GULF SHORES, ALABAMA — With the sand, surf, skies and, uh, shrimp to compete against, music could have been an afterthought at the 2013 Hangout Festival ... but thanks to the efforts of the 60-plus acts that graced the stages, that most certainly wasn't the case.
It started right out of the gates on Friday, with a high-energy (and highly dangerous) set from Twenty One Pilots — who tore through their lunchtime set like prime-time players with a death wish, scaling scaffolding, doing backflips off a piano, and launching themselves into the awaiting arms of the audience — and carried all the way through the last man to take the stage on Sunday, the legendary Stevie Wonder, who thrilled 40,000 strong with a performance heavy on his hits.
In between, Hangout's five stages coursed with energy of all sorts. Kendrick Lamar packed 'em in at the Boom Boom tent, running through his breakout good kid, m.A.A.d city album (and his Section.80 mixtape) and performing like he hired a private jet just to make it here — probably because he did. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Ellie Goulding stole the show over at the Hangout stage with effervescent sets that had the sunburned masses shouting for more. And Imagine Dragons made the most of their de facto gig as Trey Anastasio's openers on the Chevrolet stage, pulling a huge crowd and powering through an hour of expressive, expansive rock.
There was a veritable victory lap from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who didn't let the stage hold them (or their seemingly endless supply of stage props), taking the show out into the crowd and even taking a moment to voice their support for marriage equality before "One Love." Gleeful pop from Sunday's openers, Grouplove. Heady, hirsute jams from Jim James. Dreamy indie-pop courtesy of the Shins and Grizzly Bear. Confident, career-spanning sets from vets like Public Enemy and the Roots. Energetic synth stuff from Passion Pit. The list goes on and on.
And has been the case at festivals throughout the U.S. in recent years, EDM artists made plenty of noise, too. Fans flocked to see rattling, rumbling performances from Afrojack, Wolfgang Gartner, Steve Aoki and Baauer, all of whom were confined to the Boom Boom tent despite mounting evidence — and massive crowds — that suggested they should have been moved to the beach stages (Bassnectar was the lone electro artist to graduate to gulf-side stage, and his set was appropriately gigantic). Aoki showered the audience in cake and champagne, Afrojack blasted away a hangover with bass, and Robinson worked through a set that was both epic and intelligent. Get these guys onto the big stages, stat.
Speaking of, no fest would be complete without the headliners, and Hangout delivered a trio that didn't disappoint. The Kings of Leon reigned mightily on Friday night, reveling and rocking and even working a new song, "It Don't Matter" into the mix. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers closed out Saturday with a set that featured all the standards (folks sang along with such aplomb that Petty joked "We got a lot of good singers out there") plus more than a few choice covers, too. And Wonder, well, he was unquestionably the headliner of headliners, playing the longest set of the weekend — nearly two-and-a-half hours — grooving through classics like "Higher Ground" and "Living for the City," and paying tribute to the music that inspires him, working covers like the Beatles' "Day Tripper" and John Lennon's "Imagine" into the mix.
Yeah, it was a pretty epic weekend, full of music so good it almost made you forget you were digging your toes into a white sand beach while you were listening. In 2013, with a lineup that featured something for everyone, and scenery unmatched anywhere else, Hangout took a big step towards establishing itself as one of the country's premiere fests. Can't wait to hang out again in 2014.