February 15, 2020

Back To The Island 2020

I try not to get my hopes up before each Back to the Island. Maybe that's a weirdly pessimistic thing to say. Maybe a truer statement is that I try to go into it with an open mind and without a checklist of things I want or need to happen. I'd rather be pleasantly surprised by the way things turned out than feel let down because I had this false vision in my head of how things should be. At the end of the day, I just want to be happy, and over the years Hanson has proven able to accomplish that for me in a lot of different ways. I want to trust them to do just that without putting too much pressure on the details of how. As always, they delivered on that unspoken promise and I'm coming home from BTTI 2020 satisfied with my experience.

The first day of the event was already a vast improvement over the last two years. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky, and I planted myself on a float in the level pool for most of the day just soaking in the sun (which felt far rarer than any song I've heard at BTTI since 2014). I got the most ridiculous sunburn I've had in decades and wound up somehow getting stung by a bee in the middle of my palm in the same day. A bartender expertly pulled out the stinger, doused and massaged my hand in rum, and sent me on my way with a "No problem!" I really wish I thought to get his name so I could give great feedback; he deserved it and turned what could have been a bigger issue had I tried to remove the stinger myself into a fun anecdote about how the best drink I had all trip was a shot to my hand after a literal shot to my hand.

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Show #1
After I got back home, I saw a blog Zac shared on hanson.net where he mentioned playing almost all of the MOE tracklist on the first night, but I didn't notice it at the time. It was mostly setlist "staples" and singles, but it was all upbeat and fun, and part of why I go back to show after show is I do love those songs. "Give a Little" and "Thinking Bout Something" are always highlights for me, and it hit me that this year makes 10 years since I danced on stage for one and since I learned the choreography for the other. Consider that a disclaimer, I guess. If you ever watch me butcher the TBS dance, know that 10 years since I learned it also means 10 years since I practiced. The point is I'm not sorry enough to stop or do it better; I just like the way it makes me feel and I like that I can count on them to play it almost every year. God knows how much worse we'd be at that dance if they left it off of setlists for a while.

Zac Solo
I came home with exactly three songs stuck in my head this trip: Shania Twain's "Man I Feel Like a Woman," Lonestar's "Amazed," and the line "I don't wanna be a trash ma-a-a-a-an," which is apparently the silly origin of a much more serious new Zac ballad called "Better Man." I can't help but think of an older story about how "Misery" began with "This time, I'm gonna kill your cat" and wonder how many deeply moving Zac leads actually started out as a joke.

Zac's set was good, and my instant first thought was that "Lullabelle" and "Seymour" need to change their status to "in a relationship" because man, I really liked that pairing back to back and I love both songs so much. I have to say though I kind of regret standing in the back for this one because I wound up being blocked by a multitude of livestreaming above people's heads, and it took something away from the experience for me. I know moving is always an option, but then I wind up blocking the people behind me who, like me, chose their spots based on the crazy idea that the person in front of them isn't going to hold a phone two feet above their head the entire time or constantly switch spots.

It didn't seem worth preaching in the BTTI group and trying to be the phone police, but this is my blog so here's my whiny two cents: If you think you're being amazing for livestreaming or facetiming and allowing someone who couldn't be there the luxury of a fraction of the experience, please also try to remember to do it in a way that doesn't take away from the people that worked hard to get there in person, and that some of those people might only get to experience it live once and it shouldn't be through your phone. I'm sure your bff/vlog followers/30 strangers in a Facebook group are your biggest fans right now, but I really didn't come here to watch a pixelated image of your five-year-old niece who doesn't care about Hanson bobbing in front of Zac's face the entire time. This isn't the first year I've watched Zac's solo live through a screen, and I really don't think that's what the term "livestreaming"is supposed to mean, but here we are, politely streaming things for the people back home AND the people behind us. Please stop or at least keep it at your own face level or below.

Show #2
The second show was one of my favorites even though I'm always saying how much I live for the upbeat songs. I know everyone wants rares, but you can't tell me that opening a show with "Love Song" isn't in itself rare. The whole show was a slower pace than I'm used to, but I think it made me slow down and appreciate some songs that I tend to gloss over in favor of the fast ones in past setlists. They performed "More Than Anything" full band rather than the usual Isaac solo (though Zac and Taylor only added vocals, not instruments), and Isaac's piano playing was so beautiful that it left me wondering why he doesn't do it more often. He joked that the last time the other two were on stage during that song, Zac was a kid doing ballet moves, which elicited the quickest fake ballet pose from him at the end as if on cue.

My favorite song of the night surprisingly ended up being "Carry You There." I wrote a fantasy setlist post a few weeks before BTTI this year, and "Carry You There" ended up on it. I know many fans want rares and deep cuts, but I feel like there are so many good album songs and songs that used to be setlist staples years ago and maybe only for one tour that are even more rare than songs like "Never Let Go" or "Breaktown." Just hearing it brought me back to 2009 and what it felt like doing walks on college campuses and trying to finish written midterms on sidewalks around the southeast, because why stay on campus and study when you can drag Shakespeare with you to the Use Your Sole Tour? "Use Me Up" had me feeling the same wave of nostalgia, and I've never seen a crowd rock out so hard to "Runaway Run" in my life. I had a great time.

Isaac Solo
I should probably feel bad ranking the solo sets when I love all members of Hanson and I don't do favorites, but inevitably I do walk away having a favorite solo performance each year. Each brother has held that spot at least once, but the years Isaac "wins," he really, really wins.

There have been a few years where he showed up in a pretty laid back vibe asking for requests, which tbh is probably my polite euphemism for "unprepared." This year though, I think he found his happy medium by asking for requests before his show and giving himself time to practice. Earlier in the day while lounging in the pool, I noticed my friends turning their heads followed by a shouted "What do you guys want to hear later?" One was quick enough to shout back "Grace Unknown!" and he worked it into his set and mentioned taking requests from several others throughout the weekend. He seemed well-rehearsed and confident and everything was flawless.

"Ain't No Sunshine" was on my fantasy list so I was happy when it turned up in the set even if I never actually asked for it. He also played "I Don't Know" for the first time ever, along with another song none of us even knew existed called "Your Eyes." I keep seeing people say it's about his daughter, but I felt like it was more of a progression where it was first about his wife, then the next verse led to his daughter, and I'm struggling to remember, but I think the final verse led to his daughter as an adult and maybe even a future look at them as grandparents. It felt like more of a snapshot of a life well-lived together and a picture of that love through generations. I'm single and childless but I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel some tears forming at the emotion in that song. I'm also not normally one to use the term "romantic" to describe anything apart from19th century literature, but I can't think of a better word to describe that performance. Well done, Isaac.

Taylor Solo
Though I know Isaac's solo was my favorite at the time, rereading Taylor's song choices and remembering how I felt during the show already has me second guessing myself. He brought special guest performer Milck out for a duet of "Get Out of My Heart," and their voices were great together. I don't think I've ever seen any Hanson do a duet with a female artist, so it was neat to see and was actually really good; I'd be happy to see them work together again in the future. "Dreamgirl" was a fun surprise and one I'd never heard before, and I was a little shocked to see Taylor attempt and then back out of "Dying To Be Alive" after he couldn't get it quite right. As far as I can tell, he's consistently the most polished and rehearsed of the three when it comes to solo sets, so I hope he's not too hard on himself about not finishing the song. It's not the only time I've seen that happen--it's just the only time I've seen it happen to Taylor.

I thought I'd made it out of the woods with "With You In Your Dreams" but somehow wound up sobbing uncontrollably about 3/4 of the way through it. "These Walls" brought back the 2009 Use Your Sole Tour vibes that I was already feeling the night before, and I'm pretty sure my next step is to go dig out the Stand Up Stand Up EP and make sure it's downloaded onto my phone ASAP.

My favorite part, though, wasn't even a song. It was something he said between songs along the lines of how he didn't know how anyone could not believe in God when you stop and think about the gift of music, and I so very much agree. Just the fact that we all get to be part of the few living creatures on this planet that can not only appreciate but also create music makes me feel blessed. Being born in the same decade as this band that I love and getting to stand in the same room (or on the same island) while they perform their music live instead of listening to it 150 years into the future in some format that has yet to be invented makes me feel blessed. Standing on the beach during a sunset and having this realization surrounded by friends and prompted by the source of this music that I love so much makes me feel blessed, and yeah, I thank God for that privilege all the time.

Taylor took the seriousness back down a notch by joking that he didn't mean HIS music, he wasn't like "Hey Guys, I'm a gift from God, enjoy!" he just meant that music as a whole is a gift and maybe not a collection of sounds we came to on our own. I tend to agree, and I was happy for the reminder.

Show #3
I loved the energy of the third show which I think was meant to be the "rock all night" set if they had themes in mind when creating the setlists. There weren't really any gasp-worthy unexpected songs and it was somewhat similar to previous years sets, but everything just sounded so good. It may be an unpopular or borderline suck-up opinion, but I'd rather hear "Waiting for This" and "Rock 'n' Roll Razorblade" for the dozenth time in a year than watch Hanson struggle pulling out a set of songs they haven't touched in 20 years and clearly aren't comfortable playing. Now if they want to pull a few out of the vault and brush up enough to blow our minds with them next time? Even better.

My favorite of the night was probably "Tearing It Down," I always always love "I Don't Want To Go Home," and the final group performance of "Back To The Island" was one of the better performances of it that I've seen. The musical guests were a hit this year and I think everyone's enjoyment showed as they came together for one final song.

The Activities
I like the super chill atmosphere of video games with Zac, and I strangely really like that you have to line up if you want to play. It means that anyone who really cares about participating can make sure they get the chance, people that don't really care won't be taking up any spots, and people like me who will always have anxiety about being called up with no notice can relax a little and control when we do or don't join in. I'm glad Zac seems to enjoy it, too, but I do think I'm ready for a change after two years (though if we do bring it back for round 3, I vote for the Mario Kart battle mode course with the bombs in place of Super Smash Bros). I also appreciated the irony of being given literal button-style pins from Zac after we played in place of getting digital pins on hnet.

The promise of Team Trivia night with Isaac somehow turned into Family Feud season three, and it reminded me a lot of the year he accidentally played "Smile" instead of "Sometimes" and didn't notice. When the Family Feud screen came up, I couldn't help but joke "Does he even know we're not playing Trivia right now?" I actually really don't care for trivia so I wasn't sad about this last minute change. He seemed very intent on sticking to the rules this year, which is nice in theory, but I think adhering so closely really cut down on how many people got to participate. It would have made a lot more sense to me to only let each team stay up for one round regardless of who won. We were all there for a good time and I don't think anybody cared all that much about winning (as is evident by the fact that the actual winners were in bed when their names were called!).

Mac showed up about halfway through to help co-host and any thought that he was going to help speed things along went out the window as soon as he introduced himself as a German scientist with a thick accent and a fake name. The whole thing quickly spiraled into a mess of drunken innuendos and tangents, but it was more entertaining than watching real Family Feud and I found myself laughing out loud more than once. Since all four Hanson brothers were around right before the event, I feel like it was a real missed opportunity that there wasn't at least one round where they were their own team for a literal family feud. They probably have plenty of that without us.

I don't know if I should blame getting swept up in the prom theme, the excitement of randomly running into Zac right beforehand, or maybe a contact high from standing a little too close to certain fumes during the show, but for whatever out-of-character reason, I actually danced the entire time during Taylor's dance party and had a lot of fun. I tried not to take the prom theme too seriously, but I love a great dress and I couldn't help wanting to shop around for a fun outfit for this one. Ironically, I eventually decided on a semi-formal black dress that I last wore to a masquerade ball when I was 16 that was somehow still in my closet and in good enough condition to drag back out 16 years later. Maybe that was the confidence boost that had me dancing all night; I don't know.

Taylor was heavy-handed on the slow ballads and it had me wondering if he knows that proms actually do play a decent mix of fast music too, but we all treated it a bit like prom karaoke and enjoyed it anyway. My friend looked at me like I had seven heads when I started singing every word to "Amazed" by Lonestar, and I was shocked to find out she had never even heard the song. I kind of shocked myself knowing every word when it's been close to 20 years since I heard it, but I think we all know that a good song can stick with you and bring you back to a specific space and time like no time at all has passed. For me, it was all the middle school dances and all the crushes I danced with where I just knew it was "our" song. Sometimes I forget there's a southern girl in me with deeper country roots than I think. And then I remember there's another southern girl out there married to the DJ of this particular event, and I can't help but wonder if he ever found himself swaying to this sappy love song and feeling the same teen angsty feelings at a real prom, and I kind of hope he got to have that cheesy normal life moment at least once.

I don't have enough to say about the special guests to write about them in their own separate heading, but I will say they were among my favorites that Hanson has brought to the island with them. Milck is incredibly talented and has a killer voice, and I won't be surprised if we see her career blowing up soon. Joshua & The Holy Rollers are the exact opposite of the mellow solo guy with a guitar formula that Hanson normally follows, and I definitely prefer the upbeat change. This might have been my second-favorite special guest year overall. Chris Carrabba holds the first place title until further notice.

The Resort
I don't normally bother commenting much on the resort when I recap BTTI, but after three years at the Melia Braco Village and a growing number of complaints from fans, maybe I should. The grounds and rooms of the Melia are beautiful. The beach is gorgeous to look at and everything is pretty exquisite on paper and on Instagram. The problem is when you dig a little deeper and start to notice that the gorgeous beach is full of rocks that make it impossible to fully enjoy a swim, the food is mediocre at best, and at worst, there were rumors of multiple cases of salmonella this year once fans got home. I'm grateful that I managed to avoid whatever digestive issues everyone was suffering from, but as a pretty adventurous eater, I'm not sure I would be able to enjoy a meal there again without worrying if we ever go back. I kind of hope we don't.

Up until this year, I did always wonder if maybe the bad weather in 2018 and 2019 made us all a little unfairly biased against the Melia. It's hard to appreciate the beauty of a place while it's pouring down rain on your tropical vacation. We were very fortunate with perfect sunny days this year, but the day we left I dragged myself out of bed and to breakfast in a rain jacket while inches of water puddled around my ankles, and I left convinced that that side of the island is just a target area for rain.

In the positive column, every shower I took this year was a temperature that made sense, and random cold showers have always been my biggest complaint the past two years. Then again, we got bumped from our level room the first night, had to relocate the first day of the event, and spent three hours "homeless" because apparently overbooking and displacing guests isn't a good enough reason to make cleaning the overbooked rooms faster than the rest a priority. Truthfully, I spent those three hours happily roasting in a pool so I can only complain so much, but it's a whole lot of money to spend to have so many things go wrong. When we finally got to our stage view room, I was extremely disappointed to find that a giant palm tree blocked 2/3 of the stage and we would never be able to see anything but Taylor. The room was great, the proximity to the stage was convenient, but it never should have had a stage view price tag. I realize that's more Island Gigs' fault than the Melia.

Overall no resort we've been to has been perfect and I think we all suffer from a "grass is greener" syndrome. We can romanticize the Jewel all we want but the beach was small and it didn't have enough hot tubs, we walked what felt like miles to get to the stage in Negril, and let's not talk about the fenced-in corral of a concert area in Cancun. They could take us somewhere new next year and I'm half-afraid I'd start whining about missing the stage view rooms and the filet mignon at the Melia. I don't think a perfect place that would please everyone exists anywhere in the world, much like Hanson can't please us all no matter what setlists or activities they plan. Regardless, I think we're all ready for a change in 2021 and hopefully for the better.

20/20 Hindsight
We've reached the part where I bring up some of the highs and lows of the trip but inevitably tip the scales in such a way that I come out sounding like I loved the experience regardless of any downsides. It might be predictable of me, but it's still true and eight years in, I just can't imagine BTTI going on without me.

Hanson sounded amazing this year and I feel like they tried their best to come in prepared and blow us away, and it makes me sad to think of them feeling like they did a good job only to come home and see a ton of complaints and harsh comments about everything they should have done differently. It's totally okay to have disappointments, but I hope everyone will remember to give credit where credit is due for all the things they did well, too. There were countless song performances that left me giddy. "Annalie" solo. "Believe." Isaac's ridiculously romantic new song. Taylor soloing "Hey" and "Voice in The Chorus" and the entire rest of his setlist. ALL of it. I'm so glad I got to hear so many songs from "The Walk" and "Shout it Out" that I've missed so much since those tours.

I loved spending hours on a silly float in the sun and don't even regret my sunburn that currently looks like I developed some kind of skin disease. I enjoyed getting a quick moment to greet the band and tell them thank you, though instead of saying thank you, leave it to me to ask if a hug is a hug because I'm trying so hard not to repeat misinterpreted awkward moments of the past. I'm here to forge new ones instead. So for what it's worth and for every awkward M&G moment where I wind up rambling about my sunburn instead of saying anything meaningful, thanks, Hanson, for inviting us back. Thanks for putting so much into your performances and for continuing to put on this event no matter how busy you are with other projects. Thanks for inspiring me to travel to new places but also for giving me a few staples around the world to always go "back" to that feel like home. Whoever named this event so many years ago understood the magic you were creating and that I'd never want to leave, and that while leaving is always inevitable, so is coming back.

December 31, 2019

BTTI Fantasy Setlists

I know I’m probably supposed to be reflecting on the past year or even decade of my life on the last day of 2019, but despite being thankful for all the great travel and music experiences I’ve had recently, I can’t help but look forward to the next one--the first music experience of the new year and decade. I try not to place too many specific expectations on Back to the Island and just enjoy whatever happens, but I've been really excited about Hanson's music ever since the Wintry Mix Tour. Think of this as a fantasy draft that is probably never going to happen and is definitely not meant to be some super-demanding request (though hey, I have zero complaints about any of it actually being fulfilled.)

These are my current picks if I could create the solo setlists and one full band concert at BTTI 2020. I overthought a lot but also tried to keep it ~relatively realistic. Disclaimer: I’d also gladly accept as many new songs as they're willing to add, and I'll probably change my mind and regret leaving something out as soon as I hit "publish."

And if I got to have one real request out of all of it...I'm going to say "Rip It Up" because it seems really fun and I never got to hear it, and now I'm going to run away before I can hit backspace and overthink a different answer.

What would your dream list look like? Consider this an invitation to a fully nerdy setlist conversation via Facebook comments since I know the comments section on here isn't always user friendly.

P.S. Shoutout to Hansonstage.com for making past setlists and lists of songs by lead singer so readily available.

December 15, 2019

Wintry Mix Tour Part Two: Austin & Dallas

In case you missed it, here's part one.

I'm truly not sure where to begin for the Texas half of my Wintry Mix trip because things got weird fast. We spent an entire day in a car driving down to Austin from Omaha, then didn't bother with hotel arrangements until 1am when we spontaneously decided not to camp out. I'm not kidding when people ask my plans and my answer is "I don't know yet." A lot of the time the plan is no plan, and so far it always works out. What's the worst that could happen, we end up on the street?

Thanks goodness we decided not to camp though, because when we rolled out our blankets to sit on in line the next day, one friend in our group got a pretty nasty surprise. It may not be in my usual vocabulary, but this situation can only ever be called the s*** sleeping bag story. The story is that three of us are comfortably lounged on an old school New Kids On The Block sleeping bag, but it just won't fit four people, so Heather goes to the car to get her brand new sleeping bag that has never been opened since we chose not to camp. She pulls it out of the bag, folds it in half, and for a split second I think I see a big dark stain underneath that looks vaguely like smeared tar, but I say nothing, because at the time I did not know that this was a new sleeping bag. Maybe she camps all the time in actual wilderness conditions. Maybe this sleeping bag has been dragged through rugged muddy mountain terrain or perhaps dropped in a puddle like my sweatpants. What do I know of its past lives?

Or maybe, just maybe, let's say for argument's sake that some sadistic human being pooped on it and returned it to Walmart, and then Walmart resold it without ever checking the condition of the item they accepted back into their inventory. I'd like to be joking, but no, 1,000%, this is what actually happened to us, and I still can't believe it. So she did what any rational person who has just purchased a s*** sleeping bag would do. She called the Walmart where she purchased it and somehow with a straight face and serious tone managed to deliver the line: "Hi, I'm calling because I would like to know what is the protocol for buying a sleeping bag that has literal feces on it?" Meanwhile, Morgen is crying laughing hysterically in the background, and I'm trying and failing to shush her so they won't think it's a prank call. I WISH it was a prank call.

In the end, Walmart tells her that they can only refund her money (a whopping $10) if she brings the sleeping bag back with the receipt. That's right. They want us to roll up and repack this poop burrito of a blanket and put it back in our car where we just unknowingly drove with it for seven hours. That's gonna be a massive NOPE. Dear Walmart, I saw this thing in person, and I'd pay me $50 just to promise NOT to bring it back. Trust me, you do not want it in your store. You don't even want it in your garbage can. In the end, we left it in a dumpster where it should have been thrown in the first place before some psychopath returned it to Walmart, and where it DEFINITELY should have been thrown once Walmart took it back if they had any protocol for inspecting returned items. There are two takeaways here: 1. Don't buy sleeping bags from Walmart, and 2. Always keep your receipts, because God knows if you ever find yourself in need of a bathroom, you can always just use whatever you have on hand and Walmart will pay you to take it away and make it someone else's problem.

If you have any desire to harass Walmart a little bit about this or at least boycott one location, you can check out Heather's original post here. And heads up if you're a fan that goes to Hanson Day: this thing was bought at a Tulsa location. At this point I don't care about $10; I'd just like a little reassurance that Walmart isn't going to accidentally sell me another human being's poop in the future. That's what I call really crappy customer service. (sorry not sorry)

And speaking of crap customer service, Emo's in Austin did a really weird thing. About an hour before doors, they sent out a security guard named Tree in a giant cowboy hat who seemed cool and all until he split the line maybe 20 people back and then pulled person #20 and everyone behind her forward to create a 2nd line that would be entering at the same time. Meaning person #20, 21, 22, etc. would be entering right next to #1, 2, 3 and so on. I was in the 30s or 40s so none of this really affected me, but I totally get why the front of the line flipped out. Tree gave lots of speeches about how he's been doing his job for 20 years and how he knows how to handle lines, and he kept saying who was he to say that someone who showed up 30 minutes before doors didn't deserve to be up front just like everyone that had waited for hours? Then he went on about how if anyone cut in line, he'd send that person and whoever allowed it to happen all the way to the back. It was a bizarre mix of morals that I didn't quite understand, but the fans up front finally took it upon themselves to reorganize, so hopefully nobody got too screwed over by the whole thing. I just stood back and watched and was further grateful that we opted for a hotel.

The shows were very similar to the first two I went to in Denver and Omaha, but I was in no way sick of the songs and the overall upbeat vibe of the show that they created for this tour. We got a different new solo from Zac in Austin called "One," and I think I liked it, but I only heard it once out of the four shows so I don't remember much. I'm a little disappointed that we didn't get to hear the title track for "Against the World," especially since we could hear them sound checking it from the line in Austin and they posted a video for how we should sing along. I suppose I'll be grateful because I want the album to feel as new to me as possible when it comes out, so there's one more song I still have to look forward to hearing for the first time. I won't be surprised if we get some of these new songs in Jamaica next month, anyway.

After the shows we were lucky to catch Isaac and Zac who were kind enough to stop and take photos with everyone. We ended up with some unintentionally bad paparazzi MOEY style photos with Zac in Austin, which I probably like more than the normal one. Then in Dallas we got caught up in a weird smashed dog pile of strangers when we tried to bend down to let people behind us meet Hanson too, and it was kind of awkwardly great and ended with Zac being amused enough to take a photo. The picture doesn't quite capture how weird it felt to have my knees wedged into a stranger's abdomen, though. Good times.

So in the end, I didn't get to do all the sightseeing and touristy things I told myself I was going to work harder to do this year. I didn't eat a single bite of barbecue in Texas, we saw a pretty cool aquarium from the outside while it was closed, and the most authentic sightseeing we did the whole time was inside a Buc-ee's (move aside, Wawa and Sheetz, we have a new winner in truckstop hybrids of greatness). Truthfully though, I'm not really sad about that. I didn't do much that would sound impressive to people outside of other fans, and I don't have any well-crafted instagram posts of epic landmarks, but I got back that feeling of chasing the music that I think was a little bit missing for the one-offs or my 15th time seeing String Theory. I'll always be happy to see new parts of the world when I have the chance, but it turns out even gorgeous beaches and tiny penguins can't quite give me that butterfly-in-my-stomach feeling of hearing a favorite rare song or the excitement of getting a brand new one. And I don't care what tripadvisor says is the top attraction in any given place, you can't tell me that Hanson's vocal chords aren't a national treasure everywhere they go. This trip gave me back the excitement of following the music first and the world second, and I'm so ready to take on the best of both with this next album and tour.

December 14, 2019

Wintry Mix Tour Part One: Denver & Omaha

When I travel to Hanson shows, I’m usually guilty of not making the most of my time. I can’t tell you how many places I’ve been where I barely saw more than a sidewalk or the inside of a venue. I’ve driven over the Hoover Dam in the dark but never actually saw it. One time I went to New York City and mostly just visited a Chipotle and a Subway (well, THE subway, too, but I actually do mean the sandwich chain). Bottom line: the list of places I’ve been is far more impressive than the amount of sightseeing I’ve done in most of those places. 2019 has been an epic travel year that helped to change some of that for me, and somewhere along the way while hiking waterfalls and playing the piano backstage at the Sydney Opera House, I had to ask myself what in the world I’ve been doing with my life up until now. How could I possibly go to all of these amazing cities and not take advantage of the things they have to offer? I told myself that I’ve been doing it all wrong and that I need to make more of a point to set aside time to do more touristy things when I travel.

And then came the Wintry Mix Tour. The fun thing about Hanson never coming anywhere near you is if you’re going to have to travel to get to a show anyway, it kind of doesn’t matter which one(s) you pick. So instead of driving myself ~7 hours to my closest show in Atlanta, I opted to fly to Denver where I met up with a few friends and road tripped from Denver to Omaha to Austin and then ended in Dallas. Over the course of five days, I hit four new states and six states total. It all sounds very Do/Go/Be on paper, but in reality, once again I found myself sightseeing a blur of dark highways, sidewalks, and hotel beds. No matter how much I wanted to carry on the wanderlust streak of 2019, it was absolutely nothing like my grand adventures in Australia and Hawaii and Lake Tahoe earlier this year. Somehow it still felt right.

Just before doors opened for my first show in Denver, it began to rain. The temperature continued to drop and within minutes, the rain turned into a slushy mix before fully committing to snow. I was freezing, but I can’t imagine a more perfectly ironic way to usher in the Wintry Mix Tour.

The show opened with “Finally It’s Christmas” and then jumped right into an upbeat new song called “Don’t Ever Change” followed by “Rock ’n’ Roll Razorblade” and “Lost Without Each Other.” Four songs in, I was already feeling a little winded and asking my friend “What kind of Benjamin Button setlist is this?!” since they usually wait until the end to tire us out with those songs. The only time the show slowed down at all was for a brief acoustic set in the middle with three new songs—“Annalie” (Zac lead), “Better Man” (Zac solo), and “Serious Woman” (Taylor solo). I would have loved an Isaac solo to go with the rest, but at least he got to slay (sleigh?) "Run Rudolph Run" at the end of each show.

“Annalie” is destined to go down in Hanson history as a classic earworm of a Hanson song. It is ridiculously catchy and got stuck in my head for the rest of the trip after only hearing it once. It sounds a little Simon & Garfunkel and has this super happy upbeat sound that I can’t get enough of (like "Cut Right Through Me," but better). I’m forcing myself to wait to listen to it again until the album drops so I don’t overdose on bad quality live recordings right now, because I totally will if I let myself. “Better Man” is one I need to see the lyrics before I come to any solid conclusions, but boy can Zac sing. “Serious Woman” is another I couldn’t grasp many of the lyrics in person, but the piano reminded me a lot of Andrew McMahon in his SoCo days, and Hanson can bring that on in droves as far as I’m concerned. I'm definitely excited for the release of Against the World.

The biggest setlist change between Denver and Omaha was one that might have left a few others disappointed that Taylor switched out a new song for an old school throwback, but the minute he sat at the piano and started talking about Underneath Acoustic Live, I got the biggest involuntary grin on my face. The UAL version of "Crazy Beautiful" is one of two songs that drew me back in as a fan, and I wanted to hear the solo version live for years before it finally happened. I smiled the whole way through and felt like an idiot for being so much happier to hear this old song in the place of something new, but what can I say? It's a great song, I'm forever in love with the piano, and I love that even after twelve years of shows my heart can still speed up at the sound of a great piece of music. The only thing that would've made me happier was if he did the faster part at the end, but that just gives me something else to hope for in the future.

The Omaha show also got a soundcheck party for fan club members. I have to say it didn't actually resemble a real soundcheck considering they didn't practice any of the songs they played at the show, but it was better for that reason, and I think it would have been dull if it was just a normal soundcheck of songs we'd get to hear again later. The best part was getting to hear "White Collar Crimes" simply because if Zac is up to the challenge of playing the drums on that song, then I feel reassured that he has healed well since his accident. The worst part was getting back in line afterwards, being first behind everyone with a number, and then being told by a fan that "We're going to continue with numbers but aren't sure where we left off, so we're going to restart you at #100 and work backwards." That earned a solid "nope" on my end, and I was so confused by this logic and why we were even starting numbers up again an hour before doors. I think my confusion was mistaken for some sort of newbie cluelessness, but really though, I've been to lots of shows and worn plenty of numbers between 1 and 100 and don't need someone to fansplain it to me (totally trademarking "fansplain," btw). I've just never been to a show where the number system includes estimates and rounding up, and I'd like to keep it that way. 😂(We compromised and everyone walked away happy in the end.)

As for the rest of the trip outside of the shows? I don't have any fun rollercoaster or waterfall stories this time. First off, it was freezing. I kind of forgot to eat on day one and got a terrible migraine because it turns out you can't rock out in full force with only half a Voodoo Donut in your stomach (I truly forgot everything EXCEPT for the donuts.). On a positive note, I learned that placing toe warmers on TOP of your foot is far superior to sticking them to the bottom. I also learned that in the event that you forget to eat more than half a donut on day one, eating half of a large pizza by yourself on day two is not a suitable solution, especially when day three includes 17 hours in a car. We argued a little about whether or not we'd have time to make a detour into Iowa, but it turns out the argument was taking place IN Iowa, so that one resolved itself. We met Taylor after Omaha when it was 20 degrees out, and his face looks exactly the way my entire body felt for the first three days. And finally, if you're going to drop your only pair of sweatpants in a mud puddle, definitely do it at a truck stop at 3am so that you can freak people out when you run into the bathroom holding mysteriously brown-stained pants at arms length while you make your way to the sink. I only wish the sleeping bag story coming up in part two was nearly as misleading and funny.

November 17, 2019

Zaccidents Happen: Anderson, Indiana

I’m a little overdue for one of those posts about some show I never planned to go to but then I wound up there anyway at the last minute. This year's "oops I did it again" quota can be filled with a random show at a casino in Anderson, Indiana. I know the fandom scapegoat is generally Taylor, but you can mostly blame Zac this time.

Several months ago I told myself I was going to be "good" and put a cap on not going to too many one-off shows because I'd rather save my money and vacation days for a tour with new music. I made an exception for Hawaii and Lake Tahoe, but Anderson was never on my list of places I needed to play tourist for a day (no offense to Indiana). Then Zac got in a motorcycle accident and temporarily earned himself a spot front and center with a cowbell instead of drums, and my resolve for staying home faltered when my whole reason for skipping these shows had been because I’ve already seen a dozen just like them. I held strong until about two weeks ago when I looked at my work schedule and realized I’d been given off the three day weekend surrounding the Anderson show without asking for it. Add in the perk of having that one trusty friend with equally reckless and questionable decision making skills, and suddenly I found myself with a flight and a pair of concert tickets to a sold out show in a city I'd never actually heard of before. 

The Terrace Showroom at Harrah’s Hoosier Park was easily the weirdest concert venue setup I’ve ever seen. The room was much wider than the stage with randomly placed pillars in the way in several spots and large screens on either side to help compensate for the weird sight lines. The stage was also only about a foot tall with stadium seating designed so that anything above 2nd or 3rd row was above the stage and looking down onto it. We got extremely lucky with 2nd row seats and may have overcompensated for short girl problems with last minute ridiculous heeled boots (BOGO!) as a backup plan in case we were stuck behind someone tall. I’ve never experienced “leg day,” but if it feels anything like jumping to “In The City” in 5 inch heels, I’m fine to continue skipping it forever.

The setlist was very similar to the last few I’ve seen, but everyone was in such a great mood and it was impossible to keep from grinning. Isaac, Taylor, and Zac were full of energy and were all over the stage climbing on speakers, grabbing hands, and in Zac’s case running out into the audience to deliver a little more cowbell to all corners of the room. I saw so many happy faces around me and Hanson really just went above and beyond with making everyone feel like they were in the right place that night.

The guest drummer did a great job, though it definitely felt a little strange to see Zac dancing around unhindered during songs like “And I Waited” or doing some moves so similar to fans letting loose during “Lost Without Each Other.” I have no idea if he was loving his unexpected freedom or if he felt completely out of place and just embraced a situation beyond his control, but it was fun to watch a show with a different dynamic that we'll likely never see again (Dear Hanson, I like when you switch things up, but I sincerely hope your injuries will never feel like some kind of twisted selling point again!). I'm glad to see he's doing well enough to climb on top of speakers and head bang with a cowbell, and though our short unexpected era of #ZacOnDrugs has certainly been entertaining, I'm happy that we'll have a healthy #ZacOnDrums back soon enough.

It's been a pretty epic travel year for me so far, and I always have Hanson to thank for getting me to places like Jamaica, Australia, Hawaii, and, you know, Anderson, Indiana. So whether I'm on a plane fulfilling a decade long dream of visiting the other side of the world, or I'm en route to a 24 hour last-minute trip to a city I've never heard of before, I'm grateful for the adventure. And to quote some really weird recent merch, I guess you could say I'm glad I "Zaccidentally" wound up in Anderson for a day.

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October 13, 2019

Honolulu & Lake Tahoe

The first time I ever set foot on an airplane was for an 11 hour flight to Maui. The second time was a year later for my first trip to Tulsa. If that tells you anything about me, it's that Hawaii is (or rather, was) one of the few exciting places I've ever been that had no Hanson strings attached. I guess 13 years was long enough for that to be true before finally making my way back and firmly tying it into the "places I've traveled for Hanson" category along with just about everywhere else I've been.

When I found out my travel pal Rachel was planning to fly home and roadtrip to the Lake Tahoe show right after Honolulu, I reasoned that when you're flying cross-country, technically everything is on your way back home. And after accidentally seeing it for all of ten minutes back in 2015, I've always wanted to go back and give Lake Tahoe a proper visit (spoiler: I was supposed to be driving to Joshua Tree. Instead, my sleeping friends woke up to find us halfway up a mountain. Unexpected beautiful oops?).

Hawaii was every bit as gorgeous as I remembered, though I never left Maui my first time there, and this time I was on the island of Oahu. Hanson may have been the excuse to be there, but they definitely took a backseat to wanderlust this trip. I added a few extra days before the show and saw beaches all around the island, swam in a waterfall, visited Pearl Harbor and the capital building, attended a traditional luau, and ate a boat load of sushi along the way.

I find it hard to believe I'm a paragraph in and have no more to say about the island and my time spent there, but it was honestly beautiful in a way that words in a blog just can't do justice. This year has truly been a Back to the Island themed year for me, with first Jamaica, then beaches all over Australia, and now a tour around the shores of Oahu (and yes, I'm still as pale as the day I was born).

We booked an Air B'N'B for six instead of going the traditional hotel route and wound up with a presidential suite with a full kitchen, living room, two bathrooms, and three balconies, all for about the same price or cheaper than a hotel would have been. There was room to throw a quiet birthday dinner during our stay there and also to bake and devour about a hundred pizza rolls post-show. I'm giving all of our choices a solid A+.

The show was fun, though the fact that it didn't sell out doesn't give me high hopes that Hanson will return any time soon. I loved the opportunity to experience more of a "normal" show after a year of following Hanson with an orchestra, and I took advantage of all the chances to jump and clap and participate that I've missed. The setlist was your typical one-off/state fair combination of singles and greatest hits, but we knew that going into it so it was exactly what we hoped for.

I didn't really expect the Tahoe portion of the trip to be the highlight for me, but it definitely gave Hawaii some tough competition. By the time the 10-day-forecast was available and I was doing laundry for packing, it looked like Hawaii was going to be predictably warm (highs near 90, lows in the 70s) and Tahoe was going to be mild with highs around 75 and lows in the 50/60 range at night. Then the day before I was set to fly out, I double checked the weather only to find that that 75 high in Tahoe had dropped to a high around 43 with a 60% chance of rain and snow (further proof that my usual procrastinated packing is actually the right way to go). I dug in my closet and found a pair of waterproof fleece lined boots and a thigh-length down parka, laid them next to my bikini pile, and laughed while wondering if I was being completely extra. In the end, I Googled packing techniques, found a giant ziplock bag, turned it into a makeshift compression sack, and tossed the coat into my already crammed carry-on.

Within an hour of checking into our hotel, it started snowing. For a couple of people from South Carolina and southern California, this was actually pretty exciting, and I'm glad I was with likeminded people who understood my absurd happiness over a few snowflakes. We took full advantage of the situation and used our extra day to book a trip up a ski lift gondola to get some amazing views of all of Lake Tahoe bordered by now snow-covered mountain tops. I grinned the whole way to the top and inwardly patted myself on the back for being "extra" and packing for the worst case scenario.

When we got to the top, there was a "mountain coaster" which consisted of single bobsled-style coaster cars propelled along a track winding around the top of the mountain and reaching speeds of 20-30mph. I'll admit, I was kind of terrified to get on a coaster where I'd be responsible for pulling handbrakes and pushing a lever forward to go faster. In the end I let myself be talked into it in true Do Go Be fashion, which turned into something more like Do Go Freeze under the circumstances. It turned out to be one of the most breathtaking experiences of my life and worth the momentary worry that fingers in varying stages from numb to stabbing pain might be a first sign of frostbite (one thing I didn't pack? Gloves).

The show in Tahoe was identical to the one in Hawaii with the exception that the crowd made for an unexpectedly impressive choir during "Been There Before," but maybe my spot further back just meant I could hear better. The one thing that oddly stuck out to me was a couple of excited girls I didn't recognize against the stage on Isaac's side. There was a moment when Taylor went over and grabbed a couple of hands and I could see the utter joy and excitement on one girl's face from my seat, and Taylor, too, looked happy to have had that effect. And then, at the end of the show, Zac handed her a pair of sticks. And while I couldn't hear, I'd be willing to bet there was happy squealing to go with her giant grin. She looked so thrilled that I couldn't help but be happy for her.

I also couldn't help but realize that even on my best day, I never give Hanson that kind of obvious outward appearance of how much I'm enjoying myself, and on my worst day, I sure hope I don't look bored. It's a weird spot to be in, and I'm not sure how much of it is due to my own personality and how much is some natural tendency for any fan to shy away from showing that kind of reaction over time. I've never been one to scream or cry in exciting moments; even winding up on stage years ago when things were still pretty new for me, I mostly just smiled and looked nervous. And now, when I'm the excited girl against the stage on Isaac's side getting a smile from the band, I'll grin right back and know there's nowhere else I'd rather be. But I'm probably not going to reach for a hand if it's not reaching for mine first, and I'm definitely not going to squeal and jump if Taylor kneels down and sings three feet in front of my face, and sometimes I wonder if it would be easier for them to perceive my excitement if I did those things.

The other part of me knows that that just isn't me, and on top of that, as much as I can say nothing changes after going to so many shows, the fact remains that it would just be plain weird if I started doing that stuff now. So I guess I'll keep showing my happiness the best way I know how--by continuing to show up and forever gushing about it here afterwards, and by squealing on the inside even if I'm showcasing my best resting exhausted fan face to the world around me. Maybe writing a hundred words on why I'm not fangirling hard enough is my own version of fangirling anyway.

The one other difference between the two shows was one that none of us knew at the time, and that's that Lake Tahoe was the last show they played together before Zac got into a motorcycle accident and sidelined himself from the drums for the near future. I'm incredibly grateful that he's okay, and I don't want to sensationalize his injuries or get all dramatic, but it's moments like this that remind me why I'm always chasing that next show and that next destination. You never know when something unforeseen will slow you down and change your plans, so you might as well pack the snow boots with the bikinis and hope for the best. And sometimes, if you're lucky, that unexpected wrench in your plans will turn out to out to be a wrong turn to exactly the right place.

September 11, 2019

The Life Cycle Of A Concert Addict

1. Waiting for tour dates.


Your life can be divided into two categories: time spent at concerts, and time spent waiting on concerts. You're either at a concert, or you're planning the next one. It's a scientific fact.

2. Choosing a destination (or ten).


Of course you’re going to the show closest to your house. But three of your friends will be in Nashville, and the Chicago show is on a weekend, and you’ve always wanted to go to Disney World on Halloween, and suddenly you feel a lot like that mouse being given a cookie.

3. Requesting time off.


Your coworkers are used to this. They may not know where you’re going this time, but they all know there’s a concert involved. And the moment you get that approval makes everything real.

4. Plotting with friends.


You have a group chat, and it’s full of everything from hotel room debates to fan gossip and ridiculous scenarios of things that will never happen. This usually includes at least one person who wasn’t going to go and still probably shouldn’t, but peer pressure is strong and FOMO is real.

5. Unnecessary shopping.


You don’t really need a new concert outfit or a new travel pillow, but your excitement says that you do, and and the eBags ad in your email says that you will.

6. Pre-show nerves.


It's finally the day of the show, and your stomach will stay in a queasy knot right up until you've secured your spot and you can see the band on stage. Until then, you'll imagine every unlikely flat tire, delayed flight, natural disaster, and flashmob of line cutters that could keep you from your happy place.

7. The concert.
You made it! You immediately forget all of the stress and months of waiting it took to get you here, because it was all worth it and nothing else matters. Whoever said Disney was the happiest place on earth obviously never stood front row center right against the barricade for their favorite band.

8. Denial.

When the show ends, you look for any excuse not to leave. You'll spend hours waiting by the bus trying to meet the band or stay up until 3am talking about the day with your friends. Who cares if you have a 6 AM flight? As long as you're awake, it's not really over.

9. Instant replay mode.


When you get back home, you're still not ready to let it go. You talk about it to anyone who will listen, and you find yourself scrolling the same Instagram hashtags a dozen times in search of new posts (even though the search results are roughly 27 angles of the same ten seconds of one song).

10. Memory lane.


After a week or so, you stop obsessing so much over your latest concert experience and start to remember all the ones that came before. Old tour pictures and timehop posts fill you with a mix of thankful nostalgia but also excitement for whatever comes next. Which leads right back to…

1. Waiting for tour dates.