Gulf Shores issued a preliminary assembly permit on Feb. 10 for the sold-out, 11th annual Hangout Music Festival, but it wasn’t without some hand-wringing and raised expectations on festival organizers from the city.
“It’s just important for our community to know we can’t do 2019 again,” Mayor Robert Craft said. “It cannot happen.”
Residents showed up en masse after the 10th edition of the festival last year, citing parking violations, lewd behavior and festival goers using residents’ lawns as open-air toilets. Another outcry was against the attire worn by some, including a widely circulated picture of a group walking along Alabama 59 headed to the festival wearing thong bathing suits.
“The city has identified critical elements that require satisfactory resolution by the event producers that have been included in the resolution authorizing preliminary approval of the public assembly permit application by not later than April 4,” Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Director Grant Brown told the council.
Hangout Vice President of Operations Reeves Price said organizers are working hard to solve the three main areas of concern expressed by the city.
“We feel really confident we have answers to the concerns you all have expressed to us and we’re looking forward to coming back and showing you guys what we can do in 2020,” Price told the council.
Craft said the plan’s success will play a critical role in whether the festival continues.
“Did it get better and does it deserve to continue?” Craft asked. “And, if it doesn’t and if it ends up like 2019, I think the probability of 2021 is very slim.”
The city and the festival have a long-term agreement through 2025, which includes a 30-day review after each festival to address concerns.
“You have a commitment that’s year to year,” Craft said. “It allows us to try to adapt to the issues that we see not beneficial to the community.”
The first is the behavior of attendees in the neighborhood around the festival site. Price said the festival will pay for roving ambassadors who’ll patrol the neighborhoods looking to stop any bad behaviors before they happen.
“We’re going to be putting paid staff members onto the streets in areas of the town that we know have experienced these negative impacts before,” he said. “We’re going to do our best to deter them before they happen, but to also supplant the ears and eyes of not only the community members, the police and law enforcement around preventing this behavior, hopefully before it happens. But if it does happen respond to it in a prompt manner and deal with the issue quickly.”
Ambassadors will have protocols to follow to decide if law enforcement is needed.
“The ambassadors are not law enforcement officers and are not meant to replace those,” Price said. “We are going to have nine individuals in rolling shifts that are placed in specific locations. These are areas that we’ve heard from you all that there’s been issues in the past. We’ll continue to engage with the community to get feedback.”
Price said the festival would also distribute information to local residents with phone numbers to call if they see a potential problem.
“There’ll be a community hotline established and one of the first things they’ll do is hopefully go introduce themselves and make their presence known,” Price said. “If they can’t see those folks or it’s something they want to report to our dispatch there’ll be a community hotline and we’ll distribute that.”
Other complaints have been about loud music being heard in the neighborhoods surrounding the site. Price said the festival has been studying ways to dampen or misdirect sounds emanating from within the grounds.
“We’ve had a study done and we’re looking at various things,” Price said. “The angles of the speakers, the direction of the stages, the types of speakers that we’re using and processing and technological stuff that is behind the scenes. We’re doing a full, in-depth study of the sound we’re making, where’s [it] going and how to manage that in a better way and make sure we’re using all the tools available in this day and age.”
He says the festival will also implement onstage measures to gauge the noise during each show and take action if it goes above certain predetermined levels.
“It will be accordance with typical concert volumes and festival volumes but it will be actual, measurable limits that the artists cannot exceed,” Price said. “If they do exceed, we essentially take control.”
Another city concern was the festival’s reduced footprint, where property previously used to store equipment and supplies is currently being redeveloped.
“Logistical issues arising from the loss of 4.68 acres utilized by the festival historically will not be available in 2020,” Brown said. “They must demonstrate to the city their ability to mitigate those issues.”
Price said land recently acquired by Hangout Hospitality in the beachfront area will help organizers deal with the loss of the city land. The group recently bought the former Bill’s by the Beach restaurant location as well.
“We really need to assess this and look at how we create an event that reflects and is something everybody can be proud of here,” he said.
Craft and other city officials believe the plan will work, but organizers must prove that with a successful 2020 festival.
“We’re interested to see and excited to see this operation and see how it goes from here,” he said. “It seems to me like we’ve got a better plan than we’ve had before. We’ve got different people. I know that you and organizers understand the importance of not just promising do to this but achieving it. Noise abatements, the ambassador program — that’s got to work.”
Work on the site will begin the weekend of May 1 with the festival helping with the setup of the NCAA Women’s Sand Volleyball National Championship. The festival, featuring headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers, Post Malone, Billie Eilish, Marshmello and Lana Del Rey is scheduled May 14-17 and tickets are already completely sold out.
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