Photoset // Hangout Music Festival, Day 3: 05.20.2012

Flaming Lips + Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros + Cage The Elephant + Michael Franti and Spearhead + Mavis Staples performing in Gulf Shores on May 20, 2012 for the Hangout Music Festival

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Hangout Music Festival, Day 3: 05.20.2012

Sunday seems to have been the lightest day of the fest for many people, and maybe that was for the best, because I saw a lot of fatigued faces in the crowd. For those with enough stamina (or maybe just sick curiosity) there was an early set by New Orleans’ own queen diva of sissy bounce, Big Freedia. To say she left the crowd (and the Gulf Shores police force) stunned would be a hilarious understatement. On a totally different note, Mavis Staples treated her unfortunately meager crowd to a little church service. Flaming Lips had a large, largely inattentive crowd present for their performance of Pink Floyd’s seminal Dark Side of the Moon. If you weren’t up front, it was sadly a bit hard to focus on anything but the jabbering going on in all directions (thanks, stoned teenagers!) Festival closer and final night headliner Dave Matthews Band was (as far as I know) the only act to come on significantly late (by about 15 minutes) and the crowd was, once again, mammoth. Unfortunately the sound wasn’t and a combination of long, quiet breaks between songs and poor amplification created a general feeling of “meh” around the whole set, which I had actually been looking forward to (my 15-year-old self has Dave to thank for introducing me to the idea of a band being more than just guitars & drums). So while things closed on a somewhat middling note, the weekend itself was quite a success (which you can read more about in the June issue of Antigravity!)

– Erin Hall, Antigravity Magazine

 

With everything that is known about her long and storied history as a singer, songwriter and civil rights activist, it should be no surprise that Mavis Staples was one of the undeniable highlights of Hangout Fest 2012; nevertheless, it’s life-affirming to actually witness a 72-year old woman in total control of her musical faculties, hitting every screeching high note and every bellowing low note on the psychoacoustic scale. Joined by Rick Holmstrom’s sparse blues band of guitar, bass and drums, as well as by a trio of veteran backup vocalists that included fellow Staples Singer Yvonne Staples, Mavis interjected a playlist of soul standards, new era originals and Pops Staples-penned classics with the kind of energy and enthusiasm that belied that of such an insultingly early set time, the extreme burn of the weekend’s hottest afternoon and the noticeably thin audience. And though the crowd was small, it was packed with devotees who were thoroughly taken by Mavis’ hilarious inter-song banter (“It’s an honor to be down here in beautiful Roll Tide, Alabama,” she quipped at one point) or her straightforward preaching about modern American life (her ability to comfortably and apolitically claw at the Tea Party’s inherent racism was a revelation).

It can also be said that Mavis Staples wins the award for best running farewell to the recently-deceased Levon Helm. Her jubilant cover of the Band’s “The Weight”, which passed off verses to singers Vicki Randle and Donny Gerrard as well as to bassist Jeff Turmes before giving Mavis free reign to burn the entire stage to the ground with an outrageous vocal solo of her own pasted a grin on everyone’s face so wide that it hurt.

Taylor Gray, Barryfest.com

 

In both the years we’ve covered the Hangout Music Festival, electronic dance music has been given huge consideration by both those organizing the weekend as well as those attending it.  And if 2011’s nuanced offering shed light on the surprising diversity some of the more popular performers can squeeze out of the genre’s limited formula, this year’s relatively straightforward lineup of Skrillex, Sphongle and Zed’s Dead (among others), likely gave critics of EDM plenty of fodder to poke fun at what has become a ubiquitous part mainstream music.

But hopefully these faithful and extreme examples of dubsteb and trance also shed some light on why this electronic music is popular.  It’s the same reason Hangout Festival is held on a beach and not in a parking lot on the edge of town: When music is performed in a live setting it almost becomes as experiential as it is artistic; and while the merits of whether or not what electronic DJs do qualifies as making music or performing, there is not doubt they are creating an experience that is enormously appreciated by their swelling audiences.

– Matt Rosenthal, Barryfest.com

Hangout Music Festival, Day 2: 05.19.2012

It’s a good thing Friday and Sunday are packing somewhat less of a punch, because Saturday knocked me flat on my ass. There was a joyful morning set from Lafayette’s GIVERS to start off the day, followed by the knee-slapping, bluegrass goodness of The Devil Makes Three. Heartless Bastards and Gary Clark Jr. brought some seriously heavy, bone-shaking guitar. But the star of the show was a duo of bands with a few things in common: foreign lead singers, an expansive cast and, yes, accordions. Gypsy punks Gogol Bordello preceded Irish punks Flogging Molly to great success. It was a one-two punch of folk instrumentation meeting ragged punk sensibilities. (Side note: I want to see Sergey from Gogol Bordello have a fiddle-off with Bridget from Flogging Molly. That would make my day.) Both bands are masters at keeping a crowd engaged and even after all the exhaustive flailing and jumping I did in those few hours, I’m still rolling off the euphoria (though my body seems like it might be mad at me for this in the morning.) The great thing about festivals is that there is something for everyone. Today, crunchy hippies hula hooped in the sand to almost 3 hours of String Cheese Incident. Everyone but me (or so it seemed) packed the Xbox tent to twitch to Skrillex. Rave kids played with a delightful assortment of trippy light-up crap for an hour of Shpongle. But, me? Today, I was a happy little punk.

– Erin Hall, Antigravity Magazine

 

I knew it had to be a good omen when the driver of my shuttle bus, a 60-something year-old Alabama man, began blasting “Best Feeling” by the one-off collaboration between the String Cheese Incident and multi-instrumentalist Keller Williams on the way to Hangout Fest on Saturday. Until that moment it hadn’t really occurred to me that – aside from the obvious Wilco, Flaming Lips and Jack White pilgrimages I’d make – I might have been most excited to get my first real life Cheese experience under my belt, something I’ve lackadaisically allowed to elude me for nearly a decade.

Though I was probably somewhat at odds mentally with the crowd, an apparent 50/50 split between SCI fans who have seen the band perform dozens of times and young partiers who have never heard the phrase “Incidents Happen”, none of our preconceptions or states of mind would matter by the time the band was entrenched in a heavily Stop Making Sense-informed “Rosie”. In fact, in a first set that also included the Grateful Dead classic “I Know You Rider” and a rendition of “Joyful Sound” set to a sample of the Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere”, as well as an encore enveloped by a 20 or so minute “Roll Over”, it became crystal clear to all in attendance that a performance as varied as this from a band as adept at balancing technical mastery with guiding crowd enthusiasm as the String Cheese Incident is literally reason Hangout Fest ever came into existence.d

– Taylor Gray, Barryfest.com

Hangout Music Festival, Day 1: 05.18.2012

Day one of the third annual Hangout Fest went off without much of a hitch, even if it did feel hotter than low 80s. With the sun high in the sky and blazing, thousands of people funneled themselves into the festival’s secondary stage area to witness Brittany Howard and her Alabama Shakes prove that the hype was warranted. Oh, it was so warranted.

And while the crowd was sizeable at sunset for legendary rockers Wilco’s set, it was nowhere near the depth of Alabama Shakes, and as the Wilco set progressed, people began to leave in droves (I’m assuming either to secure good seating for the night’s headliner – Jack White – or to pack into the Xbox tent for STS9). All the better for me and my group to shimmy our way front and center for a set jammed with goodness, including tracks off the most recent release The Whole Love and dusted off gems from early albums like A.M. and Summerteeth (opening with “Misunderstood” set the tone for an evening of “I haven’t heard them play this in years!” remarks from the crowd). As people filed out, I began thinking about all those critics who refer to Wilco as “Dad rock.” And frankly, I got a little pissed. After sharing this thought on Twitter, Offbeat Magazine’s Alex Rawls replied that yes, people might classify them that way, but that “your dad feels way cooler for it.” I’m totally down with people of all ages appreciating good music (I saw both toddlers and geriatrics at the fest yesterday), but I think it does a real injustice to the brilliance of Jeff Tweedy & Co. to backhandedly pigeonhole them as a group who makes “safe” music. Yes, they have many a great “ditty,” but watching them bend and twist and gnarl the hell out of instrumental sections of ¾ of the songs they played last night, I will never call them safe. They are insane musical geniuses. And I’m prepared to slug anyone who asserts otherwise.

Speaking of insane musical geniuses, headliner Jack White quickly put to rest the question of “will he play White Stripes songs,” by opening with “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.” The remainder of the set was a lively mix of his new solo material from Blunderbuss and Stripes favorites, reworked with his expanded backing band. Mid-way through the set, he moved from his all-male backing band (clad in solid black) to the all-female one (clad in solid white). It may be a bit gimmicky, but it works for him. I’m sure some people were disappointed that the cadences and styles of some of the Stripes classics were altered, but I found it a great way to retain the magic of those songs and their history while breathing new life into them. The normally feverish “Bound to React” was reworked as a sludgy trudge while “We Are Gonna Be Friends” got a country waltz treatment, complete with pedal steel and intricate fiddle. My only regret is that he didn’t seize the utterly golden opportunity to blast through a scorching version of “Jolene” with this robust female backing band. It would have been perfection. While it may take some getting used to, Jack White is still as magnetic as ever with more than just Meg sitting behind him on the drums. He is unequivocally the musical mastermind of our generation and I look forward to seeing what he pulls off next.

Erin Hall, Antigravity Magazine

 

Though skepticism towards the meteoric rise of any buzz band is reasonable, or maybe even necessary, Alabama Shakes have managed over the past couple of months to somehow dodge whatever backlash such doubt can often bring. I was never exactly sure why, having only heard second-hand about the group’s uproarious, energetic – and refreshingly early – New Orleans performance this past January which brought One Eyed Jacks to a capacity more packed than anyone had seen in recent memory. Granted, on some levels a great show is a great show, but why do these untested newcomers’ popularity explode overnight in the face of every J. Roddy Walston and Futurebirds that manage to tear down houses in every type of barroom in practically every area of the country nightly. For shit’s sake, only six months ago Alabama Shakes were opening for the Revivalists in Tuscaloosa. Where is the symmetry?

Yet it all makes sense to the massive 2:15 Hangout Fest crowd within seconds of the Shakes’ first blistery blues notes onstage.  If nothing else, the Athens, Alabama quintet is proof that good Americana rests on much more than folksy lyrics and twangy guitar virtuosity. Sure, they’re working all the predictable ingredients of a blues/southern rock/garage act, but they seem to do so with a calculated restraint and reverence towards their source material from the 50s, 60s and 70s that has rarely been seen in the nine years since Kings of Leon released Of Youth and Youngmanhood. (Aside: Though Kings of Leon have deservedly become fodder for sarcastic jeers and snarky in-jokes about commercialism and lowest-common-denominator radio music, their debut record cannot be touched). It can be said, without a doubt, that the electricity felt between singer Britanny Howard and her dynamic and lively audience is not the result of buzz but the excitement of sharing the experience of a young band full of the kind of potential in quality that anyone with eardrums could hear and understand.

– Taylor Gray, Barryfest.com

 

I came into Friday’s afternoon’s M. Ward set at Hangout with admittedly little knowledge of his solo canon.  Like most consenting adults, I was a huge fan of his work with Jim James and Conor Oberst as The Monsters of Folk, and I’d even cop to greatly enjoying both She & Him albums.  But M. Ward the man had not passed through my ears with any real frequency or consequence in the past, so I showed up armed only with the increasingly popular perception of him as performer heavily influenced by the golden age of folk-rock troubadours.

People have called him a practical Bob Dylan clone on many occasions, sometimes accusiatorally and other times as a good-natured but unimaginative form of high praise.  Both ring with a degree of truth, but it was the former that was on distracting display on Friday.

In no way do I want to suggest that M. Ward is anything but a prolific and prodigious musical force, and his set at Hangout was a delightful chunk of the day: the multi-talented backing band passed bass guitars, pedal steels and fiddles around to give his Pacific Northwest-soaked takes on bluesy Americana a buoyancy and vigor the quickly won over sun drenched crowd.  But by the end, I was almost audibly gasping for Ward to just dispense with the formalities and cover the entire first side of Bringing It All Back Home, if only to give his decidedly raspy voice and familiar arrangements the context they probably deserved.

– Matt Rosenthal, Barryfest.com

Preview // 2012 Hangout Music Festival

After last year assembling the platonic ideal of an outdoor festival in only their second go ’round –  dropping a knockout lineup and perfectly sized crowd onto one of the best conceivable settings for a live music event – The Hangout Music Festival returns to the beautiful beaches of Gulf Shores this weekend.  The third edition offers another eclectic mix of arena-ready headliners, regional favorites and the ubiquitous electronic dance music purveyors, this time spread out over an expanded footprint that puts the fairgrounds on both sides of main drag Beach Blvd.

Organizers have also dispensed with a schedule of official after-shows in favor of a kick-off party on Thursday.  Almost eight hours of music on each of two stages turns the Festival into a four-day affair for those arriving early and adds standouts like Big Gigantic (winners of this year’s Buku Music and Art Project), Boombox, and our own Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and The Revivalists to the weekend’s bill.  A comfortably spaced schedule and limited number of stages almost eliminates anxiety-inducing mortal conflicts, but we’ve still put together a short list of acts that come highly recommended.

5/18: Alabama Shakes – Chevrolet Stage, 2:15PM

Rarely does New Orleans (or anywhere in the Gulf South, for that matter) get included on the early-buzz circuit that sweeps the “The Next Big Thing” to sold-out showcases in the Brooklyns, Austins, Los Angeleses, and Londons of the world.  While the deft promoters and talent buyers in our city have a knack for catching bands before they blow up as well as bringing a continuously impressive string of de rigeour national acts to town, The Alabama Shakes‘ January visit to One Eyed Jacks hot on the heels of their successful CMJ run and subsequent signing to ATO and Rough Trade felt like an extra special treat – the timing of which was likely equal parts savvy booking and just plain dumb luck.

Playing an early show to a crowd as large as any we’ve ever seen packed into the French Quarter’s premiere rock club, the Alabama Shakes torched the stage with the raw fury of a band about as wide-eyed and excitable as the diverse audience assembled to get a sneak peek at the much-talked about southern roots rockers.  Lead singer Brittany Howard and bassist Zac Cockrell went well beyond validating the Shakes’ status as band of the moment with a performance that overflowed with virtuosity and charm, and it’s exciting to think what they may pull off on their home turf with a few months of high pressure gigs under their belts.

5/19: Dr. Dog – “Letting Go” Stage, 4:15PM

If you’re the type who perpetually thinks about music in terms of “the zeitgeist”, then unfortunately there’s a good chance that you’ve either never closely listened to Dr. Dog or simply disregarded them. Nevertheless, this Philadelphia group’s charm has always been their ability to craft songs as attentive to pop accessibility as they are to creative high-mindedness. While not the cataclysmic, industry-changing creations that get routinely credited to the Animal Collectives and Arcade Fires and White Stripeses of the world, the music waxed by Dr. Dog – songs that end up being traded, e-mailed, linked and placed on countless playlists and mixes – is more akin to a catalog of indie rock radio hits, sans the radio or any real criterion point for what constitutes a “hit”.

But then again, I doubt Dr. Dog have ever given much thought to their place in such a zeitgeist, and in that capacity these guys probably aren’t making music for us wannabe patricianists. À la The Band circa Cahoots, existing both within and decidedly outside of the artiste-driven national musical climate surrounding them, Dr. Dog rides a whimsical creative model for the type of band whose true colors one can really only experience in a stage setting with a revelrous atmosphere capable of matching their unique penchant for the free energy of unpretentious rock and roll. Unsurprisingly, the Gulf Coast has often been, aside from the Philly area itself, a perfect entry point for Dr. Dog’s unfettered live mix of pop, psychedelia and multi-instrumental virtuosity, and the opportunity to see them on the Hangout Fest pedestal on late Saturday afternoon should not be missed.

5/20: Mavis Staples – Chevrolet Stage, 1:45PM

The most emotionally charged moment of this year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival came at the very start of what was supposed to be the first of two scheduled appearances by soul and R&B legend Mavis Staples.  She kicked off her Friday afternoon set in the Gospel tent with a rousing rendition of The Band’s “The Weight”, evoking her standout performance in the seminal concert flick The Last Waltz. At the song’s conclusion, Staples raised her arms to the sky and repeatedly shouted “Levon Helm!” as the standing-room only crowd rose to their feet and cheered wildly in a celebratory eulogy that lasted a full three minutes.  It was just weeks since the venerable drummer and vocalist, with whom Staples was slated to share the stage the very next day, had passed away; and of all the Jazz Fest tributes Helm inspired, her’s was the most moving and impassioned.

Along with the rest of her wide ranging set, that moment demonstrated the enduring power of Mavis Staples’ voice as well as her effortlessly wonderful sensibilities, both musical and otherwise.  After over 45 years at the front of the one of the most influential spirituality-based groups of all time in The Staples Singers and after appearing on the recorded work of everyone from Bob Dylan to Los Lobos, Mavis is once again in the midst of yet another creative renaissance after winning her first Grammy for last year’s Jeff Tweedy-produced Americana album You Are Not Alone. Plus, with Wilco in town for a their own Friday slot at Hangout, the potential for a surprise cameo (in one way or another) is at an all time high.