Look, I’m about as weak-willed as it gets. I easily get sleepy and grumpy and can really be no fun. But I went to Hangout Fest with my best pal Elaine last weekend, and, wow, this festival is not for the faint of heart. Each of the festival’s 40,000 attendees is trying to cram a year’s worth of concerts into a measly three days. Here are ten tips I learned from my first major music festival:
- Do your research. Almost 100 artists traveled from all over the world to a quiet beach town in Alabama to play for you. Don’t miss out on an amazing performance just because you’ve never heard of the artist. The biggest names are not necessarily the best performers.
- Make a game plan. Don’t try to see everyone you came for. By nature of the festival’s size, some set times with overlap with each other, and sometimes you have to make the decision between one and the other. I definitely needed some down time to get through the whole day; if I’d tried to run between stages all day I probably would have passed out.
- Not everything will work in your favor—and you just gotta roll with it. A thunderstorm delayed the first day of Hangout Fest by four hours. Updates were so short notice that Elaine and I just went to a nearby pizza place and gorged ourselves for hours until the festival finally opened. The giant LED screens by the stages malfunctioned all day, and The Weeknd’s set design was completely destroyed. But on the upside, the clouds blocked out the intense sun all day. No burns! What’s more, news broke the next day that Calvin Harris was injured in a car accident, and he canceled his headlining show that Saturday. Panic! At The Disco ended up closing out the stage instead, but their performance was by far the best one I saw all weekend. (Get well soon, Calvin!)
- The crowds are no joke. I have no idea what 40,000 people even looks like, but it’s overwhelming as hell. Everyone is pushing towards the stage, and tensions run high. I kid you not, I watched a girl pee in the sand as we waited for The Weeknd to play. Take care of yourself and be cognizant of others. It’s really not chill if you hurt yourself or anyone else.
- Sometimes, VIP is worth it. With its bright green grass, gourmet meals, and stage-side pool, the VIP Grove at Hangout is pretty enticing. VIPs can sip cold drinks on their beach chairs and mosey on up to the front of their sectioned-off barricade as each set starts, without having to wait hours at the stage beforehand, like GA ticket holders do. Moreover, if you’ve got Super VIP status, you might get to brush shoulders with royalty, since you can watch the shows from the same area as the artists playing the festival. It’s not quite the same gritty, diehard experience as GA, but it may actually be worth the steep price increase, if you can afford it.
- Alternatively, the barricade is worth the wait. If you’re like most of us plebeians in the GA pit, you have to wait hours in order to be front row at the barricade for your favorite band, DJ, producer, whoever. Let me tell you, that wait is worth it. At the barricade you have a nice armrest for when you stand, backrest for when you sit. No one can get in front of you because you’re literally leaning against the front-most boundary of the pit. You can make precious eye contact with the dreamy guitarist. Compared to the middle of that massive crowd, the barricade is damn luxurious. Don’t get me wrong, though; if an artist you love is playing at a different stage, book it outta there and make your way to that stage. The value of the performer far outweighs the value of the front row.
- Be nice to security. I feel like I shouldn’t have to say that security guards are people, too. They maintain your safety, along with the artists’. Most importantly, they spray you with water when you’re unbearably hot, and they give you setlists if they like you. I’ve befriended some of the regular security guards at my local venues, and they have always been kind and courteous. Being friendly towards them can get you far. But, like, also, be nice to everyone.
- Sunscreen and setting spray make for a happy camper. I did not burn once on this sunny-as-hell weekend, thanks to my SPF. Others, however, were tomato-red and peeling by the end of the day on Sunday. It’s not pleasant to be pushed around in the crowd, much less while you have an angry sunburn down your back. Wear the sunscreen. Urban Decay setting spray is a godsend. Elaine and I sprayed our faces generously with the stuff every morning, and even though we may have been sweaty-faced and frizzy-haired by the end of every day, our eye makeup looked fierce the whole time. Highly recommend.
- Put down your phone, please. Yep, that’s me. I’m gonna be that girl who discourages electronics and social media. But this festival was so heavily photographed and filmed, by professional photographers and videographers, no less. Moreover, almost every person in the crowd had their phone out at some point during a performance, and a good amount had theirs out during the whole set. It is not the end of the world if you don’t document this moment. Everyone around you is documenting it for you, and dozens of people here were actually paid to do just that. I’ve watched entire shows through the screen of a phone or a camera, and it kind of sucks. A lot. I’m a photographer, so I understand the importance of capturing a moment, but those moments are captured with the intention of experiencing them again, not for the first time because you were too busy documenting them while they happened. Put. Down. Your. Phone. Please?
- Sometimes you just gotta eat pizza in your condo instead of watching Florence + the Machine. A person can only last so long. By the end of the day on Sunday, I wanted nothing more than a hot slice of Domino’s on the balcony of our beachfront condo. We listened to Florence’s set from that balcony, and it was one of the best decisions we made.
Hangout Fest is not a vacation. It is a sweaty, grueling, busy, rewarding, exciting, memorable three days, but a vacation it is not. As far as its quality as a festival goes, Hangout Fest is beautifully designed and ideated, but its organization falls short. Security was unnecessarily strict with some, lenient with others, and festival production seemed fairly disorganized. All in all, a priceless experience that I can’t wait to do again next year.