May 30, 2022

Red Green Blue: An Album Review

This may be the longest blog post I have ever written, but I am so grateful to be weighed down by the burden of too many new Hanson songs at one time. It's the best problem to have, really.

I always struggle with writing music reviews because I can analyze lyrics and word choice all day long, but I don't have the right vocabulary or music background to discuss the sound, the instruments, the arrangements, the production, etc., at a similar level. Writing has always been such a powerful outlet for me because I often feel like I'm able to put exactly how I feel into words, and it's a very liberating feeling. Even just tackling this post, I feel like I already appreciate several of these songs more now that I've sat down and put feelings into words that I honestly didn't know I had until I was writing them down.

The flip side, though, is it can be very frustrating when I don't have the words, and music is one of those downfalls for me. It's strange to be able to listen to a song and form opinions about what parts I love and what parts I don't but not having the words to express them beyond a basic "I like how this sounds" or "I don't like how this sounds." As a result, this turned out to be a very lyric-heavy review more about song meanings than sound. I've been careful to avoid reading other fans' opinions and reviews, so if there are any similarities here, it's because obviously we're right and not because I borrowed anyone else's theories 😉. I can't wait to dive right in to what others think about the album as soon as I hit publish.

Song: 1. Child At Heart

What It Sounds Like: An inner-voice pep talk

Favorite Lyric: "You can just breathe / You are no mistake"

My Interpretation: We've heard enough in interviews about this one as the first single that I don't need to pretend I'm having any original thoughts about the meaning. "Child At Heart" is about holding onto the kind of innate optimism and hope that children have rather than letting the world beat you down and make you jaded.

What I will add from my own two cents, though, if you care to follow me down a rabbit hole, is that the line "you can chase a star" makes me think of the boy from "Reaching For The Sky." I don't know if the star imagery was an intentional allusion to String Theory or if I'm doing a bit of reaching myself, but I really like that you could read the lyrics of "Child At Heart" like they're advice to that optimistic boy who never stops reaching even when others try to tell him it's not worth it. Maybe the guy in the CAH music video is that boy all grown up giving himself a pep talk trying to hold onto that perspective he had as a child so that he can continue seeing the best in the world. Commence conspiracy theory-level conjecture, but I love making that connection even if Taylor didn't put it there intentionally.

Red Ranking: 2/5

Song: 2. Rambling Heart

What It Sounds Like: Tom Petty's "Wildflowers"

Favorite Lyric: "Wherever I go is my home sweet home/ Every note is my home sweet home"

My Interpretation: This is a love song to music and travel about feeling at home in the middle of both. It's obviously written from the perspective of a musician who has grown up on the road writing music, but I really like it because the same can apply to a fan like me who also feels at home in some place I've never been listening to a song that feels like home no matter where I'm hearing it.

For years, my bio on hnet said "I like to ramble, both geographically and verbally. Join me some time" and included a link to this blog. I liked the play on the word "ramble" because it has two definitions and can apply to both writing and traveling, and I think the same concept applies to this song. Taylor (and Hanson) certainly has a rambling heart with a drive to share his words and his music all over the world, and--cheese alert--I'm happy to report every note IS my home sweet home.

Red ranking: 1/5

Song: 3. Truth

What It Sounds Like: A poetic semi-spoken word folk song

Favorite Lyric: "So don’t hold on to bitter, it’ll come home to roost"

My Interpretation: "Truth" describes a strained relationship of some kind that has seen better days and a desire for resolution through honesty. It's vague enough that it feels universal and could apply to anyone--a romantic relationship, best friends, family members, even a musician and his fans.

The thing I really like about it is if you pay attention to the lyrics, the speaker/narrator of the song never actually places blame on anyone even though I think the human inclination is to do exactly that. Each time he mentions something the other person does wrong, he follows it up with another line that faults himself equally ("Cause I drive you crazy every other word that I say/ But I feel like you’ve been pushing me away"). And his suggestion that they need a little bit of truth? It's not clear if he means truth from himself or truth from the other person. It could easily be an angry song demanding answers with lines like "You owe me the truth," or a song about guilt that says "I need to tell you the truth," but it's neither, and I think the implication is that the only way to move forward is if BOTH parties come clean.

The song also doesn't make clear whether the end goal is to fix the relationship and stay in it, or if the "truth" is that it's time to let it go and move on. Sometimes the little bit of truth that we all need is simply being honest with ourselves, and with lines about bringing "peace" and being "set free," I think it could just as easily be read as a song about admitting the truth to yourself so that you can move on from a relationship that's no longer working. With lines like "we might miss what's still left from today" I think the overall vibe is a little bit more hopeful than that, but it leaves you with a strong sense that you don't know what the resolution is yet, but the only way to figure it out is to face the truth.

Red Ranking: 5/5

Song: 4. We Belong Together

What It Sounds Like: Andrew McMahon's newer stuff 

Favorite Lyric: "All this living has been taking your life"

My Interpretation: It doesn't sound a thing like "Carry You There" musically, but I think the message is the same. It's a song about recognizing when someone you care about is struggling and offering them support even if they're not up to fighting for themselves. It doesn't specifically mention mental health, but I think there is still a sense of awareness for it that suggests being observant and receptive to the people around us and making sure that they know you are a part of their support system. I chose "All this living has been taking your life" as my favorite lyric because I think it's a poetically tragic way to describe depression, but I also love the positivity in the line "You don't have to break alone/ You don't have to break, we can build something better."

Red Ranking: 4/5

Song: 5. Semi Hollow

What It Sounds Like: George Michael, Hall & Oates, and Taylor Hanson walk into a guitar shop...

Favorite Lyric: "Here downtown, standing in the ballroom now /You’re the one turning me on, while they have been posing/You and I were closing"

RGB Misheard Lyric Award: 
What Taylor said: You're damn sure fun to play.
What I heard at the listening party:  Redemption from the plague. (#foreshadowing)

My Interpretation: I don't know a ton about guitars, but it's impossible to miss that this song is basically a love song to one. Instead of being completely straightforward, the lyrics are written in this clever ambiguous way where it could also be a love song to a girl, albeit one who gets around and isn't all that deep. "All my friends, they know that you get around," "I know that I could turn you down," "You sure are fun to play/I can't stop turning you on" etc. For almost every line, you can ask yourself "Is it a girl, or is it a guitar?" and the lyrics fit for both.

As for my favorite lyric, I chose the lines above because they are the most perfectly ambiguous and potentially misleading part of the song. To anyone not familiar with Hanson or their hometown, those particular lines sound more like they're about a girl and it's harder to make the guitar connection. "Here downtown, standing in the ballroom now /You’re the one turning me on, while they have been posing/You and I were closing". The surface level image is of a guy standing in a ballroom at a dance with a girl that he's wildly attracted to, and he's writing off the other people in the room as posers while his relationship is real. But if you know Hanson and Tulsa? That ballroom downtown might be Cain's, the posers are other musicians, and he and his beloved guitar are the real deal.

Is it a deep song? Nah. But it sure is fun to play...and yes, I DO enjoy the way it resonates.

Red Ranking: 2/5 Yes, it's tied with Child At Heart.

Song: 6. Greener Pastures

What It Sounds Like: Joshua and the Holy Rollers...oh wait.

(Least) Favorite Lyric: I WANT to like "effervescent hues," I really do. I'm all for unique word pairings and creative descriptions, and this one is certainly inventive. Unfortunately, the usage is just not quite right to my ear, and I can practically hear someone asking "What does that line mean, though?" and being met with "I don't know man, but doesn't it sound cool?"

My Interpretation: I have to be honest. I had mentally turned this one into a skip song before I ever even heard it just based on the fact that it was a cover. That's probably unfair and dismissive of me, but it's an involuntary reaction that I can't alter no matter how much I rationally know that it's okay for 1/15 of the album to be a cover written by a blood relative that also has musical talent. That being said, it's not a bad song, it just isn't a HANSON song, and while it does sound good, I can't really make the lyrics mean anything to me. Sorry, bros! It gets points for being the first song to include all four Hanson brothers, and I'm sure they had a great time working on it together. Maybe it will grow on me.

Green Ranking: 5/5

Song: 7. Write You A Song

What It Sounds Like: A fun-filled summer day.

Favorite Lyric: "I see blue skies, sunrise, dandelions and conversations"

My Interpretation: This song needs no explanation; it's exactly what it sounds like--a song from a loving Dad to his little girl so that she'll always have something to remember their good memories together. It's super sweet and fun sounding, and it makes me just a little bit sad and jealous that I'll never have something so sweet to remember my own Dad. I'm sure Isaac's daughter loves it and will probably appreciate it even more when she's older.

Obligatory conspiracy theory connection to a past Hanson song: I can't help but smile a little bit at the line "You're my Oklahoma daisy" while thinking of 16-year-old Isaac singing about planting seeds and wondering what flower is going to grow. Twenty five years later, we have our answer: he's been growing a daisy!

Green Ranking: 2/5

Song: 8. No Matter The Reason

What It Sounds Like: Isaac Hanson gone country

Favorite Lyric: "God has made no better good than you for me"

My Interpretation: I've seen a few comments accusing this song of supporting the idea of staying in a toxic relationship, but I'm going to give Isaac the benefit of the doubt and assume that the perspective of this song is coming from someone who has never dealt with a true deal-breaker scenario in their relationship. I know he's saying he's staying "no matter the reason," but surely we can read an implied asterisk into it and take it as "*No matter the reason" with the understanding that of course there is an implied footnote full of toxic reasons to run far, far away and never look back--they're just not in this song. He's not condoning staying with an abuser; he's writing about not giving up when things get hard. He's talking about sticking around because the love you have for someone is bigger and stronger than the conflicts. It's an emotionally raw song that I can't personally relate to, but I can appreciate the guts it took to put it into a song and release it to the world.

Green Ranking: 3/5

Song: 9. The Gift Of Tears

What It Sounds Like: Isaac Hanson gone Contemporary Christian.

Favorite Lyric: "When all hope is dead and gone, pray on."

My Interpretation: Hanson doesn't often put overly religious messages into their songs, but I can't do enough mental gymnastics to make this one about anything other than seeking forgiveness and grace from God. The opening verse talks about a wedding "between your heart and your soul" and a time for new beginnings which sounds like a pretty effective description of salvation to me. The urgency behind "Pray it up, pray it down/ Get down on your knees, brother and kiss the ground/ We could be gone tomorrow, this life ain’t free" expresses a need to share this "gift" with others, and I think the "gift of tears" is really the emotional response to being given the gift of forgiveness and salvation. To me, this song is a profession of faith and a desire to share it with others.

Green Ranking: 4/5

Song: 10. Cold As Ice

What It Sounds Like: funk (n.)- : music that combines elements of rhythm and blues and soul music and that is characterized by a percussive vocal style, static harmonies, and a strong bass line with heavy downbeats

Favorite Lyric: "I'm a human jukebox, I play all the hits"

My Interpretation: This song is the #1 reason in this post that I wish I had a better music vocabulary because it has such a fun groove to it that I can't really describe. It brings back a little bit of the upbeat vibe that feels lacking in this album compared to others. As for what this song means, it's a fun kind of snarky/tongue-in-cheek description of a flawed but feisty and attractive woman. There are a lot of clever lyrics and turns of phrases here, and "She pawns my watches to buy me time" is an easy runner-up for my favorite line. However, I am at a total loss and cannot make sense of "every single word she says is frozen twice." What does this mean??

Green Ranking: 2/5. I realize my ranking system is flawed and I didn't choose a #1 for Green, but I can't and I don't have to.

Song: 11. Bad

What It Sounds Like: Angry synthesizers

Favorite Lyric: "The tight rope is frayed and it's wearing me thin." Hello there, allusion to "The Walk."

My Interpretation: My first reaction to hearing "Bad" at the listening party is that it must be in reaction to some of the backlash that Hanson and Zac have received over the last couple of years, but I think it could also apply to pretty much any situation where you feel wrongly judged by someone else. It's calling out that unfair judgment ("so many things you can't tell from just the scars on my skin") and the draw that some people seem to have towards conflict ("moth to the flame").

The line about not "measuring men by colors and flags" feels a bit cryptic, but what I get out of it is that you shouldn't judge someone based on what they look like, where they come from, or what labels they identify with. I'm a little stuck on the line "no one can change the worth of a life," but maybe it just means you can't devalue someone's life no matter what you think of them; no matter what you perceive them to have done wrong, they're still human. I think the interesting thing about this song is that as often is the case with any conflict, you could probably read these same lyrics from the opposing perspective and find that they feel the exact same way.

Blue Ranking: 5/5

Song: 12. World Goes Around

What It Sounds Like: Robert Frost, but make it Hanson.

Favorite Lyric: "Even the sun goes down"

My Interpretation: Time marches on. Good things can't last forever, but by that same logic, bad things can't either. It's up to you to be the optimist or the pessimist in how you choose to view the world and any given situation. "All we can do is endeavor/ to live by nothing bad can last for ever/ all our days." TL;DR Nothing gold can stay, but it's probably better to focus on the fact that the bad days can't stay either.

Blue Ranking: 4/5

Song: 13. Wake Up

What It Sounds Like: "The Circle of Life" meets "The Neverending Story" theme.

Favorite Lyric: "Would it change a thing to learn that you’re not real?"

My Interpretation:  The lyrics start out making you think that maybe the main character is just separated from his love by physical distance--"When you're not with me you're still always on my mind/ And you feel so close even when we're far apart." Maybe she's just away on a trip? But then you get lines like "Wherever you are" and "Every night I'm waiting just to learn your name" that make it clear that he hasn't actually met her yet. He's spending his time dreaming up this perfect girl that may or may not actually exist in real life, and it's both hopeful and depressing. "Why do you keep me waiting/When you know how I feel" suggests a belief that he has a soulmate out there who is dreaming of him in the exact same way, just two people separated by circumstance who are waiting for the moment where fate brings them together.

But then there's the saddest line of all: "Would it change a thing/To learn that you’re not real/." It makes me think of the way some people view religion as this empty emotional crutch, just a thing you choose to blindly believe in without proof because it's easier to do life if you have something good to believe in. That's not my belief, but I can understand the perspective and I think that's exactly how he's treating this dream girl. He's choosing to believe she exists and that one day they will be together, and it leaves us with a final question: Does it even matter if she's real as long as the idea of her existence keeps giving him hope and making him happy?

TL;DR: "Wake Up" is "Dream Girl" reimagined with a mild existential crisis.

Update June 1st: My mind is blown right now. Some fabulous anon in the comments bulldozed my theory with a single insightful sentence, and I'm kicking myself for not seeing it. I'm not going to alter my above interpretation because I do think it still fits and I don't want to take credit for a perspective that went right over my head, but please check out the comments section below for an alternate take that I think is probably right. 

Blue Ranking: 2/5

Song: 14. Don't Let Me Down

What It Sounds Like: Zac Hanson was tasked with writing "Eye of the Tiger" in 2022

Favorite Lyric: "No one can stop you until you decide that you're done"

My Interpretation: I don't need an interpretation because Zac has already told us that this song was written about the challenge of sitting down and tackling this album concept. He knew he had to handle the pressure of creating something worthy of a world release and not letting himself or his brothers down, so he wrote a song about just that. I know I already called "Child at Heart" an inner pep talk, but where that one is more of a subtle reassurance, this inner voice is screaming at you in sweat bands while asking you to drop and give it 20. Welcome to Zac Hanson tells Zac Hanson not to let himself down. Jokes aside, it's a totally universal song that you can apply to any situation where you need motivation to complete something that you know you're capable of. #dogobe

Blue Ranking: 3/5

Song: 15. Where I Belong

What It Sounds Like: The opening and/or closing scene of a musical theatre production that I want front row tickets to.

Favorite lyric: "Somewhere under the rainbow far away"

RGB Misheard Lyric Runner-Up: 
What Zac said: So that I can trade bitter tears for honey (honey honey honey honey)
What I heard at the listening party: Yummy yummy yummy yummy. Cue instant Edible Digital Pants flashbacks. And The Wiggles.

My interpretation: This is the most trippy theatrical sounding song Hanson has ever produced, and I love it for that. It has a longing to belong and find your place in the world, but I also see bits and pieces of religion in it as well, though much more subtle than in the Green segment. Think "E.T. phone home" but where E.T. is a prodigal son and "home" is definitely celestial, but we're not talking about another planet. My strongest argument for this interpretation is the line "Take me from this place/ So that I can trade bitter tears for honey (honey)." I'm not saying he's asking to be swept away in a chariot of fire straight up to heaven, but Biblically, the promised land is described as a land of milk and "honey," and I've already expressed my opinion that Isaac's "gift of tears" is actually the gift of salvation, so combine them into a single line and recurring images of weeping, and I feel decently convinced that this song can be read as a desperate prayer for deliverance from feeling lost in the world.

Despite having said that I'm not saying it's about wanting to go straight up to heaven...the very end of the song has me rethinking that statement. The final lines are so incredibly heavy:

And I weep
Hoping someone will hear me call
From where I belong
And take me

There is so much pain in that statement, and if he's hoping that someone from where he belongs (aka heaven) hears him calling, I can't hear it as anything but a cry out to God to be taken "home." In some ways it's a little like "MMMBop" in that among images of rainbows and happy sounds there's actually a deeply depressing undertone. 

Blue Ranking: 1/5

P.S. For what it's worth, I changed every Blue ranking at least once and almost caved and just ranked them all as 3/5 for lack of a better solution. I am not built to pick favorites unless it comes to choosing a favorite band. I've got that one covered.

May 23, 2022

Hanson Day 2022

I'm not sure how cutting out Hop Jam left me feeling busier than ever, but maybe two years off from a traditional Hanson Day just has me out of practice. HDay 2022 was back in full swing with all of the in-person events that have been missed in Tulsa since 2019 as well as keeping plenty of virtual content for those enjoying from home. See Exhibit A below. There's no free space on this bingo card.

For me, the event kicked off with the HTP live event which was Hanson's first time recording a podcast in front of a live audience. I suspect that a regular HTP episode must have a lot more outtakes and editing, but they did all of this one in one take. There was a live trivia game where both contestants hilariously ended up coming up wearing overalls and butterfly clips (thanks, 90s Karaoke!), and there were two reporters who shared the interview instead of just one. They did a great job with their questions and everything ran smoothly. The one quote that stuck in my mind from the whole thing was at the end when they somehow got on the topic of Zac and Taylor skydiving during the "I Was Born" era, and Isaac's perfectly-timed comedic input was "And I said to them, 'Well, someone needs to be alive." Good looking out, Isaac. Keep those royalties safe.

We also learned that the accessory equivalent of their pessimist/optimist/realist makeup is fannypack/murse/chain wallet if you've ever needed that mental image.

Karaoke was a blast as usual and I thought the 90s theme was particularly fun with all of the themed outfits that showed up. One of the best moments of the night had to be the woman that absolutely SLAYED "Shoop." Isaac joined her on stage but mostly just watched in awe like the rest of us. Rumor has it she was part of a group that showed up at doors and randomly bought a membership just because karaoke sounded fun; they weren't even there for Hanson (if you're reading this, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, elaborate, tell us how you got to be so awesome, etc.). Imagine leaving a bar with your friends just wandering around looking for the next good time on your Thursday evening only to randomly wind up schooling Isaac Hanson on "Shoop." It's the kind of story that will leave people asking exactly how much you had to drink last night and begging for video evidence. Thankfully, there's plenty.

The next morning I showed up in pouring rain for the first RGB Listening Party. In theory, there's something special about being in a room with the first people to ever hear a new album in full. In practice, people talked too much and there was way too much bass for no reason. Maybe it was partly due to where I chose to sit (on a bench built into the wall rather than in a free-standing chair), but feeling my entire body jiggling in rhythm to the bass on "Write You A Song" of all songs is not an experience I needed. My biggest takeaway was that even without hearing all that well, I could tell that "Rambling Heart" was going to be lyrical gold, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on the album in a quiet room with lyrics in hand. I wrote exactly four notes on a sheet of paper in the dark before I gave up because the visibility was even worse than the sound. They were:

"Wherever I goe is my home sweet home" (yes, I spelled "go" wrong. It was dark and loud.)
Track 3 = Taylor as Isaac
5. George Michael
Zac song 4? 5? = "In My Room" vibes

I'll save further RGB thoughts for a future post when I've had the album for longer than 30 seconds.

Bowling was fun but doesn't really make good blog material, and the same usually goes for the Dance Party, but this one warrants a few sentences. We actually got two dance parties...sort of. A technical glitch shortly into his DJ set had Taylor sending us to bed early Friday night with promises of a redo following the concert on Saturday. People took the decades theme seriously and I loved seeing everything from 60s flower crowns to Britney Spears and Ginger Spice costumes in the crowd. I went for 90s and got told I looked like I walked out of a Babysitters' Club book, which is honestly the highest form of praise 90s me could have ever hoped for while living out her best life at a party hosted by Taylor Hanson. Dream big, kids. You never know whose hometown nostalgia party you'll wind up at in 25 years cosplaying your former self.

The side events were fun, but let's talk about the real reason we all go back every year: the concerts. We were told at some point before the event that the Hanson Day Concert would be the first official show of the Red Green Blue tour. It was surprisingly more geared towards singles and a journey through Hanson's career than it felt focused on RGB or Against The World. It was a lot of fun and felt more like a "real" concert with big energy after the calmer acoustic set from Storytellers, but I think Zac(?) was right when he made a comment during HTP about how the setlist might feel similar to the MOE tour concept. It hit on each album including String Theory with Taylor's "Reaching For The Sky" solo and only included a few songs from RGB and ATW. Only time will tell if this was representative of a standard setlist for this tour or if they were holding back a bit since the album still wasn't released at the time. The best similarity to the MOE tour, though? It was satisfyingly long and felt like it was never going to end. (P.S. "Don't Let Me Down" live is great, even without the shorts and muscles. Or maybe BECAUSE it's without the shorts and muscles 😛.)

If you were there or followed along online, you probably already know why I've saved the Storytellers part for last. The setlist was amazing even without the one showstopper this is leading up to. "Stories" always gives me heart eyes, "Tonight" is one of my favorite Hanson songs period, "Watershed" was totally random and has only been played once at BTTI in 2014, and I haven't heard "Money" in 14 years. You can check out the setlist on Hansonstage for a list of 20 reasons to experience FOMO, and the reason at the top of that list is the one song I never though I'd hear them play. That's right, they played BOOMERANG. 

If you've been in this fan base for more than five minutes, you know that we are a group hungry for rares. For better or for worse, if you give us a choice, we are going to pick the song we have never heard over the song we actually like. What I mean to say--as politely as possible--is that while I am all for diversifying setlists and growing my own catalogue of heard songs, sometimes the rare choice is not the best musical choice. Thrown into a regular show, "bing bang, you hit me like a boomerang" is likely to set off about 40 fangirl screams of recognition and 700 "WTF is this, I'm going to the bar"s. But this was not a regular show, and we were all glued to what was unfolding in front of us. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I knew the story, that "MMMBop" was born out of "Boomerang," but I never expected to hear the way those puzzle pieces fit together. I always thought if I heard it live, there'd be a certain level of cringe, but it was actually really good. The harmonies were tight, the melding with the "MMMBop" chorus was really cool to hear, and Taylor delivered the line "I've seen girls of all shapes and sizes, but baby since I met you, you're the only one for me" like a 39-year-old straight-faced hero. Move aside, 90s nostalgia costumes, because Taylor Hanson owned the best throwback of the week.

I don't have any great outtakes or anecdotes to end this post with. Somehow, all my flights were on time, I didn't wind up in any petty line arguments, and nobody pulled me on stage or awarded me any trophies. None of my friends experienced a diva moment and rushed the stage at the end of karaoke, and I definitely didn't spontaneously extend my stay by a day only to come home with track 12 from The Walk. (we're playing three truths and two lies, here, btw)

The climax of the trip was Boomerang, which is ironic considering we were there to celebrate a brand new album and not a 27-year-old one, but what can I say? We recognize epic when we see it, and I promise to write a post just as enthusiastic as this one if they make me wait another three decades to hear "Where We Belong" for the first time. With a new tour coming up, I really hope they don't.

April 30, 2022

So You're Thinking about Going to BTTI...

With the recent announcement of BTTI 2023, I've seen a lot of questions from hopeful first-time attendees and thought it might be helpful to write a more logistical post in addition to the reviews I've shared in the past. Think of this as a practical overview of what to expect in place of my usual fangirling and gushing about how much you'll love the shows. (Spoiler: you're also going to love the shows).

Booking Your Room

It's no secret that repeaters who have been to previous BTTIs get first dibs on rooms based on the number of times they've attended. I know this can be intimidating and give the impression that the event could sell out before the public sale date, but the good news is that this has never actually happened. There have been a few times when it sold out within a few days of the public sale, and one year it sold out within minutes of going live to the public (Cancun), but the last few haven't had that kind of rush. What will happen, though, is certain room types start to sell out. You may not be able to get your first choice of room type, but there are no bad rooms anywhere, and you get to participate in everything regardless of which room you choose.

If you can't book right away and rooms do sell out before you have a chance, this doesn't mean you're just out of luck until the next one. Island Gigs offers a waiting list and continues to contact people in order as rooms open up, and fans are also allowed to sell their own rooms when their plans change. This always happens, and every single year fans buy last minute rooms from each other. If you're serious about going, keep an eye out, ask around, and keep saving like you're going. You might have to wait a few months, but odds are good that you'll find a room if you don't give up.

You'll need a $400 deposit up front if you have a roommate, or an $800 deposit if you plan to room alone or find a roommate later. If you have a roommate, only one of you needs to initiate the booking process. Sale dates, payment plan info, and more can be found on the official BTTI page on hnet.

You and your roommate also need to be active fan club members at the time of the event to attend, but let's be real: if you're prepared to spend $2k+ on a trip to see Hanson, a $40 membership should not be your hill to die on.

Planning Your Travel

When you book your room, you are paying for your stay at an all-inclusive resort, meaning food and drinks are covered, but your flight to the event is not. No matter where you're coming from, you'll need to fly into Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay (MBJ). Once you arrive, Island Gigs will arrange bus transportation from MBJ to the resort as long as you are not spending extra nights elsewhere (meaning if you plan to fly in 3 days before the event and stay at a cheaper resort before going to BTTI, you have to figure out your own transportation to the BTTI resort. I have never done this, but I'm sure other fans could offer advice). 

I have seen customs in MBJ have no line whatsoever, and I have spent two hours in line waiting to be let through. There's no way to know what version you will get, so if you are flying in the day of the first show, plan for potential delays. The resort is about an hour and a half drive from the airport, and the only event on the first day is the concert around 9-10pm.

For return flights, nothing is ever planned on the final day of the event dates, so you are safe to leave without missing anything (ex. BTTI 2023 is Jan 5-9. They won't plan any events for the 9th, so you are safe to fly home any time that day). However, the dance party the night before is known to run late. With that hour and a half drive to the airport and the additional time you should arrive before your flight, do yourself a favor and don't pick the first flight out. They'll put you on a bus at least three hours before your flight time if not sooner.

Resort Life

If you're familiar with the concept of "Hanson Time," you can thank them for preparing you for Jamaica Time as well. It's not that things are necessarily running behind schedule or on a time crunch, but more of a laid back, everything will happen when it happens and be fine sort of vibe. Your room service, dinner at a specialty restaurant, or those extra towels you called and asked for might take their time showing up. Go ahead and accept this, remember that you're on vacation, and try to relax.

Another good thing to know about the resort is that it is pretty spread out, and each building has three levels and no elevators. You might be doing a fair amount of walking depending on where your room is, so getting down to the beach and realizing you left your sunglasses on the bed might be the moment you decide you didn't really need them anyway. It's not a mile walk or anything, but something to be aware of if you're used to one big hotel with everything in one building...or if your knees don't like stairs.

And that bed you left your hypothetical sunglasses on? It's either going to be a single king bed or two twins. You can't specify which one you want when you book, and requests aren't guaranteed. If you're rooming with a spouse or a stranger and have a strong bed preference, you'll probably want to reach out and try to put in a request anyway. 

Shows & Events

One of my favorite things about BTTI is it feels so much more relaxed and calm compared to tour shows. I'm not saying the crowd is quiet or that the music is all mellow, but that anxious "I need to get to the venue" and "I need to get in line" feeling doesn't exist. Traffic can't make you late. You don't have to worry about a bag check at doors. There ARE no doors. You don't have to stand through the opener or even show up to their show if you don't feel like it. There are no lines (except for the M&G photo). Some will choose to wait longer by the stage for a good spot, but most show up right before the show. The stage is on the beach, and there is plenty of room to spread out in the sand. You can stroll right out of the pool, throw on a coverup, and roll up to the stage area five minutes before show time while double fisting ice cream cones or daiquiris if that's what you want.

Side Excursions

If you prefer some exploration alongside your relaxation, there are optional side excursions arranged by Island Gigs for an additional fee. These options may appear on the booking page when you reserve your room but can also be added at a later date right up until the event begins as long as there is still space. (My memory is murky here. They may not be offered at all when you book your room and only show up later. I just know you don't have to book them right away.) Most involve water and a certain level of physical activity. Below are a few examples from previous years:

Dunn's River Falls
Blue Hole Adventure Tour
Bob Marley's 9 Mile Tour
Martha Brae River Rafting

If you're interested in something not offered by Island Gigs or prefer to do an excursion on an extra day outside of the time offered to us, you can also contact the resort or ask in person once you arrive. One year I came a day early and randomly wound up swimming in the Luminous Lagoon because I asked the front desk what was available and it sounded fun.

Pro-tips for Dunn's River Falls:  
1. Bring your own water shoes and a towel for after.
2. Wear a swimsuit and don't carry any electronics that can't get wet. There are moments you may be fully submerged. You can rent a locker for anything that needs to stay dry.
3. Beware of aggressive selling techniques for souvenirs and be prepared to give a polite but firm "no thanks" if you're not interested in buying. Some of the sellers will try to grab your hand or put merchandise in it and ask for payment if you're not prepared. 

Is It Worth It?

I can't answer this for you. If you love Hanson's music and relaxing on the beach, almost definitely yes. If you want to go to spend time with friends or with the possibility of coming home with a few new ones, also yes. If your idea of the perfect vacation includes bringing your spouse and kids and doesn't include sand or swimsuits, then this one's not for you (the event is 18+ and all rooms have a maximum capacity of two).

The other thing you should know is that if the thought of spending time with Hanson on a beach is factoring into your decision at all, the only guaranteed face time we get with the band is during the M&G photo. Some fans have been lucky enough to run into one of them and have a conversation at other moments during the event, but you're not going to find a Hanson lounging in a chair by the pool or find yourself seated next to them at dinner. That being said, they are incredibly kind and gracious to greet every one of us attending, and the M&G photos are a "holy grail" opportunity you really can't get anywhere else. The trip is what you make of it, and if you show up with an expectation to have fun with fellow fans while relaxing on the beach and listening to great music, then you're going to have an amazing time.

The real answer here is if you have been considering going for a while and have just never taken the plunge, I think it's worth trying at least once. The worst thing that can happen is you realize you don't love it as much as you thought you would, and then you can save up for a different vacation next time without having to always wonder if you've been missing out. The other worst best thing that can happen is you realize you have been missing out, and now you can't imagine not going every year. Fair's called BACK to the Island for a reason. 😉

And if you do want all the sentimental/FOMO reasons you should go, I've got you covered:

BTTI 2013
BTTI 2014
BTTI 2015
BTTI 2016
BTTI 2017
BTTI 2018
BTTI 2019
BTTI 2020
BTTI 2022
Packing List
HDay vs BTTI
How To Tell Your Loved One That You're Going To Jamaica

April 1, 2022

How To Get Front Row At A General Admission Concert

Today we’re going to talk about a topic on par with the likes of Bruno, Fight Club, and recent inductee Jada Pinkett Smith: how to get front row at a GA concert. If you’ve clicked on this link, it’s probably safe to assume that you are either 1) dying to know all of my best front row tips, or 2) terrified that I’m about to reveal yours. I have thought a lot about whether it is my place to share trade secrets that have taken many of us decades to learn, and I realized that it may be best to consult someone else who is passionately invested in this topic before publishing this blog. I reached out to the best person I could think of for the job, and after a lot of consideration, we have decided that it’s time to put our differences aside and work together to help everyone get the front row they deserve.

Joining me today is fellow concert addict and front row expert, special guest blogger Caroline. Below you will find a carefully curated collection of tips and tricks that we felt it was time to share with the greater music fan population. We hope that you will use these tips widely, share them indiscriminately, and think of us fondly as you rock out against the barricade!

1. Post your plans to line up in as many public places as possible. You’ll want to show up early, and you’ll also want to make sure that everyone knows what time you plan to arrive. Be as specific as possible; no one likes a Vaguebooker. The best thing to do is share on all your social media accounts and cross-post in fan groups for maximum effect. The goal is to have as many fans as possible know what time you are lining up so that they will admire your dedication and tailor their own plans to arrive after you out of respect.

2. Invite everyone to camp with you. Sitting on a sidewalk for hours (or days) can be boring and uncomfortable, but with the right attitude, you can turn it into a fun adventure that others won’t want to miss. There's also no need to worry that too many people will show up and there won't be enough room for everyone up front. You’ve probably heard front row referred to as a "magical experience" and brushed it off as a figure of speech, but the truth carefully guarded by generations of concert addicts is that front row actually is magic and has expansive properties that cannot be detected from a distance. Fun fact: rumor has it that the creator of Doctor Who was a massive music fan and based the TARDIS structure on the phenomenon that occurs when one touches the barricade in front row and is suddenly able to see its true infinite capacity. Allons-y, y’all! There's room for all of us.

3. Post live updates about your line experience to all of your social media accounts. This not only provides hopeful future front row enthusiasts a step-by-step guide that they can follow at a later date, it also provides a trail of timestamped evidence should anyone accuse you of not waiting in line or not being first. Oh really, you didn’t see me sitting here at the front of the line all day? That’s odd, because here’s me at 6:03 am drinking coffee in my sleeping bag with a backwards three smeared on my forehead that already has 72 likes and three identical comments that say "I'm on my way now!!!"

4. If you are near the front of the line, keep in frequent contact with the venue staff. After years in the live music industry, many employees develop a condition known as Going To Forget Order Syndrome, or GTFO for short. Individuals with GTFO suffer from an inability to remember numeric patterns and often have difficulty with basic counting and remembering the order in which to complete tasks. You’ll want to check in with staff frequently to be sure that they remember which line goes in first and that you are at the front of it.  (A good rule of thumb is to check in at least every half-hour up until doors open.) Your instincts may suggest to remain calm and patient, but studies have shown that the familiarity of loud noises can help release the deeply trapped memories of how to do their job. Do not be afraid to raise your voice as it can actually put the staff member at ease and help restore their ability to retain order.

A second, less common but growing condition among venue staff is the Inability to Differentiate General Admission Fans, also referred to as IDGAF. In this case, the individual has seen so many fans throughout years of concerts that they all begin to blur, and over time they lose the ability to differentiate faces, i.e., the first person in line looks exactly like the last. Research suggests that memory retention of a familiar face in someone suffering IDGAF typically lasts between 10 minutes and an hour, so similarly to GTFO syndrome, the best thing for you to do as a fan is repeatedly remind them of your presence. Don't worry that approaching them too frequently may become annoying and make them less likely to help you in the future as you will be safely forgotten before the show even starts.

5. If you are unable to wait in line, have a friend save you a spot until you arrive. All they need to do is save you a number and vouch that you are "coming soon," or better yet, “coming back any minute." There is no need to ask those behind you in line if this is okay; music fans are known for their kindness and generosity above all else. They will respect the fact that you have more important things to do than sit on a sidewalk for hours and will instinctively trust that you have a good reason. Be careful not to mistake perceived standoffishness for rudeness or dislike. More than likely, they are simply too intimidated by your front-of-line connections to speak to you first. A well-timed wave and smile as you step ahead of them will be greatly appreciated, and many friendships have begun this way.

6. If camping out isn't an option for you, you can try faux camping. Not all of us are cut out for sleeping on sidewalks, and there's nothing to be ashamed of if you are one of the thousands of fans that suffer from an allergic reaction to prolonged exposure to sidewalks commonly known as "sidewalk intolerance." Sidewalk intolerance affects roughly 1.5 in every 10 fans, and common symptoms include increased irritability, heightened sensitivity to hard surfaces, and a sudden, intense need to be literally anywhere else upon exposure. There is no known cure, but faux camping can offer a safe alternative to traditional concert camping. 

For those that don't already know, faux camping is exactly what it sounds like: you show up early, get a number, and give the impression that you are, in fact, going to sleep outside in line (bonus points if you put on pajamas because they do half of the work for you. You don't have to actually say "I'm totally going to sleep out here!" when fuzzy panda bottoms will do it for you). Then you leave, come back in the morning, and imply that you've been there all night. Make a few off-hand comments like "man, that sidewalk was rough on my back" or "I tossed and turned all night," but avoid being overly specific in case you missed something important. If you do a good enough job, no one will question your absence, and you can avoid those awkward explanations about your status as someone who absolutely loves front row but won't can't sleep outside for it. 

7. If you do not have any friends to hold you a spot and can't faux camp, you can use your anonymity to casually blend into the front of the line at the last minute. You need precise timing for this move and should not attempt it any sooner than ten minutes before doors. The goal is to slip unnoticed between groups of friends without leaving enough time for anyone to stop you. If you're lucky, you'll be surrounded by passive fans who either won't notice or won't be brave enough to speak up. This may seem unfair to some, but you know the truth: You are just as deserving of front row as someone else who put in hours waiting in line. It's not your fault that they don't have a life and you do. 

*You should not attempt this method unless you are prepared to fight back or run in the event of an altercation. Exercise caution as results may vary.

8. If you have more cash than integrity, a great alternative to waiting in line is simply buying your way in. This tactic is only for the brave, but if you're a good judge of character and can spot the right like-minded person, you can open a lot of doors for yourself (namely, the one into the venue). Some would call it bribery, but really it's just being resourceful enough to use the tools at your disposal. Remember: Just because it's not for sale doesn't mean it can't be bought!

(Pro tip: Be sure the staff member you approach does not suffer from IDGAF or GTFO. They may be on board in the moment, but you will be no closer to front row if they've forgotten what you look like when doors open, or worse, they think you’ve paid to be let in last.)

9.  In the event that you cannot secure a spot at the front of the line, get to the barricade by any means necessary. With a little determination, acting talent, and brute force, the literal end of the line doesn’t have to be the end of the line for you. Try looking for gaps in the crowd and shout a random name followed by "Excuse me! I'm just trying to get back to my sister!" while forcing your way through as though she's up front waiting on you. Oh, there she is! Right between the two people in front row center. 😉 

If your hand-eye coordination is strong, another option is to double fist two open drinks in the air while shouting "Sorry!" and sloshing them dangerously. The key is to slosh just enough to make someone want to step back, but not so much that they want to punch you in the face. If you're not successful the first time, simply turn around and try another route in the crowd or another method entirely. The possibilities are endless; be creative!

So there you have it. Nine tips and tricks to help you get front row from experts who have witnessed the effectiveness of each method countless times. Remember, you deserve front row regardless of how you get it, and don't think twice about anyone that says otherwise because they are not worth your time.

For more concert hacks & live updates from future events, you can follow Caroline on Instagram @rowzb4hoez.

January 21, 2022

Back To The Island 2022

I don't think I have ever looked forward to a trip more than this Back to the Island since the very first one in 2013. I spent the weeks leading up to the event balancing extreme excitement while also trying to mentally prepare myself for a possible last minute cancelation. I wasn’t fully convinced that it was happening until I was standing on a beach in Jamaica seeing mildly creepy photographic evidence of Hanson at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. We were short a backup player and a couple of friends, but the show must go on. I had a great time but am so looking forward to a year without any nasty surprises where everyone who planned to go gets to be there and enjoy themselves. If you planned to go and weren't able to be there for whatever reason, I hope you have a truly amazing experience at the next one.

Full Band Shows

I have no idea what Hanson's original plans for these shows were when they thought they had a five-piece band, and I'm glad. I'm always team "surprise me" when it comes to setlists, but I am more grateful than ever that we didn't have setlist voting or a list of themes this year. Maybe Hanson played exactly what they intended to play and Dimitrius' absence was minor, or maybe they had an entirely different plan that had to be scrapped and rebuilt at the last minute to make sure the show went on as seamlessly as possible. They did a good job either way, but having photos with the band canceled was enough. I'm glad it wasn't amplified by disappointment over major setlist changes from some theme we were all looking forward to. 

The three main shows were a good mix of singles, fan club songs, and a couple of fun covers. I'd say the first set was more of a traditional Hanson show, the second set was three-piece acoustic, and the third felt like more of the "Rock All Night" theme with more upbeat songs. After eight trips to Jamaica, we finally got a (very well done!) Bob Marley cover as well as "Islands In The Stream" that they live streamed for us last year during the canceled BTTI. I really enjoyed the acoustic show, though I wish it had been longer than 16 songs. The most surprising thing to me was that there was no mention of Against The World and we didn't even get to hear the title track. I think we got three out of the seven songs, though maybe being short a player had a hand in that decision.

It feels weird not having more to say about the shows, but nothing crazy happened and the setlists were fairly typical of BTTI which isn't bad at all, it just isn't particularly interesting to read. Don't worry, I'll gush about music soon enough.

Solo Shows

Zac went first this year (does he always go first? It feels like it) and the most memorable parts were a brand new song called "Magic Man" and the part where he threw it to the crowd during "I Don't Wanna Go Home" and we were virtually no help. Sorry, sir, I love that song, but if you never sing the lyrics the same way twice and don't ever sing it the way you did in the recording, I can't help you. I know there's a pool hall, a country bar, Caz's corner bar, and Carnegie Hall, but I can never predict which one is coming up next and I'm not sure Zac can either.

He played "Magic Man" on the guitar and opened by saying he likes to play it when he's alone. He didn't say anything that gave me the impression that it's meant to be on any specific upcoming project, so we may or may not ever hear it again. It was pretty mellow and quiet and he said it was inspired by Nick Drake.

The best part of Isaac's solo for me was when my friend shouted at him to play "Soldier" and he actually stopped and tried. At some point during all of the Cain's shows in the past two years, we ended up listening to Soldier in our hotel room. The part that says "Well the boat began to sink, and it sank to the bottom of the river" got completely embedded in our brains and for days and multiple trips we would just burst out into that line. Our lives have since been changed by looking up the lyrics (Thanks, Hansonstage) and learning that the line right before it is actually "as he floated past the river rat" and not "as he floated past the river raft." We've both spent 25 years not knowing there was a rodent in that song. Naturally he made it right up to that part before he stopped and gave up, but I was super impressed he made it that far and knew all of the lyrics up to that point.

He made some comment about how he had played it at another BTTI, and I couldn't help but shout back "No you didn't." He responded with something along the lines of "Okay it must have been a Hanson Day" and I shouted again "You've never played it at either!", not entirely sure how or why I started a yelled argument with Isaac mid-show, but adamantly positive that I've been to all of the shows he's claiming to have played "Soldier" at and I've definitely never heard it. 

We looked it up later and the only place he's played it since 1998 was his own house during the Quaranstreams, so now I understand why he thought he played it recently. Dear Isaac, you should totally play it in full at a future BTTI and/or Hanson Day for real! And if Quaranstream content is up for grabs, I'll take a Lucy solo, too.

Taylor's Solo Show

You know what, this guy gets his own segment. Caution: Extreme fangirling ahead. I know I've said this before, but I don't play favorites with Hanson. I might have a current favorite at any given moment for a variety of reasons, but it always changes. But for approximately 45 minutes on January 9, 2022, I was a full-fledged Taylor girl. It happened. First, he opened his solo set with my favorite Hanson song of all time, "Feeling Alive." "Feeling Alive" led into "Crazy Beautiful," and I've gushed about that song being one of the reasons I got back into Hanson enough times that I'm not going to do it again. Next was "You Never Know," which I know in a previous year I proclaimed was Taylor's best performance of anything ever, and it was no less amazing this day. I freaking love the piano. Then he played "Out of My Head" which I've always overlooked in the past but I couldn't not love it in person and felt lucky to be standing there hearing it live. (click here for video)

I absolutely loved the new song "Child at Heart" which will be the first single from RGB, and it has me incredibly excited to hear this new project. Taylor apologized for his guitar skills but as much as I adore him on the piano, it was a fun way to switch things up with a different sound that I can't wait to hear more of. I'm a little afraid of not loving the studio version as much as I loved this stripped down version because I'm not sure I have the capacity for such a thing.

I was already dying of happiness by this point, but then he ended his set with "Sounds Like Joy" which is such a gorgeous song both melodically and lyrically, and I hope it gets an official release one day so I can overplay it to the point of sickness.

Literally everything about Taylor's show was just pure perfection from the song choice to the delivery and how he sounded, and it had me walking away going "This is my favorite band. This is why I'm here." I may be reaching, but it felt like he knew things have been rough and there was some residual disappointment about the photos, and he really understood the assignment and went a little above and beyond to make it feel more special. 

(Full disclosure, I made involuntary heart eyes at him and said something about it being perfect as he left the stage...then wrote a fangirl post on Instagram...then may or may not have also mentioned it to him on an airplane....and now I'm doing it again here. I think I've reached my limit for exactly how much I can gush about this one show on all the platforms including twice to Taylor's face, so feel free to set up an intervention if I keep going on about it after this moment. It was just so good. 😍)


Family Feud was more enjoyable to me with the dynamic of two brothers hosting it instead of just one, but I think I'm mostly over this game as a side event. I really do not enjoy being put on the spot on stage and chose not to join a team even when my friends got called up and had an extra spot to fill. I prefer the smaller more interactive events of past years like tie dye or bracelet making, or even Cards Against Humanity because handing in a card that Zac has to read while I get to sit there quietly is my ideal level of crowd interaction. If we're going to keep the co-hosted large scale game format, I hope we either try something new next year or go back to a year of CAH.

Then there's the afterparty, which is never really my favorite, but I am all for future dance parties being pool parties going forward. I got to lay on a float in a side pool that nobody else bothered getting in, and it was such a social distance happy place for me. The only thing that would have made it better is if the pool was heated or if there was a hot tub in the vicinity. If circumstances were different I would have loved to be in the main pool mingling with more people, but my comfort zone just isn't there, and that's part of why I hope we get to have this experience again during a time when I would be comfortable being in the bigger crowd. 

At the very end, Taylor jumped right into the big pool with everyone in it, and it was even faster than the time he ran into the ocean. I saw him run, jump up, disappear, and run back out all within like a 20 second span. He wasted no time sticking around but turned the excitement level way up for everyone in that area, which again probably would have been more fun during a time where it would have been safer for him to be in a crowd for longer. (Then again, will there really ever be a safe time for Taylor to spend more time in a pool full of fans?) Nobody had time to do anything crazy, but I was impressed with everyone giving him space anyway.

As for the special guests, I don't have much to say about Raging Fyah, but what I do have to say is 100% praise. I really enjoyed getting to see a Jamaican band while in Jamaica. We've had much smaller scale local entertainment with steel drum bands and dancers performing before dinner or singers with an instrument or two around the bonfire, but nothing to this scale of a Grammy-nominated band. I didn't know most of their music but they played several covers that were impossible not to recognize (including Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" with some truly impressive vocals), and I really liked one of their original songs called "Never Give Up." I'm glad they had the opportunity to join us!

Photos With The Band

If you attended BTTI or followed any updates from fans online, you're probably already aware that we received a notification the day of the first show alerting us that "out of an abundance of caution" photos with the band were being canceled. As you can imagine, this came as a huge shock to all of us attending, and the initial message led me to believe that they were trying to come up with some piece of memorabilia to send us once we got home to make up for it. I was disappointed for myself, but I was more devastated for those attending for the first time. I'm fortunate enough to have photos from past BTTIs and as long as BTTI continues, I know I'll have more in the future. I also know plenty of people save up for years and make plans to attend once in a lifetime knowing that they'll probably never make it back, so the idea of having a major selling point and the only opportunity for them to ever get a solo photo with the band taken away is heartbreaking.

I think the overall consensus was shared outrage, but I saw several unkind messages from fans not at the event insulting others for putting so much worth on a photo and demanding that we be grateful that we got to attend at all. The insinuation was that anyone upset was petty, selfish, and privileged. While I was not outraged on a personal level and trusted that the volume of complaints would lead to some action better than a mailed piece of merch, I fully understand being upset, needing to vent, and asking for a better fix. Yes, we were all "lucky" to have made it, but most of us jumped through a ton of hoops to get there, whether that means working two jobs, saving for years, driving two panicked hours to find a last minute rapid test, or isolating from our friends and families during the holidays to ensure a negative test. We weren't "lucky" to be there in the sense that this trip just easily fell into our laps; we worked hard to get there and are allowed to feel disappointment at not getting part of what we were promised.

I'm all for creating realistic expectations, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with expecting something you were promised in writing and paid money to receive. That's not being ungrateful, that's basic business. Next time you make a large purchase at a store and the favorite expensive purse you found gets left out of the bag, please remember to be grateful for the things that were put in the bag and remember that some stranger somewhere would be thrilled to have even a portion of what's in there. Also don't ask for the purse or a refund on it because that would be ~selfish. I mean, what?

That being said, I'm not blind to the state of the world or Covid and I do get why the decision was made (even if similar precautions weren't being taken during other events). I'm sure it was a tough choice for whoever had to make it and it honestly may have saved us from an outbreak, but thankfully we'll never have to know. In the end, they offered everyone at BTTI a free ticket to a show of our choice on the upcoming tour as well as a M&G photo at the show, and that feels plenty sufficient to me. I hope that everyone who attended BTTI will be able to get to a tour stop and take advantage of it. 

Sappy Endings

You know my usual pattern in the concluding paragraphs here, but I'm going to take a slightly different direction this time. This year's sappy ending is brought to you by arbitrary milestones instead of reruns of "I needed my happy place during this unhappy time and I'm so glad Hanson provided it."

There was a nice symmetry for me with our return to Jewel Paradise Cove this year because the very first show Hanson played there in 2016 was my 100th, and now the last show at the Jewel was my 200th. As far as defining who I am as a person or trying to categorize me in some non-existent hierarchy of fans, telling you this is about as meaningless as telling you I've eaten 3,400 apples in my lifetime and trying to compare it to someone else's apple count. It literally does not matter, and I hate the weird dynamic that happens between some fans when it comes to bringing up how many shows you've been to like it's this taboo subject. Do we all need to keep track and compare? Of course not. Is there something wrong with keeping track if you do? Also no. There's probably an issue if you blast your number at people constantly and state it like it's an A+ on a test, but most of us aren't doing that.

So here's what I'm celebrating and why I keep track, and it's not really about a triple digit number at all. I think the real reason I keep count is a part of me will always remember when my answer was zero, when I was young and my future was this big question mark full of possibilities, and I had a massive desire to dive headfirst into this crazy fanbase that normalized following a band and getting to see the world. I had no idea what I was doing but just enough crazy optimism to believe I could make it happen. That part of me that always wants more is still in there, still traveling to shows, and still celebrating the fact that she has somehow managed to do this crazy thing that she wanted. It's not about celebrating an exact number, it's about still being grateful for every single one that came before it. I hope I'm fortunate enough to celebrate #300 on a beach with you guys one day, too.

P.S. I forgot to explain the nighstand. Cliff's notes edition:
Live grasshopper + night stand drawer + bathroom quarantine = sleep.

December 28, 2021

BTTI Essentials: A Packing List

Today's procrastination technique: writing about packing instead of actually packing. May my past fails be your future successes. If you're headed to the next Back To the Island or are considering going at a later date, here are a few things you should bring that may not make your regular packing list:

1. A pen you can easily reach mid-flight. You'll have to fill out a customs card before you land, and airlines don't provide enough pens for each passenger. If you don't bring your own, you'll have to awkwardly wait to borrow one from a stranger, and that's even less exciting during a pandemic.

2. A physical paper with your return flight details and the address of where you're staying. The customs form that you'll be filling out with that handy pen you remembered to pack is going to ask for the resort address. If you're like me, you'll try to look it up on your phone and realize there's no international flight wifi. Next you'll dig through the BTTI packet that you printed and realize it's not in there either.

You'll also have to fill out a card with your return flight number and time before you're allowed to board the bus to the resort, and there's no airport wifi outside to access your confirmation email. Save yourself the trouble and have all of this information written down, or at the very least, have screenshots.

3. Plenty of small bills for tipping. Yes, it's all-inclusive, but tips are appreciated and often expected even though they're not required. As for currency, if you have American money and don't plan on leaving the resort, don't bother exchanging. USD is welcome and is also preferred over credit cards in the gift shops.

4. A folder to pack your autographed photo in for the trip home. Unless you like creases.

5. A few Ziploc bags big enough for wet swimsuits/clothing for the trip home. It's humid in Jamaica. The wet thing you took off yesterday is not going to be dry today.

6. Basic first aid supplies and medicines. Bandaids, Neosporin, Ibuprofen, Pepto Bismol, Nyquil, Benadryl, etc. Anything medical that you MIGHT need, pack it. If you have to track any down once you arrive, you either won't find it at all, or you'll pay 5x what you would have paid if you brought it with you. 

7. Shoes you can wear in the water. The beach at the Jewel is less rocky than the Melia, but there are a few areas in the water with pointy rocks and sea urchins, and you can't tell until you're standing on them. All I'm saying is if you don't pack #7, you're definitely going to need #6.

Bonus TMI: It's not that common, but I've known more than one fan to contract hookworms in their feet from going barefoot at past BTTIs. Don't let that scare you away from taking your shoes off, but I would avoid walking shoeless in the grass or even being barefoot for extended periods of time in the sand. You can blame the cute cats that roam freely around the resort with some innate cat instinct to identify sand as their litter box.

8. Bug spray. Some people swear it's unnecessary and that they never get bitten at BTTI, but I can definitely remember itchy ankles after shows when I forgot to put any on. It's not an issue during the day, but as soon as the sun starts going down, I swap out sunscreen for bug spray. A friend getting bitten in the face by a mosquito and having to show up to photo day with a swollen eye is also enough of a cautionary tale to keep it on my packing list (and my body) indefinitely.

9. One light-weight layering piece just in case it's windy or cool at night. If you're from some cold place that wears shorts when it's 55 degrees out, you can probably skip this one. Fellow southerners, you're welcome.

10. Less clothing. I overpacked SO MUCH that I never wore the first year. Every person has their own style and preferences, so pack for your own comfort zone, but I quickly found that my happy place is swimsuits under a coverup or a summer dress. That's it. No pants. One pair of shorts that I may or may not actually wear. No more than four pairs of shoes including my water shoes and whatever I wore on the plane. If you want to go carry-on only, it's doable with a little work.

P.S. Don't forget to leave space to bring home any souvenirs you might want as well as your merchandise package which always includes a towel and a t-shirt. Also, don't pack toy water guns because they'll cause an embarrassing misunderstanding about firearms and get confiscated by Immigration...but that's another story.

Happy packing! Feel free to leave a comment with your own packing essentials.