Alabama: Visits can range from musical fun to civil rights history

Hangout Music Festival

After its inaugural year in 2010, Hangout Music Festival, or simply “Hangout,” as it’s called, grew in popularity at a phenomenal rate. Now it’s one of the more highly anticipated events of the festival season nationwide. Part of the appeal is its Gulf Shores location with stages set up on the beach and the Gulf of Mexico as a backdrop, as well as bringing top acts from the rock, pop and hip-hop genres to the Alabama coast for one weekend each May. Another part of the festival’s appeal is its vacation vibe to go along with the music. There are beach volleyball, hammocks, swimming pools, an arcade, s’mores roasting around the campfire, a beach club where you can swim in the Gulf, the always popular puppy kissing booth to benefit animal charities, a wedding chapel on the sand in case you want to get married while there, and a host of other beachy activities.

Headliners for this year's fest are Kendrick Lamar, the Killers and the Chainsmokers. Three types of weekend passes are available: general admission ($319), VIP ($1,099), and Super VIP ($1,699). No single-day tickets are sold. The VIP pass includes access to the side stage pools and other special viewing areas, complimentary food and drinks, and priority entrances. The Super VIP includes the above as well as shaded, elevated viewing areas, hot tubs, shuttle service between stages, and an air-conditioned dining area featuring gourmet meals prepared by award-winning chefs. Plenty of accommodations are in the area within walking or biking distance to the site. A shuttle service runs the main highways for those staying farther away ($50 for weekend shuttle pass).

May 18-20. On the beach behind the festival's namesake restaurant the Hangout at 101 E. Beach Blvd., Gulf Shores.

RELATED: Something old, something new — ideas for your next trip to Alabama

The Shoals: Brimming with music and music history

Many hit songs were recorded in studios in an area of northwest Alabama called the Shoals — a collection of four cities (Muscle Shoals, Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Florence) adjacent to each other along the Tennessee River. Brimming with musical talent, it’s home to the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, aka “the Swampers,” a group of studio musicians who were famously name-dropped in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s hit “Sweet Home Alabama.” The Swampers were backing musicians on Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll,” among countless other well-known tunes.

The group started out as the house band at FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals in the mid-1960s and later opened Muscle Shoals Sound in nearby Sheffield, a nondescript building on Jackson Highway that you wouldn’t look at twice driving past. But inside that building, some of the biggest acts in the world came to record at the height of their fame, acts such as the Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, Cher and Rod Stewart, to name a few. The Swampers later moved their studio to another facility in town where Bob Dylan and others recorded that today is known as Cypress Moon Studios.

All three facilities are working studios today and open for tours. You could easily tour all three in a day and have time left over to discover the rest of the area’s fascinating musical legacy. W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues,” was born in Florence. The log cabin he was born in is now the W.C. Handy Home and Museum. In Tuscumbia, find out more about the rich musical history of the entire state at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. After exploring all the history, set out to discover the current scene at the multiple live music venues and events throughout the Shoals.

More info and suggested itinerary:

Credit: Art Meripol

Credit: Art Meripol

U.S. Civil Rights Trail

If you look at a list of locations along the new U.S. Civil Rights Trail (established this year), the number of stops listed in Alabama is quite a bit longer than in other states. This is where the course of American history was changed at multiple sites in cities like Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham, when citizens stood up to demand equal access and voting rights. The images broadcast on the nightly news and printed in the daily newspapers are now seared into our collective consciousness.

Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham was a nexus point for many of the struggles. This is where police used water cannons and German shepherds on the marchers, many of whom were children. Directly across from the park is the 16th Street Baptist Church, where four little girls were killed in a bomb blast in 1963 as they were preparing for Sunday school.

RELATED: 16th Street Baptist Church: Site of tragedy galvanized a movement

Also adjacent to the park is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which gives a broad overview of the strife. The Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail follows the path of the five-day, 54-mile march to the state capital that included crossing the iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge, where the earlier march that became known as "Bloody Sunday" occurred. Selma is also home to the National Voting Rights Museum.

In Montgomery, visit Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, a National Historic Landmark where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. served as pastor during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Learn more about the boycott sparked by Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man at the Rosa Parks Museum. The Freedom Rides Museum, located in the historic Greyhound bus station, chronicles the story of the Freedom Riders and their 1961 quest to desegregate buses and bus stations.

RELATED: Visit to Montgomery is great chance to explore civil rights history

These are but a few of the many sites along the U.S. Civil Rights Trail in Alabama. Get more info and see a list of all the locations at the trail's website: