My Key to the Kingdom: How I Partied With the Rock Stars at Hangout Music Festival

I’m between worlds, done with lunch and not quite ready to kick it in the sand. The shaded patch of sod that transitions the dining hall to the private beach is perfect for this moment, a complimentary Malibu cocktail in one hand, a swag e-cig in the other. The royal gulf waters crash playfully in front of me; the sun shines so hard I think it might burn out. It’s hot at Hangout today, so I’m relaxing before making my way through the throngs for one of my most anticipated sets.

I should be thinking about St. Lucia and how excited I am to see them after my adventures at CounterPoint last year, but instead I’m playing with visions of standing on the side of the main stage at Foster the People later in the evening, a curious occurrence that I’ve always wanted to experience. Who are those people, and how do I get up there? When right then the band and their merry company roll up, I’m not entirely surprised.

There are a number of pale, young, dark-haired musicians wearing Ray Bans here, so when the rambunctious troop plunks down at the oversized chessboard station it takes me a minute to decide if that toothy handsome devil hovering by the palm tree is indeed frontman Mark Foster or not. When I notice he’s pairing his beach threads with white patent leather loafers, I don’t waste another second. I get up to introduce myself.

hangout mark foster

Mark Foster. Photo by Nina Westervelt via nylon.com

I didn’t envision all this a few weeks ago. The plan for that weekend was to go back to the earth–not the stars–at Kinnection Campout, a small intentional gathering right here in the Asheville area. My pals BomBassic were booked for a prime Saturday night set, and most of my crew was going to support them and some other regional artists over an intimate weekend in the midst of Blue Ridge beauty. But my intention took a sharp turn when Marley Carroll informed me he got booked to play a DJ set at Hangout, the rowdy, beachside festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama. He waved the lineup in front of me, all shiny and beautiful with the likes of Future Islands, Phantogram, Beck. My indie pop-loving loins burned.

After discovering this would be my last opportunity to see some of these bands on their current tours, I made the decision to attend. Little in the way of plans were made, though it all fell into place when Marley secured me an artist wristband so I would have access to the artists themselves, as well as the mad comforts and perks. My heart soaring, I went straight to the closet to prepare my outfits. I was going to hang the fuck out.

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Ballin’

We arrived at festival grounds late Friday night to get our credentials and the lay of the wonderland. Headliners Foo Fighters were already on, but my senses were on overload and there was no time for Dave Grohl’s sloppy, five-minute introduction to “Big Me.” I had to pee.

Naturally I searched for the nearest port-a-potty, but the only place in sight was the “VIP” bathroom. I felt an innate wave of reluctance to go in. This place has a sign and actual toilets. Am I allowed? I looked around and realized we were already in the VIP viewing area, having entered from the backstage artist compound. I quickly learned that my glittery, pimp purple wristband would get me a lot farther than some toilets.

Saturday morning I had time to kick around before Marley’s 12:30 set. Back in the artists’ area I was greeted by a well-presented breakfast buffet in divinely-decorated air conditioning. Outside, a smattering of others lay serenely on the beach or sipped morning cocktails in the shade. Aside from my inability to operate the fancy fruit fork in there, I felt at home.

As comfortable as this was, I had shows to see! I slung my CamelBak over my shoulder and skipped down to the beachfront tiki tent to take my place for Marley’s set, which was–surprise surprise–fantastic. His indie house sensitivities weaved effortlessly with an undercurrent of hip-hop and hip-ripping African rhythm, an hour-long wave designed specifically for the environment. And when I found myself trancing out to his original “Woodwork” between the ocean and some hot bitches in patriotic bikinis, I knew Jesus loved me. My blood rushed.

We had a break before Future Islands, a rising synthpop band we were both looking forward to, so we stopped for some chill time in the VIP pool next to the main stage. A metal fence divided the general viewing area from the raucous pool, where people who could afford to drop hundreds and even thousands of dollars on this weekend were afforded the privileges of separatism not even imagined in festival culture a few years ago. The discovery of the free beer bar tickled us both to bits, but at the same time we noted how sad it was that the general population were paying out the nose to get even remotely tipsy, only to sweat it out immediately under the intense heat.

I don’t regret the power I had to luxuriate, and at minimal expenditure at that, but it is clear that the swelling popularity of high-profile, corporate-sponsored mega-fests serves to reflect the growing divide between the everyday person and the financially fortunate, not reconcile it. As the chasm widens, the creative power structure tilts, and as these things tend to go, the sacrifice of the original intention will be railed against.

But when life gives you lemonade, you drink the shit out of it.

Sunday would be my jam. I woke up and prepped myself for eternal sunshine.

I ran into Jean-Philip Grobler of St. Lucia early in the day. I launched into my re-introductions, reminding him of our interview last year, but he convincingly remembered me. It probably helps that I was wearing the exact same loud, pink & teal lycra dress. We discussed their new album and an exquisite electro house band called Goldroom, whose set I stumbled into first thing that morning. Life is pretty.

Supercutie Jean-Philip of St. Lucia. Photo by Nina Westervelt via nylon.com

St. Lucia’s midday show was a highlight, though overly intense due to the raging sun and a couple of douchebag dudes who got even more lame when I asked to hit their joint. (ATTN: BROS AT SHOWS, when a cute dancing girl wants to smoke your weed, you say yes. You just do, weirdos!) They must never get laid. But St. Lucia laid it all down, the core songs from their debut When the Night sprinkled with some exciting new material. Fuuuck yes.

Afterward I went to kick it backstage until the evening. Crossing the patio I was charmed by a production assistant who mistook me for Sarah Barthel from Phantogram (dat hair), a few delicious seconds I savored before I had to deny it. That’s when Foster’s people showed back up, once again obnoxiously taking over the chessboard. Plastic cups and compostable plates soon littered the area.

The key band members weren’t hanging around at this point, but I joined the others to observe the boisterous chess match. I displaced a couple of warm beers from a chair and was immediately welcomed with a quick clean-up of the space by one of the unknowns. I lit a cigarette and had just gotten into my chaw groove when a violent check move sent a 12-inch knight sailing across the board and into my planted foot.

I clocked my throbbing ankle. “Owwwww,” I whined as my sunglasses met my assailant’s, a black-haired boy too cute for his own good.

“Oh, did I get you? I’m so sorry! Want a cigarette?” The sincerity of his apology coupled with the helpful cleaning guy warmed me, and I wondered if I hadn’t misjudged these excitable kids.

“Is it an American Spirit?” I hoped aloud, though I still took the Camel Crush he offered. Later in the evening that total babe would gift me an amethyst because “every beautiful girl needs a beautiful crystal.” That’s how it’s done, dudes and bros.

I’m climbing the steps to the stage, my heart fluttering. Turns out my wristband is my purple ticket to that coveted side-stage viewing I envisioned. Easy enough. The band is well into their first song, and I snuggle up close to the row of people already lining the railing. I will sing in their ears and dry hump them until they squirm away. I don’t care who they are; I will be on that railing.

Mark Foster has changed into beachy white jeans, his subdued dynamism complementary to the high physical activity of the percussionists behind him. For a band whose meteoric rise was born from that overcooked hit “Pumped Up Kicks,” these guys really have it going on.

It’s troubling though; I soon start to think how in certain ways it kind of sucks to stand up here. The sound is shit because the speakers face the audience (sound slut here), and there’s limited dancing room. But somewhere between my finally reaching the front of the railing and “Call It What You Want,” a song that makes me think of my son at home who is a big fan, I lean over and take a full drink of the scene before me.

Thousands of people raise their hands above their heads, clapping together to the collective beat, and during the last song I have a complete view of the armada of life-size beach balls that surges into the pulsing crowd. It is indeed an honor to witness this spectacle from the band’s perspective. I am on top of my world.

Starting around 1:00 you can see me up there in my pink & teal dress + white headscarf:

When it was time to pry myself away from drinks on the beach with Skrillex’s tour manager and go close out the weekend with Beck, I knew exactly where I would be standing. In the motherfuckin’ crowd.

You may recall I saw Beck last year here in Asheville, but this show was a whole other beast. The crush of people wanted one last good party, and the band made sure we got it. A setlist low on songs from last year’s halcyon album Morning Phase, Beck himself seemed genuinely thrilled to rock through his 20-year-old hits as well as playful, scorching takes on fan favorites like “Debra” and a 10-minute combo/outro “Where It’s At/One Foot in the Grave.” What. A. Joy.

Photo by Nina Westervelt via nylon.com

But those festival organizers were not playing around when it was time for everyone to GTFO. Once the band left the stage, even the artists’ lounge shut down, and several of us who tried to get back there for one last hurrah were crudely denied, our royal passes just another accessory after closing time. I launched my gratitude into the culminating fireworks show, Beats Antique’s Tommy Cappel whooping next to me.

With stars in my eyes and sand everywhere, I slogged back to my shared condo where I blended back into the eclectic crowd. There I was just another strange girl in a sea of strangers, squeezing out a few more good times on the beach before the inevitable drive home. And when the morning sun swept its golden tongue over the turquoise waves, I smiled to myself. I know I did what I came to do. I saw some incredible shows and took a big bite of the loftier life in music. And it is just my taste.

 

 

This Is My Brain On Beck: Live at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

Photo by Krista Schlueter via spin.com

Photo by Krista Schlueter via spin.com

[Editor’s note: Okay, there’s a lot I have to say about why Backstage Sass has been gone for three months and now looks like total shit all over again, but suffice it to say that GoDaddy is a sleazy bag of dicks. We’ll get to that later. Right now, I just want to talk about Beck because that's all that really matters.]

“Oh god, I’m so sorry,” I say as I make a poor attempt at soaking up with my bare hand the champagne I’ve just spilled on the gentleman sitting by the aisle I’ve just tripped in. I’m prepared to face the reality of my more-than-slight intoxication when he looks up at me with a pair of innocent, sparkly blue eyes, and I know he is genuine when he says it’s totally fine. We’re vibing on the same level of excitement for the show that makes us untouchable. I leave him and his wife–who’s looking on with a mixture of amusement and disgust–with my sincere apologies and proceed to my seat, laughing and weeping inside all the way.

Somehow it had slipped my mind completely that Beck was coming to Asheville on July 12, so in a mad dash to procure a ticket two days earlier, I Craigslist whored it all the way up. I contacted about 10 people with seats in the orchestra, prepared to pay upwards of $100 to see Beck’s sweat (hey, that kind of thing is important to me), but in the end I wound up in the next section back, mezzanine center, ultimately a lovely spot for a reasonable price.

I’m sitting next to David and John, two guys from way the fuck out on some mountain east of here, and they’re laughing at the spill I just took on that guy. David is startlingly attractive in a conventional way and a big Pearl Jam fan, so I know this will be better than sitting next to that crisp-shirted douchehole on my recent flight to Boston.

“Did you see the opener?” I ask, referring to The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, Sean Lennon’s band. They did while I missed it completely, having peeked in upon arrival but figuring there was still time to get a drink before catching the bulk of their set. I was wrong; they’d left the stage by the time I returned.

What I heard when I entered the dark theater didn’t grab me, but I admit I haven’t cared enough to familiarize myself with their music at all. Still, to witness Sean Lennon onstage, his long, frizzy black hair covering his face Yoko-style as he picks dangerously at an electric guitar, is noteworthy. The GOASTT has some weirdo music videos and will obviously never achieve great recognition while poor Sean will always be compared to the incomparable legacy of his father, but what else is a guy supposed to do when he wants to play music and has to live with John Lennon’s exact face? That’s gotta be rough.

Finally the house lights dim again, the full auditorium erupts in applause, and suddenly Beck’s band is coming in swinging with “Devil’s Haircut.” The sound is fuzzy in the Thomas Wolfe, but my virgin sight on the one and only Beck Hansen, grooving across the stage looking like a hip Amish preacher, makes up for it.

There is something to be said for seeing someone live who’s only existed to you via stereo for the last 20 years. The familiarity of a song I’ve known since childhood juxtaposed with the space pop of something like “Gamma Ray” and psycho-geometrical stage visuals threatens to overwhelm me, but I am reminded of the earthliness of this moment: Beck’s deep, dense voice that has rapped, screamed, crooned and bled into me over the years comforts me, and I invite myself to exist alongside him in this moment.

Most of what’s going on lyrically is indiscernible, but everyone knows what to do during the choruses of the thunderstorm hits like “The New Pollution” and “Loser,” to which he adds entire verses and/or has just forgotten the original wacko words. Fuckin works for me.

Generally, the setlist pleases the hell out of me, my darlings; I was unsure how it would be mixed for this tour, the lushness and sentiment of his latest album Morning Phase more comparable to Sea Change than Midnite Vultures. And while he has performed some seriously mellow sets, the man knows how to throw a party, and electro hits from across the board appropriately support the more emotionally lucid songs like“Lost Cause” and this year’s mushroom-trip meditation “Wave.” I can’t for the life of me understand what is wrong with all the people who choose “The Golden Age” to go to the bathroom. I could die right here in my own arms.

The sold-out auditorium has been beautifully responsive throughout the whole show, but the buzz seems to get down to the molecular level as we approach the end. “Girl” and “E-Pro” open up a new plane of mega-funness, and the only thing that separates the main set from the encore is the head-scratching application of caution tape across the stage and Beck’s inquiry as to “what kind of laws [we] like to defy” here in Asheville. Forget pot, public drunkenness, and acute civil disobedience; the answer is of course SEXX LAWS!

Beck channels his hilarious inner James Brown and Al Green with “Debra” after that and then closes it out with “Where It’s At.” Sean Lennon even comes back to play tambourine, the ol’ sport. Then, as if waking from a dream, the transition from 2500 voices shouting “I got two turntables and a microphone” into everyone-getting-the-fuck-out is seamless. These guys are pros.

If I hadn’t continued to hang out with my seat-neighbors David and John, I would have pulled my usual old school groupie shit and gone around back to try to intercept the man himself. I didn’t even CHECK OUT the situation; tour bus or black car? But honestly, I would have been too late anyway. Everyone knows you have to work that shit out during soundcheck.

Dig the setlist here

Songs I Wouldn’t Kick Out of Bed: Nicotine & Gravy, Mixed Bizness, Novacane, Nobody’s Fault But My Own (they didn’t play ANYTHING from Mutations! Ack!)

Random celeb sighting: Saw Charlie Day in a drink line. You know, this guy.