2018 Hangout Music Fest: The Killers, Kendrick Lamar, and One Ill-Advised Fan

2018 was the ninth year for the Hangout Music Fest in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and they’ve added new stages, misting stations, more lawn space, and water features. The festival is now a full-scale beach party, replete with camp activities — like s’mores, tug-of-war, and swims in the gulf — a giant ferris wheel, a retro roller disco booth, a psychedelic bus reminiscent of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters’ original, a “puppy kissing booth,” morning yoga sessions, and a wedding chapel. The three-day festival was expected to attract over 40,000 fans, but got off to rough start. Thursday night’s Kickoff party was cancelled after strong storms rolled in with violent lightening and high winds. Patrons were advised via the Hangout app to seek shelter immediately and depart from the festival grounds. Of course, no one really goes to a three-day music festival to play it safe — so most were troupers, and it generally paid off. Although the forecast predicted storms off and on throughout the weekend, the most inclement weather turned out to be nothing more than Saturday’s sweltering heat.

Among the highlights Friday was UK girl group Bones, who played on and co-wrote Jeff Beck’s last album. They played an exciting set on the smaller Mermaid stage, and will very likely end up on the main stage soon. Cold War kids played to a packed beach, which should be enough to get the point across. Portugal. The Man was, overall, the afternoon’s favorite, playing to a crowd flooded with inflated dinosaurs, alligators and the like. Zedd entertained the crowd on the other end of the mile-long beach with his strain of amped up EDM. While it was a slightly more subdued affair than the madness surrounding Portugal, the crazed crowd seemed to know every song, and the light show that accompanied Zedd’s set made for a thrilling performance. The Killers absolutely killed on Friday night, opening up their setlist with “Mr. Brightside,” and keeping the energy levels high throughout. The cool evening, with no rain in sight, was in their favor, and fans could be seen constantly jumping in sync and mouthing every word of the songs. The night ended encouragingly, after the inauspicious festival kickoff the night before.

Saturday was something of a heat wave, but still drew massive, drenched, toasty crowds, that turned out to be remarkably fun-loving and drama-free. Bleachers, who debuted new material at Hangout back in 2014, this time had an avid following at the fest, and certainly delivered.  AWOLNATION rocked out to an enthusiastic crowd on the Hangout Stage, as did rapper Logic, seeming to have quickly garnered a fervent fanbase for his new songs. The multitalented Anderson .Paak played a wild set on the Surf Stage. The Chainsmokers, now winners of the Top Dance/Electronic Artist Billboard Award, were another sure Saturday highlight, as well as the overall festival highlight for a certain type of EDM enthusiast. Halsey, who appeared just a few years earlier on a smaller stage, was particularly impressive and inspiring, attracting one of the largest fan bases of the day.

Sunday seemed to draw a smaller crowd than Saturday, but was nonetheless action-packed and memorable. The Surf Stage saw a soulful set from SZA, and synth stylings from ODESZA, both of whom attracted much fanfare and many epic moments. Rapper NF and Foster The People both were major presences on the main stage. Greta Van Fleet were a clear standout, seeming, at times, like the very reincarnation of Led Zeppelin. It’s no surprise that the band got a shout out from Robert Plant himself in a recent article. Much like The Revivalists a couple years ago, Greta attracted a following that rivaled those of many top billing acts. Kendrick Lamar stunned, as he always does, in what ended up being the most-talked-about performance because of a rather silly incident during his set. There was a moment when he invited a white female fan to take the mic during his song, “m.A.A.d. City,” which she rapped verbatim, and then was admonished by Lamar for using the N-word. Note, it was one of two N-words, the one which ends with an “-a,” not an “-er.” Many rappers consider it to be non race-specific. Still, apparently, this is anathema. So, along with all the other valuable lessons that you learn from music festivals — ways to avoid dehydration, strategies for worming your way to the front of the crowd without spilling drinks — you now know to think twice before accepting a mic for a singalong.    

Hangout Music Fest took place May 18-20 at Gulf Shores, AL.