Festival Review: Hangout Music Festival 2013


    hangout 2013

    As I tucked a second swimming suit into my bag that was probably too large for the three days I’d be away, I actually said aloud to myself, and I suppose perhaps my cat, “I’m going to a music festival. On the beach. As a VIP. With a press pass.” A little yelp came next, accompanied by an involuntary jig I can only assume looked like a combination of the Bluths doing their respective chicken dances. Such behavior showed up in spurts since [CoS photographer] Josh [Mellin] texted me on a cold March morning and said, “Um, guess what I won” followed by, “Let’s just say I’ll be listening to Kings of Leon, Tom Petty, and Stevie Wonder all day to celebrate.” Chicago radio station 93XRT had awarded him passes to the Hangout Music Festival thanks to an Internet contest. We suddenly found ourselves determined to get to Gulf Shores, AL.

    Bear in mind that, initially, we didn’t know that XRT was going to supply us with a beachfront condo with an ocean view or that the tickets he won were actually VIP. We didn’t know we’d get free drinks and food, access to a special swimming pool by the main stage, as well as umbrellas, lounge chairs, and hammocks in “VIP Grove”. One thing we did know was that it wasn’t too late to secure press passes, which would get us into the photo pits (my first time!) and the breezy media area overlooking the festival in the Phoenix Hotel parking garage.

    Hangout aerial view by Amanda Koellner

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    As the pieces of our plan hitched together, excitement ballooned. I used nearly my entire vault of Southwest points to purchase round-trip tickets from Chicago to Atlanta to Pensacola and back. We talked the lineup top-to-bottom, and once it was revealed, Josh annotated the schedule with places to be and things to see. We purchased shuttle passes that would easily get us between our condo and the festival. I bought a new camera a week before the trip and quickly did my best to learn it well enough to not seem like a total novice in the photo pits.

    Josh even found a video of this guy, a fan whose leg had been run over by a dump truck on a sunny day when he was listening to none other than Tom Petty. He was left with one wish: to see the legend at Hangout because “Tom Petty rocks.” This phrase became our mantra, and we repeated it in our best Southern accents during the days leading up to the fest. Server refills your drink at a restaurant? “Thanks a lot, Tom Petty rocks!” A kind gentleman holds the door open for you? “Thanks a lot, Tom Petty rocks!” Rinse and repeat.

    When the time finally came to depart, we did so with enthusiasm and excited wide eyes. Because Tom. Petty. Rocks.

    Friday, May 16th

    943589_2172883804175_1540045527_n3:49 a.m. – Our alarm goes off. It’s so goddamn early. I feel like a newborn deer trying to open its eyes and walk for the first time. That kid-on-Christmas-Eve adrenaline quickly kicks in and I start gathering my luggage.

    4:30 a.m. – We have a Groupon-type thing for a town car, so we’re riding to the airport in style, mostly because taking the CTA to Midway isn’t even an option at this ungodly hour. Our driver gets us there in 15 minutes. Good work, Lee.

    6:27 a.m. – Our captain’s gentle Germanic voice drifts over the intercom, and Josh turns to me to say, “Christoph Waltz is flying this plane.” I laugh. It’s uncanny. “It is a beautiful day for flying,” he says, immediately leading the passengers to believe what he’s actually saying is, “It’s a beautiful day for killing [insert unlucky victim in a Tarantino film here].”

    7:00 a.m. – I put on the smooth sounds of Rhye and sleep the rest of the flight.

    10:02 a.m. – We’ve jumped to Eastern time, but we’re heading back to Central. Time zones confuse me so I don’t spend too much thought on this. The Atlanta Airport bustles a little too much for my liking. There are people occupying every available space, and I’m ready to roll out.

    11:47 a.m. – We’re riding in a mini van across the Florida/Alabama state lines. I’m laughing at the absurdity of this Friday morning compared to most. I call my mom to touch base before ceasing most communications with the outside world. She is utterly excited for us. It makes me happy. I’m excited too. We find our condo, home sweet home for three sweet days, and settle in.

    1:13 p.m. – We’ve arrived at the festival after one of many very pleasant shuttle rides. We stroll toward the second floor of the Phoenix Hotel’s adjacent parking garage where the press area is located in an open, breezy area overlooking the festival and oceanfront. We’ve just gotten my photo pass after a touch-and-go-moment at the media tent. Lissie is playing the Chevrolet Stage, covering “Pursuit of Happiness”. We’re yelling and running up this ramp and wind is blowing and the sun shining and it’s invigorating and beautiful. We’ve arrived.

    Hangout 2013 Pool by Joshua Mellin 2_8758528233_l

    Photo by Joshua Mellin

    2:38 p.m. – From the Chevrolet Stage through the food and merch tents around the Ferris wheel and down to the main stage, we’ve wandered – toes deep in the fine, white sand – nearly everywhere. The lay of the land had been gotten. We sit on some lounge chairs in VIP grove and I go order a drink. Walking up to a tent, ordering a white wine, and walking away without being prompted to pay is maybe the best feeling on Earth. I can hear The Sheepdogs playing in the background; my ear is fine-tuned to their sound having reviewed their album late last year. Josh takes a catnap, and I drink wine and groove in the chair, taking it all in.

    2:45 p.m. – A band I don’t recognize starts to soundcheck on the small stage within the VIP area. I can’t hear The Sheepdogs anymore, which is sort of a bummer, so I check the rest of the day’s schedule and get butterflies. I’m about to go in the photo pit for the first time. Jim James, Grizzly Bear, Passion Pit, Kings of Leon. I repeat it in my head like Arya does the names of those she wants dead on Game of Thrones.

    3:30 p.m. – We wait for Jim James at the entrance of the photo pit at the main Hangout Stage. Josh gives me pointers and my nerves grow.

    Jim James at Hangout by Joshua Mellin 7_8758542329_l

    Photo by Joshua Mellin

    3:45 p.m. – I’m so fucking close to Jim James. Ten to 15 feet from Jim Fucking James. I’m passing as an old pro and almost getting results on my par with my attitude, to my serious surprise. James comes closer to where I’m standing in all his shaggy-haired goodness, and my composure is gone. I can’t even take a photo. I dance and grin like an idiot, and at one point I turn to Josh and actually say, “I’m tearing up this is so exciting!” He and his band are opening with “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)”, which had to have been written for the sole purpose of kicking concerts off in the best possible way. The budding instrumentals grow, and the way the singer delicately annunciates those five titular vowels with concentration and precision is amazing, especially at this proximity.

    4:16 p.m. – After our first three songs come to a close, we retreat to listen from the VIP area, which we literally spill into from the photo pit, in perhaps the most convenient setup possible. I may or may not have, at this point, ordered yet another free wine. You guys: FREE. WINE. Not one to discriminate, I will later order more than a couple beers and a vodka pineapple. James continues to roll through his solo material. Seeing him in his signature suit while bikini-clad girls groove and the Gulf of Mexico’s wave crash so close by makes for a fantastic juxtaposition. The weekend’s only just begun.

    Grizzly Bear at Hangout by Joshua Mellin 1_8758546351_l

    Photo by Joshua Mellin

    5:00 p.m. – Back across the beach at Chevrolet, Grizzly Bear takes the stage, and my first thought is how adorable Ed Droste looks in beachwear. He’s donned a patterned navy, short-sleeved button up with light-blue striped shorts and a pair of Ray-Ban aviators atop. He could nearly pass for a Tommy Bahama mannequin, and it’s fabulous. One of the reasons I love Hangout is also one of the reasons I’ll jump on any chance to see Jimmy Buffet with people I adore (my parents, old friends, and the like): I can’t help but feel like life is a party when surrounded by people dressed in beach/Hawaiian wear. Everyone’s on a mission to have a good time. So why not get in on that?

    5:17 p.m. – Droste informs us the band has never been to the great state of Alabama. “Check that off the list!” he yells. I think about tossing my sunglasses onstage for Daniel Rossen. The way he’s squinting is giving me a headache. We’re enjoying the set, but we stroll on. So it goes in festival land.

    6:03 p.m. – Josh is enjoying shade and getting some water in the Grove. He’s not a fan of Passion Pit and he’s also not feeling too great. I check my watch. They go on in 12 minutes. I decide I’m getting into the pit.

    6:08 p.m. – I do my best run through the sand to the main stage. Passion Pit is set to go on in seven minutes. It’s a long jaunt, but I’ve committed and I feel determined. I stop for a brief moment when I’m near the ocean to take a slow, 360 degree turn and appreciate the scene for a moment. Moment absorbed. Back to the task at hand.

    Passion Pit, Michael Angelakos at Hangout by Amanda Koellner 2

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    6:15 p.m. – I tumble up to the photo pit entrance panting. This is an exciting solo mission, and I realize I now have a grasp on the duties of covering a festival as a photographer. I’m impressed with those who do it often. I collect myself and dart in the minute Passion Pit saunters onstage. The opening of “I’ll Be Alright” rattles and takes over my whole body; I’m actually leaning on the speaker at one point. I start snapping away, but I can’t stop holding my camera down to smile at frontman Michael Angelakos because he looks loose yet sprightly, and it’s so fun to see him happy.

    6:19 p.m. – My second song in the pit is “The Reeling”. Still a dance track, but it’s more concentrated. I get in the zone and take some of my best photos to date.

    6:21 p.m. – “Carried Away”: At this point, I’m in between having a party for one and turning to dance with the people who’ve arrived early and are having the time of their lives in the front row. The band is having a blast and so are we. I leave the photo pit grinning and fist pumping with the crowd.

    6:30 p.m. – I retreat from Passion Pit, which is harder emotionally than it should be. I find Josh. We gear up and head east for The Shins.

    The Shins at Hangout by Amanda Koellner 2

    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    6:45 p.m. – I’m waiting to enter the photo pit for James Mercer & Co., and I’m freaking out to say the least. I’ve loved this band for so many years yet this will be the first time I see them live. There are a myriad of reasons for this, but they don’t matter now. It’s happening.

    7:00 p.m. – My settings are off. This keeps happening to me when I first enter the photo pit, and for about 20 agonizing seconds, I think that I’m not going to end up getting any good shots. I momentarily give up to actually enjoy the music, recollect myself, eventually seizing an opportune moment to fix the settings and carry on. Now, James Mercer is crystal clear on my LCD screen, and I realize, holy shit, I’m seeing The Shins.

    7:05 p.m. – “Caring Is Creepy”, and I’m locked eyes with James Mercer. Is it embarrassing to admit I cried in the photo pit? Because I did.

    7:25 p.m. – Despite the loss of Jessica Dobson, who left the lineup for solo project Deep Sea Diver, the band is on point. The fact that I can see The Shins and the ocean is overwhelming and I can’t stop wiping stray tears from my somewhat sweaty, somewhat sandy face. “Australia” picks me back up, though, and as we retreat into the crowd, I embody Elaine Benes dancing on a beach vacation.

    The Shins at Hangout by Joshua Mellin 6_8758523167_l

    Photo by Joshua Mellin

    7:50 p.m. – We begin our trek toward the main stage because Josh has informed me the photo pit will be crazy for Kings of Leon. The Shins are ripping through “Kissing the Lipless” and I dance, trying not to think about the fact that I’m walking away from a forthcoming rendition of “Sleeping Lessons”, and begin to grow antsy for KOL. I’ve seen them several times, but always from the lawn of an amphitheater or upper-levels of an arena. This is going to be insane.

    8:30 p.m. – I think about how the most exciting time of any festival is when it gets dark that first night. It’s nice.

    8:33 p.m. – We’re waiting outside of the photo pit…and it’s crazy. There’s an overflowing army of photographers and they’re dividing everybody up into two groups. I’m told this often happens for big headliners. I sign a release form and am given a Kings of Leon bracelet which feels like a prize. It’s going to happen.

    Kings of Leon at Hangout by Joshua Mellin 10_8758224993_l

    Photo by Joshua Mellin

    9:00 p.m. – They kick things off with “Radioactive”, which is fun especially because it means they know not to save it for an encore or anything despite the fact that it was the lead single off their most recent album. From there, the fuzzy power of “Crawl” pounds into my chest like a sledgehammer, and I’m rocking out on the railing waiting to shoot. The band looks thrilled to be back, and they’ve never sounded better. None of the Followills seem the least bit inebriated, either. At least not yet.

    9:27 p.m. – By the time we secure a spot in the crowd, Kings have launched into “Fans”, which I’ve listened to driving with the windows down approximately 1 billion times. I realize the rest of this blurry dream of a Friday is happening right now, and I dance.

    10:37 p.m. – I’ve had a lot of free wine. When you’re on the beach and Kings of Leon are playing and you’re dancing in the sand with an unlimited supply of alcohol at your fingertips, the songs all blur into one big party – but hey, just as the Followills would have wanted, right? I have the time of my life though, rest assured.

    Kings of Leon at Hangout by Joshua Mellin 2_8758529071_l

    Photo by Joshua Mellin

    11:00 p.m. – Fireworks and the encore: “Closer”, “Use Somebody”, and “Black Thumbnail”. The entire beach is drunk. Heading toward the shuttles during the last song, we see a thousand big-group, four-person, couple, and even solo parties happening in little circles throughout the crowd. The collective mission is to get to that place where you’ve let go and real life doesn’t even exist. Mission accomplished. It’s a mess in the most beautiful way possible.