Imagine the Austin City Limits Music Festival or even the rapidly approaching Free Press Summer Fest on pure, white sand just feet away from a (variably) blue ocean, or as Thurgood Jenkins from Half Baked would say, "Right near da beach. Boy-eeee!"
The Hangout Music Festival is located at Gulf Shores, Ala., on the shores of the Gulf Of Mexico, in the sleepy resort town of just a few thousand people, and mere miles east of Mobile. This year's edition of the three-day festival was just the second in its history. In a crowded crop of music festivals, Hangout is actually the biggest in its habitat, meaning it can cater to masses starved for big-budget sweaty spectacles.
With a lineup including Motorhead, Paul Simon, Foo Fighters, Flaming Lips, My Morning Jacket, Widespread Panic, The Black Keys and Primus, among others, the second year was more than enough to compete with the established big boys in the festival industry.
Having a festival on sand is a welcome change from grass and hard ground, but a challenge for fans and those working the event. Getting from one main stage to the other in time to shoot a band was an exercise in agility and endurance, but something we needed anyway.
There were six stages on the grounds of Hangout, one large-scale stage for the likes of Simon and the Foos, with a smaller one for the Lips, Primus and My Morning Jacket. Another tent was for dance-oriented artists like Girl Talk and Rich Aucoin, all the way to Old Crow Medicine Show and Drive-By Truckers. A tucked-away Shaka Island stage catered to smaller singer-songwriters like Justin Townes Earle.
The vibe was incredibly beachy, with women of all ages running around in bikinis, and shirtless men showing off both tattoos and toned bodies. We can't stress the lack of clothing enough You better look at those slideshows because we felt like supreme creepers for three days.
There was a midway filled with food and merch, the former ranging from regional fare up to small-serving gourmet snacks. Those lucky enough to have condos within walking distance of the fest were spared riding on shuttle buses.
As for the music, on Friday evening we got to see My Morning Jacket play songs from their new Circuital after spending almost nine hours in a car listening to the upcoming disc. Hearing "One Big Holiday" with your feet in real sand and realer beer was an event. Earlier, we watched a mildly-clothed Grace Potter rock out for almost two hours with her Nocturnals.
Saturday afternoon Cee-Lo Green was fashionably late to the tune of almost an hour, but the Foo Fighters came out to sate the crowd with a small covers set including Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' "Breakdown" and Alice Cooper's "School's Out," the latter for the college kids who just went through spring finals. Once Green did show up, he helped Dave Grohl and the boys through Prince's "Darling Nikki" to wide acclaim.
For Rocks Off, Saturday evening saw us contemplating seeing either Motorhead or the Flaming Lips, and we chose Motorhead because it's fucking Motorhead and we have seen the Lips many times before and loved them. Seeing Lemmy play "Overkill" just yards away from a Ferris wheel and a cotton-candy machine is an image we will have seared in our brains forever.
The infant rocking out with her dad during the set, wearing huge pink protection, was probably the youngest person we had ever seen at a Motorhead show. We saw the kid grimace during "Ace of Spades" but it was more than likely gas...
That night the Foos returned to the stage at 8:45 for a monstrously epic, blowout set spanning their whole career, with Grohl proving why he is one of the most hard-rocking and sweetest men in rock. The mixed-age crowd was more than happy with the band's now 16-year output, and the songs from this year's Wasting Light were predictably titanic.
Sunday evening began with the Black Keys sweetly toasting the smaller Surf Style stage, opening with "Thickfreakness" and even reeling out a Kinks cover, "Act Nice and Gentle." A few hundred yards over, Justin Townes Earle was decked out in white beach gear, closing his set earlier than usually so he could go see Paul Simon. His words.
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Simon closed the festival Sunday night, injecting his set with a healthy dose of Graceland, his 1986 album that as it reaches its silver anniversary just gets more dear and true. "Slip Slidin' Away" halfway through the set was a poignant tune, and touched on the sadness going on just states over, dealing with flooding and tornadoes. Contrary to the drunk guy behind us, Chevy Chase didn't appear for "You Can Call Me Al" after all.
The only Simon & Garfunkel cuts to be found where "The Only Living Boy In New York" and an encore of "The Sounds Of Silence." The latter, bathed in the beach wind and the low din of the waves just feet away, was a moment for the Rocks Off books.