I must say that in the past six to eight years I have been pretty skeptical about music in the area. Especially in Pensacola in the last 10 years, there really has been a decline in great concerts that are readily available locally. Most of the time we are forced to drive to Mobile or make a short trip to New Orleans or Atlanta to catch a major touring act. In the early to mid 90’s we had Bayfront Auditorium and the Civic Center that did a pretty good job of bringing in middle to top tier bands to this area. Once Bayfront closed and the Civic Center decided to stop being cool it has been quite an ordeal to find great music consistently. Vinyl Music Hall has been doing a good job bringing a diverse range of acts to downtown Pensacola but they wouldn’t be able to fit Jack White, Wilco, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Flaming Lips, or many of the top tier acts that performed at Hangout Music Fest 2012.
When they announced the lineup to this year’s Hangout Fest, I was immediately excited. I must say that I was mostly looking forward to Wilco and Jack White, so my idea about this festival was a little shaken when I learned that they were both on the same day. Friday of Hangout Fest ended up being amazing. They extended the area of the festival across Beach Blvd., which really made this year’s experience more comfortable. The first two years they blocked off Beach Blvd. enough for an entrance, which was ok for the smaller amount of people the first year. The attendance of the second Hangout Fest quadrupled, so it was a major hassle to get around.
There were still an insane amount of people this year, but they had more places to go. Day one was a great start, to a great festival. My group got there early, so we got to walk around the new setup, and get our lay of the land. We first checked out Alabama Shakes, they have been playing at almost every American festival, since the beginning of the year, they were pretty cool. Next was Yelawolf, who blazed through his new tracks and played some covers and other crowd favorites. He played at the Xbox Tent, which was a nice place to be during the day due to all the shade.
Daytime during this festival could be hot but there was a nice breeze especially on the beachside where I then setup for M.Ward who played a killer set. I had heard from a friend of a friend that his shows could be a bit boring and that was definitely not the case. He played a great mixture of songs off his solo albums while also playing some, She and Him tracks. If M. Ward would have been born twenty years earlier, he would probably have been in the Traveling Wilburys, really talented musician and songwriter.
After that, we stayed and waited for Wilco on the Chevrolet stage because they are one of my favorites. I could tell from the gigantic crowd that I could not leave and easily come back to a spot that would give me the view I wanted. Sometimes at these festivals, you have to sacrifice seeing a few bands to get close to the favorite bands.
Wilco came out with their first track, “Misunderstood” ,off their second album “Being There” which is a good way to describe the public perception of the band. That song really builds up energy as it goes and the concert just took off from there. It is nice to be within a baseball catch to Jeff Tweedy. He always has such a personality as he is playing. At one point, he commented that this was the first time they had played next to a body of water.
That is what makes Hangout Fest stand out from the rest, the Gulf of Mexico. Walking around in the sugar Jack White sand of Gulf Shores is really an amazing thing. It was hard for us to keep this festival a secret for long, especially with the wide array of talent they have been booking each year. It sure beats the heck out of freezing your butt off up north somewherever.
Jack White closed out Friday night with a bang, literally. The set list was like an early Christmas present for those of us who are fans of the White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather or even music in general. He brought both of his bands, the Buzzards (an all-male band), and the Peacocks (an all-female band) with him – both were nothing short of amazing. They ended the show with “Seven Nation Army” which is Jack White’s most popular song. Towards the end of the song fireworks shot out of the top of the stage giving the day a proper finale.
The second day of the festival I didn’t make it out till mid-afternoon so unfortunately I cannot report on how cool Randy Newman was. I heard from friends that going from seeing Mac Miller to Randy Newman was nothing short of a trip. That is what is so amazing about these music festivals, musical diversity. The first show I got to setup for on Saturday was Dr. Dog which was on the “Letting Go” Stage, great first impression of them, awesome live band. I was not a big fan of this stage because not only could the bands not see the water, but the stage was in direct sunlight. I would suggest that they make this stage a tent next year.
I then moved along to String Cheese Incident, which I was far away from but would have liked to have been closer in retrospect. They had a lovely combination of jam, funk, and progressive rock that was really appropriate for the beach atmosphere. They also played a tribute to the Beastie Boys by sampling “Paul Revere,” during their song “Joyful Sound” which put a smile on many faces in attendance. This was a great show to lead up to the finally of the night, the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
We left a bit early to get our heads and stomachs together before the Chili Peppers. We set up about a hundred yards behind the soundboard in a spot that we thought was going to be pretty comfortable. After String Cheese Incident was over, people started moving in. By the time that the Chili Peppers started, there were people behind me as far back as I could see. You could tell that there were many people eager to see a band that a lot of us grew up with.
Once they came on stage, they immediately started with “Monarchy of Roses” of their newest album “I’m With You.” They proceeded to blow everyone’s mind with a wide array of songs from their whole catalog. A personal highlight was when they played “Soul to Squeeze” it really brought me back to the 90’s, when I listened to the Chili Peppers the most. I mentioned to my friends that the show reminded me of watching MTV back when it was good and played new and interesting music videos. The Chili Pepper’s light show and the big screens were definitely playing to people in the crowd under the influence of psychedelics. I forgot how awesome this band really is, and am thankful that Hangout Fest brought them so close to home.
Watching the fireworks to this show made me feel a little sad, because not only was it over but, also because we had to ride our bikes back to our friends house where we were crashing. Once we got to our bikes, we just sat there for a while and watched people pour out of the festival and into the streets of Gulf Shores. I really sympathized for the locals that weren’t attending the festival because every restaurant, gas station and bar were getting slammed, which really is good for the area in the long run.
Gulf Shores is really just a big strip of condominiums and on this weekend most of them were slam packed. Sunday of hangout fest was probably the hottest day. I got there early to see Delta Spirit, there weren’t many people up and around until Steve Winwood at 3:45 that afternoon. I must admit that I didn’t have much energy by this time and used Sunday mostly as a day of rest and relaxation, to Hangout. I conserved my energy for The Flaming Lips who played another amazing show.
For those of you that haven’t seen the Flaming Lips live, watch some footage on YouTube. At the beginning of the show the lead singer, Wayne Coyne, blows up a human sized hampster ball and crowd surfs around the front row while his stage crew composed of backup dancers and professional partiers shoot out bails of confietti. They played Flaming Lips songs for the first set then they came back out and played “The Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd.
During the beginning of “Money” Wayne said that Dave Matthews visited them earlier and gave them $10k to throw out to the crowd. Everyone looked around shocked as Wayne held up this huge balloon that he twirled around while asking the crowd to cheer. As he threw the first balloon, the music started and people fought to pop the balloon that was holding nothing but confetti, which was an absolute appropriate prank to pull on people during that song.
Money was definitely something you could spend a lot of at Hangout Fest. Beers cost $7 and the lowest price at the vendors was $5 for a corndog. Once you have a couple of the beers you could have almost brought a keg. That is the price you pay for having that many talented bands all in one place at one time. In a way, it might be a ploy for people to not drink as much in the sun and pass out. Despite the prices, I would have to say that Hangout Fest is my favorite festival I have been to, and I plan on attending for many years to come.