Hangout Festival draws ire from residents

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After several lewd photos made their way around social media of Hangout Festival goers and one of said festival goers was found in a ditch and died, many Gulf Shores residents voiced concerns to their city council.

One such resident, Roberta Rosenblum, said parking on her street is an issue with illegal parking making it virtually inaccessible to emergency vehicles.

Many other residents spoke of public urination and defecation outside their homes and people sleeping inside their cars.

“The ordinance regarding sleeping in cars is not being enforced,” Pam Williams said. “It has not since from year one. Every year I see people obviously crawling out of their cars from sleeping in them. And when they get out of their cars, they immediately take care of their morning bodily functions without any attempt to not be seen.”

Evelyn Sanders passed out a copy of a particularly popular photo that stirred up controversy on Facebook. The photo in question showed several young adults walking down Hwy. 59 with some of the females wearing thong bathing suits.

“I don’t like seeing these girls going up and down these streets wearing nothing but looks like some dental floss in their behind,” Sanders said. “And the next thing that’s going to happen next year if it’s not controlled, they’re going to be wearing Band-Aids in the front. We don’t want to see this.”

Shaul Zislin spoke to the council and crowd, apologizing for any inconveniences his festival has caused.

“All of you raised issues here that are heartfelt, that are disturbing, that are wrong,” Zislin said. “All of them can be addressed if you stay true to the facts and help solve the problem rather than have a mob mentality that spreads inaccuracies. This attitude of spreading lies and stories will not help us do the job.”

Zislin received many boos from the crowd after this innacuracies and lies comment. Zislin also spoke about the negative concerns the residents had, saying they needed to do their part as well.

“If you see someone parked illegally if you call, they will take care of it,” Zislin said. “If someone creates issues for you next door you call the police and they will handle it. We have never asked them to turn a blind eye to misbehaving people. We hate misbehaving people. It makes my job harder.”

Death and crime

While many of these concerns are a constant for Gulf Shores residents about the festival, now in its tenth year, this year saw public outrage intensified after a 20-year-old man died from an apparent drug overdose.

The Fairhope native, Griffin Gaunt, was found unconscious in a ditch at 11:30 p.m. after the festival wrapped up Sunday, May 19. The Gulf Shores Police Department stated the initial 9-1-1 call suggested Gaunt may have had drugs in his system. He passed away the following morning.

“We do not know anything about the details of the cause of death of this young man,” said Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft. “It is terribly devastating, and we are saddened beyond description. We think about the parents and the friends and our hearts go out to them.”

This is the first death associated with the festival in its decade-long relationship with the island.

Many residents cite crime as a reason to have the festival moved up-county or even eliminated altogether.

Command Sergeant Jason Woodruff said the arrests totaled 98 this festival weekend, with 11 made by GSPD and 87 by the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office. He said most were drug or alcohol related, with only one arrest for a violent crime—assault—over four days. Most officials with the police department and city agree that while the arrest numbers are slightly higher than last year, the crime rate has been trending downward over time.

Craft said he understands the concerns from the citizens of Gulf Shores.

“I know that it is very much a disruption for the use of the city beaches by some of our residents,” Craft said. “They’ve been vocal over the years about that. We decided after the oil spill that this would be a benefit financially and for exposure that we were open for business that would have been hard to come by otherwise.”

Even though the contract is renewed through 2025, Craft said the city goes through a process of examination every year to decide how and if to move forward with the festival.

“Every year we have to work on a new site approval plan,” Craft said. “That won’t change. There’s a lot of dynamics involved with that. We always try to figure out where does it fit, does it fit, how does it fit in our community and how do we gain from the positives and remove the negatives.”