Four friends and I ventured over to Gulf Shores, Alabama to Hangout Music Fest 2011 on May 20-22. The 2011 event was their second annual and to be only their second event they had a fairly good line-up for my music tastes. The head-liners were Paul Simon, Foo Fighters, and Widespread Panic. The price of the tickets were rather steep but we were a small group and the five of us were down for going to the fest from the start.
At least two of us are from Pensacola, FL so going to the fest was almost like going back home for us. We decided that since we were paying so much for the tickets and we all live in the central Florida area that our best bet was to drive up Thursday, the day before, so we could experience the entire fest. We rented a condo on the beach through the realtor that was sponsoring the fest. The condo was actually very nice. We felt a little uncomfortable once we realised that the particular condo we were in belonged to the condo president. To top it off, they had pictures of them and their family everywhere so you’d feel like a real scumbag if you broke anything. After stocking up at the WinnDixie across the street and taking a breather from the trip, it was time to hit the hay.
The next morning some of us cooked breakfast, others ate cereal. Time to get ready for the big event! The Hangout Fest offered “$20 all you can ride” bus passes to and from the festival to multiple bus stops along Gulf Shores Parkway which we purchased. One of the bus stops was conveniently also across the street from us in front of the WinnDixie. We wanted to get to the festival a little early since we didn’t know what to expect so off to the bus stop we went.
When we arrived at the bus stop, there were probably about two dozen people already waiting. After just a few short moments we realised that some of the people had been waiting over 45 minutes to get on a bus. What we learned is that all the empty buses were driving straight past all the bus stops along Gulf Shores Parkway and only stopping at the last bus stop closest to Florida. What this meant is that all the people at the end of the road were getting on the buses and all of the people in the middle, like us, were waiting for hours. After about an hour of this, they eventually sent a bus directly to us which we were able to get on, which was a big relief.
The line to get in to the fest was quite long when we got there. Amidst all the confusion, I believe we actually wound up skipping 75% of the line. Oh well, every man for himself huh? The “security” checkpoint that we had to pass through to get in had nothing to do with security and everything to do with making everyone dump out their water. The water that was supposed to keep these people alive while they walked around for 8 hours on a burning hot beach. Crazyif you ask me.
Once we actually got in it was a pleasant relief from the craziness outside. We walked around a little bit to get our bearings straight and to pick up a map and see where everything was. We found the single “multiple free water booths” as mentioned on the website and discovered that the only free water source supplying water to 30,000 people for the weekend was fueled by a single water hose.
We didn’t have any bands that we really just had to see on Friday so we just moseyed around. One performance that really stood out was Bassnectar. I’m actually a big fan of Bassnectar so I was excited to see the performance. Bassnectar was performing in the “Boom Boom Room” which was basically a large tent that was full of subwoofers. They even had round hay bails stacked up behind the tent so all the bass would be directed out towards the crowd. It was fairly intense sounding and very hot inside there. In fact, a girl standing right next to be passed out and had to be carried out! My Morning Jacket played towards the end of the day. They were fairly good. Also, Widespread Panic was the head-liner for the night. I had never heard Widespread Panic before but I thought they weren’t that great. They were very generic sounding. However, they were great as a jam band.
Since we quickly got tired of Widespread Panic, we decided we would leave around 9pm to get a head start with the buses. At this point there were only two of my buddies with me. The other two got split off from us sometime during the day and we hadn’t found them yet. Neither of them had a working cellphone either. So as the three of us got out of the fest and walked towards the bus stop we quickly realised it was very unorganized. We wound up on the north side of Gulf Shores Parkway when we were supposed to be on the south side. Nothing told us this. People were walking everywhere and in every which direction. The way the buses were turning around, they were driving right through big crowds of people who were trying to get on the bus but weren’t being allowed on. This was because those people were on the north side of the street, like us, and needed to be on the south side. About this time a lady with a megaphone showed up and started trying to direct people. She was standing about 20 feet away from us trying to give us directions. At first people were hopeful and were somewhat listening to her but once everyone realised that she wasn’t making any sense, everyone just ignored her and walked past her. That is when she snapped. She threw the megaphone down and stormed over to the side and started crying. I mean really crying, wailing like a cat. Everyone stopped and looked in amazement for a moment and then continued about their confused way. At one point, they had everyone who started forming a line in a random spot move to another spot on the street. This effectively put us at the end of this long line of people who showed up after us. This is when we really started getting annoyed. Since none of the buses were stopping on our side of the street I decided that I wanted to go to the south side of the street but my friends did not so I ventured off by myself. Since I’m so lucky, just as I got to the other side of the street I looked and I noticed that they had finally stopped a bus on the north side and were letting people on. My friends got on the bus. Now I was frustrated! I eventually found the spot were everyone was supposed to wait to get on a bus. It was a “moving spot” as in everyone just kept walking further down the street. So in turn all the buses kept stopping further down the street. At this point I was sandwiched in with everyone trying to get on a bus. Girls were on their knees on the sidewalk crying. Guys were yelling. People were pushing and shoving. It was complete chaos. At this point I called my two friends who were on a bus and asked if they could come pick me up with the car once they got back to the condo. I didn’t see the situation getting any better. To make a long story short, I was finally able to get on a bus about 30 minutes later for a total of about two hours of waiting.
I breathed a sigh of relief once I was able to get on a bus. I was able to sit back and reflect on the day. I realised that the day really wasn’t that bad inside the fest, just getting to, getting in, and getting out of the fest was the nightmare. After I got to the condo around 11:30pm, I was able to shower and kick back. Keep in mind that two of my friends were still MIA. We had no idea were they were or how to find them.
Sometime about an hour later, they burst through the door yelling, “We’re here! We’re alive!” They looked like they were returning from battle, eyes wide and full of rage. They proceed to tell us about their adventure. Remember that line of people that I mentioned earlier that was moved to another sport on the street? They were at the front of the line and when it was moved, they got moved to the end. They had already been through their own set of frustrating experiences and this was the last straw for them. They proceeded to walk. They walked 8 miles down Gulf Shores Parkway. They tried to wave down buses, none of them would stop; understandingly so, because they were probably full. At one point they saw a bus pull up to a bus stop right up the road from them letting people off. They ran to the bus and just as they got to it, it started to pull away. One of my friends proceeded to beat on the side of the bus as it was pulling away but it still drove off and left them! That whole situation was hilarious and sad on so many levels.
We started the next day running. With all our awesome experiences the previous day we spent the morning mentally and physically preparing ourselves. We came up with all kinds of crazy ideas of how to not be miserable. We definitely were planning on taking a more offensive approach. To our surprise when we got to the bus stop, one showed up in less than 10 minutes and we were able to hop right on! Also, when we got to the fest, the line was super short and we got through it in about 20 minutes. What a great start of the day. Everyone was in a good mood. We were trying to decide if it was because they were more organised or if it was because there were less people. I’m leaning towards the latter.
There were a lot of good bands that we wanted to see. First, we went to see Medeski Martin & Wood. No singing, just excellent jazz music. Next was Minus the Bear, great rock band from Seattle. Next was Primus, the band we waited all day for. By now we had been waiting at the stage for 5 hours. We were nice and snug in the front row and excited as ever. Primus was only out there for a little over an hour but the performance was well worth the wait. Half way through the show, Les Claypool dressed up in a pig mask and started playing an electric stand-up bass. “Primus Sucks!” could be heard being yelled in between almost all the songs. When Les played favorites such as My Name is Mud and Jerry Was a Race Car Driver the crowd went crazy. All that said, Primus was unique, fun, full of talent, and amazingly weird all at the same time.
Something I forgot to mention. In between Minus the Bear and Primus, Cee Lo Green was supposed to be playing at the stage down the beach. We decided we would be missing him because we didn’t want to lose our spot. Another friend of mine and his wife who were planning to watch Cee Lo sent me a text message and said that Cee Lo didn’t show. Rather than just have no performance, the Foo Fighters came out hours before their scheduled time and filled in for Cee Lo! I’m not sure which songs they sang but I heard they did some great covers of some classic rock songs. About half way through the performance, lo and behold Cee Lo shows up, and joins in signing! He finished out the song with them and then the Foo Fighters left. Cee Lo had enough time to sing a few of his own songs but I imagine that the Foo Fighters and Cee Lo on stage singing at the same time was a sight to see. Something that will probably never happen again.
After Primus we were hungry so we split and ate some Chinese food. We moseyed back over to the same stage for what we didn’t know at the time would be the craziest and most weird performance we’d see at the fest, The Flaming Lips. Believe me when I tell you this band is super weird. With that, they are also very unique. They got started in the mid 80′s but I believe that was a decade late for them. Maybe they decided that the 70′s wasn’t hippie enough and wanted to stretch it out a bit, I’m not sure. Throughout the entire performance they had girls dancing on the sides of the stage dressed up in white dresses with big hearts on the front. They had a huge screen behind them that show psychedelic clips of naked dancing hippie girls banging on symbols and spinning in circles. He made a few references to “Molly” and that everyone should be doing it. We were confused at the time but a quick Google search led us to Urban Dictionary which revealed that Molly is ecstasy. I’m pretty sure they were on it. At the end of the performance Wayne Coyne, the lead singer, rolled out onto the audience in a giant inflatable gerbil ball and walked around on everyone’s hands. Rather than crowd surfing, he was crowd rolling! Believe it or not, that wasn’t the weirdest thing about the performance. The weirdest thing about all this was the fact that they had a small video camera mounted on the end of Wayne’s mic in which they displayed the video on the big screen behind the stage. So basically throughout the performance we saw a live video of Wayne’s sweating and whacked out on Molly face recorded from about two inches away. I had never seen a real life hippie band before (I lol’d when I typed that) but it was definitely something that everyone should see at least once.
While I’m on the subject of hippies, I’d like to mention the fantastic turnout of hippies at the fest. There were over 30,000 people who came to the fest and I wouldn’t be exaggerating when I said that about 20% were hippies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bash hippies here, I’ve just never been exposed to them before (maybe I live a sheltered life) and I’m just pointing out some observations. A vast majority of them smoked weed. Heck, I think all of them did. It was quite amazing actually, the amount of weed at the festival. I’m fairly certain that my four friends and I were the only ones out of 30,000 people who didn’t smoke weed while we were there. OK, I know I’m exaggerating, but it was close. There were hippies in body paint and glitter smeared all over them. There were many with dreads. The most weird thing about all of them though was the vast majority who were carrying around hula hoops. There were hula hoops everywhere! Instead of drum circles like I imagined there would be, there were hula hoop circles. Some people were carrying around 10 hula hoops. Some had hula hoops with lights in them that looked pretty neat at night. Others seemed like they were carrying around hula hoops just to be carrying them. I was very curious about this all weekend. It wasn’t until on the way home after the fest that I Googled this and discovered that the most likely explanation is a following called “Hoolistic Hooping”. I’ll save you from the details here, you can look it up if you want to.
The Foo Fighters were the headliner for the night. They started right when The Flaming Lips ended. We had been fighting crowds all day long in order to be up front but since the stage the Foo Fighters were on was so huge and the fact that we could see Dave Grohl from a 100 yards away, we decided we’d hang back for this one. We found us a nice open spot and sat in the sand. The Foo Fighters were excellent. My friend said he overheard a guy saying that he had been to a lot of Foo Fighters concerts in his life and that this was the best one he’s ever been to. They had a studio quality sound to them but you could tell it was indeed live.
The sun was down now and it was great being able to cool off, literally hang out, and not have to push through the crowds anymore. I even met up with my friend I mentioned earlier who texted me while watching Cee Lo. It was great to catch up since we hadn’t seen each other in a while.
The next day started off great with a trip down to the beach. The first performer we wanted to see, Matisyahu, didn’t come on until 2pm so we took our sweet time. After swimming around and watching our friend do stunts on his skim board for a couple hours we grabbed some lunch and moseyed our way down to the bus stop. By now it was all familiar faces. Everyone was super friendly and I think we were all finally getting used to this music fest thing. I also think that a whole lot of “don’t care anymore” had something to do with it. Everyone had the “we’ll get there when we get there” attitude. It was nice.
As we made our way into the fest, Matisyahu was just starting. I happen to really like him. Matisyahu is a reggae and rock band with Matthew Paul Miller at the head. Matthew’s well thought out lyrics and they way he seems to make them flow together is very pleasent to the ears. I could have listened to him all day and been happy as a clam. The icing on the cake of his performance is his stage dive and crowd surf. Keep in mind that this guy is 6′ 5″ and had to jump a roughly 7 foot gap off the stage to the crowd. It was a site to see.
After Matisyahu we went down the beach to the other stage and found a nice open spot in the sand and parked our butts there and kicked back and listened to Amos Lee. This was the first time I’ve ever heard Amos Lee. He seemed very talented and had a good sound to him. That said, Amos really wasn’t my cup of tea. He has a good band, don’t get me wrong, but he had that “all the girls in the audience melt and lean on his every word” sound to him much like the band Alabama which really isn’t my type of music. While I like Alabama more, Amos didn’t do it for me.
By now it was 4:30 and we were already beat. I believe that three days out in the hot sun on the bright beach was really taking a toll on us. We were all in agreement when we wanted to find a nice spot in the shade and sit for a while. The Sky Bar on the beach in the middle of the fest was the perfect spot. The Sky Bar was a pair structures made with scaffolding surrounded by palm trees that were hauled in just for the event. Behind the Sky Bar was a grove of palm trees, hammocks, and water misters; a nice place for a sit. We sat here for what must have been three hours. We were able to listen to Ween and Michael Franti & Spearhead in the background. While they were a ways away, they sounded pretty good.
When Michael Franti & Spearhead was wrapping up we headed over to the stage Ween was on to get ready for one of the bands I was eager for most, The Black Keys. The band is a duo consisting of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. These guys can play soft and smooth one song and really thrash on the next. I havn’t heard a single song from them that I didn’t like. I enjoyed almost every second of their performance. The one thing that got me is that they pulled the whole “end the performance and walk off stage with every intention of coming back after the crowd starts chanting” routine. While I imagine a lot of bands throughout time and today still do that, this was the only band I noticed at the fest that pulled that. Cheesy if you ask me. I could go on and on about how good they are but I’ll just say that if you aren’t familiar with them, look them up.
We decided to head out after The Black Keys. Most of us agreed that The Black Keys would be a good end to the fest, so we left without seeing Paul Simon. We hopped on a bus rather quickly and got back to the hotel in time to head out to the famous Flora-Bama bar. None of us had ever been there and were eager to go. The Flora-Bama was a neat place. It had two stages with a band playing on each. It had an inside, outside, and an upstairs. I imagine it can house a lot of people. Also, it a perfect example of a southern bar full of southern people.
This was my first music fest experience and I have to say that I wasn’t quite prepared for just how crowded it was going to be. I imagine that if I ever went to a fest like Bonnaroo I’d have to struggle to keep my sanity. I have to say that leaving the fest for the last time was bitter sweet. I was having a good time listening to the music but I was also glad to be out of there. My eagerness to get home set in and the 8 hours trip seemed like it flew by.
All said and done it was truly an awesomely unique experience!