Hangout Fest 2022 was my first music festival since 2019 because of well, you-know-what. I was beyond excited to get back. Now it was just a question of whether the weather would cooperate. It didn’t look good at first.
My friend Jack and I were photographing the festival for WEAR-TV, the local ABC station in Pensacola, Florida which is about 45 minutes from the fest site. Yes it’s a television station but we shoot stills of the artists and atmosphere for on-air, social, and web stories.
Since it’s fairly close, I was able to drive in each day so the biggest challenge was parking. This was my 8th Hangout Fest so I knew a few free spots that were close by if only I could get there early enough. I was so pumped about the fest, getting up early and getting there wasn’t a problem.
So I was there as soon as the gates opened on Friday and headed to the media area to scope things out. It was still about an hour before the first act was scheduled to go on so I had some time to look around. There were two big stages on either end of the beach, two medium size stages off the beach, and a couple of small stages in the VIP areas. Plus tons of vendors and attractions in between.
While I was looking around I noticed really dark clouds offshore. Not long after, there was a lightning strike in the distance and the fest announced over the loudspeakers that everyone needed to leave and find shelter. So I grabbed my stuff, exited the fest grounds and “sheltered” at the Shrimp Basket restaurant right next to the festival entrance where I had a shrimp platter for lunch. That’s my kind of shelter.
The lightning never got close but I could still hear thunder in the distance so after lunch I walked through a light rain back to my car and waited. A couple of hours after it closed, the fest announced through the Hangout app that gates were back open.
The official festival app was great! They let everyone know what was happening with the weather delays through the app and then the set times were adjusted in real time which was very helpful because of all the lineup time changes. 5 Stars for the Hangout Fest mobile app. 🙂
So now we restarted Day 1. And from that point on it was an excellent day. The Hangout Fest stages are directly on the sand so it’s one big beach party. Lots of people eating, drinking, dancing, skating and listening to bands by the Gulf of Mexico. Sensory overload in the most wonderful way.
Day one musical highlights for me were Remi Wolf, Tyla Yaweh, T-Pain, Fall Out Boy, and the showstopper, Post Malone.
I knew going in the second day was going to be a challenge for me. I’m a video producer by day and I double booked myself Saturday because of a tight client deadline. At 10am my assistant and I shot video of a new water park in Pensacola. We spent 4 hours in and out of the water capturing five families enjoying water slides, lazy rivers, and kiddie pools. Not a bad gig really. But…. Then I had to pack up, drive home, switch out my gear and head to Hangout Fest for the night.
I made it, paid $30 for parking (no early arrival free parking today:) and got inside about 4:30. Jack was able to cover the early acts that day and I had the evening acts. I’m glad I did it and that I didn’t bail on day 2, but I was running on fumes by the end of the night. I didn’t get selected to photograph the headliner Halsey which I took as a blessing in disguise and headed home early.
The day was a blur but my Day 2 musical highlights during an abbreviated session were, Leon Bridges, The Band Camino and my favorite of the day, Beabadoobee.
The weather for day three started off a little shaky. I got there early again to get parking but as soon as I parked, the Hangout app notified me they were pushing the opening back an hour. So I had a couple of hours to kill and remembered there’s a Waffle House right near the entrance. Breakfast time. But this was not, however, an original idea. (If you live in a place without a Waffle House, any description I give here would not do it justice. But if you know, you know:)
The line was out the door and two rows deep inside. But I had nowhere else I needed to be so I waited. Traveling single sometimes has its benefits and I got a seat pretty quickly because lots of other people were in large groups. I had my big southern breakfast and had a good talk with a nice guy who was down from Atlanta for the fest. Then I went back to my car, grabbed my gear and headed in. But that didn’t last long.
I shot Flipturn to start the day but as I was walking to the next stage, the booming announcement came over the speakers again. “There’s a storm comin’! Y’all need to get out!”. Well, they didn’t use those words but that was the gist of it. So back to my car I went. I say car, but I drive an SUV so I popped the back up and sat in my mobile command studio 🙂 and edited photos while I waited. Then I may have taken a nap while listening to the rain. Then after a couple of hours the gates reopened and I was back in.
It was a combination of things, but day three turned out to be the best day of the festival for me even with the shaky start and the occasional light rain after. The temperature and humidity dropped because of the rain and overcast skies so people were wet but cooler and happy. And so many more groups stopped me to get me to take their photo on Sunday. There’s something about the people willing to roll with it and have a good time, rain or shine, that gives off good vibes.
And photographically there were a couple of advantages to the rain also. First, the threat of rain scared off some of the “amateur” photographers who were maybe just there so they could be in the pit and not so much for real work. Fewer of those people meant more room in the photo pit for us pros. (Tongue slightly in cheek:) Plus the overcast skies made nature’s own softbox over the entire festival site so combined with the stage lights, the photos of the artists looked better than with harsh sunlight. So pretty.
Musical highlights for day three were Louis the Child (crowd surfing in front of the actual surf) Fletcher, Jack Harlow and my favorite set of the entire weekend, Phoebe Bridgers.
The heavy rain did return that night but I had yet another blessing in disguise. I didn’t get approved to photograph the headliners Megan Thee Stallion or Tame Impala so Jack Harlow was my finale. I was going to hang around and catch the closers but when I checked the radar after Harlow there was more rain coming. The bottom fell out about the time I got to my car. It was just rain and not lightning this time though so the show inside went on as I drove back to Pensacola with an exhausted smile on my face.
A few closing thoughts. It goes without saying that the media experience is a little different from the fans’ experience but from my point of view this was one of the better run festivals I’ve attended. The gates moved quickly, the communication about weather changes was excellent, security was firm but not aggressive, and the overall mood was more chill. Maybe it was just because everybody missed the experience so much when it was taken away that they appreciated it more. Or maybe I’m just projecting. Who knows. Can’t wait until my next festival though.
Brian L Butler