Written by Elisa Regulski
Growing up in southern Alabama, the smell of boiled peanuts and fried poboys greeted me everywhere I went. Auburn University’s blue and orange flags waved proudly over sandy driveways, and honey-coated drawls often had a twinge of passive aggressive bitterness slip in. Gulf Shores, not surprisingly, mixed up a sentimental cocktail of childhood memories for me. Of course this time my drink included copious amounts of Jack Daniels and Tecate. I was here for Hangout Fest, after all, and this glorified spring break trip included all of the stereotypical party tropes.
The pre-party kicked off with jiggling thighs and bouncing butts at Big Freedia’s ass-worshiping dance party. Maybe it was the sheer adrenaline (or maybe I’ve been slacking on my yoga), but this booteylicious celebration left me drenched in sweat. My reflexes weren’t swift enough to join the stampede of twerkers piling onto the stage, and that’s probably okay. After one fan took off his belt and embarked on a strip tease, I realized that I probably had the better view.
The next day began with the words, “Jason Isbell? Is he some new EDM artist?”
Instead of punching this frat boy in the face, I flashed an insincere smile and whipped out the ultimate Alabama insult: “Oh honey, bless your heart.”
As the aggressive hordes of bachelor parties bumbled their way towards the bass-thumping electronica, the crowds by the surf stage pulled back like low tide. It was their loss, though, because Isbell’s “Cover Me Up” hung in the muggy air as a sobering reminder of what passionate music can do. The woman next to me embraced the emotional deluge and let her salty tears flow.
I sobered up/ I swore off that stuff/ forever this time
The wild cheers that accompanied this line could hardly compete with the raging beat-dropping a few stages over.
Coated in a comforting haze of Americana melodies, I drifted back to my condo for some sweet relaxation. My bed hugged me as I slipped under the clean covers, free from any sand. My midsummer slumber was short-lived, however, when I was awoken by a friend urgently tickling my foot. Eyes groggy and unfocused, I stumbled into the living room to see steaming vomit and blood-soaked sheets. Unsure where he was and what was going on, my friend Andrew sat huddled around trash can, spewing incoherent mumblings.
The ER wasn’t equipped to handle the influx of patients from this weekend. Sick, dehydrated festivalgoers sat in hallways hooked up to IVs. Doctors loudly shouted from rooms about how “all the idiot drunks will be coming this weekend.” Nurses shot judgmental glances at the worried faces that came to check in on their friends.
When Andrew was discharged from his hospital room, he was only greeted with a massive medical bill and a hangover something fierce. No irreparable damage or worrisome medical issues accompanied, thankfully, and he still made it out to see Foals that evening.
Sunday’s massive crowds didn’t bother me, but the parade of misogynistic chanting roaring behind me did. Maybe I’m confused, but I always thought music festivals were a mecca for love, positivity, and acceptance. My exhausted and emotionally drained body couldn’t handle any more negativity, so I spent some quiet hours among the waves and desperately tried to shake it off.
Thankfully, Florence and the Machine are experts in the art of shaking it off, and after this set, my weekend ended with fireworks. Taking advantage of my press pass, I weaved my way to the VIP pool and graciously accepted the beer handed to me. As I danced in the sand and hugged strangers, the entire festival shifted.
People looked each other in the eye and shared brief and intense interactions. I met Carly, who brazenly snuck into the VIP area by carrying a four-foot tall trash can and walking with confidence. I met Steve, a forty-year-old retiree, who, through some insanely lucky connections, manages to score free wristbands to festivals in order to relish in the people-watching. And finally, I met Paul, who works at the Gulf Shores Emergency Room with his husband. From the exhausted and overworked nurses to the facility’s lack of funding, I garnered a newfound respect for those who took care of my friend the day before.
As the song says, the dog days were over, but so was my weekend. A symphony of splashing water erupted in the pool as the fireworks blared. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s anthem gave us our cue to leave, and we reluctantly obliged. So goodbye, sweet home Alabama. I’ll see you next year.