bounce strictly from one EDM act to another and avoid the rock or pop scenes completely. The same was true of the pop and indie scenes at the festival as well. You have already heard about a few of my favorite acts of the weekend. There were several people who when I asked about their favorite performances had a list that did not overlap with mine at all yet who were equally passionate about the excellence of the music they saw. This is the hallmark of a great festival lineup and this year Hangout had an excellent festival lineup.
Of the nine sets I saw from start to finish I would classify four of them as Amazing, two as Great and three as simply Good. This is a remarkable ratio. Most of the performances were so engaging that it was hard to tear oneself away in order to catch multiple acts in the same time slot. All of our careful scheduling was quickly trashed. Let’s start with the Amazing.
Most of the bands that blew me away at Hangout were definitely of the emerging artist variety. I have written about Young Fathers and Sylvan Esso and Phantogram and Rubblebucket here. Of these four bands Phantogram had the largest crowd (which was still small by Tove Lo standards), but each group did have a collection of true fans. These are the folks who have staked out a spot on the barricade and sing along word for word. By attracting these groups and the dedicated fans that come with them, Hangout has cultivated an excellent sense of community and discovery into their festival vibe.
I have already written a bit about Toro y Moi’s set on Saturday here. This outstanding chillwave performance set the tone for the day and carried us through the heat. I am looking forward to see what is next for Chaz Bundick.
On Sunday as the heat was getting ready to break, TV on the Radio took the stage. As I said earlier, this was the hardest set of the weekend. Adebimpe and company took the audience on a trip through their catalogue that alternated between the accessible for the first timer listener and complexly rewarding for the long time fan.
On Friday, Spoon brought Hangout a festival set of that was a solid mix of their classic songs and the excellent tracks from their new record. My love of this band goes way back, but they were relatively new to some of my friends who wanted them to do more on stage. Their large sound didn’t seem to match with their rather staid performance style. Now in fairness to the band, it did seem to be about 200 degrees next to the stage so that may have had something to do with it. This was my first chance to see the tracks from They Want My Soul live and they were as fantastic as I expected them to be. They opened with “Rent I Pay” and never looked back.
On Sunday afternoon, Swedish pop star Tove Lo and her legion of fans took over the Surf stage for an hour right at the height of the day’s heat. This was by far the most densely packed crowd that I saw all weekend. The close quarters and heat combined with the sexual tension that Tove Lo was throwing from the stage to create a crescendo at the moment she began “Habits (Stay High)”. This was further heightened by the release of dozens of inflatable water toys into the crowd (a Hangout tradition).
Beck closed out the festival Sunday night with a set that we took to calling “Preacher Beck”. There was a lot of talking intermixed with the hits—including what seemed to be a twenty minute version of “Where It’s At”. As a longtime fan, I was disappointed that his excellent new record Morning Phase did not play a larger part in the proceedings. I appreciate that it is difficult to mix slower singer/songwriter material into a headlining festival set; however with the calm clear night we had on the beach it would have worked perfectly.
As a whole experience, this weekend was about as good as a music festival gets. The weather was perfect, the bands were on point and the entire experience had been carefully choreographed to create the best possible experience. If Hangout continues this trend, we will start talking about this festival in the same breath with Bonnaroo and Coachella.
To Do This Week
Rush is at the Smoothie King Center on Friday night. On Tuesday BRAIDS open for Purity Ring at Republic. This will definitely be the show of the month. Purity Ring are touring on their excellent second record. They also have one of the best stage shows around. BRAIDS are an excitingly experimental pop band. This is a perfect double bill, but sure to get there on time to see both. Wednesday Irma Thomas will play Wednesday at the Square.
To Listen This Week
The new Unknown Mortal Orchestra record Multilove is on NPR’s First Listen.
Bob Dylan plays on one of Letterman’s last shows.