Surviving The Hangout

The sky is bright, the sun is shining, and you’re on a beautiful white sandy beach with a cool breeze of crisp ocean air following the aroma of the salty waters harmonious roar.  After a good nights sleep in your air-conditioned quarters, you’re again ready to conquer the beautiful day with a fresh drink of choice to kick off a relaxing May morning in this most preferable of settings.

The only thing needed now is live music, great food, more drinks, and good people. This is what the founders of Hangout Music Festival had in mind when they pitched the idea to the residents of Gulf Shores, Alabama in November of 2009. In May of 2010, about 10,000 attendees joined in the festival’s debut along with headlining names such as Trey Anastasio, Ben Harper, and hometown boy Jimmy Buffet only weeks after the tragic BP Gulf Oil Spill that ravaged the Gulf Coast. A year later the 2011 Hangout was in full force again but equipped with about 35,000 of the most righteous people on the planet, one of the best artist lineups of the summer, and a sold-out extravaganza that accommodated every festival goer of all shapes, sizes, and musical tastes. Headliners such as Paul Simon, Foo Fighters, and Widespread Panic provided the cure for everyone with a Rock N’ Roll hangover, while groups such as Galactic and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue brought the dirty funk from New Orleans. The sprawling electronic scene was in full whomp with big names like Bassnectar, Pretty Lights, and upcoming world music sensation Beats Antique. All while reggae and easy listening bands like the Easy Star All-Stars, Keller Williams, and Michael Franti enhanced the tropical setting with their feel-good songs and joyful sounds. However, as Hangout seems like a perfect wonderland of music and sunshine, just like every big festival it has its own share of easily remedied blemishes if you just get the low down on how it all works.  Follow these guidelines and you’ll be able to Hangout, breathe easy, and have nothing else but a good time.

Hangout is a unique festival that requires specific preparations and planning in order to get the most out of you’re trip. So, when packing for such an event you must consider that you will need both beach and festival supplies. The first issue is to simply research what you can and cannot bring into the festival. For example, the pre-festival show at Hangout was not letting any camelbacks in on Thursday, but they were allowed in the rest of the weekend. Cops weren’t a visible problem inside the gates, but what was odd about the festival was how they never checked anyone’s bags or personals thoroughly at the gate except for the last day. We had no problem bringing in alcohol or anything else until then. I personally had the security ladies hands in my pockets and my friend’s cigarette pack got raveled through only on the last day. I’d simply recommend looking on the sites blog or info section to get the details on what is being allowed in that year.

The second issue is attire, which is more based on the beach atmosphere. Swim trunks or athletic shorts, as well as bikinis, are all suggested to beat the heat and keep relaxed. You are literally sitting in the sand at times so this is the most comfortable option.  If you’re going to wear a shirt make sure its breezy and able to breathe since it will get hot in the big crowds on the main stages. Hats are also a big plus to keep the sun out your eyes and off your face, and sunglasses to many people were a must. Some past attendees also suggest wearing flip flops that you don’t mind losing because eventually, the sand renders everyone to take their sandals off and put them in a big pile around where your standing.  Under all the clothing you must be prepared too as sunburn, sand fleas, and chaffing are all part of the normal beach routine as well, but are also easy to combat with the right products such as sunscreen, Body Glide, or Gold Bond.

The next thing to concentrate on then is hydration. Bring plenty of water and most importantly water bottles. Inside the festival are water stations (a.k.a. hoses) where you can fill your bottle for free. Another tip to keep hydrated is to bring Pedialyte and drink it when you wake up and go to bed. Pedialyte is a mix you can add to water, used for children with a threat of dehydration from an illness.  It replaces valuable minerals like potassium, sodium, and chloride that are lost during spells of dehydration while using less sugar than the average sports drink, which makes it more effective.  This is especially important in reducing visits from Uncle Hangover who is there to stop you from missing all your early shows, which are some of the best of the weekend. For example in 2011, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Keller Williams, Xavier Rudd, Slightly Stoopid, and Madeski, Martin, and Wood all started at or before 1:30 pm. As this may seem a decent time, a hangover can easily deny you from seeing some of the shows you bought your ticket to see, especially when you can’t just walk to the stage.

Another important packing item is plenty of cash. There weren’t many banks in Gulf Shores, and the ATM lines in the festival took forever causing you to miss your show or misplace your group. Cash is necessary for food, drinks, souvenirs, a ride on the Ferris wheel, or anything else inside the festival. It is a good idea to have some on you at all time just in case and it’s easiest to bring it from home.

A few other items suggested to pack by past attendees are walkie-talkies and a big flag that can be attached to a long pole or stick. Inside the festival, it can get pretty cramped and cell phones do not work at all, even when compared to how much they work at other festivals. It is also harder to meet up with people because the beach has less describable places that can be recognized as a meeting point. This makes it very difficult to meet up so having walkie-talkies or a visible flag to meet at can mean the difference between watching the show by yourself or with your buddies. So now that you’re all packed up and ready to go when should you get there and how do you prepare for each day in the festival?

I definitely suggest getting there on Thursday and hitting up the Pre-Festival shows at The Hangout that night which in 2011 consisted of acts likeDumpstaphunk, Big Sam’s Funky Nation and more funk names to get your booty-shakin’. The tickets were only about $20 bucks after tax and the shows were the perfect way to start off the weekend. The only thing is you should ask the bartenders for a menu on drink prices because some of them were jacking up the prices on drinks and taking the extra money for themselves when the boss wasn’t looking. Either way, drinks are really expensive there, but that is the only fault of hitting up the Pre-fest shows, which was one of the most fun nights I had at the 2011 Hangout. Another big advantage to this is being able to pick up your weekend wristband at will call before the big crowds roll in while you’re going by the festival gates on Thursday. This will allow you to beat the big mass of people trying to enter the festival on Friday morning, which made for an extremely long line that lasted up to 2 hours this past summer. However, before you go jumping into line there are few things to remember about preparing for a day at Hangout.

Preparing for your days in Hangout Music Festival is just like preparing for most festivals in the summer, except for the sandy exception and the need to find a ride or parking spot.  You’re going to need the water bottle you packed, cash, sunscreen, a bookbag for supplies, your beach attire, and whatever other gizmos you think are necessary for a good time. Definitely pick out what artists you can miss or not miss though as the close proximity of the stages makes it very easy to skip around from show to show. Also, the air-conditioned tent stages got crammed really fast and the speakers to the Surf Style Stage weren’t loud enough all weekend, so you may want to get close for any important shows at these locations. To help with the sand I’d definitely bring some towels or a blanket to sit on so that you can relax in between shows. Many people built sand couches to sit in and put their blankets in. There is plenty of room on the beach for everyone to sit and have a relaxed time, so don’t be too afraid of sprawling out and taking up space. So now that you have all your gear ready to go, artist schedule in hand and crew assembled it’s time to go see some music and party. However, the music and party doesn’t stop as there is much to do after the Hangout shuts down. The only problem is that, unless you were in walking distance to the festival, transportation to and from Hangout was about the biggest fiasco of the whole event, and many people that are used to camping festivals had no idea what to do after being rushed out of the event area. Still, many people had creative ways of beating the flawed shuttle system, and used their experience to make it as close to a camping festival as possible.

Camping festivals make things easy because they have the capabilities of putting all the music and arts entertainment at ones fingertips, and the luxury of entertaining 24 hours a day so that the party never stops. They also allow the concert goer to delve into any quirky adventures they choose without having to drive, risk the safety of themselves along with others, and risk a confrontation with Johnny Law. The advantages do have some tradeoffs as one now gets to sleep soundly in a cool, air-conditioned room besides a hot, sweaty tent, and you don’t have to worry about small domestic problems like if you’re food is going to spoil in the half-melted ice you bought the day before. Still, when you’re stumbling out of a concert, don’t really know where you are, and are surrounded by tons of faces you’ve never seen it is easy to long for that comfy campsite just a breezy walk away. Hangout tried to remedy this confusion with shuttle passes that could be purchased at a weekend rate for $20, and Gulf Shores loaded in the taxis to accommodate for the extra tens of thousands of people trying to get home, the beach, or the bar. Still, even with this noble attempt Hangout had problems getting people to and from the concert area.

The festival only had 3 big greyhound buses to try and shuttle about 30,000 people who were staying at numerous hotels around Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. This was by far not enough, as many people told stories of waiting for 2 hours for a shuttle just for them to finally come by and not have enough room.  I personally had the pleasure of riding in the back of a random pickup truck where I met a good group of people from Virginia who were ripping their shuttle passes off while going down the highway with me at about 60mph. They were done with the shuttles, and I learned my lesson in trying to find a taxi for the rest of the weekend, while simultaneously kicking myself in the shin for not having my trusty bicycle to save the day. Yes, having a bike is probably the safest and one of the best ways to get around Gulf Shores that weekend if your condo is in biking distance, which most are. Outside the festival gates are bike racks, and fences filled with an uncountable amount of pedal-driven vehicles safely locked up and ready to go when needed. Also provided are bike paths along all the main highway or “strip” that runs directly in front of Hangout, making it easy to avoid cars. Still, if bringing a bike is not an option there are plenty of other sensible ways to get around and on to your next destination.

If driving becomes your only option then having a “base” at a friends condo within walking distance is definitely ideal as this will cut time in getting to the festival, give you time to wait out the traffic after festival hours, sober up to drive, and still chill at a beachside location. One big advantage to driving is that you can keep an ice chest in your car to store alcohol, food, water, and anything else for free, since there is cheap parking close to the festival gates. Some people even left their car in one place all weekend just so they could have this convenience, which was definitely worth it. Many of the security and safety workers stayed in the same place all weekend allowing you to make friends on the inside and keep your things safe. Thus, as the car stays in place it becomes your own little tent area and meeting place to stumble to after festival hours. It is also advised that people carpool as much as possible. Just pick a designated driver and head on out. The police didn’t have any DWI checkpoints before or after the festival, but its best to be safe. Traffic was also not much of a problem after hours unless you’re going into Florida. The infamous Flora-Bama Lounge, Package, and Oyster Bar lies directly on the Alabama – Florida state line driving in huge crowds from all around the area.  This made traffic going towards Florida horrendous and made it so that there was basically a huge line of cars in the street full of people trying to turn into the Flora-Bama that you couldn’t get around. My suggestion for this is to drive to your Florida destination before the crowd’s head to the bar if you have to go back to your condo. Driving to the Alabama side is not bad, which is especially good since most late night events happen in Orange Beach or Gulf Shores.

The big late-night shows at Hangout are a blast and included such electronic acts such as Pretty Lights, Bassnectar, and Big Gigantic in 2011. I heard numerous glory stories of attending these shows, and suggest going if you have the extra money. However, if you’re looking to save money or make some extra cash these tickets, that cost about $50 each, were easy to sell to a friendly neighbor longing for more bass. Besides, one can always have a rowdy time at the Flora-Bama, kick back at a party, or go see more music at the New Orleans at Night events in Orange Beach. The New Orleans at Night event is hosted at The Keg in Orange Beach at 26796 Canal Road. This show is put on by several production companies from New Orleans and brings you
three nights of music from an array of New Orleans musicians and DJ’s. The shows go from 9pm-3: 30 am giving you plenty of time to keep partying into the night. Tickets were $15 -$20 at the door (depending on what time you got there), but this was a small price to pay for such quality acts that included Honey Island Swamp Band, Good Enough For Good Times, Gravity A, Khris Royal & Dark Matter, White Noise, and many more outstanding acts ranging from funk to dubstep. After Hangout closes at 11 pm this is definitely the place to be to see more amazing music, meet good people, and keep the ambiance rolling.

Hangout Music Festival is a great overall experience with awesome lineups, good folks, and a spectacular atmosphere. I’d definitely suggest going to this relaxing festival that can be done in so many ways by so many different people. Overall, making the most of this festival requires planning on where you’re staying, transportation, and how to balance the festival preparations with beach preparations. The crowd has a great mixture of seasoned festival-goers as well as people new to the scene and everyone I talked to loved being able to see their favorite artists at such a beautiful location. I hope you enjoyed my perspective on how to Hangout and Breathe Easy at Hangout Music Festival!