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Hangin’ Out at Hangout

June 4, 2012

Ever since my first trip to Bonnaroo Music Festival in 2011, I’ve been intrigued by the strange and colorful animal known as the music festival. Being a generally cynical introvert though, you can imagine that being stuck in the midst of tens of thousands of mind-altered, free-loving folks might not be my ideal surroundings. Bonnaroo turned out to be an interesting introduction to the world of music festivals to say the least, but without it I don’t know if I would have made it to the ones I’ve gone to since then. After attending my third festival (Hangout Music Festival) I can definitely see that each one truly is unique, and everything, from the access you have to the setting of the festival itself can have a substantial impact on how you experience it.

The only way I can really express what the Hangout Music Festival experience was like is by comparing it to the other festivals I’ve been to. Bonnaroo I went into with the mindset, “This is going to make an awesome chapter in my autobiography, if nothing else”. As it turned out, the fest was mostly great for being able to say, “remember that one time at the ‘Roo?” or “yea, I’ve seen that hugely famous band live, at Bonnaroo.” It’s more about collecting the stories than about having a great experience listening to a bunch of bands in a short period. Virginia Key GrassRoots Festival, the second fest I attended, was the polar opposite. While they may have had some kinks to work out as far as the production or setup went, for me at least, it was all about an amazing music-appreciation experience.

Hangout managed to find that perfect middle ground between the two. Big time national acts like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jack White, but in an environment of relaxed merriment. Set on the beautiful Gulf Shores beach, the festival took up about 3-4 blocks of beachfront along with the two streets running parallel to it. On top of the fact that the event itself was located in a great setting, the experience was also bolstered by having plenty of options both for hotels and houses/condos for rent within walking distance of the site so you weren’t limited to the camping option. In the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that the quality of the hotels probably isn’t what you’d normally get for the price you pay, but this can be mitigated by piling in with a group of friends (and should be expected anywhere there’s any kind of festival and/or trade show, fyi).

Compared to the 45 minute walk I had to endure at Bonnaroo from the camp site to the festival grounds, the 15 minute walk along a paved road from the hotel was heaven. Not to mention the nirvana of being able to retire to your own space with a shower and indoor plumbing compared to water-gallon showers and portapotties shared by 80,000 people. Basically, I guess I’m just trying to say that some festivals can be closer to an endurance test than an enjoyable vacation; so I was happy to find that there are options like Hangout Fest out there for the people who, like me, enjoy the music but not necessarily the overt exposure to the elements.

Another aspect which made this festival that much better for me though, was the fact that I attended as a Media representative. This is probably something that only people who share my particular brand of quirks will identify with, but I was really able to enjoy the festival more by getting the behind the scenes perspective. It’s in my nature to wonder how these things function and what goes into making the visitors’ experience as good as possible so it was amazing to be able to actually see some of them firsthand.  Also having the option of being a little more separated from the crowd allowed me to take in the festival from the vantage point of an observer and a participant intermittently.

To be clear, my friends who attended general admission (and have a more extensive history with festivals) loved Hangout as much as I did, if not more. It was obvious that it was just because of my own issues that media (or VIP I guess) make it easier to enjoy. It really does boil down to a question of individual personality when it comes to how you experience these festivals. Each one has its own particular pros and cons and so will suit everyone differently. I think it’s mostly about exposing yourself (no pun intended) to a variety of different ones, from smaller to huge and seeing which you’re able to get the most out of.

Overall though, I can say with confidence that Media or not I definitely plan on returning next year and seeing how this still-young festival develops. (Also you can check out the photo recap of the festival here)

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