GULF SHORES, Alabama — The Hangout Festival didn’t leave fans wanting for much — supermodels on water slides, country bands and shellfish, and you know, Tom Petty, Kings of Leon and Stevie Wonder playing on the shore of a stunning beach. But the one thing this year’s Hangout Fest didn’t feature was a long roster of female artists, so British singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding had to represent.
Female-fronted acts like The Breeders, Best Coast, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Delta Rae, and Grouplove were amongst the festival’s musical highlights, but, in addition to being one of the biggest names on this year’s ticket, Ellie Goulding had the unique distinction of being one of the Hangout Fest’s two female solo artists (the first being Lissie). And naturally, she rose to the occasion. If she could handle performing at the royal wedding of Prince William and Princess Kate at Buckingham Palace, she could handle the beach.
The warbling, pixie-esque Brit winner and first lady of electronic music enchanted the crowd with a set that featured cuts from her breakthrough debut album, Lights, and its follow-up, Halcyon.
Under a cloudy, overcast sky that echoed her native England, Goulding, true to her slightly shy, poetic girl-next-door appeal, appeared amazed by the growing mass of roughly 15,000 fans (a rainbow coalition dressed in neon bikinis, tank tops and flip-flops). “This is crazy, this is so cool,” she said.
In a black onesie and matching creepers, she started the set with the ominous “Don’t Say A Word” before moving into the chilling rush of “Halcyon,” “Figure 8,” and the lonesome “I Know You Care.” Her live drumming and Daft Punk-style Vocoder effect on “Only You” hinted at bigger, louder things to come. But it wasn’t until mid-set that it felt like Goulding relaxed into her environment and seemed to finally embrace the power that comes with being the sole female on the same stage upon which Tom Petty had stood the night before: Her performance swelled into a near-gospel-like rendition of “Anything Could Happen,” which saw the crowd return her praises to the tune of thousands of hands in the air in a spiritual summoning.
And those hands stayed up in the air as Goulding told the crowd “I promise we’re gonna party,” turning the key in the ignition and launching her set — and the crowd — off the ground. She tore into grimier, darker versions of “Starry Eyed” and an aggressive, bass-heavy version of “Lights” that built to a climax so intense that it burned with the intensity of the second chorus of Madonna’s “Like A Prayer.”
Hangout Fest’s second-to-only female solo act created such a massive yet paradoxically intimate moment as throngs of female fans, hands and voices raised, eyes starry, connected and returned that rapport. Hangout Fest is for every music fan, and while Ellie Goulding can certainly hang with the big boys, this one was for the girls.
If you missed Ellie’s performance, make sure you tune in to Hangout.MTV.com at 11 p.m. ET for a restream!