It amazed me what a small space the Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama was held in. The two main stages faced other across a stretch of beach that held crowds for competing headliners comfortably. Almost everything else was packed into the boardwalk.
Crunching a festival of this magnitude into such a small space resulted in the biggest headache of the festival: the Boom Boom Room, a “dance tent” that contained artists such as Old Crowd Medicine Show, Pretty Lights, Bassnectar, and Girl Talk who usually fill bigger venues. People I spoke to consistently said, “Make sure you write about the Boom Boom Room.”
The tent’s location caused its overflowing crowds to spill into the main stage’s audience, which made it difficult to access the main stage. The density of the crowds in that tent was unbelievable; it looked like a solid, throbbing amoeba during Pretty Lights without an inch between bodies. There was no room to dance in the dance tent. The heat of the beach and relentless sun made heat stroke enough of a risk before Hangout decided to pack some of their biggest names into a tiny tent in one of its most traversed intersections; considering that some people only purchased tickets to see certain artists which both happened to play in the Boom Boom Room (such as Pretty Lights, Bassnectar, and Girl Talk), it is surprising that the festival didn’t anticipate the overflow and insane crowd density. It seems unfair to Old Crow and the Drive-By Truckers who were packed into that tent since it severely limited the prospective audience. Luckily, no New Orleans artists were stuck in the dreaded Boom Boom Room. Trombone Shorty and Galactic played the Grooveshark stage. They had dynamic performances that engaged the non-local crowds and were probably more entertaining than either of the competing headliners.
Trombone Shorty put on wild show that had the most enthustiastic crowd of the entire festival. The crowd was relatively thin (Shorty was competing with Ween), which meant people could dance like crazy. The show was similar to his recent Jazz Fest performance, including call-and-response and an instrumental switch-around. When Trombone Shorty ordered the crowd to go crazy, people obediently flopped around and danced in wild circles on the sandy pavement.
Galactic sounded good with on Corey Glover on vocals. Glover, of Living Colour, did an unbelievable job and the crowd loved him. A stand-out was “Heart of Steel”—I preferred Glover’s strong, wild vocals on this one to the more conservative track with Irma Thomas on Ya-Ka-May. The crowd was more animated than I saw at any other show, and the Grooveshark area was the most packed that it had been at the entire festival.
The perpetually barefoot Keller Williams impressed the crowd and confirmed my belief that he is one of the most talented solo acts touring today. It’s fun to watch him experiment with noise, whether he’s testing out his guitar or laying down a bass line. Beyond his musical abilities, which I’ve written about before, he has a knack for making the audience giggle. “Thanks for hanging out with me at Hangout Fest,” he said shyly, then grinned later and boasted about getting in for free. Most of the crowd seemed like they were already Keller fans; he only had to strike the opening chord on “Perpendicularity” to prompt the crowd to begin dancing. But he probably earned some new fans at the Hangout Stage.
JJ Grey and Mofro
This show was the first time I saw a packed crowd at the Grooveshark Stage. This Gulf Coast festival was a goldmine for Jacksonville native JJ Grey. He played his usual set, which included “Orange Blossoms,” “Lochloosa,” “The Sweetest Thing,” and “Country Ghetto.” Some of the most enjoyable parts of the show were when Grey stepped back and let Mofro’s talented horn players, Art Edmaiston and Dennis Marion, showcase their skills.
“Bad Feels Good” earned an enthusiastic call and response and sing-along with the crowd. The screams from a neighboring amusement park ride added the fun feel of JJ’s mid-afternoon set.
The eccentric Gene Ween put on a solid show last evening. The set started off light, then picked up during “My Own Bare Hands.” The stand-out was “Your Party,” a deliciously creepy, fun track off of La Cucaracha. The creepiness comes from a combination of the lyrics, lilting rhythm, and Gene Ween’s nasal vocals. A high point in the set came when Ween convinced his obedient audience to join him and shout at a nearby sailboat: “Hey! On the boat! Can you hear me? Fuck yeah!”
The Black Keys
While smaller venues give the Black Keys’ set a better sound than the stages of outdoor fests, the duo compensated by playing hard and strong. Guitarist Dan Auerbach nailed his gritty, soulful solos, and Patrick Carney was an animal behind the drumkit. The enormous crowd seemed delighted with the set despite some sound issues (there were a few half-hearted chants of “Turn it up”).
“We have to see Paul Simon,” said Hangout attendees all weekend. While the festival attracted certain types of music fans—some came for the jam bands, some for the hard rock, and others for the electronic—everyone seemed to agree that Paul Simon had to be seen. Sans Garfunkel, he commanded the entire beach—the size of the crowd took up the entire space between the two main stages. The Black Keys’ audience seemed to just turn around at the end of the set and face towards the opposite stage.
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