Quick, what comes to mind when you hear about the National Seashore running along the Gulf Coast of Alabama? Is it deluxe buildings lining a wide white sand beach? Endless dining options? Vast areas in which parklands intersect waterways, sand dunes and foliage? This seems like a a full service menu of vacation options which remains a mystery to much of the country.
Hangout Fest is shining a spotlight on Alabama’s Gulf Shore beaches. This three day festival, which just took place from May 19 – 21, 2023 has the bones of every weekend festival: multiple stages, diverse musical options, plentiful food and beverage choices. While at first glance this seems to be a template model of a music festival, there is much more beneath the surface.
Much of this is due to the carefully planning of Reeves Price and his team. Price was the subject of this previous Forbes story:
Hangout Fest is curated. There are differentiations in almost every element of this event which should be noted. First, and most notable, the festival itself takes on the public beach in Gulf Shores. The festival is literally on the sand. The two main stages are set at opposite ends of the beach. There are several others scattered throughout the grounds. Attendance is capped at 35,000 which is manageable. There are enough people there for the crowd to be full and fun, but not so many that it becomes perpetually congested.
The lineup was interesting because of its variety. Headliners ranged from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Paramore, and Little NAS X to Skrillex, SZA and Calvin Harris. There was also a substantial underbill filled with talent such as AJR, Yung Gravy, Noel Kahan, Coin and Sabrina Carpenter all playing in broad daylight. Fans had the ability to hold to an EDM experience, one based upon guitar rock or just take the survey of the broad variety of musical choices available over the three days. Meanwhile, the layout provided the opportunity to just sit in the sand between sets with your beverage of choice and a lovely view of the Gulf of Mexico.
Just holding this event on the beach in late spring sets up a feeling unlike that at many other festivals. The water is omnipresent, and as a result the ambiance itself costars with the music. Hangout Fest has built a model which is accommodative to a broad audience. Those who purchased General Admission tickets had access to half of the area in front of the main stage, and even more access to the secondary and tertiary stages. The main stage VIP area had a big viewing section which included lounge chairs and soaking pools. For those who wanted an even more curated experience, there was a Super VIP section built alongside the VIP space with shade, hammocks, bar tables, gourmet food and an open bar. And, for the cost no object corporate players, there were “cabanas” built as a second story on top of the Super VIP section in which someone could host up to thirty people with a clear view to the stage over the heads of all the fans below.
This curated differentiation, both in the artists on stages and the manner in which people experienced the festival mixed together groups whose exuberance over being there, no matter in which fashion, built excitement across the entire ecosystem. It precluded the moneyed set from holding a garden party with music as background and engaged the young people who scraped up the costs of attendance.
This melding of patrons from across the economic spectrum help build excitement, as each group’s reactions inspired the overall vibe of the festival. Hype builds hype. As the cheers grew louder from the GA sections, the VIP groups paid more attention to the stages. The net result was the crowd swell built into a single crowd rather than a one which was segmented by economic capacity. It is that energy of a crowd which builds affinity, all enhanced by the beachside environment and cooperative weather in late May.
For those like me who had never been to Alabama’s Gulf shore, there were other surprises as well. The Florabama bar at the state line between Florida and Alabama is well known. What’s less known is that just a few miles further along the Alabama coast are wetlands, parklands, sand dunes, Sea Turtle hatching grounds, recreational boating, luxury beach front hotels and a broad spectrum of restaurants. Voyagers restaurant at the Perdido Beach resort is owned by the same person who has Cain Five wines in Napa. Their chef Brody Olive is terrific. It’s a Napa level dining experience on Orange Beach, AL. That’s the revelation of the Gulf coast: it offers recreational opportunities which are not well known beyond the region, but they should be.
The other surprise was the diversity of accommodations available nearby. The beaches were lined with hotels and condominiums which were located between the “Florabama” state line and the Hangout Fest a few miles further along the AL shore line. There were multi tower luxury buildings such as the Caribe towers which were well situated to accommodate short term stays, along with hotels at all price points. It was all very well organized to accommodate an influx of visitors and disburse them amongst the many recreational options there. Get there next year for Hangout Fest 2024. You’ll leave with a new favorite travel option.
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