The white, sandy beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama have seen a lot over the years.
Some of it good -- scores of families enjoying time away from the grind of everyday life by spending an afternoon or two frolicking in the ocean; some of it bad -- the massive oil spill from a year ago that threatened to forever change life up and down the gulf coast.
While one can only cross their fingers and hope that that the 'bad' remains several notches below that of last year, one thing's for sure -- the ante on the 'good' just got upped by several notches.
For that, we can thank the second edition of the Hangout Music and Arts Festival, held this year May 20-22.
Named for the iconic restaurant that sits at the entrance of the temporarily fenced-in chunk of beach, for a major festival in only its second year of existence, the Hangout Fest is fast becoming one not to miss.
This year's three-day hoedown was a sell-out, drawing 35,000 music lovers, almost double the attendance of the inaugural festival last year -- to the inviting Gulf Shores beaches.
And while that many people, coupled with 85-degree weather under clear skies, had the potential to make for a crowded, hot time, those negatives were minor inconveniences when taking into account the caliber of musical acts gathered on the Alabama coastline.
Of course, if one felt too crowded, or too hot, a quick dip into the ocean was the perfect elixir for such troubles.
The festival grounds were flanked by two massive stages, 1/3-mile apart at opposite ends of the venue, and in between were three smaller stages, carnival rides, vendors and a boardwalk that spanned the length of the Hangout Festival.
The first day of the 2011 Hangout Festival was headlined by jamband stalwarts Widespread Panic, who annually make the Gulf Shores area one of their regular tour stops. Warren Haynes, touring to support his soulful new album, Man in Motion, climbed onstage and joined his friends in Panic for a couple of tunes, just a couple of hours after his group had commanded attention on the same stage.
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe kicked the day off in the Boom-Boom Room, a large, tented area that would explode well past capacity over the course of the next two days when acts like Old Crow Medicine Show and Girl Talk got down to business.
Saturday saw plenty of highlights, including the alternative-jazz of Medeski, Martin & Wood, the reggae sounds of Slightly Stoopid, the roaring metal of legendary Motorhead and the off-kilter, but still way-groovy hybrid sounds of Primus and The Flaming Lips.
But it was the chart-topping Foo Fighters that many of the beach-combing masses were there to see on the festival's second day.
And for those, they were rewarded twice over.
Scheduled to close down the second day with a headlining set on the main stage, the Foo Fighters pulled surprise double-duty by covering for a missing-in-action Cee Lo Green.
When it appeared that Green would be a no-show for his 3:30 p.m. set, Dave Grohl and company eagerly hopped on stage and rocked through a set of their 'favorite rock songs' including "School's Out," "Tie Your Mother Down" and "Breakdown," before the tardy Green finally found his way to the stage to deliver an abbreviated set.
The Hangout's last day saw a trio of swampy/jazzy/soulful acts -- J.J. Grey and Mofro, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave. and Galactic -- play back-to-back-to-back on the Grooveshark Stage.
At the same time Galactic was plying its version of New Orleans' 22nd century jazz, joined by Living Colour front-man Corey Glover on vocals, the Ohio-based blues/rock duo The Black Keys was laying it down across the way at the Surf Style Stage.
"Still Crazy After all These Years," the one-of-a-kind Paul Simon put the finishing touches on the 2011 Hangout Festival with a set of hits that covered the entire span of his lengthy career.
As amazing as it seems, one could have probably heard a pin drop in the crowd of 35,000 as Simon started off "The Sound of Silence," a song he recorded with partner Art Garfunkel after the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
As the last notes from each night's headliners were still lingering in the thick Gulf Shores air, the dark skies were brightened with a breath-taking spectacle of fireworks, capping off the day's activities in a picture-perfect manner.
So now, festival mastermind Shaul Zislin is saddled with the responsibility of topping what was a mere three days of near-perfection.
And that just-right combination of scenery, people and music may prove one tough act to top.
But here's betting that Zislin and his crew are up for the challenge.
See you in 2012, Gulf Shores.