"Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand. With an equal opportunity, for all to sing, dance and clap their hands."
There is something absolutely incredible about music. The way it acts as a conduit of expression and celebration, attracting multitudes of people together in a united front of excitement and wonder, creating and releasing emotions from deep within the soul... it is nothing short of magical.
Those were the thoughts that I pondered as I walked along the white sandy beach of Gulf Shores, Alabama during the 2014 Hangout Music Festival this past weekend. With a cool breeze on my face and the sun at my back, there seemed to be a different vibe from what you normally find at a music festival.
Don't get me wrong, this gig is tons of fun, but in the end it is hard work. The same can be said from the bands themselves, as they lug around equipment and then are asked to perform their hearts out before being ushered on to the next event. Yet this festival, still young at only five years old, is quickly becoming a favorite on the summer festival circuit, for both media and musicians. It really felt as though we were on vacation, with work thrown in as an excuse for us to be there.
Then it all made sense as I researched the meaning of the "shaka" hand gesture that was so prevalent throughout the festival. One definition states that the "shaka" is used by Hawaiians to convey the "Aloha Spirit", a concept of friendship, understanding, compassion, and solidarity.
Hangout, my friends.
After a pleasant drive from Texas to the beach on Thursday, it was time to get to work early Friday morning. The first band of the day was one of my all time favorites, the Los Angeles band Ozomatli. I was a bit surprised to see them so early on the schedule, and even though they only played for a few hundred people, they still provided an enthusiastically energetic and lively opening set. They performed an exceptional new song called "Paleta", which is Spanish for "popsicle" or "lollipop". The track is from the new album entitled Place In The Sun released earlier this year. Perfect way to start the weekend.
As I walked across the festival grounds over to the Boom Boom Tent, which was the always at capacity EDM stage full of bass and lasers, I overheard someone ask outloud "Is that Amber Rose?" It was, in fact, Mrs. Wiz Khalifa, speeding away from me in a golf cart. I took a chance and began to sprint after her. After about half a mile, I caught up and politely requested a photograph. She graciously agreed and posed for me, looking stunning and gorgeous and sexy and, well, take a look:
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Turns out she was also working, serving as a correspondent for MTV, who was a major sponsor of the festival. We would later see her onstage with Sway and her hubby:
I finally made it over to the Boom Boom Tent just in time to see Childish Gambino (aka Troy Barnes and Donald Glover) deliver an absolutely spectacular show. His intensity is unmatched, and he provided the crowd with a fierce energy and witty wordplay. Such an excellent performer.
As the Friday drew to a close, the cool night air on the beach at sunset made this day even sweeter, so I took a chance to rest my feet and enjoy Austin's own Gary Clark Jr. and his blues guitar rock out on the main stage. Is there anyone cooler than Gary? I think not.
Oh, and then The Black Keys played.
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Today begins with a visit with a few Houston friends, Aidan Kennedy of Wrestlers (formally Bagheera) and Asli Omar of The Tontons. We are all eating lunch at The Hangout Restaurant, enjoying the sounds from the Red Bull Sound Select Stage next door.
Aidan tells me that his Wrestlers counterpart David Elkin is currently walking across the stage at his commencement ceremony at The University of Texas in Austin. As soon as he grabs his diploma, he will board a plane and hopefully make it in time for their set early Sunday morning.
The Tontons drove in overnight from a gig in Jackson, Mississippi, and are all in good spirits as they are greeted by several media outlets eagerly awaiting to interview them. Asli confided that they are tired and overwhelmed, yet extremely thankful and appreciative of the love and attention. This is exactly what they have worked so hard for all these years, and with each new show and festival, they feel more and more confident that all the sacrifices they've endured are finally paying off.
One of the major reasons that I decided at the last minute to attend this festival was a conversation with Asli at MKT Bar one night last month. "Would you like to chill with Stevie Wonder on the beach as you listen to awesome music and drink with your best friends? Because you can do that at Hangout Fest!". (Both performed at last year's festival).
After the media lunch, we catch Austin's Shakey Graves set. He begins with his usual one-man-band performance, which is met with impressed applause from the crowd. He is later joined by a few bandmates, and I realize that quite a few people in the crowd are singing along and clapping to the rhythm, obviously having listened to Shakey at home. Good show, indeed.
The rest of the day goes by in a blur as I run from stage to stage to catch everyone from Tegan And Sara, Matt And Kim, and Trombone Shorty deliver their impressive sets. The largest crowd of the festival so far seems to have gathered at the main stage to see Modest Mouse, who also delivers a fun, quirky, electro-pop set as the crowd sings along to dreamy tracks such as "Float On".
Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips bring the circus with them and provide their fans with another set full of inflatable props, stunning visuals, and overall zaniness, ending their set with a cover of The Beatles' "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds".
The Killers do not allow photography, so I chill out on the beach and listen to "Mr. Brightside" before heading over to get my face melted by Pretty Lights. Oh, and I make friends with a beautiful pair of ladies from Ohio. Festival friends are the best.
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My condo is about 300 yards from the festival gate, so I am awakened by the sound checks of Jack Johnson and OutKast. I can hear Andre 3000 complaining about the heat and laughing at his own jokes. I missed the opportunity to see them at Coachella this year, so catching them here on the beach will be my redemption. I am southernplayalisticadillacmuzikly excited!
David made it early in the morning, although some of his gear did not. I congratulate him briefly before he and Aidan take the stage for a wildly fun Wrestlers set. The way they vibe and move and bounce and create sounds is so fantastic and fun, you can't help but to dance. We wish them the best of luck, knowing that they are destined for greatness.
I saw and photographed so many great artists and bands on the last day of the fest, including Soja, Mimosa, Bastille, Boys Noize, Capital Cities, Portugal The Man, The Tontons, The Avett Brothers, Zedd, Jack Johnson, Andrew W.K., and MysterySkulls. Although I'd like to tell you a bit about how awesome all of them where, I will stick to two stories that really moved me.
Both happened as I watched Los Lobos play their sounds of East L.A. as the sun set over Hangout Fest 2014. I actually only caught half of the performance, having hit two other stages during the same time slot. Once I arrived, I found a spot in the middle of the crowd and listened to the beautiful blend of rock & roll and Chicano tunes. The gravel parking lot served as a dance floor for one particularly excited gentleman, an older music lover whose shirt was drenched in sweat from the furious dance moves he displayed almost non-stop.
He was flanked by two teenagers, also seemingly entranced by the holy spirit of music, arms flailing, legs shaking, hips gyrating. It was a combination of the single most awesome and awkward display of rhythm that I have ever seen, and the feeling was contagious. A crowd soon gathered around them, some watching and some dancing, all having the time of their lives.
I asked the gentleman if these were his grandsons, but he told me they were his sons. He married late and had his kids when he was fourty-two. Now that they are teenagers, he makes it a point to go out and have fun with his kids, teaching them to "hang loose" and that life is not always serious and gloomy. "So I teach them to dance like nobody is watching" he tells me. "And if they are watching, dance anyway!".
Near the end of their set, Los Lobos play the Vicente Fernandez classic "Volver, Volver". As I'm singing along, I become homesick... bad! I hold back my tears as visions of my mom and dad dance around in my head, and I remember eating tacos and elotes in the plaza back in Mexico while mariachis sang in the distance. Although you are surrounded by thousands of friendly people at music festivals, you are also very alone and away from your friends and family back home.
I turn away from the stage and I catch a young couple also singing along, so I introduce myself. It turns out that they are also Mexican, from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. Hangout Fest is their second music festival in the United States, and they are happy to meet a paisano here in Alabama. We share a drink and a cigarette, take a few selfies, and go our separate ways. As I said before, festival friendships are awesome.
I also meet four distinct groups of attendees from Houston that same day. What are the odds?!
By the end of the day, my anticipation for OutKast was finally at the breaking point. They only allow 50 media photographers in the pit, and I am number forty. Not the best view, but I hope to get lucky. And then we wait. I chat with two friends in the front row who have been waiting in the same spot since 11am. They bought enough food and drinks to last the whole day. You don't even want to know how they handled the restroom situation.
As any rap fan knows, rap shows do not begin on time. When the clock strikes 9pm, and I see the DJ barely beginning to hook up his laptop and needles, I sit my happy butt down. I visualize the shots I want to take, which of my three cameras I need for each situation, and how fast I can shoot, edit, and upload after the we are booted from the photo pit after three songs.
In the center of the stage, a giant box holds the two MCs, and the first few notes of "B.O.B." ring out. Big Boi and Andre 3000 hit the stage running like Randy Moss, energy and emotion and speakers turned all the way up to the sky. The crowd jumps and screams and revel in the glow of the two ATLiens, two of the coolest people to ever roam the Earth.
They took us on a journey from the beginning until the end of their 20 year career, from "Player's Ball" to "So Fresh, So Clean", "Rosa Parks" to "International Player's Anthem". Big Boi looked menacing in his colorful shorts, gold chain, and shades, while Three Stacks wore a black jumpsuit that read "Big Girls Are Beautiful To Me" across the front.
"We've been here for a long time, and y'all been with us through the whole OutKast story" says Andre 3000. "Twenty years! I almost can't believe it. We were seventeen, eighteen years old. So I really appreciate y'all sticking through it with us and listening to all the shit we come up with. We fuck with y'all like that, and y'all fuck with us. Hey Big, let's tell them a story!"
It was indeed a dream come true, seeing one of the pioneers of Southern Rap united again. It was certainly cooler than a polar bear's toe nails.
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