Hangout is the miles of seafood restaurants along Alabama’s Gulf Shores. It’s the southern accents and southern state college lanyards and baseball caps. It’s the sand I can’t get out of my hotel bed. It’s the Gulf of Mexico breeze that wipes over every performance, making this festival different than any other I’ve been to. Perhaps it’s southern hospitality, perhaps I’m just elated to be on the beach, but everyone here seems less cranky than at other festivals, and for that in addition to a slew of killer sets, I’d call day one a success. Here are its most memorable moments, unranked and in chronological order.
Bully’s Healthy Dose Of Cynicism
— India Healy (@IndiaEveHealy) May 21, 2016
For me, one of the most overwhelming things about music festivals is the abandonment of reality and enforcement of #posivibesonly. After the hours of travel and waiting in lines with festivalgoers, it felt right that the first band I saw was Bully. As a generally cynical person, I felt a wave of comfort hearing Alicia Bognanno screech the lyrics of “Trash” about, well, someone who made her feel like trash. It was like, “Ah yes, I’m home now,” and not just because Bognanno and I are both from Minnesota. She and her band did not prescribe to festival expectations of chill, closing their set with two covers of Welsh hardcore band Mclusky. I’ve seen Bully live several times, but never have I seen Bognanno let loose the way she did during these songs. She turned into a regular hardcore vocalist, flailing around the stage sans guitar through the cover of “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues” and then playing along to “No New Wave No Fun.”
Big Grams’ “Mouthful Of Diamonds”/”Ms. Jackson” Mashup
I never expected to see even part of Outkast in concert, so the Big Grams set felt special. Big Boi and Phantogram gave the crowd a “treat,” performing a mashup of both outfits’ most popular tracks. The massive crowd at Hangout’s second-to-largest stage lost their minds during every “Ms. Jackson” chorus, understandably so, as the group’s debut has nothing of the sort. Sarah Barthel sported a gold track jacket with “BOWIE” on the back, nodding to the combination of influences on stage. Big Grams is a collaboration out of left field, but it works.
Jason Isbell At Sunset
As a kid, I listened to the Dixie Chicks and Sheryl Crow (is she still country?), but beyond that, my familiarly with the genre runs shallow. At the same Surf Stage where Big Grams performed earlier, the crowd made a drastic shift from half-naked, rolling-on-whatever millennials to an older audience of Isbell diehards. The Alabama native’s home state love bloomed as he introduced each member of his band, most from various places in Alabama as well. My heart warmed as the former Drive-By Trucker’s beautiful, sweeping songs like “24 Frames,” “Something More Than Free,” and “The Life You Chose” vibrated out into the sunset. Isbell’s wife Amanda Shires plays violin in his band, and the couple’s 9-month-old baby was at the fest with them. Aww. He closed out the night with a cover of Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home,” calling the late artist the “best country singer to ever live.”
Vince Staples Making The Most Of A Small Stage
I think Vince Staples got a bit shafted in terms of performance space. The Mermaid Stage is squished between the giant Hangout restaurant and another bar, merch building, etc., but the Long Beach rapper wasted no time, diving into “Lift Me Up” off last year’s fantastic Summertime ’06, and providing the most high-energy set of the day. He figuratively gave the middle finger to festival logistics, pointing out the lack of rappers present at Hangout fest. He said Fetty Wap is his one rapper companion and sang a couple bars of “Trap Queen.” Staples forgot about Minnesotan rapper Lizzo and Run The Jewels who are both on the bill, but his concerns about representation are valid. He also told the crowd, very genuinely, “A lot of you are on some drugs, that’s not good for you. Try your best to say no to drugs,” and started a call-and-response chant of “Fuck the police.” Staples made a valiant effort to stay true to his mantras, despite the contradictory nature of heavily policed, drugged out music festivals.
A Hint Of Beyoncé From The Weeknd
Despite the day’s weather delays, Abęl Tesfaye didn’t compromise a headline set, and threw in a performance of “6 Inch”; in the absence of Beyoncé, he sang the entire track, blessing the crowd with an unexpected taste of Lemonade. The Canadian R&B star has enjoyed a massive year following the release of Beauty Behind The Madness —somehow even the giant main stage at Hangout felt small for his star power.