My husband and I were standing at the Palladia Stage at Hangout waiting for Valerie June to start playing, when Frank started chatting up the couple standing next to us. Striking up conversations with total strangers is something that comes naturally to him. It comes to me, let’s just say, more organically — with the help of fermented yeast, barley and hops.
He asked the couple where from where they were visiting. The husband said, “St. Louis.” One of us said something like, “Oh really? That’s cool. Did you grow up coming down here on vacation?”
I think we both just kind of assumed that to be the case.
They said, “Nope, first time we’ve ever been here. We just couldn’t pass on this line-up.”
“Oh, wonderful,” I said kind of surprised. “Well, welcome. We live in Mobile, so this is practically home to us.”
“Didn’t realize y’all had beaches like this,” they said. “In Alabama.”
I know, it’s hard for out-of-staters to realize there are spectacular things in Alabama. But we ignored the backhanded compliment and carried on.
“Oh yes, they really are beautiful. We’re lucky to live so close. Well, we hope y’all come back,” we said, throwing in some extra y’alls for effect as many of us do when talking to out-of-staters. Because, you know, they think it’s precious, y’all.
“Oh, we are,” they said.
Later, Frank and I wandered over to the Malibu tent situated right next to the ocean, waves crashed as the music thumped. We ended up plopping down on a lounge chair next to some college kids who were obviously having a very “mellow” time. I had had enough yeast, barley and Swedish wheat (Absolut) that I tried to chat them up like we had the St. Louis folks.
Frank rolled his eyes. The “natural” knows you don’t try to chat up stoned college kids at a music festival. About as much as I got from them was that they were a group of college buddies that had driven down from Illinois or Indiana or somewhere like that. But they were having a blast.
They looked at me like, shut up, old lady. So I did, y’all.
Waiting for The Avett Brothers to play on Sunday, we were shooting the (Gulf Coast) breeze with a lady from Louisiana who had obviously been to our beaches before, but since coming to the very first Hangout, she and her husband, along with their tween and teenage kids, had made it an annual family trek and say they plan to do it every year.
These were just three conversations, but the enthusiasm for our sandy backyard was the same. Now, multiply that by 35,000.
So when a five-year extension for the festival comes before the Gulf Shores City Council on June 30, it should be a no brainer.
Sure it’s not without hassles, especially for the locals. There is set-up and clean up in the days leading up and following this festival that makes me the public beach feel more like a construction zone than a place to chill-ax. And of course, traffic is an issue the weekend of the festival. And restaurateurs have complained it’s a slow weekend for them, as the festival-goers favor dining on site rather than in their establishments.
But even still, the long-term benefits far outweigh the brief sacrifices that irritate some “locals.”
And it seems most Gulf Shores residents and business owners agree. A survey conducted by the council found 64 percent of the residents and 72 percent of local businesses think the festival should get the five-year extension.
Furthermore, a recent impact study indicated the festival puts more than $30 million into the Gulf Coast economy. That’s huge, especially on a weekend before Memorial Day.
Studies and surveys are always nice, but three conversations told me more than either of those reports ever could. When that married couple gets back to St. Louis, they will tell their friends what exquisite beaches they have in Alabama. Yes, in Alabama.
When those stoned college boys turn into husbands themselves, perhaps they’ll bring their wives to that cool place where they saw a music festival back in the day.
And perhaps the tweens and teens who are brought by their parents to the festival each year will carry on that tradition with their own kids. And not just during Hangout weekend.
So maybe it’s been Zac Brown or the Black Keys who have introduced all of these new people to our little piece of paradise, but once they’ve seen our beaches, it will be the sugary WHITE sands of the Gulf Coast that will continue to bring them down for generations to come.
You just can’t put a price tag on that, y’all.
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