Shows I’ll Never Forget: My Morning Jacket, May 20, 2011

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For many Southern-born Americans, Memorial Day weekend is a coming out party for the upcoming season — an un-official first day of summer, if you will.

For most of my life, this was the first weekend of the year that family and friends loaded up the grills and ice chests, topped off the party barges with petro and traveled to one of the many bodies of water that lay throughout the framework of the great state of Louisiana. For laughs, for drinks, for soaking up some sun — this weekend has always been a staple of R&R in the south.

Memorial Day weekend of this year, I decided to go a different route. This year, I followed the music. Bummed and burned out from rough winter and even meaner spring, I loaded up my gear and pointed the six-cylinder toward the coast. Shaken and delirious from the graveyard shift I pulled the night before, my body was telling me I needed to rest, but my mind would not have any part of that. I just kept telling myself the reward that waits on the sands of Gulf Shores, Alabama, is greater than you know. Something was undoubtedly guiding me to the mass collection of music and art called the Hangout Festival.

Five Red Bull, six Grateful Dead albums and 320 miles later, I arrived to a sea of like-minded souls that cascaded down the shores of the Gulf of Mexico in what seemed like an endless mass. No sleep for the weary I told myself, it’s go time.

Although I had a few buds I knew where at the festival, getting a cell phone call or text to go through was nearly impossible, so I just went through front gates and decided to trace my way around by way of the tunes.

On one end of the beach the Warren Haynes Band was belting out the Rolling Stones classic, “Honky Tonk Women.” The beauty of this performance was not the play of “Dubya” and the band, but the addition of special guest Grace Potter on stage. Donned in a sinful white sun-dress, Potter awed the eager festival goers with her soulful tone and her sultry moves. If those in attendance didn’t know who the Nocturnals were before, Potter made sure they wanted to find out.

That would finish up the WHB’s set, so I trekked my barefeet through the sand down to the stage on the opposite end of the beach where the crowd was gathering for My Morning Jacket.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: My Morning Jacket’s 2004 EP ‘Acoustic Citsuoca’ was both a riveting six-track acoustic collection, and a showcase for lead singer Jim James’ piercing tenor.]

With the evening sun creeping downward into the Gulf, Jim James and company took the stage and opened with something that seemed unfamiliar to my ears. Slow chilling guitar turned to screaming vocals and riffs in “Victory Dance.” I have to admit at the time I didn’t really get it, but after the lead into “Circuital,” I felt this was genuine MMJ.

Both of those opening tunes had not yet been released, as MMJ’s sixth album titled Circuital would come out the following Tuesday.

Surprisingly, “Circuital” is the song that stuck with me the most from that day. The tune creeps into your ears subtly, with a noticeable bass line — and the first verse is almost lightly hummed by James. But when it breaks, it’s as if the song takes flight and sends the listener soaring through a wormhole. When I heard the chorus kick in with a scratchy guitar line leading into that unmistakable MMJ haze of sound, I looked across the water and finally realized why I made that trip. It was to here that song, from that band, on that beach with thousands of other people that were feeling the same vibe.

MMJ was just getting warmed up, as they followed with crowd favorite “Off the Record,” an upbeat stomper that has undeniable traits of reggae. This of course, fit the beach scene to the tee.

The band continued with vintage tunes like “Gideon” and the audio ecstasy of “Wordless Chorus,” and also sprinkled in some cuts off the new album such as the lively “Holding on to Black Metal.” All of this before sending us off with a heater of an encore, no other than “One Big Holiday.”

Widespread Panic was next up after My Morning Jacket, but the Louisville rockers had crawled into my brain by that point. No disrespect to Panic, but I had no taste for a jam band after that smorgasbord of vocal and melodic mastery.

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Setlist, Hangout Beach Music and Arts Festival, Gulf Shores, Alabama, May 20, 2011
1. Victory Dance
2. Circuital
3. Off The Record
4. Anytime
5. Mahgeetah
6. I’m Amazed
7. Gideon
8. Smokin From Shootin
9. Steam Engine
10. Wordless Chorus
11. Highly Suspicious
12. First Light
13. Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 2
14. Holdin On To Black Metal
15. One Big Holiday

Matthew Reynolds

A veteran newspaper reporter, web designer and editor, Matthew Reynolds has worked for Hanna Publishing, Tiger Rag as assistant editor, the daily newspaper in Monroe, Louisiana, and radio station KMAR. Follow him on Twitter: @mattreynolds10. Contact Something Else! at
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