Live Review: The Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, AL

[EDIT (2/7/2011)] – This post has been getting a lot more attention since the 2011 lineup was announced, so I thought I’d qualify some of the comments found below for the benefit of new readers.  The organizers seemingly saw room for improvement in the same areas I did, and this year they have added an additional fifth stage and booked a much more well-rounded lineup.  If you found this post because you’re on the fence about going this year, I strongly encourage you to go for it.  It sounds like they have made some key improvements to what was already a really fun festival.  My reaction to the initial lineup can be found here.

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This past weekend, springwardrobe and I went to the inaugural Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, AL. The lineup wouldn’t have ordinarily inspired us to drop $160 for weekend passes, but we got the tickets for free and couldn’t pass up the chance to see a three days of music on the beach. General thoughts and pictures below, with a day by day wrap-up to follow tomorrow.

Let’s start with the positive – the Hangout Festival is in a pretty amazing setting. I’ve got pictures to prove it, and you can see them below. The two largest stages were perpendicular to the ocean on opposite sides of a long stretch of beach. If you didn’t have more than a passing interest in whatever band was currently playing, you could head to the back, throw a towel down on the sand, and still see what was going on via the large TVs set up to the side of the stage. This is a great way to break up festival fatigue and to squeeze a bit more enjoyment out of a band that might otherwise try your patience.

There were two more smaller stages, one in a parking lot and another inside the Hangout, the beachfront restaurant/bar that the festival was based around. There was also a long row of vendors selling the usual overpriced food and drinks up and down the boardwalk that bordered the beach. If you wanted to drop $5, you could go up in the ferris wheel. Luckily, lax re-entry for weekend pass holders meant you could easily duck out of the festival grounds for cheaper food and drinks at one of the restaurants within a few blocks of the entrance. There was even a liquor store close by in case you didn’t want to drop $6 on a Miller family beer or $8 on a margarita with a less than generous 1.25 ounces of liquor per serving.

Parking near the beach was crowded and expensive, but the shuttles provided by the festival really helped out. It allowed people who were staying at one of the many hotels outside of walking distance (ourselves included) the ability to avoid paying for parking or driving a car altogether. Nobody’s going to be fit to drive after a music festival anyway, right? I can only vouch for the North shuttle line, but we never had to wait too long for a bus, with one notable exception on Sunday that I’ll get to tomorrow.

The biggest downside for us (lineup and scheduling) was probably one of the upsides for a lot of the paying attendees. It seems like the festival’s organizers made a decision to go for quality rather than quantity in their approach to booking. There were quite a few big names present, and that’s honestly got to be a good way for a first year festival to distinguish itself. Since there was a relatively light amount of acts for a three day, four stage festival, set times were extremely generous. The early acts on the biggest three stages got at least an hour, later acts got more than that, and the headliners had a full two hours and fifteen minutes. There were also never more than two acts schedule against one another. That was probably awesome if you’re squarely inside the festival’s target demographic, but if you’re not, it created huge gaps and a lack of options, especially when it came to the headliners who were the only acts to play after 8:45 each night. If you were like us and really didn’t give a shit about any of the three headliners, your festival day ends really early.

Diversity would help, and it could really open them up to a broader set of music fans. Why not spread the wealth a little more on the smaller stages? Maybe slightly shorter sets, or at least more acts. The third stage typically had more than an hour between sets. Surely that time could be put to better use. If you added a few midsize indie bands, some hip hop, maybe more electronic acts, the festival might look a lot more appealing to the music fan that doesn’t give a shit about jam bands, or the people with eclectic tastes that might be on the fence about some of the bigger names. I understand that most of the those bigger names must have eaten up the booking budget, but I question the wisdom of paying someone like John Legend when that same money might get you a day’s worth of bigger names on the third and fourth stages.

Overall, though, we had a good time. The tickets were free and the location was great, so any complaints are just meant as constructive criticism. If next year’s lineup is more up my alley, I would definitely consider going. It’s basically a beach vacation with live music. Tomorrow I’ll post a more detailed summary of each day, with pictures and thoughts about the bands we saw.

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  1. May 19th, 2010

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