Let There Be Rock…and Bikinis: Hangout Music Fest Day One Report

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Listen up, friends, for this is true: All your concerts should be on a beach.

We arrived at the inaugural Hangout Beach, Music and Arts Festival (they always throw “arts” in there for some reason) in Gulf Shores, AL, yesterday afternoon to find a pretty well produced festival. Two main stages about 4/10 of a mile apart, right on the beach, the stages maybe 100 yards from the water, depending on tide. Two more smaller stages near the entrance and the compulsory “main street.” Sound has been great. The crowd is what you’d expect, given the music and the geography: a mix of hippies and frat boys from Mississippi State.

We checked into our hotel (you can see one of the stages from the balcony and made our way over at about 4pm, just in time to catch the end of the searing set by the North Miss. All Stars. This is bluesy jam rock at its best, proving that you don’t need much more than a Gibson played through an overdriven Fender amp to create widespread happiness.

Our first real show was the 4:45 set by Robert Randolph and the Family Band. If you’ve never seen them, it’s totally worth it. Funk/soul/blues jamming, led by a pedal steel player in a skullcap. Their hourlong set was perfectly enjoyable (particularly the Hendrix medley), but I would have appreciated few more songs with tighter arrangement and obvious hooks. Too often they just rely on a few funky chords and whale away for ten minutes.

Next up: the always underrated Black Crowes, who left the crowd wanting a lot more than their allotted 75 minutes. This is an exceptionally tight band these days, led by the two-guitar attack of Rich Robinson and Luther Dickinson (from the aforementioned North Mississippi All Stars), a perfect one-two punch for their Stones-meets-Allmans formula. This for me was the set of the day.

Next up, as the sun set: Alison Krauss and Union Station. This was an interesting choice in this time slot. On the one hand, it gave the crowd a bit of a breather to relax. On the other hand, she’s just a little too sweet and precious for a rock festival. We watched her from a bar patio behind the stage (outside the grounds, actually, with a bunch of locals who decided they’d rather not pay for the music). Arguably, her band displayed the best musicianship of anyone on the day, but the only time the crowd really responded was during the bluegrass classics, like “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Also conspicuously absent was much of her material from Raising Sand.

Headlining day one was the Zac Brown Band. Apart from their Grammy win, I didn’t know much about them, and I’m not sure I’d go check them out on their own. But I was thrilled to see them in this type of venue. They were great. Kind of a country-fried Dave Matthews Band. They’re a crack band, and can really show off their chops in plenty of different styles (to wit, they covered “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” some Van Morrison and bits of Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder). Overall, very enjoyable. My one gripe is that about 1/3 of their material falls into either cheap, Nashville-by-the-numbers themes (it’s 5 o’clock, time to drink in my favorite pair of jeans) or rips off Jimmy Buffett in a dull, white boy reggae style. But they gave us plenty to enjoy. They were joined in the encore by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from NOLA, who seem to be getting around these days. And during the fireworks display that closed the day, the jazz band led an impromptu conga line back to the gate.

Quote of the day:

“Boo.” — a large segment of the crowd, when Robert Randolph mentioned the Jersey Shore.

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