Sweet Home Alabama: A Trip to Hangout Fest 2016

Sweet Home Alabama!EXPAND
Sweet Home Alabama!
Photos by Marco Torres

We set out last Thursday evening toward Gulf Shores, Alabama. The scheduled eight-hour drive ultimately turned into a nine-and-a-half-hour sloshed ride. We opened the moon roof for a reverse glass-bottom boat ride. The entire way was spent just at the front of the storm but never ahead of the downpour. During a stop for gas in Biloxi, Mississippi, we looked across the street to see a storm-chaser car with all the gadgets to seek out and measure tornados. We promptly gassed up the vehicle and headed in the direction opposite of the storm-chaser crew. The only time we drove not in the rain was when we went through the tunnel in Mobile, Alabama. We experienced all the types of rain in ten hours that Forrest Gump experienced in his full tour of duty in Vietnam.

After the rain, the festival was blessed with its usual amazing beach weather and views.EXPAND
After the rain, the festival was blessed with its usual amazing beach weather and views.

We awoke to the news that the start time of the festival had been postponed. We contemplated what bands would be cancelled or moved to later times over buffalo shrimp po-boys and hot wings. After a quick nap, the alerts on our phones went off simultaneously, telling everyone waiting to make their way to the entrances.

Big Grams

What was your favorite act of the weekend?

Brittany Howard and her band, The Alabama Shakes, had the home-court advantage that night.EXPAND
Brittany Howard and her band, The Alabama Shakes, had the home-court advantage that night.

I was really impressed by two bands I'd seen before but that left me wanting more: the Alabama Shakes and Leon Bridges. I mean, I know how good they are and how much people like them, but after seeing both at ACL, I just expected more from their live show. Well, that “more" was present in Gulf Shores. Brittany Howard, lead singer of the Shakes, proclaimed that they had “home-court advantage” since they were playing in their home state, and boy, did she ever put on a show. And I'm not sure what got into Leon, but he was tremendously looser, more outgoing than the last time I saw him. His crowd interactions and his dancing were off the charts! I also loved Big Grams, Run the Jewels, Cage the Elephant and Florence + the Machine.

Leon BridgesEXPAND
Leon Bridges

This is the second time that I’ve ventured to Hangout Fest, and I know that you’ve been multiple times, too. I was told a few times over the weekend by bartenders and other folks that there were a lot of people from Texas at the festival, and I thought it was awesome that Josh Carter (of Big Grams) took the stage wearing a Vinyl Ranch shirt. Having this being a destination festival, did you see any other connections to Houston?

Josh Carter of Big Grams/PhantogramEXPAND
Josh Carter of Big Grams/Phantogram

Definitely saw a few Houston Rockets jerseys around, as well as a few friends from Houston, Austin and Dallas in the crowd. My favorite H-Town interaction was with rapper/singer Lizzo, who grew up in Houston and was a member of the “avant-everything” band Ellypseas. Her set was amazing — part Beyoncé, part Tina Turner, all attitude! She just signed with Atlantic Records, and I'm really looking forward to running into her at Free Press Summer Fest this year.


Music and social issues often go hand in hand. Were any current issues raised or experienced while at the festival?

Actually, there were a couple. One was maybe the amount of Confederate flags around this year were very few – like I saw two or maybe three all weekend. Even though the crowd is not nearly as diverse as we see in Houston, it is definitely progress in my eyes.

Good vibes only all weekend.EXPAND
Good vibes only all weekend.

The other big issue was the bathroom-equality debates surrounding the transgender community. The general theory is that people should use the designated bathroom that matches their gender identity. Interestingly, there were so many women in line for the men’s restroom that an argument started between several guys and ladies about them extending the line. The girls in line for the men's restroom said they were “transitioning.” A couple of the guys told everyone to start peeing on the seats on purpose to stop this mess. One girl said she didn’t care and she was there because the ladies' line was three times longer than the men’s. This is obviously not what the debate was about.

The WeekndEXPAND
The Weeknd

The Weeknd tweeted out and also mentioned that the weather messed up his set production. Did you see any differences around the festival after the first bad weather day?

Cage the ElephantEXPAND
Cage the Elephant

The weather on Day 2 was absolutely gorgeous. During Cage the Elephant, the moon was rising and the light was reflecting off of the Gulf of Mexico, but things were pretty much the same except that the backdrop of the BMI stage were inflatable huge tentacles and the main stages' video boards looked like they were functioning properly.

Run the Jewels.EXPAND
Run the Jewels.

What did you think about when they announced Panic! at the Disco was replacing Calvin Harris as a headliner because of his car accident?

Some Houston friends who made the trip east.EXPAND
Some Houston friends who made the trip east.

I was actually staying in a condo with a group of hardcore EDM fans from Chicago. One of them asked me early morning if I had heard anything about Calvin Harris. There was no official word yet from the Hangout crew, but after seeing the photos from the crash on TMZ, I figured he was not going to play that night. Part of me was hoping they would replace his set with someone else, even if that meant a Taylor Swift DJ set! I actually was already planning on skipping Panic's set, so that just gave me an excuse to leave the fest early that night and get an early shower and rest.

Fetty Wap.EXPAND
Fetty Wap.

Did you have any hard choices?

The hardest decision of the festival for me was choosing between seeing Courtney Barnett or Ellie Goulding. The witty left-handed guitarist was scheduled to play Saturday Night Live in New York and had to travel early the next day to Gulf Shores, but that put her scheduled against the English pop star. I ultimately caught a couple of songs from Barnett and then ventured into a massive crowd that took up nearly half the beach. I was glad I did, as Goulding killed the second half of the performance.

What was your favorite part of the festival?

Florence + the Machine.EXPAND
Florence + the Machine.

I think it was when final headliner Florence + the Machine closed out the festival. It was a beautiful night again, and lead singer Florence Welch mentioned the full moon as well. During “Dog Days Are Over,” she instructed everyone to hug, kiss and touch each other's face, then said to take off a piece of clothing and wave it around. It was quite a sight to see more than 10,000 entranced people participating with her requests. I have to say that was it. Everyone was happy and drunkenly dancing around in the sand.

More Texas friends.EXPAND
More Texas friends.

So I guess the only question that remains is are you going to go back next year?

I think this was my last Hangout Fest, at least for a while. The only way I would go next year is if Carlos Santana, Jay Z or Kanye West were booked to headline. Maybe Beyoncé. Or if I get the chance to receive an artist pass just to enjoy the all-you-can-eat fresh and grilled oysters from catering! The fact still remains, though...Hangout is amazing, and still one of my favorite stops on the festival circuit.

Adios, Hangout Fest!EXPAND
Adios, Hangout Fest!

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