Hangout Fest takes over Gulf Shores Public Beach May 19-21
Hangout Fest takes over Gulf Shores Public Beach May 19-21
By Fran Thompson
Ready or not, here it comes.
The 2023 Hangout Fest, a cash free party and a far cry from the family event that organizers pitched to Gulf Shores officials back in 2010, returns to Gulf Shores Public Beach and East/West Beach Blvd. May 19-21.
Headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers, SZA, Calvin Harris, Paramore and Lil Nas X will be joined by a DJ dominated line-up beginning at noon each fest day. General admission and VIP tickets remain available (as of May 15), with prices starting at $349 plus fees. A May 3 fest facebook post stated that the fest was 90 percent sold out.
New This Year
• Free public WIFI presented by Autograph.
• Hangout Market Place on West Beach Blvd.
• Hangout Locker Rentals, Phone Chargers.
• Voter registration tables at the West Beach Blvd. Marketplace.
• Dedicated entrance lanes for VIP and SVIPs
• Hand crafted cocktails available all day, additional seating and cool down areas, expanded food service hours and complimentary late-night snacks in VIP Grove.
• Teva Camp Hangout – In addition to last year’s features of ocean access, cabanas and beach chairs, sunset campfire s’mores, Slip n’ Slide and crafts, Teva will sponsor free sustainable bracelet making and sustainable tie-dyeing experience workshops daily. Teva will also host a daily happy hour with giveaways from 6:30-7:30 p.m.
Back Again This Year
• Fest capacity remains at 40,000 music lovers.
• The ferris wheel with its epic views from the top that are part of many a legendary selfie.
• Share the Beach Recycling in partnership with Alabama Coastal Foundation to keep the beach clean and encourage fans to recycle.
• Wedding Chapel, which doubles as a cover charge worthy comedy show. Get hitched on beach for fun or for real. (Seriously. You can get married at the fest. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for info.)
• Roller Disco – One of the most popular destinations at Hangout.
• Smooch-A-Pooch in support of The Haven, a no-kill animal shelter in Fairhope. There will be a line waiting to snuggle, kiss and take selfies with cute pooches, and it will be worth the wait.
• Tropical Spa – Relax with a tranquil message or rejuvenate with Hydration IV treatment. Or get a new hair style we’ve got everything from glitter, hair braiding and color sprays.
• Lifeguard manned beach and Gulf of Mexico access all weekend at Monster Beach and Corona Beach.
Back in 2010, The Hangout Fest was promoted and pitched to Gulf Shores City Council as a family event. A very cool children’s village filled the entire Hangout Restaurant courtyard and included an area stocked with musical instruments for kids to explore. Saul Zislin, spokesman for the company that owns the event and the restaurant that dominates the city’s sparkling $15 million Gulf Place, said families could spend a week in Gulf Shores and enjoy fishing, our zoo, boating, parasailing and other family activities in addition to the fest while here. By the second year, children could barely find a spot in the children’s village among the adults while Michael Franti played an acoustic set especially for the kids. The children’s village was soon shuttered altogether.
Some Might Say It’s Hypocritical
Gulf Shores, in an effort to get ahead of rowdiness, instituted a spring break alcohol ban in 2017 that continues today. And at its core, Hangout is a very upscale spring break celebration for 20-somethings. And that is OK. The kids are of age and they mostly come and go by chartered bus.
Greg Kennedy, the former Gulf Shores City Councilman, made a valid point when he said at a public forum that it was ironic that Gulf Shores takes a draconian stance during spring break with college kids while welcoming 40,000 young Hangout patrons with open arms.
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon is also not a fan. “It goes hand in hand with what happened at Spring Break and what was associated with it.’’ said Kennon. “It generated a certain amount of dollars. But a majority of Orange Beach residents want nothing to do with it. And that’s what this (Hangout Fest) is – A late term Spring Break.
“Those are not the type dollars we want or need,’’ Kennon added. “Those specific dollars have far less value than dollars generated from multi-generational families visiting our city. This is just as much a business decision as it is anything else. We in Orange Beach refuse to compromise our family friendly brand which we have worked so hard to establish.’’
Fest Does Not Attract “A Bad Element”
The fest does not attract a bad element. It attracts young people willing to buy numerous frozen cocktails for $22 each. A small percentage of bad elements already cross the Holmes Bridge every single day. Nobody, especially Hangout founder Zislin, wants to see the fest associated with bad behavior. That does not mean that all of the facebook posts and calls to City Council about illegal and lewd behavior, vandalism and public drug use following the 2019 fest were not valid. Residents absolutely have the right to expect decency and basic manners from our tourists whether they are here to make memories with their family at one of the Phoenix condos or here to overdrink and dance with 10 of their fraternity brothers at the Hangout Fest and then pile into a two bedroom condo, much to the dismay of the condo cleaners who are the backbone of our tourist industry. “We have never asked them (police) to turn a blind eye to misbehaving people. We hate misbehaving people. It makes my job harder,’’ Zislin said.
How Much Does Gulf Shores Make From Fest
The tax and franchise fee revenue the city collects from the fest helps support the incredible amenities Gulf Shores citizens enjoy. Gulf Shores sells exclusive use of its public beach to a private business to the determent of other area retailers and restaurants and against the wishes of a majority of its citizens in return for money that benefits those citizens.
Some GSHS Career Academy students intern, and there are volunteer opportunities. But Hangout Fest funnels money into the Hangout Fest. At least in its first 10 years, it was not even remotely a community event.
Gulf Shores collects three percent sales tax on all sales inside the fest, including ticket sales, just like it does from Wal-Mart or any other retailer. In addition, Gulf Shores collects special event license fees from merchandise vendors and business license fees from companies that provide tents, lights, potable water, etc. It is a long list.
What has changed significantly is the franchise fee the fest pays on ticket sales. Before 2017, it was nonexistent – a mere $1 per year. That fee increased to one percent of gross ticket sales in 2017 and two percent the following year.
In 2019, the franchise fee increased to three percent of ticket sales. And that will continue through the duration of the fest’s contract with the city, which goes through 2025. This means Gulf Shores collects $60 on every $1,000 VIP ticket sold.
The Hangout also reimburses the city for expenses occurred directly or indirectly in connection with staging the event. But it’s not like city employees do not have ample other opportunities to pick up extra shifts. The fest is a major strain on city staff.
Hangout As Part of Pleasure Island Brand
Gulf Shores has given this upscale spring break a place at its family vacation table. And it is fair to question why Pleasure Island needs to be promoted as anything other than a safe, family vacation destination. The best possible promotion for our brand is for all of us to simply be nice to tourists.
Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft is right when he says that many of fest attendees, once exposed to our beaches, will return later in life with their families. But so will the people who come here for high school track championships and the numerous youth soccer, softball and baseball tourneys our tourism bureau works to bring here.
Malibu? Maui? Gulf Shores?
Fest founder Zislin said rock stars talk about the beaches here as they travel the world performing. He said people come to the fest for the first time and then come back ready to buy a $2 million condo. He has a point. The Hangout’s Super VIP tickets and Big Kahuna tickets are not cheap and they are the first to sell out. That same theory applies to the (mostly country) music stars who play the Wharf Amphitheater. (I have just the penthouse for you Dave Matthews).
Hangout Fest Showed It Could Be Done
Many Americans did not know Alabama touched the Gulf of Mexico until the BP Oil Spill put Pleasure Island in the national conversation. That terrible explosion on the DeepwaterHorizon, an accident that cost 11 men their lives, occurred on April 20, 2010, three weeks before the first Hangout Fest. That tragedy led to the multi-million dollar advertising campaign paid for by BP that raised Gulf Shores’ profile as a beach vacation destination. There is a direct correlation between that fest and the three free (if you rented a condo) BP sponsored concerts featuring Jimmy Buffett, Bon Jovi and Brad Paisley at Gulf Shores Public Beach later that dreadful summer. Those concerts provided glimmers of hope and that first Hangout Fest set the table for what would come by proving that it could be done right.
In order to address bad behavior concerns from residents living in proximity, the Hangout Fest started an ambassador program in 2022. Local residents who see bad behavior can look for an ambassador, who will then tell the official Hangout liaison, who will then call police, if necessary. It sounds crazy, but I did not make that up.
Put The Fest On The Ballet
Soes Gulf Shores really want to take Zislin up on his offer to become “forever friends’’ with the fest. The next Gulf Shores municipal election is in 2025. Could the fest be a legitimate campaign issue during the next election, which happens to coincide with the end of the Hangout Fest contract?
Who knows? Maybe the Hangout poobahs will decide one of its other locales is a better option for its fest. It could become a beachside Coachella for Myrtle Beach.