April 3, 2019

String Theory: Brisbane

My favorite part of Brisbane was getting to visit the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. I’ve spent years admiring adorable photos of fans and Hanson holding koalas, so it felt like a must-do when I finally made the trip for myself. What I didn’t realize while seeing all of those photos is that there are actually very strict laws and rules surrounding handling koalas. I’ve read mixed results on which Australian states allow members of the public to hold them, but it is illegal in most; Queensland is one of the few exceptions. Even then, they can only be handled for a maximum of 30 minutes (consecutive or otherwise) per day, and staff seemed very well trained and perceptive to the koalas’ willingness to engage. If one seemed uncooperative or not into being held, it was immediately taken back to the exhibit and replaced with another rather than being coaxed into working longer. Each one had a handler at all times standing just outside of the frame of photos, and we were shown a specific way to stand and hold our hands in order to safely hold the koala. It was a neat experience and one I’m grateful that I was able to do considering how high the demand was and the limited amount of time the koalas are allowed to work each day. I’m happy to say the longest I waited in any line during the Australian tour was the line to hold a koala, and it felt like time well-spent.

Though it is a koala sanctuary in name, Lone Pine is also home to several other species including kangaroos, platypuses, dingos, crocodiles, wombats, Tasmanian devils, snakes, emus, and several species of birds. We were able to feed kangaroos in a petting-zoo style setting, and they were calm and clearly used to human interaction and the not-so-subtle stomping and running of happy children (there were a few intimidating emus walking around too, but they were giving off some major Care of Magical Creatures angry hipogriff vibes, so we kept our distance). I would have liked to spend longer exploring everything, but it was such a hot day that we didn’t stick around more than the hour or two it took to check everything out. I hesitated to leave as I heard they were offering snake photos somewhere as well, but I Googled, decided the results were less impressive than the Britney-style photo I got in Cancun, and retreated to an air-conditioned Uber back to our hotel instead.

After it cooled off a bit, we went exploring again and found ourselves at a place called Streets Beach in Southbank just a few blocks down from the QPAC venue. It's a man-made beach right in the heart of the city complete with sand and palm trees, and it looks exactly like a real beach minus the waves if you didn't know you were surrounded by buildings on all sides. I was impressed by how big and clean it was and how many families were taking advantage on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It felt like we stumbled onto a free waterpark that seemed better cared for than any waterpark I’ve ever paid to visit. I imagine a day of playing with animals and then going to the beach is a perfect weekend to any kid. Top it off with a Hanson show, and you can add 30-year-old American to that list.

Speaking of zoos, let’s bring this back to the reason I was in Australia—String Theory. I’m kidding, though. We observed our final show from a balcony box near the stage Statler and Waldorf style, but the crowd thankfully gave us little to heckle and even the stage rushing at the end seemed more tame than the previous two shows. I had zero complaints for Hanson, though maybe I should deduct a few points overall because nobody tried to bring me ice cream this time.

I really didn’t expect an encore, so I was happily surprised when they broke out “Change In My Life” a cappella at the end. The crowd got really into clapping along and stayed on beat, but some didn't quite get Taylor's "cut" motion at the end which was kind of funny and led him to give us a "shh" finger motion, too. It was a great way to end the show, the Australian tour, and the String Theory World Tour as a whole now that only a few one-off shows are left. I can complain about crowd behaviors and mean every word of it, but the truth is I've also enjoyed this tour very much, and I'm sure I'll be reminiscing about the good old days of seated shows, no openers, and no lines soon enough.

The night skyline view from our hotel room after the show was spectacular without ever leaving the bed. We chose the unusual route of going with more of a budget hotel but then "splurging" on the nicest room they had. I loved it, and I think we were happier there than we would have been in a basic room in a more expensive hotel (think still less than a night at the Fairfield in Tulsa). We ended up with a corner room on the 19th floor with floor to ceiling glass walls and a stunning view of the city. It made for a bittersweet backdrop as we packed our things for the long journey back home.

The flight back to L.A. from Brisbane was only about 13 hours as opposed to the 16+ it took us to get to Melbourne. Pair that with the fact that I actually slept this time, and it really didn't feel that long. We managed to kill the little bit of time we were awake playing Mario Kart, and I have to say there was some nerdy satisfaction in getting to use a Gamecube controller that I've owned for longer than I've been following Hanson thanks to a portable adapter. Amazingly, none of my flights got delayed or canceled, and though I had to run between terminals at LAX not once, but twice because the AA app told me the wrong gate, I didn't have any major flight issues for a change. I did come home to a news story that there was a confirmed case of the measles through LAX about two days before we were there, so shoutout to the public school system for making sure I got vaccinated for that years ago.

Instead, I'm coming home with a heightened case of wanderlust and not a single trace of FOMO. This might have felt like a once-in-a-lifetime trip and I'm sure it did carry some singularly epic moments, but I know better than to make any bold statements about never doing it again. I hope I'll get to go back someday, but I also hope I get to see many other new places before I return. So what's next on my list of top places I'd like to travel? Let's just say I wouldn't be disappointed if BTTI ever made an unexpected move to an island in Greece just once. My airmiles are ready.

March 28, 2019

String Theory: Canberra & Gold Coast

Trying to write about the last half of the Australian String Theory Tour feels like a bigger challenge now that I’ve thoroughly gushed over the Sydney shows. The fact is Hanson nailed every show, and that kind of leaves me with nothing to say that isn’t going to sound repetitive. I’ve already shared several in-depth reviews, and I’m not going to try to invent fluffy new adjectives for “Battlecry” 13 shows in. If you don’t know how awesome it is by now—do yourself a favor and get to Tulsa or Buffalo, buy the album, or go the completely free route and search #hansonstringtheory on instragram. (Good luck weeding through roughly 90 billion recordings of “MMMBop” first, though.)

Canberra and Gold Coast felt almost interchangeable to me thanks to unintentionally winding up with almost identical third row Zac seats for both shows. Add in the fact that both crowds rushed the stage during “No Rest For the Weary,” and I legitimately can’t separate some of the minor details to know which happened at which show.

The one thing that definitely sets the two apart for me is the ice cream incident at the Canberra Theatre. Imagine this: You’re attending a String Theory show, and for reasons you can’t explain, you’re absolutely starving about four songs in. Like stomach growling, actual painful level of hungry even though you ate dinner. You find yourself shamefully looking forward to intermission just so you can run to the concessions area and grab a snack so that your stomach will calm down and let you enjoy the second half of the show in peace. You get there as fast as you can, but a hundred other people were faster, so you go back to your seat hangry and empty-handed. As you’re relaying all of this to the friend that thought you got lost going to the bathroom, you spot…ice cream vendors? That can’t be real at an orchestra show. You almost wonder if you’re having some kind of hunger-induced desert mirage hallucination, but no, it's dessert and no mirage. There are real employees with coolers strapped around their shoulders wandering up and down the aisles holding up ice cream bars as if you’re seeing The Braves rather than String Theory. You flag one down and within moments, you’re having ice cream brought directly to your seat and feeling smugly superior to that long concessions line.

The only downside was we couldn’t finish them before the second half started, so suddenly we’re those people in the third row eating ice cream on a stick during a formal orchestra show. I have to say that trying to eat an ice cream bar with a crunchy chocolate shell during “Reaching For The Sky” is actually super awkward and somewhat difficult. I quickly realized that biting it would not be an option at all during such a quiet song, which left me with the challenge of at least keeping it from melting all over me until I could take a bite. I dared to glance at my friend to confirm that she was having the same dilemma, so then we became the people eating ice cream and stifling laughter. Forget the challenge of clapping on beat; try timing all the crunchy parts of a rapidly melting ice cream bar with the beat of TTA. Thanks to the Canberra Theatre, "Eat to the Beat" now has an entirely new meaning for me that has nothing to do with Epcot. I'm torn between now always wanting ice cream at shows and hoping this never happens again.

As for the stage rushing, I’m not a fan at all, and I didn’t participate (granted if I’d had a front row seat, I'm sure I would have jumped up in the rush to make sure I kept it). I know there was some chatter during the U.K. tour about whether or not it's okay to rush the stage, and most fans seemed to be in agreement that it's disrespectful and inappropriate. I'm not sure if the crowds at these shows didn't share that opinion, or if they found themselves reacting differently when faced with the option in real life, but a few fans bolted full-speed down the aisle in Canberra starting an actual stampede, and people were climbing over seats around me to get closer in Gold Coast. The poor staff looked completely overwhelmed and at a loss for what to do. I noticed at least one girl who had been in a front row seat was suddenly 3-4 people deep, and one mom was climbing seats trying to get back to her younger daughter who made it up front with a drumsticks sign in the mad dash.  (Further unpopular opinion- please don't let your adult-height kid hold a three-foot poster above her head for 15 minutes. It's nice that she got drumsticks, but I couldn't see Zac for the last several songs, and I'm sure the people directly behind her saw nothing at all). In all honesty and despite my own personal feelings, Hanson didn't really react. They definitely didn't prompt people to do it beyond their usual "let's pick things up" cue to stand, but they didn't discourage it after it happened, either.

At one point in Gold Coast I turned to look around the room as Hanson was about to give their final speech before bowing, and some woman (let's call her "Sloppy Susan", because apparently I predicted this behavior) was standing in a seat a few rows behind me shouting “IT’S INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY!” at the top of her lungs. Then Taylor said “I’m so glad you mentioned that; why don’t you come up and tell us a little bit about it?” Just kidding. That only happened in her head. In the real world, I looked at her like she was nuts, Hanson ignored her, and I heard her mumbling “Well, it would’ve been a good announcement to make” as she climbed down from the chair in defeat. If you really care, maybe quit mistaking row J of a symphony performance for your own personal Facebook wall and go do something to raise positive awareness instead.

The shows were good, but the ending of both felt more like a zoo than the actual zoo did, and I’m kind of okay with String Theory coming to an end for now if this is going to be the new norm. I should only ever dread the end of a show because it's over, and not because I fear for an inevitable stampede that I'm either going to have to watch angrily or contribute to the problem myself with an "if you can't beat them, join them" mentality. Both options feel more like a fail than some energy-filled crowd unity thing to me. Regardless of however Hanson feels about it (and we're all just speculating unless Zac decides to give us a "How To Fanson @ String Theory Pt. 2" post), I still find it extremely inconsiderate, and I really hope the Tulsa crowd will be more respectful to each other.

On the tourist side of things, we got to see the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra where Australia's coins are made, Kangaroos lounging in a friend's backyard, and beaches we probably would have enjoyed more if it wasn't so cloudy in Gold Coast. I got to drive in a parking lot for about 30 exciting seconds, though I'm convinced I never need to try this on an actual road. I fully enjoyed my first authentic Tim Tam slam complete with a glass of Milo and am thankful to my Aussie hosts for showing me how it's done. I'm always down to try chocolate milk products, and there are definite bonus points if I'm getting to use a chocolate cookie as a straw.

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 it makes me 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.