"This is the best American crowd we've seen in a long, long time."
Getting almost everyone's undivided attention as the headlining -- and only remaining -- act on opening night of the three-day event, Followill had every reason to throw the audience a bone as they reacted wildly to every move made on the massive Hangout Stage.
He and his Followill brothers, Jared (bass) and Nathan (drums), along with cousin Matthew (lead guitar), haven't seen many American audiences in a while after Kings of Leon took an extended hiatus in 2011.
Yet as they prepare to go on an extended European tour this summer, they were in fine form while delivering such familiar crowd-pleasers as "Sex on Fire" and (during a three-song encore) "Use Somebody." A robust fireworks show might have satisfied those who were disappointed that the show was about 20 minutes shorter than the two-hour allotted time period.
The Gulf Shores crowd seemed appreciative anyway, so maybe they fully deserved Caleb Followill's compliment. On a day of firsts for this festival in its fourth year, the Hangout may be the best U.S. party to go with the all the other superlatives.
Where else will you find swimming pools, gulf breezes, a Ferris wheel and other amusement park rides, along with a wide variety of acts and old-fashioned Southern hospitality in a relaxed festival setting that doesn't force concertgoers to think they need a weekend survival kit.
Only Friday's scheduled opening act, Twin Sister, was missing in action, but California (by way of Rock Island, Illinois) pop-rocker Lissie made up for it with a spirited one-hour set in the midday sun (aided nicely by guitarist Eric Sullivan) capped by her sprightly delivery of "Pursuit of Happiness," the Kid Cudi cover that's becoming a concert trademark of hers. She is back on tour with a three-piece band after taking some time off to work on her second full-length album, scheduled to be released in September.
One of the nice surprises of the day was the performance of Luella and the Sun. The Nashville-based foursome is fronted by Melissa Mathes, a bundle of energy who strutted her soulful stuff while wearing a bizarre outfit (with a series of what looked liked six-pack plastic rings hanging over her pretty blue dress) before a relatively small crowd on the BMI stage. If their forthcoming full-length album debut is anything like the swinging songs they delivered Friday, it should be worth the wait.
My Morning Jacket's Jim James did more twirling than strutting, but delivered an eccentric and electric performance, while exhibiting moves that could rival Florence Welch's. Dressed in a purple suit despite the mid-afternoon heat (82 degrees, 70 percent humidity), he looked classy and cool whether he was playing the sax or the Flying V, or dancing with a gold bear in the palm of his hand. His experimental set leaned heavily on tracks off his 2013 solo studio album debut, Regions of Light and Sound of God.
Growling on kick-ass jams such as "Western Shore" and "Guess Who's Knocking" from his most recent album, 2012's Tomorrowland, the Academy Award-winning songwriter with a four-man band that included stellar electric guitarist Evan Weatherford contributed mightily to a powerful first day that will be hard to top.
Photos by Michael Bialas. See more from the 2013 Hangout Festival.