June 2, 2018

Animal Instincts: 2018 EP Review

You should know by now that I like to analyze anything written; I guess you could call it an instinct. That being said...in my "professional" opinion, I have no idea why this EP is called "Animal Instincts." I tried. I looked up definitions (instinct. noun. : a way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is not learned : a natural desire or tendency that makes you want to act in a particular way). I read the lyrics. And I found nothing in particular that makes the subject matter in this group of songs any more instinctual or primal than any other songs. I suppose you could argue that wanting to stay young and opportunistic is an innate trait in most of us, or that love in even the worst of conditions is an animal instinct that is hard to overcome. But gold digging? Enjoying your weekend? Being attracted to flighty girls? My official comment on the title for this EP is that I'd love to pick Hanson's brains for the reasons behind their choice, because I'm personally at a loss. (Maybe we should have asked that question instead of Taylor's shoe size or whatever during the Q&A at Hanson Day, but that's neither here nor there now). I trust that there's a reason, but my red pen couldn't find it.

1. "Working"

This is the most 50's rock 'n' roll/Jerry Lee Lewis sounding song we've ever gotten from Hanson, and the studio recording doesn't do the live version justice. It's a fast-paced Isaac lead and is basically the non-Christmas version of "Til New Years Night" with way more piano. And man do I love that piano. I probably won't seek it out often on iTunes, but I'll be rooting for it to make an appearance at any and all future fan club shows.

Best lyrics: "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday in my Sunday best."

2. "Goldminer"

Every time I try to think about this song, I wind up singing "Ghostwriter" to myself instead. I'll trust that you can hear the similarities without me listing them. The best part of Ghostwriter Goldminer is the clever wordplay in the line "She's a goldminer, stealing your cents, robbing you blind" because she's stealing both your money and your sense (homophones ftw!). My other favorite part is when a friend ruined it (aka made it better) by pointing out that the first line kind of sounds like the girl in the song is a prostitute, and now I can't help but hear the whole song in the context of a guy who just wants to pick up girls but can't tell a prostitute when he sees one. And on that note, let's add "Working" to the list of titles I will inevitably confuse with this song.

"Out on the town, you're looking for love.
She's on the prowl looking for money
What can you say? How can you tell? What can you trust?
What can you do? How do you know? Who's out for blood?"

Better call the coppers!

Best lyrics: "She's a goldminer/ stealing your cents/ robbing you blind"

3. "Young and Dumb"

This is the part where I try not to go all "Feeling Alive" on you again and wind up with a full separate post about this song. "Young and Dumb" is definitely the breakout song of this EP, and it's full of lyrical gold.

My first reaction to the title was a flashback to 10th grade English class and Daisy Buchanan's comment in The Great Gatsby when she learns that her new baby is a girl: "I hope she'll be a fool – that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool." Of course the context is completely different and "Young and Dumb" isn't social commentary on a sexist world, but the basic idea of romanticizing ignorance as bliss is there.

To be fair, I don't really think being "dumb" the way Hanson is using it is synonymous with literal ignorance. Dumb in this case means not yet jaded by the world; it represents the idea of being younger and a little more naive and wide-eyed in a hopeful way. They're not advocating for stupidity, just reminiscing about a simpler time when most of us had a lot less worry and a lot more optimism. It's nostalgia for the kind of innocence Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden before they ate the forbidden fruit and their eyes were opened to all of the evils possible in the world.

My reaction after hearing the whole song and seeing the full lyrics is that it's a more accurate perspective of how I've always felt about "I Was Born." I'd rather be young and dumb and surrounded by the possibility of still being able to believe that I was born to do something no one's ever done before. The reality is I'm not, and I can relate to this song so much more because of it. "Young and Dumb" is practically someone narrating how I felt while listening to "I Was Born" for the first time.

Best Lyrics: For a song about missing being young and dumb, it sure is packed with great lines full of wisdom. I might as well paste the whole song here.

"Been a hero and a deadbeat/ A pencil pusher and a piece of meat/ Wish I could forget what I know"

"And when my eyes are clear/ I see good intentions are a cheap veneer/ For every evil justified"

"It's hard enough to know it's not enough to know better"

4. "Bad For Me"

I'm actually surprised I like such a sad song, but I really do. It's about a heartbroken guy that is finally realizing he's in a bad relationship with a girl that clearly doesn't value him the same way he feels about her. I think I like it because it doesn't have the expected ending where the guy finally decides to move on, or the unrealistic happy ending where the girl sees what a catch he is and suddenly becomes worthy of his affection. He never follows "Now I see this love's bad for me" with the logical "so I'm leaving;" he just acknowledges the truth of his situation and we as listeners get no resolution. Maybe he stays, maybe he doesn't. All we know is he loves this girl whether she deserves it or not, and he seems resigned to that fate. It's kind of romantic in the saddest way.

Best lyrics: "When you love someone it's easier believing in the lie"

5. "Sophia"

The lyrics remind me a little of Billy Joel's "Always a Woman" where you get the list of potentially infuriating character traits that somehow wind up being endearing when you're in love with the person, but I'm not buying it. Sophia just sounds kind of annoying as a person, though props to her for still being songworthy. Her most redeeming quality is how her name sounds when Zac sings it.

Best lyrics: "Sophia."

Final EP thoughts?

Check out the final episode of The H-Bomb Show podcast June 8th to hear more EP talk.

May 28, 2018

Hanson Day 2018

I think my favorite part about Hanson Day 2018 was choosing not to stand in avoidable lines. It was uncomfortably hot most of the time, and after I got sick from waiting all day in the heat in St. Pete last September, I know better than to hang out on hot sidewalks all day now. Some lines like registration and the store are unavoidable if you plan to do them on the first day, but there is so much room to avoid lines if you want to, and I swear my quality of life over the weekend improved because of it. I walked into the gallery with no wait because I didn't bother trying to go until Saturday. I showed up to both concerts at doors and didn't have to bring an umbrella for shade or worry that someone might cut me in line because there were already 800 people ahead of me. Not caring makes vacation feel a little bit more like vacation, and it makes me super excited for the upcoming seated tour where I will also not have to wait in lines. I can't wait...to not wait?

The Store
Hanson tried a new thing this year that fans have suggested in in the past and put up a page on their website listing all of the new store items and prices. It was really helpful to walk into the store and mostly know what I wanted without having to wait my turn to get a good look at everything, and the line seemed faster all weekend because of it. I was also spared the awkward moment of blurting out "What do you mean $80 for an umbrella?!" at an employee in shock because I was able to get that moment of disappointment out of my system on the sidewalk before I ever set foot inside. I'd say it went pretty well. I only bought one shirt, a pop-socket, and a pair of sunglasses (that are too big for my head), so I did okay in the spending department, too. If it's anywhere near as hot next time though, I fully expect to see affordable "Hanson fans" for sale.

I'm not normally one to pay a bit of attention to Hanson's family, but somehow their brother Mac wound up co-hosting karaoke with Isaac this year, and he did a killer job keeping the crowd pumped. There was a really fun mix of Hanson and non-Hanson songs that people chose, and both Isaac and Mac took turns getting up and singing with fans and with each other. The first fan to sing was a guy that picked "Bohemian Rhapsody" that quickly turned into a giant happy crowd sing-a-long, and it was all uphill from there. There was a great "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" duo, some Wilson Philips, someone that sounded just like Alanis Morissette to me, and a strange but great tribute to Tenacious D near the end that Mac seemed thrilled to join in on. Congrats to everyone that got up there and sang! You guys were awesome and made it fun for everyone.

The storytellers "lecture" was easily my favorite event last year. I'm not sure this one lived up to the bar set by 2017 (it was about 7 songs shorter and there was no disco ball surprise this year), but I still enjoyed it. They chose a lot of throwback songs including a cover of "Money" that I'd only heard once on actual Hanson Day ten years ago in my hometown. "Wish That I Was There" was the unexpected standout for me. I don't care much for it on the CD, but the harmonies are just so good in a live acoustic setting.

I joked later that they're a bunch of storytellers for calling this event "storytellers," but I'm happy for any excuse to go to an extra show with or without the added narrative. We did learn that "Madeline" was named after a real girl that was the daughter of one of their producers(?), and also that someone may have stolen Zac's basketball...though I couldn't tell you what song that particular "story" went with.

Game Night
I'm on the fence about game night. I didn't participate in Hansonopoly last year, but this year seemed better because there were no elimination rounds and everyone got to play for the entire event. I'll give them points for that. But when we showed up the sound system was a megaphone...and then a microphone that was as useless as the megaphone...and then just Zac's shouting, which sadly worked better than all of the above. I think they did eventually get a microphone working but I can't remember. In the end it cost Zac his voice for the rest of the weekend, which is a shame since this was before the concert happened. I'm happy for his sake that he didn't also have to make it through a Hop Jam performance.

It was a little bit like tie dye 2.0 with Zac not making it to every table and people getting up to go to him for pictures instead. We played a few different games and the "Freak Out" game that came with our ticket purchase is basically a Hanson version of Yahtzee, or so I'm told since I've never played Yahtzee. It wasn't my favorite because I could never remember what the combination of numbers meant well enough to figure out how to tally my own score.

Our favorite was the silly poker-type game where we had to place cards on our heads and bet who was wearing the highest card without looking at your own. Sometimes simple is better.

Listening Party
I haven't had time to listen to "Turn Off The Machine" and analyze anything independently from the listening party, but I liked it. Zac recorded a voiceover bit for the beginning and explained that it's a musical story of a guy building a robot, teaching it how to do things, and watching it ultimately come to life and spiral out of control, leaving him with the decision of potentially having to destroy this "monster" that he created. Think Dr. Frankenstein--the original Mary Shelley story and not all of the Halloween green-skinned bolt-in-the-neck adaptations.

It reminded me of watching Fantasia as a kid and felt like it belonged with some kind of animation to illustrate all of the different parts. I enjoyed trying to pinpoint where the mood changed and imagining what might be happening during different sounds. I wrote exactly one note during the actual listening session of my initial reaction and tweeted it after we got out and I had a chance to google the video I wanted to reference:

I have no idea if Zac has ever seen that video or if it's pure coincidence, but I stand firmly behind the Swedish Chef comparison for at least a portion of the song.

I have no artistic skills whatsoever and I don't like wine, so I've never had any desire to do the whole wine and paint night thing despite seeing pictures of friends and their various landscapes, beach scenes, and half-empty glasses on Facebook. A Hanson Day version seemed like the perfect time to go a little bit outside of my comfort zone though and try something new with friends. I don't think I'm going to be commissioning any pieces any time soon, but I had a lot of fun and my pansy didn't turn out nearly as bad as I expected.

I saw a few complaints online about Zac not showing up, but it was clear to me when the event was announced that Zac being there wasn't part of the deal. However, the photographer did show up and film part of my painting class...right as we had finished painting one step and were waiting patiently to learn what to do next. Instead of showing us the next step, they started playing "Lost Without Each Other" and filmed us awkwardly singing and not painting for the entire duration of the song because none of us knew what we were doing. I'm sorry in advance if you ever have to see footage of me singing and awkwardly holding a paintbrush.

The Concert
I'll go more into the new EP with a separate EP review eventually (maybe), but I will say that "Working" is great live. It has this really fun 50's rock 'n' roll vibe and I'm absolutely in love with the piano in it. If you don't love the recording on the EP, withhold your judgment until you see it in person. "Young and Dumb" is easily the standout track on this EP, though I was a little nervous about the techno sound at the beginning of the recording until I heard it at the show. I have no idea how Zac sang his two new leads, particularly Goldminer, with his strained voice, but he did a decent job and gave it all he had left.

The only thing I'd change about the show was the downer solos in the middle. "A Life Without You" and "Never Let Go" might be considered rare, but I swear I've heard that combination entirely too many times at the last few Hanson Days and BTTIs, and I'm a little bit tired of needing tissues. Between that and WYIYD at Storytellers again, I could really do with a year of no sad songs. I'll give them a pass on "A Life Without You" because I know they were streaming everything and I'm sure it meant a lot to those that have never been to Hanson Day or BTTI to get to hear that one. But the fact that it's out there now means they can skip it next year, right?

"Tearing it Down" was the best, and the entire crowd was so, so into it. By the time the encore came and Zac was singing "I Don't Want To Go Home," I had completely forgotten anything was wrong with his voice and it sounded great to me. It's entirely possible I was caught up in a moment and just loving it all instead of looking for imperfections. If we all have animal instincts, there's one of mine--being the eternal optimist. I had a great time this weekend being not quite as young and dumb as I used to be, but every bit as childish and silly as always. ♥

May 9, 2018

So Hold On To the Ones Who Really Care

This week, “MMMBop” as we know it turned 21, I turned 30, and that combination has me thinking a lot about how I got here as a fan. It goes without saying that I am not the oldest or youngest fan by a long shot, and I’m proud to belong to a diverse fan base of all ages and backgrounds. I'm not writing this for me because woe is me and at the ripe old age of 30 I suddenly have all of the answers, but for all of us who have grown up loving a band and have had to navigate exactly what that means. Here's what it has meant for me.

If you’d asked me in 1997, I never would have thought I’d be following Hanson at 30 (or 20, for that matter). When you’re nine and daydreaming about meeting your idols, you think about meeting them tomorrow. You envision that one perfect day—and it’s always present day. You don’t think about what happens the day after that or think up some arbitrary cutoff date that means you’re “too old” and now you're supposed to like curtains instead. You don’t think about growing up and still chasing the music you love. You don’t dream about being an extra in a music video in 12 years, or dancing with a 27-year-old ancient-to-you version of Taylor Hanson, or attending their beer festival when you’re all well past legal drinking age. You don't think about how you'll feel when you're 25 and your friends are all walking down the aisle to the altar while you're walking down the aisle to seat 19A.

As an adult though, those thoughts start creeping in, or at least they did for me. When I got back into the Hanson scene and truly became a part of the fan base in 2006, I was 18. I was the perfect age to fall into this weird world of wanting to follow a band and actually being old enough to go out and make it happen without someone telling me no. I had wide eyes and shallow pockets and always wanted more. And with the joys of camping on streets and experiencing my first few times in the front row and meeting the band came the distinct fear that one day it would all go away. I don’t know at what point you get old enough to start feeling nostalgic about moments as they’re happening, but I felt that way constantly from the time I went to my first show.

I was always telling myself not to take anything for granted because I knew it couldn’t last (MMMBop, much?). I remember sitting in a dressing room interviewing Hanson and telling myself to take in every detail because I knew it was all going to be a memory soon. I can remember sitting on sidewalks at 20 and worrying that there might be some sort of shelf life to it all, and that I should “get it all out of my system” or do as much as I could while I was still able. It’s not that I thought I’d quit loving Hanson’s music, but more of an underlying fear that there would come a day when I would be expected to love it more quietly and from the confines of my car and iTunes instead of a sleeping bag 4,000 miles from home. I didn’t know if my career or family might one day not only take the front seat, but all of the seats, or that God forbid I might grow out of them and find out it was all a phase. It's nice to be able to take a retrospective moment now and realize that I haven't outgrown Hanson at all, and if anything I've grown more into them. I haven't spent 11 years getting the traveling fan lifestyle out of my system and avoiding growing up--I've spent it making lifelong friends and figuring out that being an adult and being an adventurous fan don't have to be mutually exclusive things. It just means that at 30, I've racked up a lot more frequent flier miles to keep going.

So for what it’s worth, life is weird and I’m kind of glad my nine year old dreams didn’t come true because reality turned out to be better. I'm even more grateful that my 20-year-old nightmares didn't come true and that I've managed to outlive the shelf life of the "phase" label, and I didn't wake up on my 30th birthday and feel the need to trade all of my concert tickets for collectible china patterns because I'd passed some socially acceptable expiration point. If I got written off as childish and crazy for hanging out on sidewalks at 20, then the people that are still in my life at 30 should realize by now that there's something more to it than that. If not? You know the saying--hold on to the ones who really care, and screw the rest. Or something like that.

And for the record, they say with age comes wisdom, but to quote an equally older Zac Hanson, "hell if I know" what kind of flower is going to grow. At this rate, it's probably a baby turtle.

February 21, 2018

(Un)Popular Opinion: Sea World Edition

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about Sea World and their treatment of animals. Prior to the backlash about Hanson playing there, in my experience as a non-activist average Joe, I had heard a few vaguely negative things about it, but my general disinterest in zoos as a whole was always enough to keep me from going there or seeking out more information. To be honest I’d heard more backlash against PETA than Sea World, so I sit somewhere in the middle with the understanding that you can’t believe everything you read and that every story has more than one side.

I strongly believe in keeping your mouth shut when you’re not educated about a topic, so I’m not here to argue why Hanson should or shouldn’t play Sea World. I don’t know enough to form a strong opinion much less push it on anyone else. I applaud anyone who has done their research and taken the time to examine a variety of sources and biases about a topic that means a lot to them. Hanson has taught us the importance of standing up for what we believe in time and time again, whether that means taking a symbolic barefoot walk or standing up for the underdog despite what others think. Silence will never evoke change, and I have a lot of respect for anyone that is willing to take a stand and speak out about something they feel passionate about.

Lately there have been several posts across social media and calls to action by fans advocating against Hanson playing at Sea World. I know it takes guts to stand up and call out a band that you love for doing something that you hate, and it’s encouraging to know that others feel the same. My issue with these campaigns is that most are being directed at Hanson and signed as though they represent the entire fan base. I’m not interested in quoting or calling out anything specific because there are several that fit this description, and I’m not looking to shame anyone. My point is this: keep standing up for what you believe in. If you truly care about something, don't back down. Write a compelling argument and put it in a public space; start a petition; re-tweet somebody you agree with; be open to a respectful discussion. Continue to protest Sea World long after this isolated Hanson show has come and gone. Things go viral for a reason, and if you have a good point that a lot of people agree with, spreading the word will become effortless. Stand up and shout it out, but while you’re doing it, please don’t claim to speak for everyone, don't exaggerate the number of fans involved, and please do not presume to speak for me or anyone else when you're addressing the band. Let the number of shares, signatures, or encouraging comments speak for themselves--but please, let other fans speak for themselves as well.



(and 2 or 3 friends that agree, and maybe a dozen or so more that will see this and feel the same…but I’ll let them decide if they want to be included)

P.S. Hanson still doesn't owe us anything.

January 14, 2018

Back to the Island 2018

Back to the Island 2018 wins gold for the strangest event yet. The timing couldn't have been worse for a lot of U.S. fans with a snow storm traveling up the east coast, and despite living in a mild climate most of the time, I became one of many with a canceled flight. You never expect to get snowed in in South Carolina, but the day before I left, six inches of snow fell in Charleston and shut down everything due to impassible roads. I found myself scrambling to rebook a flight for the second year in a row. (Last year a thunderstorm grounded my flight from Myrtle Beach, so I had to drive to Charleston instead. This year I just went ahead and booked out of Charleston to begin with, so naturally that backfired, too. Next year I'm hiring a mail boat). Thankfully I was able to work with American to find the only airport in the area with a seat left that would get me to Jamaica the same day, and I made it. And for the second year in a row, my last minute flight change put me on a plane with Hanson. I don't know what kind of weird backwards luck that is, but I'd honestly prefer to forego sharing a plane with Hanson if it means getting to Jamaica on the first try. Maybe next year.

As I finally descended into Jamaica, the usual beautiful blue aerial view of the island was obscured by fog. I spent the first two days swimming in a hot tub in the rain and substituting my usual cover-up with a rain jacket. I was already sick when I arrived this year, so throw in some major coughing to round out the not-so-perfect paradise image. I'm lucky my friends didn't quarantine me for the whole trip.

The rain and the dozens of flight cancelations led to the first concert being postponed an extra day. By day two, it was still too windy for the beach stage, so we wound up experiencing Zac's solo, Chris Carrabba, and the Rock All Night set in what was essentially a giant greenhouse wrapped in plastic that looked like the inside of a tanning bed. The shows were good, but obviously they would have been better on the beach. Still, I appreciate all of the hard work Island Gigs and Hanson put into making sure they happened anyway. The show must go on, and they probably moved mountains to make it happen.

Solo Shows
Zac went first and kicked off the event with "On the Rocks," which ended up being an entirely appropriate theme because the beach near the stage was dangerously rocky. He struggled with one song but I don't even remember which one, so apparently I'm not too phased. Other highlights include his first time ever soloing "Misery" and a brand new song called "The Ballad of Seymour Better Times." It was a cute and funny song that I doubt we'll ever see on an album, but I do hope we get a recording of it on a future member kit or perhaps Digital Pants. It had a great punchline at the end and I really liked it.

Isaac's set was last and probably the most mellow of the three, and I have to give him props for not making me cry this year. One of my favorite parts was seeing him play around with the loop pedal during "Leave the Light On" and adding in a fun and unexpected guitar solo. He told us he was going to play a song he wrote just a few weeks ago, but at the same time seemed to be improvising a new song on the spot while tuning. It was so put-together and sounded so good that I assumed he must be singing the new song after all. When he flubbed the ending I realized that he really had just been making it all up on the spot. It was super impressive for an off-the-cuff song and I hope we'll see the recording on hanson.net later. Isaac should definitely be proud of himself for that one; I know I was.

Taylor's solo set probably would have been my favorite this year even without the surprise side excursion. About two songs in, he started talking about how some things can only be done on a beach in Jamaica. He said Zac and Isaac would probably tell him it was a bad idea, but they weren't there to stop him. During all of this, I realize he's pulling off his socks and I'm standing there confused and excited waiting for him to drop whatever bomb he's about to set off. He stripped off his over shirt, invited anyone up for it to go for a swim in the ocean with him, and ran off the side of the stage and into the water without further notice.

For all my talk about owning too many swimsuits, this moment is exactly why I'm always wearing them under everything at BTTI. It paid off this year, because when the moment came, I was standing in the back wearing a bikini and a coverup, and it took me all of three seconds to be heading towards the beach. The whole thing was kind of stampede-ish and was probably cringeworthy if you let yourself think about it for more than a second, but it felt more like a Do Go Be moment to me than something to be embarrassed about. After all, it came with an invitation and it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime moment. So about a quarter of the crowd followed Taylor to the edge of the water, a smaller number was brave enough (or dressed) to go all in, and just about everyone tripped all over the rocks along the way. I went in towards the back away from Taylor and got caught up on rocks immediately along with two other girls I didn't know. Instead of trying to get near him, we spent a hilarious minute flailing around each other, fully submerged in about a foot of water just trying to stand back up again while the waves kept raking us over the rocks. If you ladies are reading this--thanks for the laughs! My friend Yelena captured a picture of the moment below.

Taylor went on to play two of my favorite solos--"Crazy Beautiful," and "Believe," which I'd only ever heard once in a sad carpeted room in Cancun, so this time was a significant upgrade. I love "Sunny Day" even when it's been raining out, and "Be My Own" was beautiful as always. It was a solid set and definitely my favorite solo show this time.

Special Guests
I hadn't seen Stephen Kellogg since he toured with Hanson back in 2008, so it was fun seeing him again. We actually watched his set from the balcony of our room while eating room service dinner in rocking chairs. It's the best way, really. Chris Carrabba as a special guest really made the trip for me though, because I loved his music back before I rediscovered Hanson, and I got to tell him so. While most of you reading this were defending your honor to Hanson haters back in high school, I was off blasting Dashboard Confessional and Something Corporate without a second thought for those MMMBop guys. Now here I am, 15 years later standing on a tropical island with both of them. Life can be weird and great.

I enjoyed Cards Against Humanity again even though I didn't get the opportunity to play, and I thought the added Hanson-themed cards were a fun twist to mix things up a little from last year's event. The "Old MacDonald had a _____" round that someone insisted he sing all of the answers to was the best.

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During the last round, a girl two seats over from me stripped off her dress and proceeded to walk up to the stage in her bra and underwear when her number was called. Everyone was super confused, Zac ignored that it happened from what I could tell, and the game ended after that. I spent a minute trying to figure out if she was wearing a swimsuit (nope) and then trying to reason that her bra covered more than plenty of the bikinis I had seen so what did I really care? I ultimately walked away thinking that even if she had been wearing a swimsuit, that's still a super weird and inappropriate thing to do when a Hanson calls you up to play a game. It hit me during Taylor's solo show that we had all just collectively shamed a girl for pulling off her dress in front of Zac, but then I went and removed my own dress in front of Taylor (more like in the very back in his distant presence) and ran into the ocean with him. It's ironic, but there's one major difference: an invitation.

Family Feud went a lot more smoothly this year, but it felt like there wasn't much crowd excitement. By the end, anyone that wanted to go had the opportunity to participate even if their number wasn't called. My favorite part of the night was when my roommate Rachel answered "Name something you wouldn't want to happen while riding in a taxi" with "Get lost," and Isaac got super shocked and offended for a moment thinking she was telling him to get lost before realizing that was her actual answer. We all had a good laugh including Isaac once he realized he wasn't being insulted.

Tie dye on the other hand was a bit of a letdown for me this year. None of the guys ever made it to the table I was at, and I somehow managed to make my worst shirt yet. It looked completely saturated with dye, but when I opened it up back home it's almost all white. This is where I shrug and hope next year is better and am thankful that it wasn't my first or only shot for a good tie dye experience.

Full Band Shows
The "Rock All Night" set had the potential to be my favorite if not for the change of venue and the somewhat short setlist. I have to say I was pleasantly shocked at how much I loved "Oh La La La" as an opening song because I never really cared for it on the EP. The show was heavy with songs from "The Walk" (Blue Sky, Tearing it Down, Something Going Round) which is always fine by me, and I know so many people were thrilled to finally hear "World's On Fire." Getting to see Chris Carrabba perform "Back to the Island" with Hanson was a great moment and I hope just the beginning of a collaboration I'd love to see again. "You Shook Me All Night Long" was the perfect ending for a rock themed set, and I'm not even a little bit disappointed that they repeated it on the final night.

My favorite part of the Members' Only night was "Coming Back for More" with Stephen Kellogg. It's one of those obscure songs that I forget exists most of the time, which means I always forget exactly how much I love it until I'm hearing it again. It's hard to believe the first time I ever heard it live was also with Stephen Kellogg--ten years ago! "No Rest for the Weary" was another standout, and while I love "I Don't Want To Go Home," I completely tuned out the second half of it because baby sea turtles started hatching next to us by the soundboard. I didn't even realize the show was over at first because I was busy trying not to step on turtles. How's that for an epic finale?

I've never waited long for a BTTI show, but something possessed me to plant myself in the front row for the final show this year. Despite my initial disappointment at the announcement of a singles set, I really enjoyed myself and felt like the crowd energy was strong. I lost about half of "Weird" to silent giggles when I looked over and a random tractor was driving by on the beach, completely out of place during a somber moment. We were all just looking at each other and pointing at it whispering "Isn't it strange?" and dying about it while Hanson seemed unaware.

We found out more turtles were hatching right at the beginning of "I Was Born," and Taylor got excited right along with us and kept making references to them in his speech and telling them to DO, GO, and BE. He changed up the lyrics to "Don't want a ticket to the same marine" and "Don't underestimate the sting of the little turtle" which sounds so silly, but the crowd ate it up. Zac reminded me how great "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" is live, complete with belting the final high note right in my face. No camera or video could capture the wide-eyed crazy look that accompanied those high notes, but I don't think I'll ever forget it anyway.

Dance Party
This year's after party was probably my favorite. I thought the space it was set up in lining the street was perfect. There was plenty of room to dance, a bar within arm's reach, and plenty of places to sit and hang out and take it all in from more of a distance if dancing isn't really your thing. I enjoyed getting to hang out with my friends a bit further back without feeling like I was missing anything but also without feeling like I was being judged for not dancing more. I'm glad I stuck around because I got to see the moment when Taylor decided to bring up the entertainment staff during "Pony," and now I can feel like I basically got to see male strippers at a Hanson event, though thankfully their clothes stayed on. It was hysterical and I'm not sure Taylor knew what he was getting himself into by bringing them on stage, but it certainly made for a unique and hilarious moment for me as a spectator.

The End...for now
So it wasn't the best and it wasn't the worst, but it sure beat being snowed in back home. "Isn't it strange" felt like the theme of the trip, and I can't help but embrace the weirdness and be thankful for another unforgettable experience. Sure we got rain and dark walkways and limited hot water, but we also got turtles and a tractor and synchronized swim dancers and a surprise field trip into the ocean with Taylor. I spent it all with friends who would apparently rather get sick with me than stay well without me, and that's the best kind I could hope for. I live for those random unexpected moments, and BTTI 2018 provided plenty of them.

Whether there's rain, shine, or rocky beaches--Back to the Island is my patch of green.

December 28, 2017

Anti-Bucket List 2017

As soon as Hanson released "I Was Born" this year and started talking about challenging yourself to do exciting and even scary new things, I thought about my own Anti-Bucket List series that I've challenged myself with for the past few years. Here's my 2017--some planned, some definitely unplanned, and all survived and accomplished one way or another:

Anti-Bucket List series posts

December 16, 2017

Finally It's Christmas: Chicago

If you know me at all, you already know I'm an incredibly cheesy human being. I prefer puns to profanity on any given day, and it only gets worse being named Holly around Christmas time. I chose to do the two Chicago shows over the rest of the FIC Tour cities because several of my friends were also planning to go, and as you can imagine, the Christmas cheer got a little extra when we joined forces.

The trip began with me somehow packing a full sized sleeping bag, a giant thigh-length down coat, an extra fleece blanket, a holly dress, boots, and a few Christmas sweaters into a carry-on suitcase. I packed everything else in a personal item and managed to pull off not checking a bag or re-wearing anything. It was the first of many Christmas miracles this trip and probably my most impressive packing feat to date (after all that effort, it was 60 degrees Fahrenheit by the day we left. Go figure).

I'd normally talk about both shows separately, but the the setlists were identical and the biggest difference for me was the fact that I was front row the first night and in the balcony for the second show. The first night, Isaac's son also played the role of an elf roadie and handed his dad guitars while wearing a full elf costume. He kept waving to the audience and hamming it up dancing on the side of the stage. It was absolutely adorable and Isaac was beaming the whole time.

Hanson's performances were beyond amazing. There's a reason a video of "Joy to the Mountain" a fan recorded in NYC went viral; that song perfectly showcases their voices and ability to blend in seamless harmony, and it got the biggest crowd response both nights. Zac's rendition of "Please Come Home for Christmas" was gorgeous, "Merry Christmas Baby" felt the most nostalgic and put the biggest involuntary smile on my face, and the finale made it clear that Isaac's voice was the perfect choice for "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" that manages to somehow make you feel just a touch of sadness while you're also bursting with joy. To be honest, I was a little disappointed that the setlists didn't vary at all, if only because I didn't get to hear my favorite part of the new album, "Happy Christmas." My all-time favorite is "My Favorite Christmas Sweater," but I didn't have much hope for that one being played since it's on neither album. Maybe one day.

After the first show, we managed another Christmas miracle by getting an overly festive Holly photo with Taylor. The other Holly pictured has since mailed it to me in an equally festive holly frame, and it will absolutely become part of my Christmas decor for years to come.

We made the most of our extra day and a half in Chicago and managed to check off a lot of tourist necessities. We went to Millenium Park and saw the Bean, the giant Christmas tree, and a picturesque ice skating scene that we all knew better than to try. We ate deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's, hot dogs and cake at Portillo's, and rode the ferris wheel at the Navy Pier. We braved the Tilt ride at 360 Chicago on the 94th Floor of the Hancock Building, which I thought would be scary since I'm normally afraid of heights. Instead, the unexpected blinding reflection of 1997 Zac Hanson's unimpressed face from the front of my shirt in the window made the experience more laughable than anything else.

The part I expected to be my favorite was the Christkindl German Christmas market, for which the English translation might as well be "Santa Claustrophobia" because it was so overrun with people. We waited in a giant hot spiced wine line before half of our group gave up and left, but I was determined to have my traditional German food to go with it. I'd take the number system and Hanson line cutters any day over a wiener schnitzel kiosk with an infinite number of branching lines and only two service windows. There were times when people who weren't even in the food line were at a stand-still in front of us for minutes at a time simply because there was no room to even leave. It was in no way a joyful experience, but to be fair, the goulash alone was kind of worth it.

By coincidence, SantaCon was happening in downtown Chicago on our full tourist day, so we kept passing dozens of bar-hopping Santas. There was an array of creative costumes, including a full-suited Buddy the Elf and one confusing Santa with severed Coke cans protruding from his face. Someone identified him as "Canta Claus," and now I can rest easy knowing that the worst pun of the entire trip was someone else's doing. In a peak moment of greatness, we caught a glimpse of about thirty or so Santas outside of a bar called "Joy." My only regret was not asking to be in a group picture with them all.

At some point before the trip, (other) Holly had the genius idea to hang stockings from our box in the balcony for the second show. We weren't sure we'd be able to pull it off or if it was even worth trying, but somehow it worked and we found ourselves with a makeshift mantle place with seven stockings, two small battery-powered candles, and a tiny USB-powered Christmas tree. We thought the whole setup was relatively minimal right up until we caught a glimpse of ourselves in a video on instagram later where a couple of blinking necklaces and one light-up sweater had us looking a little more 4th of July than we ever realized (or intended). Thankfully we didn't keep those on the entire time, and we managed to secure everything well enough that nothing fell or shifted. I'm still amazed and excited that we pulled it off.

Come on, it's Christmas; we bring it with us. Stockings, lights--forgive us! #punderfulchristmastime
(lyrics c/o @yelanger)
At the end of the show, the House of Blues trumped our display by surprising Hanson with snow during "Blue Christmas." It was a magical moment that I never expected, and I'm so glad I got to experience it alongside a few good friends and a few badly hand-painted stockings. I don't think I was the only one that teared up a little when Isaac changed the lyrics in "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to "Through the years we all have been together, as the fates allowed" and motioned to the crowd and back at himself as he said "we." It was a beautiful ending to a great pair of shows and probably my favorite one-off trip ever.

We went back to the hotel in our fancy dresses and laid our candles and tiny tree on a lobby table to prepare for a candlelit takeout feast. One of the few places still open for delivery to our location was a gourmet grilled cheese restaurant, and I think it may be safe to say that cheesy goodness became a big theme of our trip. I feasted on delicious Mexican and pulled-pork grilled cheeses, fried cheese curds, fried pickles, and chocolate milk, and it was everything I've ever wanted from midnight delivery food.

I'll end by saying this: May your days be merry and filled with "Finally It's Christmas" songs on repeat, and forget the candy canes--may all your grilled cheeses be wrapped in quesadillas.

December 12, 2017

MOE Tour: Los Angeles

I always try to write my posts within a few days of a trip if at all possible, but here we are halfway through December, and I’m just now slowing down enough to write about Zac’s birthday show. I’m not sure if that means you’re going to get a more honest account after the rainbows and glitter have fallen off and I’ve come down from the usual tour high, or if it’s going to be a lot more boring because I’ve forgotten half of the fun details. In any case—my bad. Unfortunately car shopping and medical bills and the busiest time of the year at work can get in the way of writing for fun.

I do remember having trouble finding a place to shower and eventually Pricelining a hotel in Chinatown. I made my first Jimmy John's order directly to the line (“deliver to the second blue chair from the door”), and the delivery guy accidentally left his cell phone in my box of sandwiches and had to come back for it. And unfortunately, I also remember feeling super sick at doors to the point that I just knew this was going to be the blog post about “that time I threw up in the front row on Zac’s birthday.” Thankfully the feeling passed and that’s not the case.

There were two particularly special things about this show. One was the guest appearance of Danny Hutton of Three Dog Night to perform “Never Been to Spain” with Hanson. It was a complete surprise and a treat to experience. He gushed about how talented the guys are and talked about his own kid(s?) liking them and being forever impressed at how talented they were as children. Hansons’ faces lit up at the stream of compliments coming from someone they all obviously admire. It was fun for us fans to watch, but I think Hanson enjoyed it most of all.

The second special thing was the random appearance of a giant disco ball. I guess technically there were five large disco balls nestled into the ceiling, but during “Where’s the Love,” the largest one descended to just a few feet above Zac’s head and I’ve never seen anything quite like it at a Hanson show. It felt hilariously appropriate spinning our arms around to “it makes the world go ‘round and ‘round” when there was something the size of a giant globe spinning above the stage at the same time. I think the few other times I’ve mentioned disco balls at Hanson shows I’ve likened them to middle school dances in gyms, but this one felt more like standing inside the night light scene in the movie Mermaids with the spinning fish and waves projected on the walls. It was definitely more magical than a school gym and way more over the top in an awesomely ridiculous sort of way.

Isaac eclipse.

They brought out a cake and let everyone sing happy birthday to Zac, but at the ripe old age of 32, he decided not to go for the traditional Hanson cake smash. They had previously canceled the afterparty for that night, so maybe they had somewhere important to be later where icing might be an inappropriate hair accessory. Who knows. The show ended, I vaguely recognized that I was exiting the building next to Darren Criss, and that was that, the end of another tour.

The best way to put off PHCD is to do something fun after the last show, so we spent the next day at Universal Studios Hollywood despite the fact that it reached 102 degrees. We cooled down with Butterbeer, the Jurassic Park water ride, and frequent visits to air conditioned stores. I loved the Simpsons area and the backlot tour, and my favorite ride (that I probably shouldn't have ridden while still bruised) was The Mummy. I met some minions and wished I'd worn sunscreen and had a great time just being a kid for the day.

November 10, 2017

MOE Tour: Anaheim

I was home for exactly nine days between the Minneapolis show and my trip to California. Three days in, a pretty big thing happened. A drunk driver in a large van ran a stop sign in front of me on my way home from work that night. I hit him in my compact car going almost 60 mph. The van rolled, the front end of my car was completely obliterated, and I have God and the invention of airbags and seatbelts to thank for the fact that I'm here writing this right now. I consider it a miracle that my worst injury was an abrasion across my chest and shoulder from the seatbelt; it's a badge of honor I'll gladly wear considering the alternative.

Despite some soreness and a pretty gross looking shoulder area, I was determined to still make it to California. I made sure to leave my travel backpack at home and only bring rolling luggage I wouldn't have to carry. I asked kind strangers on planes to lift my suitcase into the overhead bin for me, and they obliged before I could even explain why I needed the help. (They probably assumed I was just a tiny girl with a tendency to overpack and zero upper-body strength, but whatever.) It was kind of a rough start, but I was just happy to be there and thankful that my final MOE tour trip was all flights and didn't rely on my car at all.

I had no intention of trying to tell Hanson about it during the group picture after the Anaheim MOE. There wasn't time, and you can't really shake someone's hand, say "Hey! I almost died since you saw me last week. It's great to be here," and walk away. Instead I lined up against the barricade to pose for the picture, and then Zac's hand clamped down on my injured shoulder and I realized too late that I really should have thrown out some kind of "don't touch Holly today" disclaimer first. The picture was over before there was even time to protest, so I had a literal grin and bear it moment. I haven't seen the picture yet, but there's a 50% chance I look like the half-grimacing little girl in a family photo who is only behaving because her mom is pinching her behind the scenes.

The MOE setlist was identical to the one I attended in St. Pete but with "Get Out of My Heart" added in the middle. During the Q&A portion, they called on a girl several rows back whose question was simply if they remembered her. (I wasn't even sure they could see her well enough to know if they did or didn't.) Isaac went into Hancyclopedia mode and saved the day by actually being able to recall and provide details to the situation she described pretty convincingly. Someone asked a very specific question for Taylor about EDM and his DJ sets that went about 90% over my head and probably at least 60% over Taylor's. The last question I remember was from a younger girl who asked about their most embarrassing moment on stage, and they talked about a botched performance of "Piece of My Heart" from years back where they all just went completely blank trying to perform it live. It's kind of hard to imagine them having that kind of frozen stage fright now.

We stood about halfway back in the crowd after enjoying front row for the MOE, and I was amply reminded that a large part of why I love being up front is not having to watch the show through 27 moving phones. Thankfully we were on a slight incline and could see over most of them, but they were an ever-present part of the Anaheim experience. If everyone is going to have their phones in the air anyway, at least Isaac has learned to make use of it during "Weird" this tour. Watching a sea of lighted phones swaying in unison is actually a pretty neat sight--when it's called for.

A post shared by Holly (@_hollywouldnt) on

I was happily surprised to hear "Crazy Beautiful" for the first and only time this tour. It's always going to be one of my favorites, and I didn't realize I'd been missing it until it showed up on this setlist. I also finally got to hear Hanson's cover of "Wildflowers" by Tom Petty that I'd been hearing so much about, and it was a beautiful way for them to honor his memory. You should check out this video they shared if you didn't get a chance to witness it for yourself.

And then there was "I Was Born," usually my own personal patronus against WYIYD, that suddenly felt a lot more serious and emotional hearing it for the first time after the accident. Because while I may not know exactly what I'm here to do, it seems clearer now more than ever that I'm meant to be here, period. I'm not the only person who has ever survived a car crash, but I'm ecstatic that I can do, go, and be all of the things that were always possible. I'm infinitely grateful that they still are.

November 4, 2017

MOE Tour: Minneapolis

Minneapolis was an afterthought that I added after finalizing my other nine shows. A friend offered to let me come stay with her and go together, but I brushed it off at first because it didn't feel worth it to book another flight just for one show. Then that thing happened where I looked up flights out of curiosity, and here we are. Minneapolis became the one place I went this tour that I had never been before.

I planned an extra day for sightseeing, and my host Yelena made sure I had a memorable experience. I got to try my first giant bowl of pho as well as strawberry bubble tea at a great local Vietnamese restaurant. I love trying new things, so I ordered their special and ate all kinds of things that I could identify on paper, but none of which I recognized in the bowl. We had a nice conversation surrounding the identity of one particularly tentacle-looking item (there weren't any tentacles in the ingredient list for this particular dish). I picked out a different unidentifiable piece just in time to realize it was actually my own napkin that I had unknowingly dropped in my bowl. Points for solving that embarrassing mystery before it made it to my mouth, at least. We'll never know what the "tentacle" was, but for what it's worth, it didn't taste like a paper product.

A post shared by Holly (@_hollywouldnt) on

We also visited Minnesota's largest candy store and the Mall of America. I got to eat my favorite German chocolate, take a picture in a Tardis, ride a Spongebob rollercoaster, and see a random art exhibit made of rainbow string. I loved it all and wish all days off on tour could be so amazing.

Obligatory crazy line story: A homeless man stopped by, mumbled something incoherent, and proceeded to try to pass around the world's largest flask. It's actually kind of a sweet gesture considering how cold we must have looked. Bonus points to the random guy that stopped, accepted the offer, turned his head to take a hearty pretend sip, and thanked him and handed it back. You brought the entertainment, Minneapolis.

Once we were inside for the show, there was a fun mishap where the person behind me didn't realize her full water bottle didn't have a lid. When she tried to squeeze it in her arm to hold it, it gushed all over me and soaked the plaid shirt I had just taken off and laid on the barricade. It was an accident so we all laughed about it, and I was just happy it was only water. I also knew I could leave my plaid shirt hanging over the barricade to dry during the show before needing to go back out in the cold with it, so no harm done.

The setlist had a couple of changes including "I Will Come To You" in place of WYIYD, "And I Waited," and a fun new cover medley of "I'm a Man," "Gimme Some Lovin'," and "Long Train Running" with Taylor playing the congas.  Isaac came close to spoiling the medley for me during our confused setlist conversation back in Norfolk, but I stopped him and told him I'd rather find out for myself. I'm glad I was able to make it to another show and hear it in person; the only downside was not getting to see the congas in action on more songs!

The end of the show--like all the rest--was full of the highest energy songs. Everyone jumped and clapped and used whatever was left of their voices, and Isaac was into it enough that he tossed his water over the front of the crowd to cool everyone off. My plaid shirt got doused for the second time of the night just in time to leave; I guess it just wasn't meant to be dry.

After the show by the bus was one of those awkward setups with a fence and no real way to interact with Hanson. And yet it was happening. People were passing Zac CDs through a small gap in the side of a fence, and he was signing anything that would fit. There were awkward chain link fence selfies and half-anonymous conversations because visibility isn't the best in the dark with a fence in your way. I have to give major props to the fans though because once the crowd died down a little, everyone was pretty considerate with taking turns using that one sad gap to get to Hanson. I had every intention of not bothering, but then everyone was so nice and I realized that I was wearing a blanket, and I thought what other moment will I ever find myself wearing a blanket in public with a fenced-in Hanson? Isaac and I took advantage of the ridiculousness, and I went home with one of my favorite Hanson pictures to date.