Hangout Fest returned to Gulf Shores, Alabama for its seventh year, boasting an eclectic lineup with fun in the sun. Being on the oceanfront with amazing music was only one perk, the other unique features of Hangout included puppy kissing booths, wedding chapels and VIP hot tubs. These were all first for our NMG staff – not that any of us got married – but we may have smooched some pups!
The three-day extravaganza also came with its fair share of downs. Friday started off with major delays due to rain that cause rescheduling of practically every act and a glitch in The Weeknd’s set, while Saturday’s lineup had to be tweaked after headliner Calvin Harris was involved in a car crash. Panic! at the Disco filled the spot, but not Calvin’s shoes.
Aside from unanticipated circumstances, it was a successful weekend, with fair weather and spectacular performances by major and up-and-coming acts alike. Here our recaps of each day.
Storms rolling in over night brining morning thunder, lightning and wicked winds didn’t let up until mid-afternoon, causing major delays to getting the show on the road. Lots of waiting and wondering by thousands at gates and local restaurants waiting to hear what would happen to the lineup – even the artists were unsure.
Hangout announced about 3PM that the gates were open and all acts (even from earlier) were back on and that The Weeknd’s set would end at midnight. Props to the organizers for being able to keep all acts on and give them an opportunity to play even if it was a shorter set time, it still worked.
Aussie newcomer Meg Mac was thrilled to still be able to perform, this was her first American festival. She slayed it on the Mermaid Stage with her pop-soul tunes that were a blend of Adele, Beyoncé and Grace Potter. Crowd favorites included, “Roll Up Your Sleeves” and “Never Be.” This may have been her first American festival, but it definitely won’t be her last.
Nashville quartet Bully, led by Alicia Bognanno whipped her dirty blonde locks in the Gulf winds upon the shorefront BMI stage as they played songs from their 2015 debut LP, Feels Like. Balancing between soft vocals and guttural howls, Bognanno had every one dancing to songs like “Milkman” and the high energy tune “No New Wave No Fun.”
Roots of a Rebellion
Another Nashville-based sound that was rocking the stages at Hangout was the seven-piece hybrid reggae sounds of Roots of a Rebellion – which we fondly know as ROAR. Mashing up reggae, dub and rock with love, self-responsibility and inner growth throughout their set with songs like “Peace of Mind” and “Giving Tree.” Their grassroots movement keeps on growing and I think we will definitely be seeing them on some more of the big festival circuit stages.
After sunset, Jason Isbell hit the Surf Stage. Couples in the crowd were holding each other tight, while listening to the beautiful melody and lyrics about the downtrodden and forgotten that Isbell so eloquently conveyed in “Cover Me Up” – a song he wrote for his wife Amanda Shires, who sings back up and plays fiddle in his band.
With some almost on the verge of tears, Isbell’s Drive-By truckers amp up the vibes with some wickedly awesome guitar solos. Isbell closed out his set with “Sing Me Back Home,” a tribute to the late Merle Haggard, “the best country songwriter ever.”
Friday’s headliner, the Weeknd took the Hangout Stage in total darkness talking to the crowd about the delays and how despite all odds he was here for tremendous set. He kicked off with covers of Future’s “Low Life” and Travis Scott’s “Wonderful.”
He was loose and confident from the get-go, strutting around the stage with an infectious intensity. “Prisoner” and “Acquainted” led to some, er, romantic dancing in the crowd, and he owned another mini-set of covers: Drake’s “Crew Love,” Ty Dolla $ign’s “Or Nah,” Belly’s “Might Not” and “6 Inch,” his Lemonadecollaboration with Beyoncé. With flames blasting out of cannons around the stage and fireworks shooting up over the beach, he closed out with “Earned It,”“Can’t Feel My Face” (“the biggest song in Alabama tonight!”) and “The Hills,”proving that, for someone who used to seem so shy and aloof, he now deserves headliner status.
The news of Calvin Harris’ accident in the early afternoon, led to a number of schedule changes. Portugal, The Man and Panic! got pushed back and the Griswolds got moved from the Mermaid stage.
But before that, Minneapolis singer and rapper Lizzo set the bar high at the Mermaid with her 2:30 p.m. slot. Backed by DJ/MC Sophia Eris and two incredible dancers, she instantly won over a crowd that admittedly had never seen her before (she polled the audience about that — 20 or so people clapped). She dropped a short Prince tribute in the middle of cuts from her first two albums, 2013’s Lizzobangers and last year’s Big GRRRL Small World, inciting the crowd, mainly the women, with her empowerment jams.
At one point, her dancers and some friends came out with gold-painted Super Soakers to douse the crowd, a helpful cool-off before the hard-hitting “Batches and Cookies.” She then dropped some big news — not only was her song “Good as Hell” featured in the latest Barbershop movie, but she’s inked a deal with Atlantic Records. Judging by the smiles on the faces of everyone in the crowd, and even the staffers who were dancing and taking pictures, a few hundred people left the Mermaid Stage ready to tell all their friends to check out Lizzo immediately.
The Hangout Stage-upgraded Griswolds were met by a massive crowd, and the sun and the sand made for a great setting for the Sydney-based quartet, who mainly stuck with cuts from their 2014 EP, Heart of a Lion. As a special treat, they also added in a cover of Van Halen’s “Jump” with members of Walk the Moon and Magic Man, surely impressing many onlookers who hadn’t planned on checking them out.
Portugal. The Man
Upbeat vibes continued with Portugal. The Man. It was an interesting set that drew from their 2013 release Evil Friends that included “Holy Roller,” a few new tunes, and bits from Pink Floyd, Wu-Tang and the Stones. Their closing mash up of “Plastic Soldiers” stretched for at least ten minutes with an inclusion of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” It was a different look for them, with a hypeman rather then psych-rock jams. Interested to see where this new look will take them.
Soul man, Leon Bridges started his set on the AXS TV stage with “Smooth Sailin’,” dressed to the nines in vintage high-wasted slacks with sunglasses. With excellent backing singers, instrumentals and more his music was a sparse gospel-like ode that sent fans backs to the waterfront at peace.
Panic! At the Disco
Headlining in place of Calvin Harris, Brendon Urie & Co went through their entire discography, and still had extra time to give a shout out to Calvin Harris as “the man.” They paid homage to their roots with covers of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhaspody,” Journey’s “Any way You Want It” and AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” They were not Calvin Harris, but the thousands that hung out seemed to have a blast.
The only day that the schedule stayed on time and things finally were running smoothly and included beautifully sunny skies all day.
The LA-based outfit incite a riot trance with the 1-2 sucker punch of inescapable earworms from their set at the Boom Boom Tent Sunday early afternoon. It was much needed after the lack of Calvin Harris fans getting to release their hype the night before. Robert Gainley and Dr. No’s mash ups brought the lyrics to the surface with a flammable vocal fuel.
A classic that can not be over looked. The Wailers opened their set on the Surf Stage with ‘Is this Love’ which set the tone for the rest of the set, letting the audience know that the classics were going to be played in their original, raw form. There is little to say about the sound the Wailers projected, their sound was almost identical to that on the album but with an added atmosphere of the audience belting every song back to the band. ‘I Shot the Sheriff’ was the only track that I thought sounded notably different to the original, but nonetheless it was hardly noticed by the audience.
Run the Jewels
As is custom, Run the Jewels came onstage to Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” then kicked into their self-titled song. After “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry,” Killer Mike and El-P started what would become a running joke throughout the set — Mike was ecstatic to be home in the South with its real grits and SEC football, while El was unprepared for the sun and heat. (A tip for future Hangout Fest attendees: Don’t wear black jeans). Once they’d played a new song from the forthcoming RTJ3 — the rapid-fire lyrics included a lot of f**ks, but it was hard to discern much else form our vantage point — Mike and El took a minute to address the crowd, apologizing to anyone who wasn’t prepared to get crushed with the oncoming craziness that “Close Your Eyes (And Count to F**k)” would bring. (“If you have a colostomy bag, empty it now,” said El.)
At times, they got overtly political — a Trump presidency would at least provide them with a lot of new material, they acknowledged. Then, without telling anyone who to vote for, they said to “embrace the crazy” before leading a call-and-response version of “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” which Mike dedicated to Hillary and her likely opponent. The rest of the set, especially “Angel Duster,” got the early-afternoon crowd going even wilder.
The pre-sunset set by Raury on the Mermaid stage was in true Festy form and reminded you of why music is so important and why we all take the time out of our lives to attend these events and stop to hear the music. Raury isn’t just worth the hype; he transcends it. His stage presence showed his ability to sing and write while also showing how he’s got more self-belief than the titanic had coal, and anything he lacks, can be learned.
Over at the Boom Boom Tent — one of a couple of enclosed stages at Hangout, mostly reserved for EDM DJs — Grimes delivered one of the weekend’s most energetic sets. Backed by a trio of dancers, one of whom helped out on vocals, Claire Boucher tore through her hour onstage. She had inflatable props tossed out into the crowd: cockroaches, a toilet bowl, and, later, eyeballs. She screamed through “Scream,” lamented that Janelle Monáe wasn’t there to join her for their “Venus Fly” collaboration, got tender with the classical “Ave Maria,” and ripped it up with “Oblivion” and “Kill V. Maim,” singing and dancing along with her back-ups and punching in all the different synth parts and drum hits. Given the blend of indie, pop, and EDM fans in the crowd, Hangout would’ve been well off giving Grimes a bigger stage.
Outside of some members of the Wailers, Lenny Kravitz was possibly the oldest artist to play Hangout — but you wouldn’t know it given his energetic and smooth showmanship. He was psyched to be in Alabama — “This is the real South,” he said after spending a few days in Mobile, his first time visiting — and laid out the hits. “Where Are We Runnin’?” to start off, “American Woman” and “Dancin’ til Dawn” to follow. The set culminated with a 20-or-so minute jam on 1991’s “Always on the Run,” during which he graciously (and unnecessarily) thanked the audience for indulging him. If anyone left after that, they missed out on him blasting “Fly Away” and “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” with all the guitar heroics and stage-strutting you’d expect from ’90s-era Lenny without a spec of rust in sight.
Florence + the Machine
While her band walked on amid a massive light show, Florence Welch opted to make her Hangout entrance through the photo pit, greeting all of the diehard fans who staked out front-row positions at the rail before belting out “What the Water Gave Me.” Following “Ship to Wreck,” she implored the crowd to pick someone — lovers, friends, complete strangers — and hoist them onto their shoulders for “Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up).” Almost instantly, at least a couple hundred people were riding above the crowd, while Welch ran from the stage through the middle barricades to climb up on the sound booth, silhouetted in part by the full moon above the Gulf of Mexico.
Getting back to the stage and catching her breath, Welch asked the audience to be her “choir of angels” and carry the chorus of the next song, the hangover/spiritual lament “Shake It Out,” a singalong that served as probably the most transcendent moment of Hangout. And though it’s been a staple of her sets for years, performing her 2012 Calvin Harris collaboration “Sweet Nothing” was especially poignant given that he was supposed to be on that very stage 24 hours earlier.
After “You’ve Got the Love” and a rousing “Dog Days Are Over,” she put so much energy into “What Kind of Man” that she seemed exhausted, dropping down to her knees only to be revived à la James Brown (but without the help of cape-wielding bandmates). “Drumming Song” ended her set — and all of Hangout Fest 2016 — accompanied by a succession of giant firework blasts. An apt grace note to close out the weekend.