Saturday at Hangout proved to be just as perfect as the first both in its weather and performances. While Friday primarily featured American-based genres such as blues, country and bluegrass, Day 2 offered a more eclectic and diverse lineup with artists such as John Legend, The Roots, The Funky Meters, Gov’t Mule, Ozomatli and more. While I stopped by to catch a glimpse of numerous artists, the following were the ones that particularly stood out as impressive.
While I have had limited experience listening to the eclectic Los Angeles natives Ozomatli, their show early Saturday afternoon emerged as one the more unexpectedly exciting concerts of the weekend. This part-funk, part-mariachi, part-hip-hop fusion group opened up the day with a blast of hybrid energy, determining to keep the liveliness pumping throughout their set. Between their infectious brass and synchronized dance moves, their set livened up with the Latin-American rock of “Can’t Stop,” the Spanglish-infused “Afterparty” and the rap-heavy “Saturday Night.” Ozomatli’s set showcased their ability to bring their studio work alive in a new and exhilarating light.
Warren Haynes simple question asking how the crowd was doing drew a louder response than most of the acts preceding him over the past two days—a testament to the amount of jamband fans at Hangout as well as the legacy of the Allman Brothers great. As Haynes played his way through “Blind Man in the Dark,” his raspy and worn voice rang with as much conviction as ever, leaving no question of who was in charge of Gov’t Mule. The jam-blues outfit continued through a number of their most recent tracks off their latest album By A Thread, before ripping through fan favorites “Slackjaw Jezebel” and “Thorazine Shuffle.”
But the highlight of Gov’t Mule’s all too brief performance came near its close. For Gov’t Mule’s last two songs, Haynes collaborated on covers with two of the youngest artists playing at Hangout. First, Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam let his beyond mature voice reign free throughout a resolute rendition of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Almost Cut My Hair.” Despite the impressive effort between the two, Knowles took a backseat to Grace Potter as she put on her best Stevie Nicks impression while she and Haynes crooned through Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman.” And while these two covers seemed to possibly reflect the passing of the torch from this great musician, Warren Haynes defiantly continued his longevity as he demonstration why he so revered among his fans.
I’ve personally been waiting for this a long time. After deeply regretting missing The Roots on several previous chances to see them, Hangout now provided me with a last minute chance to see the beloved hip-hop group, who were filling in after Flaming Lips member Steven Drozd’s was hospitalized, forcing the band to cancel their set. Despite filling in on relatively short notice, the “legendary, hard working revolution—The Roots Crew” came out with their trademark energy and intelligent creativity.
While their reputation as performers precedes themselves, their live instrumentation was phenomenal, exceeding my expectations. The title track of their upcoming album “How I Got Over” featured breakdowns as Black Thought would repeat “Thank You God Bless Goodnight”—resulting in all the lights shutting off and everyone freezing in position like toy soldiers, before going back into motion and ending the song in full force. Although the band played well-known tracks such as “Here I Come” and “Break You Off,” The Roots in concert are not simply an experience about hearing songs being replayed in the live arena. Rather, The Roots are all about performance and entertainment, and these aspects resonated throughout their set. From odes to Fela Kuti and J. Dilla to the riveting dueling drums of percussionists ?uestlove and Knuckles, The Philadelphia natives pulled out all the stops during their show.
For the second night in a row, I had to privilege to listen to a headliner with whom I had very little familiarity with. On this night, it was Grammy Award winning R&B star John Legend, and my experience with his music ran as far as his mega-hit “Green Light.” Again, I came to watch with an open mind, and was pleasantly surprised with his efficiently produced 90+ minute show.
Legend came out to a large, built-up and orchestrated set as he dove into his polished and soulful brand of R&B—playing a selection of tracks from his three albums to date. Opening with “Used to Love U,” Legend and his accompanying ten-piece outfit made their way through an evening of neo-Soul, classic Soul and everything in between. Highlights from his set included the slow-stirrer “Let’s Get Lifted,” the Marvin-Gaye-channeling “Slow Dance” and the R&B throwback “Number One.”
Legend also played his luck with a number of covers, performed at varying levels of success. These featured smooth versions of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “Wake Up Everybody” and The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy). The headlining act climaxed near its finish, as Legend pulled off three stellar performances of his hits, including a rousing version of “Green Light,” “Ordinary People” with its mellow subtlety and an extended epic version of “Stay With You”—one that differed entirely from its album version, bringing a live element that featured the young soul star at his finest.
Torrential downpours postponed the festival for several hours and forced organizers to cancel numerous acts, including Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears and Matisyahu. Despite the flash flood and tornado warnings, Gulf Shores cleared up in time for abridged versions of all the major artists’ sets as well as a full slot for headliner Trey Anastasio and TAB. While many people hung out through the ominous weather, Hangout promoters also made a last minute decision to open up the festival to the public, in order to ensure enough people were in attendance.
Michael Franti and Spearhead
The first act to perform after the festival postponement and beach evacuation, Michael Franti took the stage determined to give the crowd their money’s worth, as he affirmed “I didn’t drive 9 hours to Alabama to complain.” With his island-fused carefree sentiment and catchy pop-rock sound, Franti offered the crowd an entertaining set to restart the last afternoon at Hangout. Between Yell Fire” and “Hey, Hey, Hey,” the group’s engaging performance livened the crowd. Franti closed with “Say Hey,” his biggest song to date, closing an entertaining and slightly gimmicky show, but one that fit the context well.
Ben Harper and Relentless7
As an avid fan of Ben Harper’s work over the course of his career, I do believe he is one of the more misunderstood and wrongly perceived artists in recent memory. Often being lumped into the dubious ‘college-rock’ genre due in part to his more popular singles such as “Burn One Down” and “Steal My Kisses,” Harper is more closely linked with the likes of Jack Johnson and G. Love than he ever should be. In recent years, Harper has been an evolving artist, refusing to solely rely on his singer-songwriting chops, increasingly immersing himself in soul, funk and hard rock than ever before.
Harper’s most recent endeavors have resulted in his new group Relentless7—a blues-rock group whose foundation somewhat recalls Led Zeppelin. This show was my both my first chance to see Harper with his new outfit, and probably my favorite of all his performances I have seen. The quartet not only played their gritty, soul-laced numbers from their 2009 debut album White Lies for Dark Times, but other tracks from Ben Harper’s catalog including some riveting covers. The show opened with the reflective calm “Diamond on the Inside,” before turning to awe striking performances of Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” and Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker.”
The most memorable moment of the set, however, came through Ben Harper’s plead to boycott BP in the wake of their catastrophic oil spill. His politically charged activism on behalf of the Gulf Coast crowd promoted “F-U-C-K-B-P.com”—leading to the crowd chanting “Fuck BP!” as the band segwayed into droning call of “Better Way.” From Harper’s active musical exploration to his activist calling, Ben Harper is a man moving forward throughout his career in all possible facets.
Ray Lamontagne is an enigmatic performer to say the very least. No one can doubt the power of his voice—one that becomes stunningly surreal in person. With that, however, he also withcarries the image of a troubled artist, resonating with his well-known media-shy tendencies and general aloofness on stage between songs. Both sides of Lamontagne were never more present than in his performance at Hangout. Between having the stage cameras positioned away from him and not allowing the press to shoot photos in front of him, the set continued his intently private approach to performance.
It didn’t really matter though, as his immense talent washed away anyone whose attention lie elsewhere. He opened with the beautifully stunning “Jolene,” featuring just Lamontagne and his bassist in an eerily peaceful moment as dusk settled in over the Alabama beaches. The striking nature of his work continued with the warm twang of “Hold You In My Arms,” the conviction within “Trouble” and the tender concern of “Shelter.” The introspective singer and his accompanying band finished off their set with the determined “Three More Days” and the new funk-folk song “Repo Men.” Those seeing Ray Lamontagne witnessed him in the perfect setting—one that only helped to increased the shivers caused by his voice.
When it comes to Trey, the legend precedes the artist. The longtime Phish frontman and guitar virtuoso took the stage as the final act of the inaugural Hangout Music Festival along with his supporting band TAB. As a longtime Phish fan, but one who has not followed Trey’s solo work, I was eager to hear his set both out of curiosity and admiration. For those who were unaware, myself included, TAB consists of members on keys, drums, bass as well as a brass trio. While seeing a Trey Anastasio outside of Phish will inevitably be compared to his work in Phish, TAB provided an excellent substitute for the beloved quartet.
Trey and TAB opened with an extended rendition of the Phish tune “Gotta Jibboo” that was brought to life by the brass section. Throughout the show, the horns’ funky riffs synced up with the flashing stage lights, creating a stimulating effect of the horns hitting like literal and figurative bursts of light with each passing note. The group attempted the second cover of “Devil Went Down to Georgia” by a headliner over the weekend, but with a non-traditional twist as Trey’s guitar and the brass section replaced the fiddle parts. Trey and TAB also completed a rousing version of The Band’s “It Makes No Difference.”
Unfortunately, I had a 6 hour drive through the night back to Atlanta awaiting me, so I was only able to catch about half of the set. The group played some new songs—including the medium-paced stroll “Burn That Bridge” and “Sailboat Man”—a calypso-reggae hybrid. Trey remarked that the latter was written specifically for the “Hangout Festival on the beach…because we are hanging out too.” And with that, I had to say goodbye to the Hangout.