The first considerations when attending a music festival on the beach are sartorial. Do you opt for filp-flops to facilitate the inevitable footwear removal and thereby risk blisters from stomping on plastic slabs all day, or do you go with sneakers to account for all that pavement pounding and thereby risk carrying them around all day (or worse, trudging around with sand in your shoes)? Do you wear a swimsuit to allow for a quick dip or more conventional pants so you can keep your phone, wallet and other necessities safely close by? Do you bring along accessories like a towel and a bag, or do you keep the frills to a minimum so there’s less chance of leaving something behind?
More specific to my arrival at Hangout Music Fest on the comely coastline of Gulf Shores, Alabama: Do you fume about the series of logistical snafus (they always come in a series, don’t they?) that caused you to miss lots of bands including Ra Ra Riot, Toots And The Maytals and the Breeders — the last of whom deserved a much more prominent time slot than 1:30 on Friday afternoon — or do you shrug off the #firstworldproblems and thank your deity of choice that you get to attend such an event at all?
Answer: Go with gratitude, man. (Also with flip-flops; flip-flops are the way.)
Upon my arrival, Afrojack was Afro-jacking up the Boom Boom Tent with faceless EDM bombast, so I scurried to the other side of the grounds. Pro tip: When scurrying at Hangout, scurry on the boardwalk, not on the sand, lest you end up winded instead of breezy. On the main stage, Jim James was a lot more classic-rockin’ than I expected after his relatively ethereal solo LP Regions Of Light And Sound Of God. He even deployed the flying V, which I thought was strictly for raging three-hour My Morning Jacket sets.
On the opposite side of the beach at the Chevrolet Stage, Grizzly Bear unfurled a Shields-heavy performance sprinkled with old favorites. Ornate, melancholic music like theirs isn’t exactly beach ball bait, but it connected more often than not, particularly the swirling slow-churn ruckus of “Sleeping Ute” and the sighing sweep of “Yet Again.” The harmonies on “While You Wait For the Others” were as soul-shivering as ever, and the swooning “Knife” reminded me that Grizzly Bear has evolved into a much more beachy creature over the years. They ended with “Two Weeks,” which had the civilians humming when all was said and done, but I wish they would have switched it with the penultimate “Half Gate” and left us emotionally shipwrecked.
While I dined on Alabama Gulf Seafood by James Beard Award winner/Iron Chef champ Chris Hastings of Hot And Hot Fish Club, Passion Pit was pumping up the main stage crowd. In their case, “pop music” meant synth tracks inflated with helium to the brink of explosion. Michael Angelakos doing karaoke would be worth the price of admission — dude hits the high notes without straining — but Passion Pit’s show rarely sounded trapped in laminant like the claustrophobically compressed studio recordings can be. The band’s organic side shined through with just the right amount of rugged humanity, particularly on the hit single double dose of “Constant Conversations” and “Take A Walk.”
Passing the Boom Boom tent, I noticed Macklemore And Ryan Lewis doing their song about the evils of Air Jordans, replete with sampled children’s choir and the whole audience rapping along. This proved (a) Macklemore had a brimming fan base well before “Thrift Shop” dropped and (b) he was a moralizing cornball back then too. It’s hard to imagine the Shins inspiring that kind of devotion for such modest pop songwriting, but James Mercer is sneaky like that. His band’s Chevrolet Stage set played like hit after hit, tapping the best of all four LPs and only descending into doldrums near the finish line. They’re still not a must-see live act, and Mercer is even less a must-see performer, but on balance, this was a remarkably pleasant sunset soundtrack, much punchier than the show the Shins took on tour last year but just as dreamy.
I never thought a jam band could turn me rockist, but sax/drums duo Big Gigantic managed it. It doesn’t matter how many lights you have if your stage show amounts to an epileptic nightmare, an unceasing sax solo and a “brand ass new” Macklemore remix. Maybe that’s why I found post-hiatus Kings Of Leon’s headlining set so satisfying. “I feel like we’re surrounded by our own people here,” Caleb Followill noted, and yeah, you grew up in the Deep South, guy. No Pentecostal raving here, though, just ultra-pro arena rock topped off with exquisite Seger-ly drawl. Cheesy? Perhaps, but hearty too. Call me crazy, but under the lights on an Alabama beachfront, I’ll take “Southern rock U2” over “Southern rock Strokes” every time. Bolstered by decades of ironic distance, the indie kids who grew up hating post-“Sex On Fire” Kings Of Leon are going to be blasting this stuff on classic rock radio someday. The bulk of the Hangout crowd was wise enough to enjoy it in the here and now.