Hangout Fest 2023

The Hangout Music Festival takes place on a beautiful stretch of beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Emerald green water, pure white sand, and thousands of people enjoying a hot Summer weekend. 

This year was my 8th Hangout Fest and every year at least one artist (and most years more than one) will step out onto the stage, pause to take it in, and then talk about the amazing view. It’s especially powerful for people who have never been to the area. As one artist said this year, “Wait… THIS is f*#@ing Alabama?!” 🙂

Which makes it appropriate that this year I was covering the festival for Alabama the Beautiful Magazine. An online magazine whose main purpose is to show off the beauty of the state in expected and at times unexpected ways. I believe Hangout Fest is a bit of a hidden gem for a large portion of the state, just as the Alabama Gulf Coast is a hidden gem to many from other parts of the country and world.

Earlier in the week, the forecast called for a 50/50 rain chance all weekend which is a pretty standard forecast for the Gulf Coast. But all three days turned out to have clear skies and temps in the mid 80s, so the biggest concern outside of which acts to see was staying hydrated. Another thing several artists mentioned from the stage. “Drink your water people!” 

Security was passing out bottles of water to the crowds waiting between shows and water stations were scattered throughout the fest site. Plus this year, there seemed to be more places for people to get out of the sun for a while than in years past. A nice change. There were of course a few people who missed the memo that staying hydrated does not mean drinking adult beverages all day in the hot sun, but honestly I saw a lot less of that than in years past. 

Hangout Fest, however, is of course not just about the location and the beautiful weather. It’s about the music and the non-stop party. And just like every year, it opens my eyes and ears to some outstanding new music.

Day 1 Highlights for me: The Vegabonds, (a band with some strong Auburn connections), the always fun Tove Lo, the incredibly talented Thundercat, and Lil Nas X. Also on Friday, I was really looking forward to seeing one of my favorite bands again but Rainbow Kitten Surprise had to cancel due to health concerns. I truly hope all is well. But the bass player for RKS, Charlie Holt, also DJs as Harleigh Colt and they played two great sets on Friday that I did get to catch.

But the biggest highlight for Friday, especially for someone my age 🙂 was The Red Hot Chili Peppers closing out the night with an energetic set topped off by fireworks over the beach. (Please excuse the photo dump on this one. I was pretty pumped about RHCP and trying to pull off the end of night fireworks shot) 🙂  

Friday was so great that the weekend could have ended there and I would have been happy. But I’m glad it didn’t because so much more cool stuff happened the next two days.

Day 2 Highlights for me: Highly Suspect, The Maine (who were joined by Charlotte Sands on stage at one point), Charlotte Sands, Flume, and the Saturday headliner, SZA gave it everything she had.

But the best part of Day 2 for me was Sabrina Carpenter. It started before she even took the stage as hundreds of people sang “All Too Well” by Taylor Swift at the top of their lungs while waiting for Sabrina. It was really beautiful moment for this recently converted Swifty. 🙂 

And then Sabrina Carpenter put on a polished set that looked and sounded great. As someone who has been in the public eye for a while even before the singing career, she knows how to put on a show. And to bring the pre-show serenade full circle, Swift announced last week that Sabrina will be opening for her on the Latin American leg of her tour.

The last day is always the day I’m slightly tired but determined to take it all in. I made a few random mental notes while walking around around on Sunday. – There were lots of food tents but it was GREAT to have a coffee truck on-site to feed my addiction. – Security seemed much nicer and less aggressive this year. – For that matter, the crowd did too. – More access to the Gulf water was nice even though there was a limit and a wait to get in. – There were a lot of people but the fest didn’t seem as packed as in years past. – The media area and media treatment was excellent this year. – You can still park for free near the fest if you know the place and the time. 🙂

And it was another beautiful day to photograph or at times to just listen to some outstanding. artists. 

Day 3 Highlights for me: The aptly named Beach Weather, the wild crowd at the Hippie Sabotage stage, Athens Alabama native Jessie Murph, Mayday Parade, and the theatrical show by Ashnikko that was made to be photographed. 

But the best part of Sunday was discovering a new-to-me band that I love. It happens at every festival and this year it was The Backseat Lovers. Crazy energy and a sound that I connected with. I’ve been playing them a ton ever since.

I’m not sure what the future holds for Hangout but I love this festival. I’ve mentioned before, these days the crowd and the artists skew a little younger here than the concert crowds I’m usually in, but a three day party listening to music on the beach is more than enough to make up for the reminder that I’m not as young as I used to be. 🙂 Plus for me, discovering new music is one of my favorite things in the world.

(Check out the feature article on the festival in the May issue of Alabama The Beautiful Magazine plus tons of other beautiful photography and stories about the state)

Brian L Butler – @BeautifulPensacola@Panhandlin.Music

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