As far as festivals go, Hangout Fest is still in its infancy. This eclectic music festival, brought to you by the gorgeous beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama, is only four years old! Even though it was born in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it has rapidly grown in popularity, reaching attendances of 40,000 people a day and bringing in huge acts along the way. This year, the festival took place Friday, May 16th through Sunday, May 18th, showcasing weather you could only dream of for a festival of this stature. The crew even wore t-shirts that said “Be Nice or Go Home”. Although, it proved impossible to get upset in paradise!
Seattle native Allen Stone kicked off the weekend with his soulful set, spreading his infectious peace and love attitude! He played some brand new songs and got the whole crowd into it with his “choreographed sway,” bringing the sense of unity that was a common theme throughout the festival. He had an early set time, which is usually an indication of an up and comer, but he had the presence of a veteran headliner.
Hangout Fest seemed to have a sweet spot for newer artists, with an array of breakthrough artists scattered throughout the weekend. Acts like Josh Farrow, who tore it up with his straight-out-of-the-‘70s blues-rock. He charmed the small yet attentive crowd with an anecdote about how he got engaged at Hangout Fest last year. Immediately following Farrow, we got to see British piano pop artist Tom Odell perform. He was without his usual band, which would’ve taken his set to another level, but was intoxicating nonetheless.
Valerie June was another that seemed to be an artist less people had heard of – her audience started out with about 50 people. It was a show in itself to watch this country songstress win people over, with the audience quadrupling by the time her set was over! Reminiscent of Alison Krauss or June Carter Cash, she had the old school country vibe that is wonderfully popular right now. June was great performer with a charming stage presence, whose name is definitely on the horizon.
Dawes’ performance gave us the first glimpse of the main stage, which was complete with hot tubs and swimming pools. Their easygoing, rock sound was the perfect music festival music!
Stepping away from the predominantly folk artists that played during the day was The 1975. This indie rock band was a blast of energy! They had such a fresh, upbeat sound that was warmly embraced by their audience. They were adorably British and voiced how thrilled they were to be performing at such a beautiful festival. Who could blame them?
The first day came to a close with three amazing acts that drew in the biggest crowds of the day, showcasing the massive attendance of the festival for the first time. Gary Clark Jr. lit up the main stage with incomparable soul. He was absolutely mesmerizing with how easily the songs and solos poured out of him. Conor Oberst was a showstopper with Dawes (see above) as his backing band (they’re on tour together – QRO photos from another stop on the tour – but this was a treat because it was definitely unexpected at Hangout Fest!). This combined group of musicians had an undeniable chemistry and had an energy you could feel from a mile away. Oberst played songs off his new album, Upside Down Mountain (released May 20th). After five months without a live performance, The Black Keys closed out Friday with a bang! Their simple, yet catchy guitar riffs make them unmistakable, displaying that with performances of all new songs off of their latest record, Turn Blue. The Black Keys had this amazing capability to make the atmosphere so intimate, while playing to thousands.
South Carolina rockers NEEDTOBREATHE kicked off Saturday with one of the best shows of the festival! They’re known for their live shows, and this performance definitely lived up to the hype. They played a great mix of new songs off of their brand new album Rivers in the Wasteland (QRO review), and old favorites with a twist – they transformed one of their biggest hits, “Something Beautiful”, into part of a foot tappin’ rock song that you’ll have to hear to believe! Combined with their amazing stage and lighting, this is a show you should keep an eye out for.
Amos Lee brought it to the main stage in the early afternoon. He nailed his performance, making a brilliant show even better by bringing in a gospel choir from Mobile, Alabama! They performed about half of his set with him, and it was thrilling to watch!
As the sun set over the beach, The Flaming Lips took the Chevrolet Stage in true Flaming Lips fashion – silver streamers, amazing costumes, plus a few crowd additions, like giant rubber duckies to throw around the audience. You can’t help but smile while watching them perform, their energy is so positive and they are a blast to watch!
Fitz & The Tantrums kept the good vibes rolling with their early evening performance at the Palladia Stage. They drew in a huge crowd with their fun set, playing their hits like “Moneygrabber” and “Out of My League”.
The crowd surrounded the main stage for the last show of the night, The Killers! These charming guys brought down the house, playing all of their hits, plus a killer (pardon the pun) rendition of the CCR classic, “Bad Moon on the Rise”. The night ended beautifully with fireworks during their last song, reflecting off of the ocean; an amazing end to an amazing day.
When Sunday rolled around, you could tell everyone was doing their best to soak in the last of the rays and music before heading home, kicking it off with B∆stille – one of the coolest breakout bands of the year! Their impressive vocals sounded better than the record, and their stage presence was outstanding, even from the hammocks!
Capital Cities tore up the main stage with a rocking horn section, something yet to be seen at the festival. They did an impressive cover of “Celebrate” by Madonna, and if that wasn’t enough, they produced the most raucous crowd of the festival with their “everybody jump!” command during their hit, “Safe and Sound”! A memorable moment for everyone there.
Virginia reggae-rockers, SOJA, were another one of those perfect festival music bands! They brought the crowd together with their hopeful songs and easygoing vibe.
The Avett Brothers played next on the main stage, and these guys know how to put on a show! They have an uncanny ability to write new songs that are unmistakably Avett Brothers, without sounding like anything they’ve ever done before. They danced around on stage with the energy and disposition only the Avett Brothers could have, and that energy fed into the crowd, making this show the one to be at!
Jack Johnson joined the party, celebrating his 39th birthday by giving us an unforgettable performance! His stage was lit in red, and was covered in stacks of recycled wood, something only Jack could dream up! Johnson exuded the music festival attitude, as usual, with his conversational lyrics and beach-y guitar strums.
Hangout Fest definitely saved the best for last with OutKast! You could feel the excitement build as all 40,000 people headed over to the main stage to watch the last show of the festival. The late start almost felt intentional, as the crowd would start to clap and cheer with every stage light that would turn on. The excitement exploded as Big Boi and André 3000 took the stage! They did a great job at playing all of their hits, and even brought up some lucky audiences members to help perform “Hey Ya”, which got the crowd even wilder. This show also ended with breathtaking fireworks, and a feeling of incomparable joy.
-words: Kelsey Kufner
-photos: Sara Bill