March 21, 2019

String Theory: The Sydney Opera House

The Shows
Australia might have been on my own personal bucket list, but I think the Sydney Opera House was bucket list material for all of us. It's one of the most iconic buildings in the world with a rich history in music, and Hanson managed to sell it out in just over a day. Pair its reputation with the throwback video Hanson shared of themselves singing a capella on the same stage over 20 years ago, and the nostalgia and pride were enough to make more than a few people jump on a plane. I'm happy to say it lived up to every elevated expectation. Melbourne may have been my favorite city, but Sydney...Sydney definitely wins for the best show.

Before tickets went on sale, I couldn't help but think how it would be a dream come true to not only see Hanson at the Sydney Opera House, but to experience it from the front row. I knew the demand would be high and tried to tell myself that I'd be lucky to sit in any seat and not to get my hopes up. The pre-sale was a mess and seemed to be giving people random seats all over the venue, but by some miracle, I pulled up front row tickets just two seats off from dead center. I could not believe my luck, and I found myself double and triple checking the seating chart and confirmation email, sure that it was somehow too good to be true. (Side note: Melbourne was the weird anomaly of the tour where the Stalls section was in the back. I knew I would screw this up. I even wrote a note to myself in all caps and stuck it right next to the Melbourne presale link: "DO NOT BUY STALLS." What did I buy? Stalls Row A. You can understand my hesitancy to believe that the Stalls Row A seats I bought for Sydney were actually right).

When the second show was announced, I told myself I didn't care what seat I got and that anywhere further back would be fine because I already found my golden ticket, and I didn't actually need the whole Chocolate factory. And then it was 10am (in Sydney, anyway) and I was being let in to choose a seat from an actual map this time, and somehow front row was wide open for the taking. I don't think I'll ever stop being amazed.

The first night felt absolutely electric to me. The crowd was excited and full of energy while still managing to stay respectful, and Hanson themselves were smiling the whole time and seemed just as thrilled as we were. It truly felt epic to be there, and I think that feeling resonated through everyone in the room.

I was so entranced by the show and wrapped up in the performance in front of me that I was completely blindsided when a girl wandered her way down the front row towards my seat during "No Rest For The Weary" (?). I was so focused on the music and not on the crowd that I actually found myself sliding over, making room for her, and nodding in passive agreement as she said "I'm just going to take some pictures" and pulled out her phone. A second later I came to my senses and gently nudged her with my hand, said "No, you need to go," and successfully ushered her back in the direction she came. I think I spent the second half of the song staring after her in complete awe of how I and the rest of the front row had just let that happen, and laughing at myself for literally moving so she could stand in my spot. I'm normally all over holding my ground, but it was like she Jedi mind-tricked us all with such an unexpectedly ballsy move.

Next up was "I Was Born." Something went wrong near the end and Taylor lost his place, if only to further prove that there was still a little bit of reality in the whole surreal experience. He finally found his way back to the right part of the song with the help of his brothers and without the orchestra ever skipping a beat. It probably wasn't that noticeable to anyone who doesn't know the song word for word. They handled it like true professionals, and our grins got even wider as they finally got back on track at the end. I think sometimes the way you react to a mistake can speak to your talent just as much as if you'd done it all perfectly to begin with.

The second night was beautiful and still a little bit magical, but I'm not sure any String Theory show could top Sydney night one for me. Then there was the encore, a gorgeous cover of "Too Much Heaven" a capella without  microphones about three feet in front of my face, and I was in awe all over again. I will never get over how flawless Hanson's harmonies are, and I'm glad they shared that final moment with us. They nailed it, of course, and I was also extremely impressed by how silent the crowd stayed. Please excuse the somewhat awkward angle, but for once I actually recorded a video to share. I promise the sound is worth a replay or twelve:

I tried my best to play the role of a tourist in Sydney since I knew it might be my only chance. My favorite was a coastal beach walk from Bondi to Coogee beach which meant walking several miles down the coast of Sydney's finest beaches for some seriously breathtaking views. My only regret is not buying a swimsuit somewhere along the way to add to my collection. We also explored the Royal Botanic Gardens and took a boat across the harbor for even better views of the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

We splurged on a backstage tour of the Opera House the morning of the second show and got to see a lot of the inner workings of all six performance spaces housed within the complex. It became worth every penny for me the moment we were led into the rehearsal room where Hanson had practiced for the previous night's show, and our tour guide asked the group "Does anyone play?" while gesturing to a grand piano. No one else spoke up, and my friend began nudging me, accurately knowing that my stage fright extends to even the smallest of audiences but that I'd regret not taking the opportunity. Do I play? Yes. Do I play in front of people? I haven't in over a decade. Give me a small audience of strangers, and 10 years of lessons and 25 years of playing by ear go right out the window. I ignored the nagging part of my brain that told me to pass on the opportunity and successfully butchered the first few lines of "Reaching For The Sky" before bowing out and wishing I'd practiced the song to perfection (as if I could have possibly known that this was going to happen). Still, I'm glad I tried, because I know there won't be a next time. 

On a scale of 1-10, Sydney was a 15. I'm so thankful I got to experience the magic of these shows firsthand, and in a strange way it felt like a celebration of everything Hanson has accomplished up to this point. I could not be more proud of this band and the career that they've built by creating music that they believe in. They may not fit the textbook stereotypical mold for "success" in terms of radio hits or mainstream attention, but selling out the Sydney Opera House and drawing fans from all over the world to witness it is an achievement worth celebrating. Who cares about a bunch of numbers and meaningless accolades if you can't make an actual impact on real people? I'm not going to remember who had the #1 song in the world on March 4th, 2019, but I'll sure never forget where I was that night. Congratulations, Hanson. I hope you felt a little bit of the magic you've shared with us, too.

March 19, 2019

Melbourne: String Theory & The Zoo

Travel & String Theory
The journey to get myself from South Carolina to Melbourne was easily the longest continuous travel day of my life. I left my house at 3am EST on February 24th for a one hour flight, followed by a six hour flight, then a 12-hour layover, followed by a 17-hour red-eye flight that same night. I slept for a total of three or four hours (yay, sold out flight in economy), then landed in Melbourne around 10am on February 26th with the sudden task of living through another full day before sleep. I was fine for about an hour until we checked into the hotel and I was given access to a real bed for the first time in over 36 hours.

We forced ourselves out of the room and prayed that the ample sunshine would work a miracle and keep us awake. I’m not sure how we did it, but we managed to check out the beach and some local shops and ended our day watching penguins at the St. Kilda pier, all without ever passing out. I can't say much of the conversation was coherent, or that I even remember much past the penguins and a ridiculous hunt for gelato. In the end, suffering through the three-day day paid off, and it felt like we were synced up to Australian time by the next morning and for the rest of the trip.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous for the Melbourne String Theory show. I was finally getting to do something I’d been wanting to do for years, so I think there was a natural added amount of internal pressure to feel like I was fulfilling some epic bucket list moment. My excitement should have been off the charts, and yet I’d already allowed myself to experience String Theory eight times, and the exciting newness of the show had already worn off into a more happily familiar territory. How could this show possibly live up to the pedestal I’d been placing it on if I’d already let myself become desensitized to the shiny new parts of String Theory?

When “Reaching For The Sky” began, I felt nothing, and then I felt guilty for feeling nothing because "Reaching For The Sky" is a beautiful song plenty worthy of epic feelings. Then “Joyful Noise” started, and my feet began to tap of their own accord, and without realizing it, I let go of the arbitrary expectations I had in my head and began to lose myself in my happy place just like I always do. I’m fairly certain only Hanson could give me mild shin splints while confined to a seat. The sound was great and Hanson and the orchestra sounded as tight as ever. The upside to seeing an identical show over and over? There is a truth to the saying “practice makes perfect.” Everything sounded flawless.

The Zoo
Naturally, the two hottest days of the entire trip landed on the two days Hanson booked outdoor shows. The first zoo day was absolutely brutal, and I am so thankful that the Melbourne Zoo staff devised a ticketing system that allowed everyone to get numbers and leave. Even showing back up an hour and a half before doors felt excruciating as temperatures climbed to 102 degrees Fahrenheit/ 39 degrees Celsius in direct sunlight. I forced down bottle after bottle of water and stood with my printed ticket shading my face until we finally escaped to the shaded front area next to the stage. I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot during a Hanson show, including the time I got sick at an outdoor show in Florida. The big difference is this time I made sure I stayed hydrated. I’ve also never been so happy to be stuck standing outside in the rain as when we were blessed with a light shower before Hanson came on.

The setlist the first night was a pretty solid mix of singles and upbeat crowd favorites, and it felt like they were actually trying to kill us putting “Fired Up,” “In The City,” “Lost Without Each Other,” and “If Only” all back to back at the end after we were already half-dead from the heat. It was a lot of fun and a nice break for both the fans and I assume the band from their set String Theory shows. It also made for an incredibly satisfying shower afterwards.

The zoo shows were both sold out to a crowd that must have been in the several thousands spanning across the large field area each night. There were two big screens on either side of the stage to allow a better view for those further in the back, and the cameras panned across the audience while we waited, often zooming in on excited attendees and their cheeky kids with the sudden spotlight to dance around and show their enthusiasm on the big screen, much like at a baseball game. I fully enjoyed the people watching and seeing families point in excitement to the screen as a kid or two enjoyed their fifteen seconds of fame. And then there was that one kid on the second night. He was about three or four, blonde, adorable, and I watched to see what dance he would break out into like all the kids before him. My smile turned into a horrified laugh as he instead proceeded to turn and drop his pants, mooning a few thousand people at once. The camera quickly panned a few yards over...but he was not satisfied with his moment being cut short. Instead, he could be seen running across neighboring blankets to follow the gaze of the camera, and when it stopped, so did he, and he turned and mooned the crowd once again. His family now has a great story to embarrass him with for years to come, and I've got a memory that I'm pretty sure will always be unique to this show. Good luck, mom and dad. You've either got a natural star or a natural troublemaker on your hands.

The second show felt like some weird bonus BTTI show in a good way. In addition to being hot and outside and full of plenty of the same people, there were a few sound issues that led to some impromptu tuning songs and banter (something about Isaac's spirit animal being a wombat?). I think the true MVP of that show might be the stage tech, though, who not only crawled under the piano mid-song twice and disassembled the keyboard while Taylor was playing it, but he also came out to do an epic stomp on stage to stop what I can only assume must have been a giant bug aiming to carry Taylor away. Somehow I don't think that's in his job description, but he rose to the occasion in a moment of need.

I found myself loving "Wish That I Was There" just as much as I loved it in Jamaica, and I'm really not sure when or why I started loving it so much, but it's happened twice now so I'm fully embracing it as an unexpected new favorite. It's acoustic Hanson at their finest. I loved the second show even more than the first, and the crowd energy felt even better. I think being just a few degrees cooler made all the difference.

The City
In all, we spent five nights in Melbourne. That's longer than anywhere I've ever stayed while seeing Hanson with the exception of Tulsa and Jamaica. We visited St. Kilda, Luna Park, Brighton Beach, and the Central Business District in addition to both shows. I loved walking around the St. Kilda area and the overall laid back vibe of the beach town. Bonus points for all the adorable dogs we saw everywhere. I can't say if it's because we had more time to explore than any other city or if it's actually superior, but I'll go ahead and admit that Melbourne was probably my favorite city this trip. I loved the convenience of walking around St. Kilda and being a block from the venue, the beach, shopping, and penguins, and the beaches were a nice calm change from the overcrowded touristy beaches I avoid at home. Thanks for hosting us, Melbourne! You were a great first stop and did not disappoint.

March 15, 2019

I Am Reaching For The Sky

Maybe it's the jet lag talking, but before I dive into reviewing my most recent trip and the shows I've just been to across the southeast coast of Australia, I feel like I need to give a little bit of a sappy context to put it all into perspective. Feel free to skip this one and wait for the actual reviews in a few days if that's not your thing.

I've wanted to go to Australia for as long as I can remember. The first time it entered my brain to combine this desire with my love for traveling to Hanson shows was when they toured there back in 2012. I had been around as a fan just long enough at that time to have seen much of the U.S. in the name of Hanson, but I hadn't yet set foot outside of the country for them. It felt like a crazy goal to set, but at some point while scrolling past updates from the 2012 tour on social media, I decided that one day I'd make it to Australia to see Hanson play. I knew it would be expensive and that if I really wanted it, I would have to be patient and start saving for a trip that might be years into my future. "If you can dream it, you can do it" feels like an accurate summary of how I made it happen.

Sometimes I get the feeling that it looks deceptively easy for me to go to as many shows as I do. Maybe that's a fair assessment for some trips, but there was a lot more behind-the-scenes planning than simply deciding to go to Australia when this leg of the String Theory Tour was announced. This might be an overshare, but the truth is I wanted this trip badly enough that I opened a separate savings account specifically for Australia back in 2012, way before String Theory existed and with blind trust that if I kept saving, it would eventually all work out even if I had no idea when or how. In 2014, I opened an airline credit card, and I never touched a single rewards mile until this trip. That same year, I even trolled my parents with an April Fools' blog post announcing that I was going to Australia, setting the stage for that inevitable "someday" when it would be true, and they believed it wholeheartedly to the point that it took some convincing to get them to believe that I was NOT going to Australia after all. I wish my dad could have been here for the moment I finally announced the real trip to see how he would have reacted. He probably would have claimed he knew it was real all along. I'm sure he knew I'd wind up there eventually.

So after seven years of saving and five years of stockpiling enough rewards miles for a free round-trip flight to Australia (and even turning down the 2017 Australian tour because the timing didn't work), a seated tour including two nights at the Sydney Opera House suddenly felt like the exact right time to finally make it happen. In the end I overshot my stockpiled miles by almost double, I flew for free, and everything cost a whole lot less than what I had planned for, allowing me to splurge on a few great hotels along the way. I'm so happy the timing all worked out the way that it did and that I was able to share it all with a friend that has been on board with this crazy plan right alongside me since 2012. It's been well worth the wait.

Now that I've rambled on as though I've just achieved the ultimate trip of a lifetime, I do have to add that I know I'm no special snowflake for traveling to Australia to see Hanson. Plenty of Americans have done it before me, many will do it after me, and if anything, going on this trip gave me a small taste of just how hard it is for those outside of the U.S. to see Hanson on a normal basis. I have so much respect for every person who gets on a plane for 20 hours every time they go to Back to the Island or just for the chance to see Hanson even once because tours never reach their own country. You guys are dedicated in a way that I've never had to be, and I admire that determination.

Not to go all Taylor Hanson motivational speaker on you (seriously though, I love his speeches and his passion), but if you don't fall into that frequent traveler category and you find yourself dreaming of going some place that seems crazy or unrealistic or too expensive--quit getting in your own way and don't be afraid to start planning now. The concept of "Tonight" and the "do it right now while you can" mentality is a nice idea, but sometimes that means starting something tonight to build towards an even better tomorrow. Save whatever you can whenever you're able; it adds up. Do yourself a favor and join a rewards program for the airline that flies out of your home airport with the best prices. You don't need a credit card to do it, and many offer free ways to earn points just from shopping for things you're already buying. Research it, dream it, do it, cliched etc.

Maybe it will take you ten years, or maybe it will never actually work out because life happens and this isn't a Disney movie no matter how many uplifting mantras we repeat or how many cheesy blog posts we read. But if the worst that can happen is you wind up with extra air miles and a savings account for a rainy day emergency, I say find your patch of green and go for it. To quote part of my own motivation for winding up halfway across the world, "Chase down the dream and don't give up without a fight," and you, too, can find yourself in your own personal version of sunburned and grinning surrounded by kangaroos.

February 9, 2019

Back to the Island 2019

Day 1: The Arrival

The first day of the trip is always a wild card. I never know if I’m going to get smooth sailing and arrive bright and early to the beach as planned or wake up to a canceled flight at midnight like I did for the past two years. Delays and cancellations are normal at this point, but this was definitely the first time I flew in a circle around an airport for an hour before being diverted to another city due to rain. If nothing else, Jamaica has never given me a dull travel experience.

I have to say the best twist to my travel day, though, was waiting to board my connecting flight and seeing a friend who decided not to attend BTTI for the first time in years roll up to the gate like it was perfectly normal. She did it so casually that it took me a second to do the double take and realize something was out of place. Well played, Tara. You win the 2019 ninja award.

 I'm glad you made it.

Our arrival at the resort might as well have been a scene straight out of a sitcom. There was that great moment of relief when we finally walked into our room and dropped our bags and our worries in the middle of the floor. The first thing we did was head out to the balcony to check out our view of the beach and the stage, both of which were everything we'd hoped for. Then this conversation happened:

Rachel: Shut the door, it smells like smoke out here.

Holly: *shuts the door*

*insert rambling forgettable conversation about how happy we are with our room location*

Rachel: Okay, let’s go back in.

Holly: *turns knob* Yeah…so it’s locked.

Rachel: Why did you shut the door?

Holly: …because you literally said “shut the door?”

Rachel: I didn’t mean shut it all the way. Who does that?

Holly: People that follow directions?


Those are literal, not-comic-relief crickets, by the way, because there wasn’t a soul out on the beach to call for help. I was even thorough enough to lock our phones in the room, too. We just stood there and looked around in the dark for a few minutes, and I had to laugh because of course I managed to not only lock us out of our room, but into a confined space in a resort that literally ties the key cards to your wrist so you can’t possibly lose them. What can I say? It’s a skill.

 Thankfully, our concierge had dropped us off to our room at the same time as another pair of girls in our building, and they came out to see their balcony a few minutes later. They got to be heroes and alert someone on staff that we needed saving (seriously, thank you!!), and security finally came around and tossed us a metal key from the beach. I’m proud to say I only knocked it into the dark bushes below us once before catching it.

Day 2: Rock All Night Show

For the Rock All Night show, I walked away from my group of friends in the back of the crowd before the show started and left them with the famous last words, “I’ll be right back.” At the time, I meant it. I wandered up to an empty corner near the front of the stage just to see, and before I knew what I was doing, I was 2nd row, the show was starting, and I forgot I was supposed to be anywhere else. How could I be anywhere else?

Karma came literally raining down on me when the show opened with “Fired Up.” I’m told that there was a tarp full of rain water draped over the top of the stage and that someone climbed up and pulled it down, but I didn’t notice. At the time all I knew is that one moment I was bending over to pull my hair into a bun, and the next water was pouring down off of the scaffolding at the side of the stage and onto my head (the girl in front of me got it worse). I think this falls into the category of "be careful what you wish for" when I'm always saying how much I want Hanson shows to surprise me.

My favorite song of the night was “Tearing It Down,” and I've really missed “Lost Without Each Other” since I haven’t heard much other than String Theory in the last year. The set felt like a good mix of songs that I’ve heard plenty of times individually, but never together in one show. There were a few that I wouldn’t have classified as Rock All Night, though, like “Make It Out Alive,” “Thinking of You,” and “Where’s the Love.” As a whole it felt more like Hanson plays whatever they want than a strictly rock set, but that’s what I ultimately want out of any show anyway. I personally think they’d get a much more positive reaction to their setlist choices in the future if they played exactly what they did and just stopped trying to stick a label on it.

Gag Reel: You’d think water dumping on my head was enough for one show, but it wasn't the only "surprise." At some point, a large bug started crawling up my leg. My friends can tell you I have a very predictable reaction to bugs coming near my feet, and apparently being in the second row in the middle of a concert does not alter this reaction in the slightest. I jumped and stomped in a full circle and screamed until I was sure it was gone. I doubt Hanson noticed, but I have to laugh thinking that it must have just looked like I was really into whatever song they were playing. At least it wasn't Ballad Night.

Day 3

String Theory Q&A

By my third day there, the weather was finally gorgeous. First up after a morning spent by the pool was the String Theory Q&A session. I've seen a number of fan club Q&A events with Hanson over the years, and none of them made me excited for this one. It's always hard to hear, and the questions can be cringeworthy for a variety of reasons. I have to say with my expectations ridiculously low to begin with, I was actually pleasantly surprised by this event. They had chairs for us. There was a microphone set up in the middle of the room, and people lined up to ask their questions—no shouting from the back or worrying that you wouldn't get picked if you had something you really wanted to ask. Most of the questions were insightful and managed to elicit responses I hadn't heard before. Props to those of you that got up and got Hanson talking about things we didn't already know. Feel free to drop any Q&A details in the comments at the bottom if you remember any or asked one yourself!

Things I can tell you:

-Isaac got glitter on his face.
-Taylor's beard is named "Leon" after Leon Russell.
-Taylor said they didn't include "This is Criminal" in String Theory because it's more of a love song than what they were going for with the ST storyline.
-Zac explained that they actually have to play out of sync with the orchestra because of the way sound carries to make sure it sounds right to the audience. I had no idea!

Zac Solo Show

Zac’s solo show was my favorite this year. He played "On the Rocks" and talked about how it's not an autobiographical song. He joked that it was inspired by his wife liking a song about a rocky relationship by some other artist, so he wanted to write one of his own. I’m glad he felt the need to one-up somebody because the result was good for all of us.

He also played "The Ballad of Seymour Better Times" that we heard for the first time during his solo show last year, and I cannot say enough good things about this song. It feels like "My Favorite Christmas Sweater" level of clever to me, and I love that about it. It's been on repeat in my head since I got home and is basically my new favorite thing right now even though I don't know most of the words. I was excited to hear him say that it will be included on this year's Fan Club EP, so it won’t be lost in the vault forever.

The final highlight of Zac's show was a brand new song called "Reading Your Mind" that will also be on this year's Fan Club EP. I don't want to ruin it for you, but if you've ever read Twilight, you can probably ruin it for yourself just by listening to the lyrics. It's a really sweet song, but I was unable to boot the image of Edward Cullen from my mind as soon as it mentioned climbing through your window and reading your mind. Sorry, Zac. I'm sure that's not what you were going for, but on the upside, I was thoroughly entertained. I'll try to listen to it more seriously next time.

String(less) Theory Show

I shamelessly chose the “Surprise Me” option when BTTI setlist voting was announced. My thought process was something along the lines of "Well, at least there's one show where I won't know most of the setlist in advance." Then they announced that String Theory was their version of a surprise, and it felt like I was being punked. I realized I could be annoyed or I could embrace it, so I shrugged, ordered a galaxy print bikini, and decided that since I love String Theory and the beach, there's no reason I couldn't love the unexpected combination of the two.

After the announcement, people kept speculating that Hanson wouldn’t bring an orchestra to Jamaica and that they would probably play with the instrumental CD to fill in the missing symphony parts. I was so sure that Hanson would never do that, but they proved me wrong. I guess I thought maybe we’d just get to hear the songs performed their normal way but in String Theory order, which would have been great for several of the songs that we’ve never heard without strings before.

We stood in our balcony and took advantage of our one and only time to experience String Theory standing and not having to worry about bothering anyone. The best part by far was finding out during the chorus of "Battlecry" that this song was built for jumping. I don't know what everyone else did, but as soon as the chorus hit, there was just this unspoken moment of "Oh, this feels right!" and so we jumped and danced the whole time. Dear Hanson, please don't retire this song after String Theory. It needs to be played at a rock show.

I hoped that they would do something different at the end, maybe keep going or play a special encore, but it didn't happen. I enjoyed taking advantage of our freedom to let loose, but sound-wise (please hold your pitchforks!), it kind of felt like a poor man's String Theory show to me after hearing the same show performed with some very talented orchestras. My favorite band is human just like me, which means sometimes they wow me in the best way possible, and sometimes they aim high and fall a little short of the destination I expected. Maybe they reached for the sky and landed somewhere in the water for this one, but hey, I'm still happy to be there on the beach.

Day 4: Isaac Solo Show

Isaac's solo set felt very similar to his last few, and it hit me that one of the reasons we always get the "rarest" songs out of Isaac is that he doesn't have all that many album leads to choose from. More than anything (ha), it left me hoping for new music in the not-so-distant future that includes Isaac leads.

He opened with a cover of David Garza's "Too Much" which includes a loop pedal and Isaac playing both guitar and piano. He also used the loop pedal to make "Being Me" more “R&B" (his words) by adding a beat to it. It was fun to hear it performed in a different way, and I appreciate Isaac's willingness to go a little experimental and off-grid for his set. He took a few crowd requests and things picked up more when he agreed to play "So Lovely," but he forgot the lyrics about halfway through and ended up playing "Smile" instead. I think "Smile" has pretty much become the BTTI anthem for "We're sorry, but something went wrong."

He ended on a strong note with a great performance of “Watch Over Me,” which oddly feels more rare than fan club songs these days. I still miss the crowd clapping during this song, and I’m not sure why that died out several years back.

Special Guests

The guests this year weren't really my preferred style of music. A few of us were in my room when soundcheck started, and there was a sudden distinct sound of country music coming through the door. One of my friends decided this was our cue to head to dinner a few minutes early. We joked that we were literally "fleeing the country," but the joke was on us, because somehow when we arrived to our dinner reservation, we were seated right next to Jacob Tovar. I think he teleported.

To be fair, I did watch his set from our balcony after dinner, and he seems like a talented guy. I just don’t personally care much for country music or anything that could be described as “twangy,” and I think a lot of fans felt the same way. Isaac, on the other hand, joined him and Dimitrius for a cover of "Take Me Back to Tulsa," and Isaac looked absolutely thrilled to be playing with them. It made me think maybe a relaxed jam session of some kind should be an activity to watch at a future BTTI. Just give Hanson a few instruments and friends and put them on the stage for 30 minutes and see what happens.

I can't speak to Lewis Watson's set because I somehow wound up squished in a bed crying laughing with four of my friends while he was playing. It was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip, so I'm happy with my life choices.

Video Games with Zac

Zac set up video games two nights in a row. First was Super Smash Bros., and when that seemed to go well, he invited us all to come back for Mario Kart the next night. Watching someone else play video games has never been my idea of a good time, but I actually enjoyed the relaxed environment where I could hang out with my friends in the back and not worry about needing to pay close attention because I might miss something. I liked that I was free to jump in the line and try playing for myself when I got a little bored watching, and there wasn't pressure to stay until the end, either. I wouldn't mind a rematch sometime, and who knows, maybe we'll give Zac a little more competition in the future. He played without mercy and beat just about everybody. I wouldn't have expected anything less.

Day 5

Dunn’s River Falls

I already climbed the falls once back in 2016 and enjoyed it, so I decided to go again since it was included this year. I almost wish I hadn’t done it before, because I think knowing what it could have been made this time a little more disappointing. The first time we went, the bus stopped for all of five minutes at a roadside stand to let people buy water shoes. This time, all three buses parked at a tourist trap shopping center and we were told that we had 30 minutes to look around (this was not mentioned anywhere in the itinerary). Thirty minutes turned into 45, and I sat in the bus the whole time annoyed that I was missing out on the gorgeous beach at the bottom of the falls.

The climb itself was short. We were led in at an entry point about halfway up, so we didn’t actually do the full climb that starts at the beach. It took me less than two minutes to get in, go down a natural rock slide, and lose a contact, so I did most of the climb with impaired vision (Better yet, I chose this day to wear the sample pair of color-enhanced contacts my eye doctor gave me, so I did most of the climb with two slightly different colored eyes, too. Thank God the difference was subtle).

Even with one eye down, I managed to spot Taylor standing on a rock above us while we were climbing. It was nice to get a moment to say hi as we passed him, but apparently my default social skills were not built with a setting for how to interact with Taylor Hanson in a waterfall, so I felt weird about asking for a photo and just didn't. I realized later that almost everyone else did and it was fine. When we got lunch next to an Island Gigs staff member after we got back, he even asked us how our photo with Taylor was at the falls. Photo? Yeah, I didn't get that memo in time.

Once we got to the top, we quickly realized we didn’t actually know what to do next. It was a big group outing—were we supposed to meet up together afterwards? Did we have time to go down and check out the beach we didn’t get to see? No one had told us what time to be back at the bus, and there was no sign of any Island Gigs staff members to ask. We had two options: go back to the bus past the no re-entry area and risk missing something, or stick around to sightsee and risk being left.

It had the potential to be a really cool experience, and I'll try to cut them a little slack for trying something new for the first time. I’d love to see Hanson involved in another excursion in the future because it's a great way to change things up, but it needs work if they plan to do anything like it again.

Taylor Solo Show

I really liked the setlist Taylor chose for his solo show. "Be My Own" is such a gorgeous solo song to me, and I loved getting to hear "Sunny Day" and "Lost Without You" again. I think most people would agree that the highlight was getting to hear "This is Criminal," the song we briefly heard about in the documentary that didn't make the cut for String Theory. He said it was co-written with Imani Coppola at a Fool's Banquet, and it didn't sound like anything I would have expected. His voice was higher for most of it, and the melody was complex in a way that it didn’t stick with me after one listen. I'd definitely be curious to hear a studio version, but he said "first and last time” before he played it, so that probably won't happen.

He finished with "Feeling Alive," and I'd like to offer a million thanks to whoever requested that one. It's my favorite, and you're my new friend.

Members Only Show

I felt like the members only show had the most energy of the three shows and that Hanson saved the best for last. Looking at the setlist on paper afterwards, it was probably a little bit of a letdown if you were looking forward to rare songs. We got plenty of fan club songs, but we also got several album singles (and Been There Before?), which just further solidifies my feelings that we should ditch voting altogether and let Hanson do what they're going to do anyway. The only disappointment I felt, though, was when they walked off stage before the encore and I realized we were close to the end. It felt super short, but they came back out and played a few more. Highlights for me were: "I've Been Down," "White Collar Crimes," "I Don't Want To Go Home" (duh), and I don't care how many times I've heard them, I love "Thinking 'Bout Somethin'" and "Give a Little" to death.

"Don't Stop Believing" was a really unexpected closing song that I haven't heard Zac perform since his 24th birthday show (how was that almost 10 years ago?!), and he got really into it and even climbed the piece of scaffolding that dumped water on my head on the first night. The final encore was "Wish That I Was There," and while I've never loved it on the album, they always slay it acoustically. He made it an ode to everyone back home missing out, and it had a funny way of making me feel nostalgic for a show that I was watching in person that wasn't even technically over yet. That's the feeling that keeps me coming back. I will always, always wish that I was there.

BTTI 2019 v. The Rest

BTTI 2019 was different than previous years due to the lack of pre-planned activities with the band, and it got some backlash when it was first announced. Fans argued about whether or not a surge in selfie requests is what got tie dye taken away from us, which led to a larger debate about whether or not it's okay to ask for selfies throughout the event in general. Regardless of where you fall in that debate, the fact is there was a lot less of that this year, and I heard several stories of Hanson saying no to photos. It felt like there was still too much staking out where Hanson would be, and that seemed worse to me this trip than in recent years. Just think of them as skittish wildlife. If you calm down and stand back, they might come up to you and stick around. If you swarm them, they’re going to run every time.

I'm aware that this is me wandering into an unpopular opinion/controversial area, but it's a part of the event that is increasingly hard for me to ignore. I think part of what felt "off" to me this year had nothing to do with Hanson and everything to do with the rise of social media and the constant push to capture every single moment and make it into this perfect Instagrammable experience that might not even exist. Every passing year since the first BTTI makes me nostalgic for an era of spotty wi-fi service when my phone never left my room and I got to watch Taylor's actual face instead of watching Taylor's face twice removed through a phone recording a phone recording Taylor's face.

I try not to let the way other people behave affect my own enjoyment, but man, that's hard sometimes when I just want to stand in the back and see over what feels like a crowd full of Edward Selfiehands, and it somehow becomes a choose your own adventure story of would you rather be blocked by an iPad, a cell phone, or a Go Pro. Maybe that makes me the old lady in the crowd shaking a cane at the youngsters she just can't understand, but better a cane than a selfie stick.

In Conclusion...

To be honest, I struggled with writing this post because I'm used to gushing about how awesome everything is. When I re-read my first draft, I was left going “Who is this girl and why does she keep going back every year if this is how she really feels?” I started over and tried to reconcile the bits of harsh truth with a perspective that also explains why I keep throwing thousands of dollars at my favorite band while simultaneously complaining about cold showers, painfully rocky beaches, and an arguably mediocre show. The fact is that there is something stronger that draws me in despite the little disappointments, and I refuse to believe that FOMO is that thing.

Here's what I've come up with: a lot of little pieces this year weren't great, but the trip as a whole was still the beautiful mess I’ve come to look forward to every year. I loved "The Ballad of Seymour Better Times" and letting loose during "Battlecry." I found out that it's actually possible to enjoy a Q&A session. The filet mignon was the best I've ever eaten in my life, so I ate it twice. Five of us crying laughing in bed was by far my favorite opener of any Hanson tour ever, and I will never forget feeling like the island of misfit toys stranded to one corner of the pool for half an hour after accidentally wandering into the background of the M&G photos. Above all, I love the feeling of getting to live in my own happy little Hanson music-filled bubble on an island for a week once a year. It feels like home and a vacation all at once, and there's absolutely nothing like it.

And if you prefer my usual rose-colored rave reviews? Here's an alternate version where I only have nice things to say.

January 15, 2019

How to Fanson @ BTTI String Theory

String Theory is well under way now. Hanson has a full US tour under their belts, and the album and its various packages have been out since November. After receiving the 2019 Back to the Island itinerary, I feel compelled to rework Zac's original post and share some personal suggestions.

“Why is Hanson doing a String Theory show in place of the voted Surprise Me set?” -your average BTTI attendee

Think of this concert as something wholly different than your average String Theory show. There will be obvious changes, like probably doing the entire thing without, you know, strings. Actually, we don’t know that for sure, but let’s pretend for the sake of this blog post.

Pretend like you're going the see the symphony, but without the symphony...oh, that was easy!

If BTTI will be your first String Theory show, think of it like...not String Theory. Let’s call it No-String Theory. Enjoy dancing on the beach. Literally reach for the sky, if you want. Get drunk and make sand angels. And then promptly forget all of this behavior and make sure to read Zac’s guide, “How to Fanson @ String Theory,” before you attend your first “real” String Theory show in the confines of a concert hall. Also, no amount of sand or alcohol will ever make catcalling appropriate. You can still leave that at home.

For those who are inclined, there are some key musical moments that I will highlight where fans can embrace this unique String Theory setting for one time only.

String Theory PART 1

Reaching For The Sky
  • We’ll actually be under the sky (weather permitting). Go ahead, be cheesy and reach for it as if a pull-string cowboy told you to.
Joyful Noise
Where’s The Love
  • You're not cemented to seat D15, so go ahead and do a twirl during the "round and round" part, and own that string bikini like it's every bit as festive as a galaxy-themed ballgown. The person behind you can move nine rows back, stand in the ocean, or go to the bar if they don't like it. 
Dream It Do It!
  • Grab a drink and a friend, run into the edge of the water, and sing it loud the way you have for years. If you’re enthusiastic enough, you can almost (but not really) hear the strings.
Chasing Down my Dreams
Tragic Symphony
  • Laugh to yourself at the irony of this one. Tragic(ally missing) Symphony.
Got A Hold On Me
Siren Call
  • You’ve always wanted to act this one out and pretend to respond to the eerie call to wander into the rocky sea, right? No? Only if Taylor asks? Fine, maybe in daylight.
Me Myself And I
  • Maybe pretend like you ARE in a music hall for this one. A.K.A. Shut up and listen.
Wait, will there be an intermission? Time for a bar run, or make friends in the Level rooms for quicker bathroom access. If you’re late coming back, at least you already heard Reaching for the Sky Part 1.

String Theory PART 2

Reaching For The Sky Part 2
  • (Toy Story 2)
This Time Around
Something Going Round
  • Belt out the last line for this one. There’s no room for underachievers here.
Battle Cry
You Can’t Stop Us
Broken Angel
  • Er, time for those sand angels? #sandinmycrevice2019
What Are We Fighting For?
  • I know you want to record this one, but just remember, if your iPad is above your head, it's too high. Actually, a better rule of thumb is if your iPad is on the beach, go put it back in your room.
NOTE: Feel free to stay standing from this point until the end of the show, because I really doubt you were sitting.  I know a lot of you are thinking of this as your only shot to stand and dance the entire time through String Theory, but as a lazy person, I'd like to point out that it’s also your only shot to lay down the entire time in a reclining lounge chair. Your call.

No Rest For The Weary
I Was Born
The Sound Of Light
  • No instruction here, just a friendly reminder that you're going to be searching for more than the sound of light when you're trying to walk back to your room in total darkness after the show. 
  • You’re probably really drunk by this point, so go ahead and belt out the “Don’t Wait For Tomorrow” part like our lives depend on it. I promise, you sound as amazing as you think you do.
The real thing is to treat the show as a surprise an opportunity to experience the music in a unique way just this once, whether that means getting traditional String Theory with sand instead of chairs, or an unconventional version with energy and dancing instead of an orchestra. Whatever your initial reaction to the announcement, String Theory: BTTI Edition can be a good time if you want it to be. Waves, catcalls, and “don’t step on the turtles!", there is a lot to listen for. See you all soon on the island!

Disclaimer: Satire + Zac's Original Blog Post + a childhood love of Mad Libs = This post. Please don't take it too seriously.

December 12, 2018

For Sale: Two Gold Coast String Theory Tickets

For sale: Two tickets to Hanson's String Theory show at The Star Gold Coast in QLD, Australia. In exchange for $265 AUD (face value with fees), you will receive two print-at-home tickets for seats LL 24 and LL 25 in the now-sold-out Stalls 4 center section. These tickets guarantee that you will get to experience an unforgettable performance of String Theory live from the 11th row on March 8, 2019.

Choosing tickets for a seated show is no easy task, and unlike general admission, you can't change your mind once you get inside. Before you buy, you must ask yourself: do you prefer to sit in front of Zac, Taylor, or Isaac? If answering this question gives you anxiety, or if your answer is a solid "Isaac" or "Idk, whatever's in the middle," then these are the seats for you. At just three seats off from dead center, LL 24 and LL 25 will offer you a well-balanced view of the entire stage with a slight lean towards Zac (and if it really matters, just put your Taylor friend in LL 24. She'll be fine). They are far enough back to afford a view of the entire symphony orchestra while still being close enough to discern every smile, hair flip, and judgy glare from *anywhere on the stage.

Maybe you're still unsure. Buying seated tickets can be intimidating even if you know where you want to sit because you have no control over who is sitting around you. Who's to say that Tall Bald Guy won't be in seat KK 24? No worries, my friend, because I have reached out and can personally confirm that this will not be the case. What other pair of tickets for sale out there comes with an **anti-Tall Bald Guy guarantee? None of them. This is a exclusive offer.

I'll admit, there's still nothing stopping Standy McTayfan from being in KK 25 or Sloppy "I swear I'm just buzzed" Susan from climbing over MM 24 to get one row closer to happily oblivious humiliation. (In the highly unlikely event of both of these situations occurring simultaneously, just let her keep going and hope she takes down Standy McTayfan on the way). It's an unfortunate risk that comes with any seated show. Trust me, I've been there, done that, and had the sloppy seat scaler pried off of me by security. Somehow I still always come out of it glad I decided to go. The way I see it, there may be a 50% chance of having your fun night compromised by an obnoxious fan if you go, but there's a 100% chance of not enjoying yourself if you don't. The answer is obvious. Don't let Sloppy Susan win.

And though there will always be a few horror stories out there, far more common are the happy endings that come from taking the plunge and braving the crowd. Many fans can testify to having met their closest friends and even spouses next to them at Hanson shows. By not buying these tickets, you could just as easily be turning down the opportunity to sit next to your future best friend or even your soul mate. Do you really want to risk giving that up?

So take a chance, reach for the sky, and don't wait for tomorrow. Dance all night (no--but really--stay in your seat), find your courage, and treat yourself--tonight!

*Anywhere in the first row of performers. You probably won't be able to see disgruntled trombone player #2 from anywhere in the venue. (It's probably why he's disgruntled.)

**Guarantee applies to THE Tall Bald Guy™ only. The presence of generic guys who are otherwise tall and/or bald will not be monitored.

November 15, 2018

Me Myself and I: A Theory

Let’s talk about Me Myself and I for a minute. It’s obviously a break up song, but I’ve never gotten the feeling that it was about the end of a romantic relationship even though that’s one interpretation. To me it has always sounded like a band break up song, but I oddly never worried that Hanson was actually going to break up even back when it came out in 2010. I guess I always assumed that Hanson, being the talented musicians that they are, were capable of imagining a scenario and writing in that head space even if just from a therapeutic, creative “what if” perspective. These are the guys that have written songs about divorce having never experienced one and wrote about the fleeting nature of life at the grand old age of ~10. I guess the bottom line is I always suspected that it was a band breakup song that must have been rooted in some real emotions but ultimately was not a declaration of anything I needed to worry about. They put it on an album. They toured with it. They obviously weren’t going anywhere yet.

Fast forward to String Theory. When my album package came, I sat down with a piece of paper, a pencil, and the In Verse lyric book for my first official listen. I intended to make notes about things like orchestral details I noticed for the first time on the album but hadn't been able to pick out live, whether or not I thought vocals had been rerecorded, and overall what my feelings were on the album vs. live. Instead, I found my pencil wandering away from the paper and into the lyric book itself (please hold all pitchforks for defacing an expensive package item for after class). I couldn't help but notice a few subtle differences between the lyrics on the page and the lyrics being sung on String Theory. I've been around long enough to know better than to put much stock into spelling and proofreading anomalies in the Hanson world, but surely a project so focused on telling a story and one providing the first ever formal lyric book would include a closer attention to detail, right? I’d like to believe that any variation between written and sung lyrics in this case were a careful stylistic choice made to better serve the story rather than a typo that made it past the editing stages. I’m probably kidding myself here, but regardless, for just a moment the subtlest difference in My Myself and I lyrics had me breaking out the chalkboard and forming string-free theories about what this song means.

The difference? Here you go:

String Theory uses “we will be fine” instead of “it will be fine.” For just a moment, the minute difference made glaringly obvious by spacious formatting had me reading “We” out of context as Hanson instead of the individual parts of me myself and I. So where I’ve always read “Me myself and I will never be alone” as a more poetic way of saying “[I] will never be alone, [I] will find a way to get along, etc.” this time I read the whole chorus in the context of Hanson. “[I] will never be alone, [We/Hanson] will find a way to get along, We [Hanson] will be fine, when all that's left is me, myself, and I.”

I’m oddly not sure if it’s happier or darker that way.

I had a few fleeting thoughts when the song came out that there was a nice symmetry to "Me Myself and I" being three entities when there were also three members of the band. I am probably an idiot for not reading more into that sooner, but now I find myself wondering: what if “Me Myself and I” was never about the breakup struggle of one person leaving behind something he used to care about? What if "Me Myself and I" was always a metaphorical way of talking about the dividing of one whole into its three sum parts: Isaac, Taylor, and Zac? (see how much better that looks with the Oxford commas? Just saying.) The fact that each brother takes a verse in the String Theory version pairs perfectly with this interpretation. Whereas I always took there to be only one speaker throughout the song, hearing them all sing a verse gives the feeling that each verse is the perspective of each member of the band individually, and they’re all coming to the same conclusion. You could practically put quotation marks around the whole thing and read it like a dialogue.

“When did it start getting old? When did it stop being worth the time just to see it through?”

“Well I tried to be everything that you’d want me to be. I don’t have to give you reasons why.”

“I don’t really care who was right. I’ll give you the last words tonight.”

It comes off more like a defeated conversation than an argument, which is almost worse and more final in a way. And it all makes so much sense—until I start thinking about the chorus. The verses are so dark and lonely and then the chorus talks about never truly being alone and finding a way to get along. The line that confuses me the most is “When I’m alone in a cold, dark room, well, there’s still someone that I can tell my troubles to.” Is it talking about still being able to talk to each other in spite of everything? The fact that no matter how alone each of them feels, they’re at least alone together? There’s clearly dialogue happening in the verses, which means they aren’t literally alone, but maybe it's just inner dialogue, the things they've always wanted to say to each other but haven't. It's a little bit "Breaktown" in that way. "I'm the walls that close in. I'm the words you won't say. I'm the voice that you choose to keep inside and lock away, every day. You keep it all to yourself, you're just like everyone else, so take a good look around."

I’d love to hear other perspectives on this. Who do you think this person is telling his troubles to? Have you always seen the song this way? Do you get something completely different out of it all? I'd love to hear what you think!