Get down at the go-round. Flip flop at the tip top. Perhaps there have been music festivals with better names, but you would be hard pressed to find any better arranged than the Hangout Fest, which I attended last weekend.
In its third year, the Hangout Festival happens right on the beach in Gulf Shores, AL, and its 2012 lineup featured a high-end collection of popular rock, indie, jam, and other sorts of acts. The headliners were Jack White, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and the Dave Matthews Band. Other notables included the String Cheese Incident, the Flaming Lips, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, M. Ward, Alabama Shakes, and many, many more.
Two of my favorites, Steve Winwood and Space Capone, were playing on Sunday, but we started the day with another one I really enjoy: Mavis Staples. The 72-year-old singer was in strong voice and persona, and her band was working hard to keep up with her. Although she may have thrown the crowd off a bit early (or played right into its hands) when she became convinced, as a result of some eager heckling, that she was in a town called “Roll Tide, Alabama,” she soon reminded everybody she was hip to the modern scene, forcefully invoking the spirit of Levon Helm after performing “The Weight.” Overall, her set was enjoyable, drawing on different periods of her long career, and the hour was up much too soon.
Later that afternoon, on the same stage, Winwood turned in an excellently crafted set, the best I heard all weekend. Like Mavis, he used his hour-long set to hit on different points of his career, and it just so happens that he has one of the richest, most dynamic careers of any musician. He started and finished with his two early hits from the Spencer Davis Group days (circa 1966), opening with “I’m a Man” and closing with “Gimme Some Lovin’.” In between, he grabbed a couple Traffic tunes (“Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” and a very extended “Light Up or Leave Me Alone”), two Eric Clapton-related numbers (Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” and, from Winwood’s most recent album, Nine Lives, “Dirty City”), and brought everyone to his and her feet with a rousing rendition of maybe his biggest pop hit, “Higher Love.” On Hammond organ, Stratocaster, and signature vocals, Winwood turned in a solid set that lived up to great expectations and was a highlight of the festival.
For all their possibility, opportunity, sun, and sand, festivals can be pretty tiring, so we found a breezy indoor dining spot that offered a great open-air view of the side stage where Space Capone was soon to appear. Before that Music City funk brigade got rolling, we heard the end of the set by a very solid jamband playing a robust mix of Cream covers and other numbers. I had to look them up today– it turns out they’re called Flannel Church, and the group of former Col. Bruce Hampton confederates includes drummer Duane Trucks, the younger brother of Derek and nephew of Butch. Worth checking out if they’re playing in your area.
With the sun finally setting, Space Capone took the stage and rose to the festival occasion. Funky? Undoubtedly. Danceable? Always. The energy never lagged as the band churned through favorites like “I Just Wanna Dance,” “PFO,” “Booty,” and “Sanctuary,” and they closed the set with a new song from their forthcoming album that signaled more good times ahead for anyone fortunate enough to catch this group in action. It was one of the most fluid, jazz-influenced sets I’ve heard from Space Capone, though what I sensed was a more mature effort lacked none of the aggressive playfulness that has endeared this band to its growing fan base; to the contrary, it indicated to me that, despite an ever-fluctuating lineup (that itself is one of the entertaining features of the group), the state of Space Capone’s galaxy is strong and the future so bright, aviator shades remain mandatory.
For all the listening, concert-going, and music-reading-about I do, this was my first real music festival in the modern sense. I loved it, and I’d recommend this festival, or any other one that you can get to. It really is a nice way to spend a weekend if you can swing it.