Hangout Music Festival organizers, Gulf Shores feel 2022 event was a net positive

BY MELANIE LECROY
Lifestyle Editor
melanie@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 6/28/22

GULF SHORES -- Did the Hangout Music Festival organizers check all the boxes? The consensus seems positive.

After the 2019 Hangout Music Festival, the last time it was put on because of COVID-19, …

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Hangout Music Festival organizers, Gulf Shores feel 2022 event was a net positive

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GULF SHORES -- Did the Hangout Music Festival organizers check all the boxes? The consensus seems positive.

After the 2019 Hangout Music Festival, the last time it was put on because of COVID-19, residents expressed displeasure over the loud music that pounded their homes over the festival weekend. Complaints also included reports of litter, lewd behavior from festival goers and illegal parking.

Gulf Shores City Council encouraged festival organizers to address the issues or risk the denial of future event permits.

Festival Director Reeves Price and his staff listened to the residents' concerns and worked on ways to address the issues.

The noise concerns were addressed by hiring a professional sound company to control the noise and vibrations and reoriented two sound systems to face the water.

"We feel like the festival did a decent job of directing the sound," said Grant Brown, Gulf Shores Recreation and Cultural Affairs director. "As far as the artists and the acts, we felt like it was a good lineup and was well managed."

A new program, the Ambassador Program, was implemented to address the impact and concerns of local residents. A team of 16 ambassadors began working in early May as the site build started.

"They had a pretty wide scope of work," said Price. "They started working in early May when load in began and their objective was to assist in the community. If folks were walking up to the beach and unsure if they could access the beach or where, they had information to give out."

The ambassadors utilized electric bikes to ride around the neighborhoods looking out for anything from traffic issues to people with concerns about smoking. During the event they directed festival goers toward entrances, away from areas they didn't need to be and toward the shuttle stops. They were there to help deter lewd behavior and littering as well.

"That seemed to work well," Brown said. "I didn't hear of any major problem in the surrounding areas. From that box they check it pretty well."

The final box organizers needed to check was proving the loss of the city's two-acre site (future home to the Embassy suites) as well as the Ron Durham property just west of the city site wouldn't be an issue. In years past those areas were used as a laydown area for equipment, materials and storage.

Weather did cause some issue on meeting the take down deadline, but overall Brown was happy with the laydown challenge.

One new development this year was a central command center with a representative from every police department, fire, sheriff's office, each of the security companies and the festival logistics people.

"Everybody sat in that room the entire time to make sure if there was something that came up, they would be able to go to that specific person and say we need to fix this. It was amazing. It was the first time we had done a truly unified command center," Brown said.

Also new this year was an on-site 9-1-1 call center. The festival site and immediate area outside of the fences were geo fenced and all calls from that area were directed to the on-site 9-1-1 call center. It made the response time even quicker.

Brown said he felt the organizers did a respectable job checking the boxes and working with the city as a team.

"I think Reeves should take credit for a lot of that as the personality he had as the festival director was a 180 difference I felt. It was a good year," Brown said.

Brown spoke about the positive and negatives of hosting a 40,000-person event in a small community. The festival also brings nationwide and worldwide exposure to Gulf Shores and the Alabama Gulf Coast.

The Hangout Music Festival is a large revenue generator not only for the Hangout but for the city of Gulf Shores, Baldwin County and the state of Alabama. While the dollar figure is not known at this time, a 2014 study estimated a $40 million impact to all of Baldwin County.

"There is a financial benefit to the city to host," said Brown. "There is a 3% franchise fee revenue coming in, the taxes based on the lodging tax sales and other taxes that are produced at the festival. All the food and beverage vendors pay taxes, business licenses from every vendor that comes on property from stages to the tent rental companies. There is a lot of money that goes back to the city."

The negatives include the risk of holding large public gatherings.

"There is always a risk of violence, drugs and other things that could happen," Brown said. "A great effort and energy is put in with a coordinated law enforcement effort to make sure the city and the people that are at the event don't have to worry. We must plan for the worst and make sure that we are prepared."

While many of the city's personel work the event, Brown emphasized that all the city's expenses related to the event are reimbursed by the festival.

"This is not the city spending taxpayer dollars to assist a private business to put on an event. They are paying for those services. Getting assistance from the hospital, we hire Baldwin County Sheriff officers and other agencies to assist us, department of homeland security and FBI come in," Brown said.

Despite being his first year as the festival director, Price said he felt like they were on the same page and worked well with the city of Gulf Shores and had a one team approach to the show this year.

"The first year is generally not the most successful. There is usually a ton of learning. For us there are still plenty of areas to improve and we plan to build on our successes. We would absolutely be the team to come back and work on the show in the future years," Price said.

Price outlined some of the areas he hopes to improve on in the upcoming years. They include:

  • Improve efficiencies around load in and load out and work as quickly, quietly and as little impact as possible to the community.
  • Continue to work on the sustainability and divert more waste away from landfills and into recycling programs.
  • Refire the Ambassador program more.
  • Work on the fan experience.
  • Work on making lodging easier for attendees.

While 2022 was the first year Price worked on the Hangout Music Festival, he has been attending since the first year. He even met his wife at the 2013 Hangout Music Festival. The guest experience was something he was familiar with but the community experience was something he was new to.

"Hearing the feedback of the community once we got involved was a wow moment. It was clearly stuff we needed to address," Price said. "We understand that major festivals are disruptive to a lot of people in small communities like Gulf Shores. Whether it is Hangout Music Festival or Coachella, there needs to be attention paid to the impact on the community."

"We really viewed this year as an opportunity to make right and address those concerns," he said. "I am glad to hear that our efforts were fruitful in that way but we also recognize that the work continues. Our hope is to really make the Hangout Music Festival something that Gulf Shores, the Gulf Coast and the state of Alabama is proud of and that we are proud of."

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