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Tuesday, May 31

Photos & Review: Hang Out Music Festival 2011

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The second installment of the now celebrated Hang Out Music Festival took place May 20th – 22nd on a glorious beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama. As great of a concept as it is, the inaugural event only drew modest crowds. This was certainly not the case in year two – the festival and all related shows were completely sold out. They achieved this feat by positive word of mouth and a lineup of renowned artists from almost every musical genre.
The adventure started early Thursday night at the show billed as the Pre-Party. Music fans in search of tickets surrounded The Hang Out, an immense club on the beach, in which the festival took its name. The allure of seeing such amazing artists in paradise was too much for many music lovers to resist, as I met people from around the country. The marquis included many talented artists, featuring headliners Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and Moon Taxi. 
It set the tone for the weekend with each artist playing at their best and musical savvy fans savoring every note. The weather down here was so fine and the vibe was intoxicating. Officially, the festival started the next day and it was obvious it was going to be magical.
Upon entering the grounds early on Friday, I scoped out the immense and vastly improved layout. The two main stages faced each other on the beach, both impressive and equipped with screens. To my surprise, the other three stages each had their own personality appropriate for the atmosphere the scheduled artist was sure to attract. The five stages were accompanied with many other attractions dispersed throughout the grounds to flood ones senses or just to escape from the sun. It was truly an exceptional playground for music. My only complaint came when choosing my daily musical journey. The acts in many cases were equally amazing at several stages in overlapping time slots. Sure, if that’s the only problem, bliss is sure to follow…and follow it did.
I spent the first couple of hours at the cozy Grooveshark Stage. Cas Haley and his band stopped me and many others in our tracks. Their inviting reggae sound was drawing a crowd while Cas showed why he will be in the mix for years to come. Easy Star All Stars followed with an energized set turning classics upside down. In case you are unaware, they release albums like Dub Side Of The Moon and even tackled Radiohead and The Beatles. I was curious how it would translate live and was blown away. 
The attention to detail was not lost on the thousands dancing to this unparalleled band. Umphrey’s McGee was up next and it was only 3:30pm. This was my first time seeing a band on the main stage and was very impressed with the sound. It took a while to figure out how to dance in the sand, but Umphrey’s cracking set made one learn in a hurry. Every stage I visited had huge crowds enjoying acts that would headline many festivals, but it was only the late afternoon at this loaded affair. 


As the sun set, Grace Potter was joining Warren Haynes for a rousing “Honky Talk Women”, while across the beach, I am sure My Morning Jacket was rocking the Surf Stage. I felt like getting weird, so I deviated from my original plan and caught STS9 before everybody converged for Widespread Panic. It seemed the artists enjoyed this tranquil setting as much as the fans as almost every act played with purpose. W.S.P. followed suit, playing a set full of classics and in true festival fashion, had Warren sit in for a couple of numbers. 
Fireworks ended the night for most, except for the ones attending the late show featuring Bassnectar. The Boom Boom Stage was transformed into a late 80’s rave setting for this intimate affair. The energy never let up until he was done spinning at 3am, unlike my head still reeling from all the music I caught, and had to miss.
Saturday morning’s decision was easy. I was looking forward to Medeski Martin and Wood kicking things off at the Surf Style Stage. The set did not disappoint as the jazz poured into the sunshine. All the while, the ever-growing crowd was cooling off the sand while their feet responded to the music. Once the maestro’s set concluded, I let my ears lead me around. Smiling faces were everywhere, and for good reason – the only thing better than the weather was the music. Xavier Rudd grabbed my attention with his one man band approach and tight jams. 
Wandering soon gave way into heading to the main stage for Cee Lo Green. The now-legendary moment played itself out. We were notified over the p.a. that Cee Lo could not make it; instead, The Foo Fighters marched out onto stage into pandemonium. They charged into an interesting set of covers. Everything from Alice Cooper to Tom Petty, it was a real treat watching rock stars take a chance. In the middle of the best version of Prince’s Nikki I have heard, Cee Lo Green appeared on stage for the most unlikely collaboration. His band joined him after for a short, but effective set. The confusion running late, I ran into my only legitimate problem rushing to catch Primus, the Surf Style Stage was not loud enough towards the back of the beach. I was soon in good position to be shaken by Claypool’s bass and lost in the notes. The Avett Brothers and The Flaming Lips were both equally great as they are different. The Foo Fighters closed out Saturday night by delivering an intense set of their hits, although in the minority, I enjoyed the afternoon performance more. Pretty Lights headlined the late show bringing more energy than their afternoon set.
Sunday’s schedule was yet another day that I wished there were three of me. The lineup was unforgiving with almost every act demanding my attention. I knew I made the right decision when Keller Williams opened the main stage with “Scarlet Begonias”. All the aches and pains vanished while hearing Jerry’s spirit tangled in the ocean breeze. Over the next hour, Keller continued the festival trend by playing an epic set. He summed up the weekend best with his classic “Best Feeling”, for it was, and I did feel, just like a kid on Christmas Day. 
The highlight of Sunday afternoon came as a surprise when Old Crow Medicine Show played a media-only concert. Their talent shining only five feet away while I took shelter in the shade. 
Over the next couple of hours, the diverse musical parade continued as I caught acts from Ween to Girl Talk and seemingly everything in between. Michael Franti & Spearhead was a fitting way to watch the sunset. His positive vibe and feel good music blended with the surroundings flawlessly. He danced among us on the beach and pulled fans on stage to do the same. After the energetic show Michael spoke about how excited he was to see Paul Simon, a sentiment shared by most. 
Before the much anticipated show, I had time to catch Galactic. They wasted little time transforming the beach into Bourbon Street. Stanton Moore led the funk-fueled set that had every tired body moving in a tribal-like fashion. I had just enough time to rehydrate before the legend took the stage.
 Paul Simon was an ideal choice to close the festival. His iconic career influenced almost every artist that played over the weekend in some fashion. He did not disappoint as he mixed timeless classics with songs off his new release, So Beautiful or So What. His band was tight as he brought back memories for some, all the while creating new ones. He encored with “The Sound Of Silence”. Hearing the iconic words under the stars on the beach was one of those moments one never forgets.
To call Hang Out Festival a success this year is an understatement. Each day’s lineup reminding me of the choose-your-own-adventure books I read growing up. Whichever path one took surely led them to a happy ending. In only its second year, it solidified itself as one of the premier festivals of the summer, and proved to be not just another weekend at the beach.


Words by: Kevin Long

Photos by: Ellis Jones