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The Hangout Music Festival draws nearly 40,000 music fans and support staff to Gulf Shores for three days in May.
The recently announced lineup for next year’s Hangout Music Festival (May 17-19) might have quite a few enthusiasts putting weekend passes on their Christmas lists.
In late November, the festival revealed headliners would be Travis Scott, The Lumineers, Khalid, Vampire Weekend, Cardi B and Kygo, who will join an abundance of other stellar acts for a weekend of sun and fun in Gulf Shores.
The 2019 Hangout Music Festival will mark its 10th year. For a fleeting moment, many veterans thought the celebration would move to Florida, as the conclusion of Hangout Fest 2018 brought media rumblings of the festival’s possible relocation to Panama City Beach. When asked about those rumors, however, festival director Sean O’Connell was quick to express his gratitude and appreciation for the small beach town the festival calls home.
“We are so fortunate to have what I think is the most amazing music venue in the world in Gulf Shores, Alabama, but it is also a town of 8,000,” O’Connell said. “With that said, I’ve never seen a rumor so rabid in my life.”
Ten years ago, Hangout owner Shaul Zislin founded this beachside wonder of a music festival with some help from promoter and Mobile native A.J. Niland (Niland completely parted ways with the festival early on). When the gates opened, Hangout Fest welcomed the masses to a unique beachside setting focused on creating an unforgettable experience for everyone. O’Connell was there for the festival’s inaugural year, but said he worked more on sponsorship, marketing and branding. In 2013 he took over as director.
O’Connell has watched as each new generation flocked to Hangout Fest’s beachside stages. He has also been instrumental in instituting changes both onstage and behind the scenes. Even though it has evolved musically and structurally, the original concept that brought Hangout Fest to life still remains.
“Our vision is huge,” said O’Connell. “We want to create the best festival experience in the world. What I mean by that is that we want to create a destination that people come to celebrate summer, celebrate friends, celebrate fun and celebrate music.”
For the festival’s inaugural year, the lineup included such bands as Trey Anastasio Band, Zac Brown Band, John Legend, The Flaming Lips and Ben Harper & Relentless7. Even with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill fresh in the Gulf of Mexico and a Sunday morning weather evacuation of the festival grounds, Hangout Fest made a great first impression.
The following year featured festival regulars Widespread Panic as well as iconic singer-songwriter Paul Simon. However, those returning to Hangout found EDM acts added to the lineup.
As the years passed, the lineup and the artist selection process has remained the same, even though the music featured has evolved. Ultimately, O’Connell said, Hangout Fest wants to feature a lineup of musical acts and styles that are currently popular, no matter the genre. Judging from the crowds, this formula has been a success.
“I want a program that’s important in the moment,” O’Connell said.
As far as the contrast between the inaugural and current lineup, O’Connell noted popular music changes over a 10-year period. He notes punk and disco were popular 10 years after Woodstock. O’Connell also noted binge culture consumers have changed the music industry. With outlets such as Apple Music and Spotify, O’Connell said, consumers have thousands of newly released songs each day from which to choose.
“How people listen to music has completely changed from when we started the festival to even three years ago,” he said. “Four years ago, how many people had Spotify or Apple Music? I don’t even think Apple Music was around four years ago. We’ve literally seen a complete change in how people consume and enjoy music, which I think is amazing. I think it’s putting opportunities out there for young artists to rise to the top. I love that.”
O’Connell is one of those people giving young artists an opportunity to rise to the top. His “in the moment” ideology and attention to contemporary artists and consumer trends has resulted in a 2019 lineup featuring a diverse array of today’s and tomorrow’s hottest music acts from all walks. And the notion that a person only listens to one genre of music is impossible for O’Connell to conceive.
“With the generation coming out, I don’t think most fans think in terms of genre,” O’Connell explained. “That’s generational. If you’re someone who thinks, ‘I just want some rock ‘n’ roll,’ that’s a concept I can’t wrap my head around, and most people seldom do.”
O’Connell said working behind the scenes to make this a memorable festival has changed since the inaugural year. In the early years, he would receive a phone call in December to plan the event in May. Now planning Hangout Fest has become a year-round job. Even though it’s more intense, O’Connell said the organizers’ constant mission is improvement in both the festival’s footprint and features.
As far as what the festival has in store for its 10th anniversary, O’Connell wants it to be a surprise, but said organizers are constantly “dreaming up” new concepts, adding last year’s changes were an encouraging experience.
“This was the first year where everything that we dreamed up really connected,” O’Connell said. “Sometimes we have an idea that falls flat because the concept that you dreamed up didn’t work or the execution wasn’t great. This year was just fantastic.”
New attractions in 2018 included roller disco, “Camp Hangout,” new beach clubs and a tropical spa.
Weekend passes are on sale now with VIP, Super VIP and Big Kahuna options available. Hangout Fest also features an “EZ-Pay” installment payment option. Shuttle passes are currently available as well. Visit hangoutfest.com for more information.