by Leslie Coleman
I planned my 2011 summer vacation around the 2nd Annual Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores Alabama. The festival was a three day event that took place from May 20th - 22nd on the main beach. Since I was flying in from across the country, I stayed in Gulf Shores a week. I grew up on the Alabama Gulf Coast, so I was excited to get back to the beach.
DAY 1: Wednesday
I flew into Pensacola, Florida from Denver, Colorado, on May 18th. A friend met my boyfriend and me at the airport, and we drove the beach road to Orange Beach.
Upon arriving at the beach our first stop was the Shrimp Basket restaurant. I had been thinking about fresh seafood all week, and the Shrimp Basket was a place that I knew I could get good seafood and fast service (we were hungry!).
I ordered a basket of fried crab claws, and it was enough for two people. It had been more than two years since I had crab claws and found that they were exactly how I remembered them—- delicious! The service wasn't quite as fast as I remembered, but we didn't mind. We chose a table outside and the weather was beautiful. Talking to my friend made the time pass quickly, and when our food finally got to the table it was as delicious as I remembered it.
After lunch we headed towards our home for the week, the Caribe Resort at Perdido Pass in Orange Beach, just about a 15 or 20-minute drive from the Hangout Music Festival. I lived on the Alabama Gulf Coast for about 8 years, visiting most of the island's resorts, and the Caribe is my favorite place to stay.
Although it’s not directly on the beach, it’s panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico, Perdido Pass, and Terry Cove more than make up for it. Perdido Pass is on one of the major entryways into the Gulf of Mexico.
We had a condo that overlooked the Pass and Terry Cove, so we could watch the fishing and pleasure boats from our patio. There are also islands within view and it's almost certain that dolphins will swim by several times a day. Our Caribe patio was one of our favorite places to hang out during the week.
Once we got settled in our condo, we quickly made our way to the beach. It’s about a five or ten minute walk. We could have called a Caribe-operated trolley that would have taken us to the beach free of charge, but it is an easy walk under the Perdido Pass Bridge.
On this day the red flag was out, signaling that there were strong currents in the water. At this point I was more than content to stay in the safety of the sand after a day’s worth of traveling. Afterwards, we made our way to the Caribe’s lazy river. This is a place where I could happily spend my entire vacation. All you have to do is sit in an inner tube and let the water carry you around the “river.”
DAY 2: Thursday
Most of Thursday we spent our time in the lazy river and on the beach. This day I did swim in the Gulf and made it to a sandbar. Swimming back was somewhat of a task due to the rip current. I’m not sure how long I was swimming, but it was definitely a workout. After that, I remember thinking that the red flag was not something to take lightly.
Later in the afternoon we took a cab down to the festival grounds to scope it out and pick up our shuttle passes and Hangout Festival tickets. The festival offered a pass for $20/3 days for shuttle service that was to run all throughout the weekend from Alabama Point in Orange Beach, just over the bridge from the Caribe, to West Beach and north on Highway 59. This was a great deal for us since we didn’t want to rent a car. Just the cab fare from the Caribe to the Hangout Festival entrance would have cost us over $20 one way each day of the festival.
Within a few minutes we noticed that the Hangout Festival was somewhat disorganized. First off, each person who purchased Hangout Festival tickets had to come to one little tent to pick up a wristband for entry (Remember this is a 35,000 person event!). This line wrapped around in so many different directions that it made me dizzy just to look at it. We thought we were lucky because his complementary ticket did not require us to wait in that line; however, this caused us even more difficulty.
My boyfriend was on a guest list of some kind, but none of the employees could find this list or even know he was talking about. We spent an hour or so talking to one person and then being directed to another person and then back again where we started, and finally we were told to come back the next day. I think it ended with someone telling us that the person who had that list was not yet in the festival area. We picked up our shuttle passes and thought that everything would work out the next day.
We met up with some friends from Colorado and walked to Ribs and Reds for dinner. I had never been to this restaurant, but decided any seafood in the area would be good. I ordered seared tuna, which was too cold for my liking. I usually don’t have a problem sending things back at restaurants, but for some reason I didn’t say anything. The server was friendly, and I’m sure she wouldn’t have had a problem with warming the tuna, but I kept my mouth shut. The dish came with vegetables that were clearly from a can and some seasoned rice-- all of which I wasn't very pleased with. I should have stuck with my favorite tried and true seafood restaurants. There are plenty of those.
After dinner we headed back to the Caribe and soaked away the night in one of the many outdoor hot tubs. During our stay there was an ongoing joke about the number of pools and hot tubs at the resort. There is definitely not a shortage.
DAY 3: FRIDAY: 1st Day of Hangout Festival
Finally the day that we had been waiting so long for had arrived! We wanted to get down there somewhat early so that we could take care of the ticket situation (My boyfriend had to track down where that list was and I still had to meet up with a friend to get my wristband). After a couple hours I finally had mine, but my boyfriend and that list had not connected. It was extremely frustrating and we weren’t sure if it was ever going to get straightened out by the time the bands we wanted to see started playing.
We took a break and grabbed some lunch at the Gulf Shores location of the Shrimp Basket, just a couple blocks from the Hangout Festival entrance. We took a table on the patio and ordered fried okra (can't get that in Colorado!) and a chicken strip basket. By this time the area was packed with pedestrians and impatient drivers. It was a good spot to view all of the people making their way into the festival.
After lunch we headed back to the dreaded tent and attempted the ticket/wristband thing again. Surprisingly this time was no different than the others. We decided to not deal with it again and to just let the person who put him on the list figure it out.
We then tried to find the shuttle pickup. This was the second major problem I encountered. I asked several employees where to go and each one had no answer. Eventually we found the one lady who was in charge of the shuttles and we thought everything would be okay—- wrong! Shuttles were going the wrong way and one even dropped off a load of people and took off without loading back up.
Even worse, all the buses were getting held up in barely moving traffic just down the road. There was so much frustration and confusion that it seemed as though the festival wasn’t even worth it. Finally we got on a bus and made it back to the room. The driver even said during the bus ride that he had no idea where he was supposed to stop or even the route he was supposed to be using.
We got back to the condo and finally got a phone call confirming that our names were on the entry list. Success! We then excitedly made our way to the shuttle pickup spot to head back to the fest. It was a good 20 or 30-minute (hot!) walk over Perdido Pass, but we didn't mind. Once we arrived and got that much desired wristband, our attitudes changed. Now it was time to enjoy the Hangout Festival!
We made our way in and familiarized ourselves with the area. We met up with friends and wandered around the grounds. The bands that I wanted to see on this day were Sound Tribe Sector 9, Railroad Earth, My Morning Jacket, and Widespread Panic. I was disappointed with the schedule because STS9, MMJ, and RE were all playing in the same time slot.
We just decided to stick around our base camp near the stage where STS9 played. It was daylight when they were on so you couldn’t really see their normally spectacular light display. It was still okay with me since I had seen them so many times in Colorado. We left before their show was over to catch a little bit of Railroad Earth.
After RRE we made our way to the big stage on the sand to wait for Widespread Panic to begin. This was the band that I was most excited to see. It was a great experience to be able to see my favorite band play not only on the beach, but in my hometown. I remember hearing the waves crash to my side as they were playing. It was a memorable experience and made all the frustrations from earlier in the day fade away.
Once Widespread finished their show we hustled through the crowd and made our way to the buses. The lines were long so I went ahead and called a friend for a ride. This day was good and we were excited to see what tomorrow would bring.
DAY 4: Saturday
On Saturday we started our trek towards the bus stop and some other kids who were headed that way kindly offered us a ride. We made our way into the Hangout Festival, and again found some friends. We hopped over to the tent where Big Gigantic was about to start playing. Big G is a Colorado band that I’ve seen numerous times, but this was by far one of their best shows that I had seen-- or at least I had the most fun at this one. It was hot, everyone was enjoying the show, and I was happy to see some familiar faces in my hometown!
For the rest of the day we caught the tail end of Primus and attempted to see Pretty Lights-- the tent where PL was playing was too crowded for my liking. We caught the shuttle back to our condo.
We went back to the festival for Big G’s and Pretty Lights’ late night shows in the tent. The tent was much more comfortable in the evening compared to the day (not too hot, nor too crowded). The only complaint here was that most of the festival areas were blocked off and because of this I couldn’t refill my water bottle.
DAY 5: Sunday: Last Day of the Hangout Festival
I had planned on seeing Keller Williams and Old Crow Medicine Show this morning at 12:45, but ended up not heading that way until around 3 or 4 o’clock. That’s one thing about large festivals when you’re not camping on site-- it’s difficult to see everything you want when the music goes on for twelve hours. Also at this show, from where we were staying, getting to the show and back consumed at least an hour each way. Too much of a festival on a hot day can be more work than fun, so I was alright with missing those two shows.
We got back to the Hangout Festival in time to see Michael Franti and a bit of Ween. I did want to see some Girl Talk, but the tent was too crowded again (the same one where Pretty Lights and Big G had played).
I was close to the stage for Galactic and pretty much took it easy trying to cool off a bit. Afterwards we made our way to the main stage for Paul Simon. The beach was quickly filling up for this show and it seemed all of the 35,000 ticket holders were here to catch it. We were running low on energy at this point, so we left after a couple songs. I felt bad heading out while one of my favorite artists was playing, but I decided that getting back to a comfy spot after so much heat and sun was probably best. However, I probably would have stuck it out if I were a bit closer to the stage. Still, I can say that I saw Paul Simon, can't I?
We spent the rest of the evening hanging out at the Caribe and had a great time meeting new folks. I would have to say that Sunday night was one of the best times we had during our vacation. At the Caribe, when the weather is nice, fun comes easy.
Day 6: Monday
Most of Monday was spent around the pool, but we did get to go on a boat ride. We boarded a small boat from the Caribe dock and stopped at an island. The water was much warmer than the actual Gulf and I found it to be the perfect spot to end our vacation.
Later that night we did some grilling and some hot-tubbing. I was beginning to get sad that our vacation was near its end, but was happy to think I might come back next year.
Day 7: Tuesday
On our last day we took a short trip to the beach and then grabbed some lunch at the Caribe’s Cobalt Restaurant. Once again the service was slow, but the views and food made up for it. I came to the conclusion that the laid back attitude of the beach also applies to food service. I guess I got used to it during all those years that I lived on the beach.
Overall, I had a great time. I had almost forgotten how nice the Alabama beaches are at the beginning of summer. I was happy that I was able to share this area with my Colorado friends. It’s still a little hard for me to believe that such a large festival with such big name acts took place in my hometown in Alabama. I also look forward to seeing next year’s Hangout Festival lineup. Maybe the kinks will be worked out by then. Maybe they won't. Either way, I know it will be fun!