Scheduled to take place May 14-16 at The Hangout, an entertainment venue located near the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala., the event is designed to blend a coastal vacation with a stellar live music experience.
The Hangout Festival will feature three days of music on four stages. Headliners include Trey Anastasio, Zac Brown Band, John Legend, The Black Crowes, Ben Harper, Gov’t Mule, Alison Krauss and The Flaming Lips. Acts from the Birmingham area that have been announced so far are A.A. Bondy and Wild Sweet Orange.
Recently, I sat down with the Hangout Festival’s key planners—A.J. Niland of Mobile’s HUKA Entertainment; Shaul Zislin, owner of The Hangout; and Birmingham’s own Todd Coder, Workplay talent buyer—to find out how the event came to be.
“We’ve been wanting to do a festival down that way for a while and the opportunity had never arisen,” Niland says. “Shaul invited us down to Shrimp Fest to take a look at it. He’s the one that brought it up. He said, ‘I’d like to do a music festival. Do you think it’s possible?’ I walked around the site—he owns The Hangout, which is right in the middle of that area. I said, ‘I think you’ve got something here if you can get the beach. The ball was passed into his court and he made it happen.”
Even though the concept of accommodating large crowds is natural in a coastal vacation town, Zislin remains surprised at the area’s willingness to partner in his vision. “Initially, there was some skepticism, but once they understood the caliber of the event, they jumped on board very strongly,” he says. “They helped us push this thing because we’re doing everything on hyper-speed. Something that should take a year to organize and plan was crammed into basically a 60-day period. The amount of support and the level of acceptance—from government entities to local entities to the community as a whole—is really surprising. I’ve done business in that area for a lot of years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Coder was pleased by the response of the big-name acts who were approached about performing at the Hangout Festival. “From a programming standpoint, a very positive aspect has been the willingness of artists to work with us and perform at this festival,” he says. “The first year of a festival can be a big hurdle for producers and programmers to get over, and I think our lineup justifies that willingness and the relationships we have. The relationships we’ve forged in the industry have helped us create the festival we’ve created. The thing is that it’s an event destination. We have the beach component and then we have this lineup we’ve put together that we’re proud of.”
Given the ongoing success of regional festivals, including Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn., and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, I ask the planning team if they have learned from other events in planning their own. “We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Niland says. “We very much study the other programs, and each of them do specific things right. But we have a completely different element—we’re dealing with sand. We are creating the procedures of doing production in that environment. But in terms of the experience, you take what’s best for the fans at other festivals and compile it as best you can.”
Zislin adds that The Hangout Festival will appeal to music lovers that may not fit the demographic profile of larger festivals. “We have a couple of features that will make this unique for years to come,” he says. “For one, it’s going to be an intimate experience. There’s a big difference in sharing an experience with 35,000 people and 70,000 people. The other difference is this is not a camping festival. There are really good accommodations. People can come to this and go home and take a shower and sleep in a bed. So it opens it up to a new target audience that doesn’t want to pitch a tent and camp.”
According to Niland, the organizers made a commitment to bring top-notch talent to the inaugural event. “The festival in general is the first large-scale music festival on a beach anywhere, so the lineup has to be tailored to the area and what’s suitable on the beach,” he says. “There’s something for everyone to a certain degree for serious music fans. This isn’t a general city festival. The production is over-the-top and the bands had to be bands that the area would come to see and bands people are hungry for—that was our goal.”
Learn more about The Hangout Beach, Music & Arts Festival and purchase weekend passes at www.hangoutmusicfest.com. The Hangout venue is located at 101 East Beach Boulevard in Gulf Shores. You can read all about it at www.thehangoutal.com.
Brent Thompson writes about popular music for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.