January 1, 2018

MMMStop: A Fan’s Reaction to Hanson in the Media

We’ve seen an unexpected spike in Hanson mentions lately, and it’s kind of ironic when you think about it. In the last twenty years, Hanson has had multiple new albums and tours, started a non-profit charity organization, founded a music and beer festival with over 40,000 attendees, and started their own record label, all while most media outlets were busy covering things like the next seasonal Starbucks flavor or which muffin looks the most like a Chihuahua. Meanwhile, all it takes is someone getting confused about the release date of “MMMBop,” and suddenly an article about singing the wrong words to a ~20-year-old song goes viral. As a die-hard fan, it’s a little annoying, but we’re used to the MMMBop commentary by now. I’ll hit the “share” button and smile knowing that maybe a handful of people will be reintroduced to a forgotten talent, because this is the internet, and I know all too well that sometimes you click a random link and find yourself 47 Youtube videos deep three hours later.

Right after these MMMBop articles made the rounds, I spotted a new article with the title "Reminder: The Men from Hanson Are All Grown Up Now" while scrolling through Facebook on a break at work. I spent the rest of the day thinking “Good for them. Here’s someone that actually wants to focus on Hanson’s current music.” I sat down at my computer to read it as soon as I got home, ready to applaud whatever forward thinker took the time to see past the apparent blinding success of “MMMBop.”

Maybe I should have anticipated that the entire article would be one big Buzzfeed slobberfest over Hanson’s appearances. It turns out grown-up Hanson is “hot enough to just melt the pants right off ya” and not much else these days. Somewhere around the gif of Isaac’s hair flip, it occurred to me that I can either continue to be annoyed by shallow articles, or I can stop hoping to click on that perfectly enlightened piece that doesn’t exist and write it myself. It won't go viral and I offer no sweaty gifs to lure you in, but here’s the truth every Hanson fan wants you to know every time you see another “MMMBop” article.

1. First of all, MMMBop rocks, okay?
It’s not the embarrassing Pokemon shirt you refused to take off in 3rd grade that your friends still won’t let you live down; it’s a Grammy-nominated song that hit #1 in 27 countries. You’re doing pretty well if that’s the one moment from your childhood that people choose to dwell on.

2. Who cares if they're pretty?
I’m not about to argue with the fact that the members of Hanson are attractive, but that fact is so irrelevant to their talent and their craft that it shouldn’t even rank in the conversation. It’s like writing an article about a presidential candidate and mentioning the fact that they have feet. Who cares, unless we’re looking for a candidate that can run a marathon in addition to a country? Nobody in Hanson is trying to be a model or a pinup, and I’m pretty sure Zac’s face isn’t going to surprise us with a killer drum solo any time soon.

3. The Hanson I know melts faces, not pants.
If you go to a show, yeah, they’ll probably play “MMMBop.” They’ll also play songs from their other five albums, and the whole crowd will know every word. The energy is intense, so you’ll probably get your feet trampled if you try to stand still during “If Only” or “In the City.” You’ll involuntarily stomp during “You Can’t Stop Us;” I don’t care who you are. If you're lucky, you'll get to experience their cover of the Beatles’ “Oh Darling,” and you’ll have to swear to yourself that you’ll never tell another soul that Hanson did it better. Their harmonies will SLAY you. I dare you to go to a show and not enjoy or at least respect some aspect of it.

4. Their current tour and/or album is neither a “comeback” nor a “reunion.” 

As a Hanson fan with an English degree, I'm offended by articles like this on two levels. Thirty seconds, an internet connection, and the ability to spell both “Google” and “Hanson” is literally all it takes to find out that Hanson has never stopped making music and has been steadily touring and releasing albums since 1997. Suggesting otherwise is pretty insulting to both the band and their fans, and it’s insulting to the entire audience of readers who expect accuracy when choosing to spend their time reading a publication. If I wanted fiction, I’d go to the library. It also says a lot about modern journalism when even the most reputable sources show zero effort to do research to verify basic facts.

And then you get the media outlets that post “reunion” articles every single tour, for which I can only suspect amnesia is to blame.

5. Hanson isn't a "boy band."
They're often lumped into this category for two reasons: 1. They were literally boys in a band, and 2. They became famous around the same time as several well-known boy bands. The term "boy band" refers to a group of male singers also known for dancing. They're typically vocalists/performers who do not write or play their own music.

Isaac, Taylor, and Zac have written and performed all of their own music since the band formed back in 1992. In the last decade, I have personally seen them play the piano, guitar, drums, harmonica, tambourine, mandolin, cajon, cowbell, glockenspiel, and half a dozen other percussion instruments I can't even begin to identify. I've seen Taylor and Zac drum in unison, mirrored on a set of left and right-handed drum kits. I was also on the set of a music video shoot that involved choreographed dancing in homage to the Blues Brothers. The finished product is solid, but let's just say no one mistook them for a boy band while we were filming the flashmob scene.

6. They continue to grow and change, just like everyone else.
And if you must judge them on qualities beyond their music, remember that they’re philanthropists and goofballs and genuinely good people. They aren’t afraid of hard work or criticism, and they’ve had lots of experience with both. I hope we never forget MMMBop, and I hope their faces will stick around for a long time, but I hope they keep making music more than anything. You guys can keep your nostalgia; I can't wait to see what they do next.

originally published on 3/27/16

March 28, 2017

Travel Tips: Booking a Flight

Someone recently suggested that I write a blog post with tips for booking flights. It’s a topic I’ve talked myself out of covering more than once because unfortunately, there's not much you can do to save money on flights. There are dozens of tips out there about when to book for the best deal (six weeks out on a Tuesday, using the Hopper app, etc.), but truthfully I haven't found any that are consistently accurate. So I can’t tell you the best time to book or where to find discounts, but I can share a little insight into how I book and a few things that I have found useful.

1. Don’t limit yourself to one airport.
If you have your own transportation and are able to drive yourself to the airport, don’t be afraid to look into flying out of an airport a little further from home. My home airport is small and usually significantly more expensive than surrounding airports. Because of this, I have a triangle of airports that I use: my home airport when I’m lucky, another airport two hours away that is usually cheaper, and one 3.5 hours away for the most affordable cross-country or international flights. Just don’t forget to factor in airport parking if you decide to try this option.

2. Sign up for rewards programs.
Most airlines offer rewards programs free of charge, and some are even partnered with hotels and other companies to offer ways to earn points on everyday purchases by linking with any credit or debit card. You earn miles every time you book a flight directly through the airline, and if you fly frequently enough, these points can be redeemed for free flights or upgrades. If you have several airlines in a similar price range, try to choose one and stick with it to maximize points. There is literally no reason not to do this every single time you fly to make sure you earn the most points possible.

Here are a few that offer opportunities to earn extra miles outside of flight purchases without signing up for a credit card:
American Airlines Advantage eShopping
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

3. Consider getting an airline credit card.
Most offer generous bonus miles just for signing up, and you continue to earn miles every time you use the card. Many have a long list of added travel benefits that can go unnoticed by cardholders but are definitely worth researching. For example, my card covers rental car insurance and has reimbursed me for unplanned parking and hotel expenses due to delayed and canceled flights. Deciding which card is best for you is another topic entirely and one that I’m not equipped to tackle, but I found https://thepointsguy.com/ to be a great resource when making this decision for myself. Start by looking at what airlines fly out of your local airport and then consider which ones you have flown the most in the past. Those are likely the ones that offer the best prices to suit your specific travel needs. (in other words, it's not worth signing up for a card with amazing mileage and benefits if their flights aren't affordable from where you live)

4. See if your airline offers flight holding services.
If you see a great price but need a little time to shop around or make travel plans, check and see if the airline has a way to hold the flight. American offers free 24-hour flight holds for Advantage members (free rewards program), and United offers a Fare Lock feature for a small fee. I hold flights on American almost every time I travel, and I've only used Fare Lock once, but it was worth it.

5. Be aware that most airlines flying in/to the U.S. offer free flight cancellation within 24 hours of booking.
The U.S. Department of Transportation "requires carriers to hold a reservation at the quoted fare for 24 hours without payment or allow a reservation to be cancelled within 24 hours without penalty" as long as you book your flight more than seven days in advance. There's wiggle room for airlines to implement this in a couple of different ways, but the bottom line is if you change your mind within 24 hours of booking, start looking for a way to cancel, because it exists in some form. This is great if you happen to stumble onto a cheaper price shortly after booking, or if you're me and you forget to factor in an extra day for sightseeing in a new place.

6. Don’t be afraid of Spirit Airlines…IF you can pack virtually nothing.
Spirit doesn’t exist in every major city, but if it’s in your local airport, don’t let the horror stories scare you away (I assume the same is true of other discount carriers like Allegiant, but I only have experience with Spirit). It has a bad reputation mostly due to the fact that they charge for every little thing from a carry-on bag to simply printing your boarding pass or choosing a seat. It’s not worth it to save on your ticket if you’re going to have to pay just as much to bring all of your luggage, but for an overnight trip, it can be a steal. In the past I’ve flown roundtrip from South Carolina to Chicago for under $100, and from SC to Washington DC and back for $40. I have a flight booked in the fall for just over $200 that would have been $500+ on a regular carrier. (And you better believe I’ll be squishing some packing cubes into a tote bag and skipping all the fees.)


7. Don’t follow flight prices until you’re ready to book.
This seems counter-intuitive, right? How do you know if you’re saving money or throwing it away if you don’t know what the flight cost last week? I say this for two reasons. First, it has been debated for years whether or not some airline websites use cookies to track search history and adjust pricing accordingly. I.E., searching the same flight multiple times from the same device can theoretically lead to price gouging—but if you were to search the same flight from a different device or while logged out, the price may be lower. I’ve only noticed this happening once, and it could have been a coincidence, but it’s enough to make me lay off the search bar a bit. The second reason is simply that prices fluctuate so frequently and unpredictably that it’s honestly not worth the regret you’re going to have when you log back in and see that your flight went up $50. Realizing that you should have booked yesterday doesn’t actually save you any money, and stubbornly waiting until tomorrow to see if it goes back down again might mean it just goes up another $100.

I suppose my biggest takeaway from flying often is that saving money up front on flights is rare and unlikely, and your best bet is to try to build up a loyalty to a specific airline to maximize rewards and hopefully save more in the long run.

What are some of your successful or failed flight tips? Feel free to share in the comments!

January 24, 2017

How Many Shows Have You Been To?

A non-fan recently asked me how many Hanson shows I've been to, and I had a little bit of a revelation. I'm always hesitant to give a concrete number to someone that I don't think will "get it." It's not because I'm embarrassed or because I don't want anyone to know, but because sometimes giving a high number feels like the fastest way to be written off as crazy. Of course not everyone will have a negative reaction, and there are plenty of people that can respect being passionate about traveling for a band even if they've never done it themselves. Still, saying “I’ve been to a hundred shows” seems more likely to kickstart whispered jokes than high fives most of the time.

And while I’m not ashamed about the number of shows I’ve been to, I realized that maybe the best way to describe it to someone on the outside is to say that asking me how many times I’ve seen Hanson is like asking you how many times you’ve visited your Grandma, or how many times you’ve hugged your mom in your lifetime. Do we have to set limits on meaningful experiences? Do we always quantify the things that make us happy?

And lastly, the real question here: Do you already respect who I am as a person? Because if you do, then finding out how many Hanson shows I've attended shouldn't change the way you feel about me any more than the number of apples you've eaten in your lifetime should affect the way I feel about you. Hanson isn't for everyone. Following a band isn't for everyone. Expensive handbags and football rivalries and video games aren't for everyone. But mutual respect, compassion, and acceptance can be, and hopefully--if you're lucky--passion can be, too. So whether you're a fellow fan or a curious friend, I hope you've found your Hanson. And when someone asks you how many times, whether your number is five or five hundred, the answer will always be "Not enough."

January 12, 2017

Back to the Island 2017

I seriously considered not even writing a blog post about this trip and just pasting in the setlists for the solo shows to let them speak for themselves. Every Back to the Island Event has had that one thing that stood out above and beyond the rest, and in my opinion, 2017 has been the year of the solo shows.

Isaac’s Show
Isaac went first and set the bar impossibly high. He effectively made up for every eye-roll moment of last year’s mess of a late set the moment he mentioned Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It was completely unexpected and nothing short of breathtaking. He also covered David Garza’s “Too Much” which included the use of a loop pedal and Isaac playing both piano and guitar on the same song. It was a bit high for his voice, but it was great to see him experiment with some new performance techniques and share a song with us that he obviously loves.

We’re just getting started about Isaac's set. It was a total emotional rollercoaster. He played “A Life Without You” for the second time, and last year that song wrecked me. I managed to keep myself together this time, only to fall apart completely with “Call Me” a few songs later (along with the rest of the crowd). “Call Me” is a song I have never really given much thought, but this time Isaac told us the backstory and it made all the difference.  He said he wrote it for a friend who had been given some bad news. I was able to think about the lyrics and realize it’s sweet that he wrote a song for this person who obviously needed a friend to talk to. Then he told us that his friend had passed away from cancer within the last year, and that he wanted to play it in her honor. I lost it and spent the whole song a blubbering mess with my friends holding me in a big group hug. Even standing there wrapped up in my own emotions, I couldn’t help but feel a lot of respect for Isaac for dedicating this song to his friend and for being able to get through a performance of it when he must have been feeling a lot of the same things I was feeling.

I was at a show a few years back and there was an awful moment where someone loudly called Isaac out in front of the entire crowd for not taking the walk earlier that day. He shot back that he missed the walk because he had been on the phone with a friend who just found out she had cancer. The whole crowd went silent and it was awful and sad and we all felt for him, and I’m sure the heckler felt like the biggest jerk alive. I don't know if this was the same friend, but being there for both moments just felt like it all came full circle in the worst way. It was a beautiful dedication and I’m proud of Isaac for doing it and felt honored that he shared that moment with us.

He also explained that “Beautiful Eyes” was written around the same time his youngest sister was born, and he gave it the context of losing a mother during childbirth and said that the girl in the song didn’t just leave him, she “left” him, and pointed to the sky. I’ll never hear that song the same way again, and it just goes to show that not every song is just some cheesy love story without any depth. Also someone got engaged during “More Than Anything?” I mean come on, this set had tears and joy and life and loss and Leonard Cohen and a church hymn, and I really couldn’t ask for more. I'm still going to make you look at the setlists.

Two Tears
A Life Without You
So Lovely
Next Train
Call Me
Beautiful Eyes
More Than Anything
Too Much (David Garza cover)
Hallelujah / Amazing Grace

Taylor’s Show
Taylor’s solo set was thankfully less of a tearjerker. He blew everyone’s minds (and his nose 😂). The crowd lost it when he pulled out “Love Somebody to Know” and “Breaktown,” which is probably one of the most requested Hanson songs in existence. I have never seen so many phones and cameras fly into the air so fast. I have to say, in a totally unexpected turn of events, my actual favorite from his set was “You Never Know.” I’ve always enjoyed that song, but it has never been anything particularly special to me. Taylor just completely nailed it and included a killer piano solo that won over my piano-loving heart. I feel like as fans we’re always quick to talk about rare and favorite songs and there’s always a focus on the setlist, but Taylor’s voice just sounded amazing and on point throughout the entire set. For me, the quality of his performance outshone the excitement of the song selection, which is really saying something considering the great songs he picked. I honestly think his performance of "You Never Know" might be the best performance I have ever seen him give of anything, or at least it felt that way at the time.

I've Been Down
Make It Out Alive
Love Somebody To Know
Cut Right Through Me
Be My Own
Never Let Go
I Will Come To You
Runaway Run
Get The Girl Back
You Never Know
Get Up And Go
Save Me
Follow Your Lead

Zac’s Show
The best part about Zac’s solo was his willingness to share background information about most of the songs he chose. I always want to know more, and Hanson just loves to be vague and leave songs open to interpretation. He talked about how “Juliet” was originally written for his daughter and that it started out using her name instead of “Juliet.” He said “Fire On the Mountain” is about people not figuring out what life is about and just kind of drifting through without ever figuring out some sort of direction or what they believe. He gave “What Are We Fighting For” a political introduction and talked about being fed up with all of the arguing between opposing perspectives.

My favorite part was what he said about “Siren Call,” which is apparently much darker than I had interpreted. He said it’s a song about deep depression and the dangers of giving into those dark feelings, and that the only way out of it is to start thinking of others instead of focusing on yourself. It just gave that song a much more real and tangible meaning to me, and I imagine anyone who has suffered from depression can relate to that constant pull and how hard you have to fight to keep yourself on track and away from the rocks. You can check out what he had to say about it here (fair warning, there is some strong language).

Chasing Down My Dreams
Fire On The Mountain
Siren Call
No Sleep For Banditos
What Are We Fighting For
Save Me From Myself
Do You Believe In Love
Get So Low

Full Band Shows
We voted on themes for the full band shows months ago and 2 of my 3 choices won, so I was pretty happy with the outcome (acoustic won out over my choice of Christmas). The Rock All Night set was my top pick, and it didn’t disappoint. The only thing that felt missing to me was “Do You Believe In Love” with its crazy drum speed, but we got it as a Zac solo later anyway. If I come into knee problems in my old age, I will point fingers back at every BTTI from jumping on the sand, and this show will probably top the list of culprits.

I loved that the acoustic show opened with “Stories,” and I’m positive we butchered the “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’” dance worse than ever. Taylor called out the “dance moves” happening in the back, so I’m sure Hanson could see our failed attempt, but whatever. We always have a blast trying. This show was the first time I heard WYIYD (live or otherwise) since losing my dad, and I wimped out and went to the bathroom when it started even though it was the final song of the show. I could still hear it, but I was removed enough to lessen the blow. In retrospect, I kind of wish I had just stayed there on the beach and given myself over to that inevitable moment, but it was the same day Isaac played “Call Me” and I had already had enough of feeling sorry for myself.

The final fan club show was great, but not quite as great as the one they played at BTTI in 2014. They chose several of my absolute favorite fan club songs (On and On, On the Road, Sunny Day, Sound of Light, Feeling Alive, No Rest for the Weary, etc.). In fact looking back at the setlist, I’m not sure why it didn’t blow my mind a little bit more because it’s perfect on paper.  I think the energy was just kind of dead around us, and the growing number of people standing on chairs and tall guys wandering around didn't help. There was this particularly great moment I witnessed during “Roller Coaster Love” thanks to those chairs, though. If you haven’t seen it live, Taylor shouts “Your roller…” and the crowd pumps their fists in the air and shouts back “COASTER!” One of the girls standing in the chairs ahead of us did this without thinking with a full drink in her hand. She managed to hold onto the cup, but I watched the full contents of the cup go flying forward in a projectile shower all over whoever was in front of them. Thankfully, I think there was a decent gap between her and the next set of people so she didn’t completely drench the crowd, but it was so great watching it happen, and it felt like slow motion seeing it go flying and watching her and her friends clap their hands over their open mouths in disbelief immediately after. I'm also happy to report that I did enjoy "Freak Out" live so much more than the recorded version, just as I hoped I would.

The final show ended with the best group cover of “Back to the Island” they have done yet, facilitated by Andrew Ripp adding in a rap verse. I loved his show and wouldn’t mind seeing them bring him out on tour sometime. John Fulbright was obviously crazy talented with the harmonica and piano, but he also had the attitude and stage presence of Charlie Mars in a wet blanket, so I’ll pass.

The Events
I don't have much to say about tie dye. There were a lot of people asking for pictures, but it was a slightly more organized chaos than my experience with Taylor's tie dye last year. Taylor and Zac were both able to wander around from group to group even with all of the photo requests, and it didn't feel super crazy. I heard the first session was worse, but I wasn't there. It was still a selfie-fest and probably will continue to be unless Hanson collectively says no to photos and sticks to it. The dye seemed diluted (the several minutes of rain at the beginning of our session probably didn't help), so my shirt didn't turn out great. 

Cards Against Humanity was a lot more tame than I anticipated, but still hit enough of the inappropriate territory you would expect from that game. Zac set it up in a way so that he was the judge the entire time and he was the only one who had to read the cards, which I really enjoyed because I could have actually survived being called up for that version if that had happened. The best part was when he misread the completely innocent "vigorous jazz hands" card, and that's all I'll say about that. I'd be happy to see him attempt this game again, and I enjoyed having it after the show to free up more time during the day.

Cards Against Humanity videos via hansonstage (If you weren't a fan of the language in the above Siren Call video, skip this one entirely!)

Family Feud was a little all over the place. I love Isaac to death, but I don't think he was prepared with the rules of the game. He kept forgetting to reveal the rest of the answers that nobody got, and the crowd had to shout at him every time to get him to do it. I got called up for the second round and Isaac got confused and tried to throw it to the other team when it was my turn even though we only had two X's instead of three. I just remember sitting there holding the microphone for what felt like forever before he stopped debating with the crowd and finally let me answer. (Sidenote: The question I got was "Things you'd hate to forget on a trip," and I'm still appalled that in a crowd full of traveling Hanson fans, my first answer of "tickets" wasn't on the board!)  It was all in good fun and had a lot of laughs and was never meant to be a serious competition, but it probably shouldn't have taken two hours to get through 10 rounds. I'd still do it again and preferred it to trivia.

Family Feud videos via hansonstage

I missed a lot of Taylor's dance party, so feel to leave a comment and let me know how it went from your perspective. I wandered in towards the end and it looked like a lot of the crowd had already left for the night. I did witness Taylor laying down on the stage and taking numerous selfies with the people up front, and it went until around 1:30 AM, so I'd say it was a better success than last year's shortened version. He played a Michael Jackson song twice in the short amount of time while I was in there, so God knows what I missed in the hours I wasn't. Zac and Isaac were both around and mingling with fans during the entire party, which was especially nice for someone like me who isn't really into the whole party scene. The overall atmosphere and vibe of Back to the Island has been so different every year, but this year felt the most laid back to me in terms of fans being respectful of Hanson's space.  I don't know if some of the more overzealous people were absent, or if after five years some have calmed down, but it felt like Hanson was around a little more this year and overall, people handled it better than I expected. I hope that trend continues.

It was neat sticking around for an extra night again and getting to see Little Feat and their fans who are a few decades older than most of us and are on their 15th island event. We watched the fans show up and clap each other on the back and shout "Hey there, old man!" before giving big hugs. During the show, we pointed out different people in the crowd and said "That's you in 20 years. That's Isaac in 20 years. This is us in 20 years." And you know, I really hope it is. And I really don't want to talk about how much money I'll have spent on BTTI or how many swimsuits I'll own by then, but I'll be there. #BTTI2037

November 15, 2016

The H-Bomb Show: Why Do You Love Hanson?

If you're reading this right now, I'd be willing to bet you have opinions about Hanson. You may not have a blog of your own, but maybe you can be found discussing them on Facebook or Twitter. Perhaps you prefer the forums on hanson.net, or the safety of a private group text, or maybe you mostly just keep your thoughts to yourself. But whatever your preferred platform, I'd like to challenge you to add a new one to your list in December: The H-Bomb Show.

If you're not familiar with it yet, The H-Bomb Show is a free podcast launched by Nick Navarre (a.k.a. Tall Bald Guy) earlier this year. The show has since explored a range of Hanson-related topics and has included several guest appearances by Hanson fans sharing their stories and opinions. You should really give it a listen if you haven’t heard it yet.

Next, you should consider adding your voice and getting involved. I’m excited to be helping Nick out with a special holiday episode in December, but we can't do it without your help! The episode will revolve around a single question: Why do you love Hanson?

All you need to do is email your name, where you’re from, and why you love Hanson to hbombshow@hanson.zone. We’re leaving this pretty open-ended, and it can be as long or as short as it needs to be to answer the question (I know, spoken like a true English teacher).

I’m looking forward to seeing and sharing the variety of great reasons that I know we all have. Don’t let yours go unheard! The deadline is December 4th. Please feel free to let us know if you have any questions.

Check out The H-Bomb Show's episode about this project below for full details.

You can follow The H-Bomb Show on FacebookTwitter, and hanson.zone for updates.

October 30, 2016

Relient K: Slow Down and Not Forget

I want to take a detour from my usual posts about traveling for Hanson and let you guys in on another band that has held a quieter importance in my life over the last 13 years. I’m talking about Relient K. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re probably best described as a Christian Rock band with punk tendencies (though not so much punk in recent years, and not always overtly Christian). Personally, I just categorize them as awesome. A close friend introduced me to their music when we were 15, and I immediately fell in love with their witty lyrics and wordplay before I ever figured out that I had any writing skills of my own.

I listened to their album “Two Lefts Don’t Make a Right…but Three Do” every morning on my drive to school in the 10th grade. They have these great lyrics that for whatever reason I can never seem to fully learn no matter how many times I listen. It's like they say so much in so few words that I find myself just listening and enjoying it rather than trying to repeat it, and it's the perfect mix of serious and silly. I saw them perform for the first time in 2005 when I was 17, one of the first concerts I ever attended. They were the first band I truly loved that I got to see live, and I think I owe at least part of my love for live shows to these guys.

When I rediscovered Hanson in late 2006, somehow Relient K took an unplanned backseat. Sometimes when I’m listening to their music I question how and why that happened, because I don’t feel like I love their music any less, nor does it feel like a competition. I love both Hanson and Relient K for different reasons. They occupy separate spaces in my music fan heart. Still, I’ve got 10 years of Hanson experience and over a hundred shows, and after 13 years of Relient K, I just returned from my 4th. It boggles my mind a little bit because I feel like I love Relient K’s music way more than four shows’ worth implies, especially when you know my Hanson background. I guess it's an excellent reminder that the number of shows you've been to doesn't make you any more or less of a fan than anyone else.

If I’m being completely honest, I think it might come down to the fact that when I went looking for more, Hanson’s fanbase was waiting for me with open arms. There was a fan club and forums full of people talking excitedly about this music that I loved at exactly the right time in my life, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Even today, I’m not sure where to find the largest concentration of Relient K fans, and I think that has made all the difference in me being willing and able to travel to see them the way that I do for Hanson. I simply haven’t made the connections I needed in the Relient K fan base to push me to do more. There were no enablers making it seem “normal” to knock out ten shows in a single tour, so I didn’t. And every time I see them, I regret it a little bit.

But that hasn’t stopped me from seeing them when they come to Myrtle Beach, and thankfully they do that somewhat regularly. I just came back from their stop here on the Looking for America Tour with Switchfoot on October 28th. Of the four times I have seen them, I’ve gone alone twice. It terrifies me to no end, but they’re worth the discomfort of braving the crowd alone. This time I bought a VIP ticket that got me a M&G and photo opportunity with the band in addition to early entry. Aside from one incredibly quick and hideous photo I got with Matthew Hoopes three years ago, this was my first time actually meeting the band. I was terrified and excited and completely out of my element, so naturally the whole thing was a little awkward. Which is pretty much my way of life, so I’m fine with it. Matthew Theissen made small talk about where I’m from, which I completely bombed when he tried to ask what direction my city was in relation to North Myrtle Beach. (Look, I can’t give cardinal directions to my best friend or my mother either, so it's not necessarily a side effect of being star struck. It's a side effect of me being me. For what it’s worth, the correct answer was southwest!) They were friendly and polite despite my shyness, so I have to give them props for that. I hope for more opportunities in the future where I can redeem myself and act a little more like someone that has a personality.

The show was great from their more comedic songs, to their classics, right down to the part where I sobbed openly in front row center. They had released a surprise Halloween EP at midnight that same day, so we got to hear the EP in full. There is one song in particular called “The Cup” about Butterfinger Cups that I can’t actually stop singing, and if you’re a Hanson fan reading this, think Digital Pants quality with killer candy lyrics:

Some kids smile at SweeTarts, sweet hearts
(It’s so sad)
But three cheers for Three Musketeers
Out there fighting the good low-fat food fight, all night
That's right, three cheers for Three Musketeers
Reese's Cup was the candy they all measured up to
Snickers bar's no fun in the fun size

…you get the ridiculous and great picture here. The EP is called The Creepier EP-er, which is an obvious follow-up to 2001's The Creepy EP. Did I mention they make genius titles? Because they do.

On a much more serious note, the tears came at the end when they played a song called “Deathbed.” Morbid as it may sound, this song was instantly my favorite when it came out in 2007. It’s so real and raw and tells an unglorified story of a man who ends up dying of lung cancer after a pretty sad and unfulfilling life. The part that makes it beautiful is the redemption at the end, and the salvation that occurs on his death bed. It’s just a completely beautiful and moving song to me. I cried the first time I ever heard it even though it held no personal connection for me at the time. I had to stop listening to it when my own dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in early 2015. I lost him last summer, and as far as I was concerned, I considered “Deathbed” permanently retired from my music library. I was afraid that a song that once felt beautiful to me would serve as a bitter reminder of my loss, and I didn’t want to be faced with the emotions I knew it would bring.

But life is full of surprises, like having to endure that song alone in front row center, in full view of the band with tears running down my face. I don’t regret it. I met another fan before the M&G and confessed my fears about hearing that song live. I felt like I owed it to her to not be the weird stranger sobbing uncontrollably next to her at the show, and she reassured me that it would be okay if I cried. I’m hesitant to share such a personal story here and I certainly don’t want to upset anyone or draw pity, but I also want Relient K to know how much I truly appreciate that song, pain and all, because through the tears it still reminded me of what I loved about it in the first place. It's nice to be reminded of the beauty and grace at the end of the heartbreaking story.

I'm not sure who this post is for, exactly. I know it's completely out of place for most Hanson fans that read my blog regularly, and it's probably just plain weird for Relient K fans to see this strange girl with a Hanson blog rambling on about a band that she has stayed oddly quiet about for someone that claims to love them so much. I guess it's for me, and maybe also for Relient K, who have certainly given me more than I have given them. I'd like to somehow give them the truth if nothing else.

I don't know that I have accomplished any of what I wanted to say with this blog post. It still feels like a weird and confused mashup of one girl's love for two bands and a little bit of regret for letting one of them seem less important, even if only in my own head. I guess I just feel like I owe this band something more than silence, like leaving out the truth of how much I love Relient K's music for so long is somehow the same thing as lying. So for what it's worth, Relient K's music has been a constant positive force in my life. I'm thankful for these goofballs from Ohio that sing about mood rings and elephants and the art of letting go of unimportant things. Chapstick, and road trips, and things like apathy. I just want to slow down and not forget to say thanks.  

And if you're not familiar with Relient K, have a playlist with a few suggestions!
(You'll have to check out "The Cup" on Youtube because it's not on Spotify yet)

October 19, 2016

Play On Replay: EP Review

One of the things I really like about the Play EP is that it only has one traditional love song. I know love is probably the single most inspirational factor in the history of music, but I often find myself wishing for more songs focusing on other topics. I’m used to loving melodies and instrumentals and sometimes ignoring the fact that the killer guitar riff I’m nodding along with is accompanying some pretty mushy lyrics. I really like that I can connect with most of the songs on Play with or without having somebody to love, and I think that is something that Hanson also did well with Loud.

 I'm all for a bunch of "love" songs when the object of affection is music and happiness.

"Do You Believe In Love
I LOVE the sound of this song. Those stacked acapella harmonies in the beginning are simply delicious. I have always liked Queen, and I’m not the slightest bit upset to see Hanson try a song in their style. My original reaction stands: It sounds like Queen and Hanson and birthday cake and money raining from the sky. I know the obvious Queen sound has been off-putting to some and may even feel like a rip-off, but as someone who could not even come close to ripping off Queen if I tried, I’ll stay impressed. Besides, Freddie Mercury wrote “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” as a tribute to Elvis and you can definitely hear the influence, so I doubt they’d mind.


What would make me love it more?
#UnpopularOpinion alert: I’d like it more if we didn’t get the full song as an early download. I was so excited to listen to Play on October 10th, and I can just imagine how much more excited I would have been if this song was part of that moment as well.

"Freak Out"
I think this song is the main source of my procrastination for finishing this review. I don't have anything particularly good or bad to say about it. I'm hoping it's one of those songs I fall in love with when I hear it live or at random three years later, but only time will tell. One thing I will say is that as a fan blogger, I never let myself read other fans' reviews before I write my own because I don't want to influence my own opinion before I can figure out how I feel first. Since I don't actually have much of an opinion in this situation, I'm happy to be influenced and I pretty much can't wait to read what other fans had to say about this song.

"Man On Top"
I want to like "Man On Top," but I feel like I need more context or more of a background story to really enjoy it. Something about the lyrics just feels out of place to me. Why is there a song about a guy thinking he's awesome in the middle of an album about great music and feeling joyful? If "Do You Believe In Love" is in homage to Queen, "Man On Top" feels like an ode to Kanye West.

It's similar to "You Can't Stop Us," but where that song feels like exerting confidence and proving your worth to someone trying to keep you down, this one just feels cocky and over the top. And maybe cocky and over the top is the exact vibe they were going for with this song, but I need someone to connect the dots for me and explain how that fits in on Play before I can embrace it. I'm happy to say it sounds way less Clarissa Explains it All than I originally thought when we were recording the background "na na" part, but it also sounds way more Zapp Brannigan meets Ron Burgundy than I thought, too.

"Joyful Noise"

Those catchy little "la las" in the chorus have been on loop in my head since we first sang them in May. A few weeks after we heard Play when my memories began fading to a feeling rather than a sound, this is the tune that still stuck. The whole song is this idealistic concept of healing the world with joyful music, and while that may not be achievable on a global scale, I think it can totally work at the individual level if you let it. Between the upbeat piano and the "la la" part, I think "joyful" is the perfect word to describe this song, and I think Hanson did a pretty great job at capturing that feeling of joy in song form.

A fan friend of mine (other Holly) mentioned that it reminded her of a Coke commercial. I was picturing the animated ones from recent years with dancing animals and super happy music and fountains of Coke spraying joyful little streams of happiness because obviously Coke makes everything better, and I totally agreed that the vibe was similar. Turns out she was actually talking about this one, and that I somehow missed the memo that "I'd Like To Teach the World To Sing" originated as a Coke jingle. To her point, "Joyful Noise" has very similar lyrics but with their own unique Hanson sound.

I don't think of this song as a Christian song at all, but I can't quite ignore the phrasing and the fact that "Make a joyful noise" is a verbatim quote from Psalm 100. I touched on a little bit of potential Biblical influence in my rambling analysis of "Feeling Alive" as well last week, but I think in both cases the Biblical wording was chosen to reflect a general feeling of joy and thanksgiving and community more than it was meant to make any sort of religious statement.

"Feeling Alive"
I'll keep this one short because I've already exhausted any reasonable word count when it comes to this song. Suffice it to say "Feeling Alive" is a definite standout to me and I think has the potential to be my new favorite Hanson song, but I'm not allowed to make that call until the newness has worn off some. The lyrics feel meaningful and genuine and I'm proud of the final product they were able to create here. There isn't a single line that leaves me wondering what it means or wishing they had tweaked it just a little bit. The message is clear and confident and that fact is perhaps reflected in Taylor's uncharacteristically perfect enunciation throughout the song. All the gold stars. I had no idea so many people would agree.

If you've somehow managed to escape my full praise report on this song, you can check it out here.

Now it's time for you to tell me an opinion of your own.

(There's been a reported mouse/thumb mishap where someone accidentally voted for Freak Out instead of Do You Believe In Love. So for accuracy purposes, consider DYBIL having one more vote and Freak Out having one less.)

October 12, 2016

Feeling Alive: An Analysis

The first time I heard “Feeling Alive,” I was at the Brady Theatre back in May at Hanson Day. It got to me in a way I couldn’t explain at the time, and I found myself standing there with happy tears forming just loving this song. I left feeling excited and restored in some way, but also confused by why it had such a strong effect on me. It wasn’t until I was talking with another fan a few days later that it hit me why this song felt so strangely familiar and important—it felt like a continuation of “Tonight.”

If you haven’t read my analysis of “Tonight” from a few years ago, you’ll probably get the most out of this post if you pause here for a moment and go check it out. To sum it up, “Tonight” has been my favorite Hanson song since Anthem’s release because it reminds me of exactly how much I have to lose and how much I have to be thankful for when it comes to this band. To me, "Tonight" had a note of finality and gave me a glimpse of just how close Hanson was to walking away from their music. It sounded like the story of a last hurrah before an end. And "Feeling Alive" sounded like the morning after "Tonight" where we all managed to make it to "tomorrow's daylight." Cue the happy tears. (And the lesson plans.)

"Feeling Alive" vs. "Tonight"
Both songs use fighting metaphors to talk about what I presume to be the same topic: creating music. “Tonight” uses boxing—“box to the ropes,” “your heavyweight knees buckle under a ton,” and “don’t give up without a fight.” “Feeling Alive” uses battle/war imagery. We’ve got cannons firing, talk of winning or losing, and being “on both sides of the barrel” of a gun. Even the drums sound like a battle march. So why does this matter? Because there's one big difference:

Boxers fight each other; soldiers fight together.

It's the secret to making it through to that next morning, working together as a team instead of isolating yourself and feeling cornered.

The other obvious similarity is the theme of raised hands. There’s “Throw your hands up” in “Tonight,” and “Lift your hands up high/reach up to the sky” in “Feeling Alive.” This is where I go back to my English teacher roots because the wording totally matters. As I said in my previous post, the particular wording used in “Tonight” has a more negative connotation. In every day use, you “throw up your hands” in frustration or to signify giving up. But the image of lifting your hands up to the sky? It’s a celebratory action found in several places throughout the Bible. Lifting one’s hands is common in an act of worship or praise. Am I arguing that this is a Christian song? Not at all. I just can't ignore the word choice and the fact that lifting one's hands to the sky is a historically positive thing showing joy and gratitude.

Because I actually do want you to make it to the end of this post without falling asleep, I'm cutting the paragraph I had here about the subtle differences in the first person perspective and the use of implied "you" subjects in "Tonight." Just know that it totally exists and you have been spared. There's a handy TL;DR graphic below, anyway.

"Feeling Alive"
Despite the strong connection I see between these two songs, I do think "Feeling Alive" is an incredible song on its own. It's vague enough for the meaning to fit a lot of different situations, but I see it as a metaphor for my favorite musicians joining together in the fight to continue putting out great music. The song acknowledges a struggle and still leaves room for doubt and uncertainty ("Even if we don't survive," "If we've lost or won"), but as a whole the message is positive. It's the story of a fighter who would be cautious and insecure under normal conditions, but has been tasked with a cause and a passion that he simply can't ignore.

In the beginning of the song he depicts himself as directionless. He claims that he isn't a leader, yet he goes on to flawlessly command a full choir, and you can hear the evidence of his success in the background "oohs". His growing confidence is mirrored by the sound of building drums as the song progresses, and there's a moment in the last verse where his voice seems to reach a final, desperate peak as well. You can hear the desperation and urgency when he sings "I've fallen on my face while just standing in place," and I think it's this revelation that ultimately leads him to action and to our chorus of "Tonight I won't stand still." It's 2016's version of "And we won't go down."

(Don't worry, there won't be a follow up post comparing "Feeling Alive" to "This Time Around" even though it's full of war imagery too.)

The line "I'm humble by your side" is also an important one. It may sound hypocritical at first to see someone referring to themselves as humble, but it's the rest of that sentence that matters. He's not saying "I'm a humble guy;" he's saying "I'm humble by your side." The best definition of "humble" that I found says it means "showing deferential or submissive respect." He's showing respect and appreciation for the ones fighting with him, whether that means the other members in the band, a congregation of fans, or both. And that joyful choir? I like to think that's their representation of us in their battle, and proof of what they can achieve when they work together.

I think some will read a little too much into the part at the end that says "There's just one act left in this play" and take it as proof of some impending end, but you can't isolate that line and ignore the rest of the song.

I've said
Just about
All I can say
There's just one act
Left in this play

There's a subtle shift between "say" and "act" where this hesitant speaker finally admits he needs to stop talking about feeling directionless and actually DO something about it. The final act here is literally just to act (instead of "standing in place"), and the play metaphor is a play on words with the EP's title. It's the very end of the last song on the EP; it's the final act of the play, or "Play." 
And with a title like "Feeling Alive"? I have to take it at face value and say it feels like the band is in a really good place to me.  I'll be readily anticipating the next production.

Not bored yet? Here are the notes I made before I started writing this post. There are a few things that didn't make the cut here, like what I think the "señorita" line is referring to. I'd love to hear your interpretations of the song, too!

(Too small to read? Open in a new tab or click here.)

October 4, 2016

10 Totally Avoidable Travel Regrets

Let one woman's misfortunes be another's crisis averted.

1. Not bringing enough small bills or change.
If you're sticking to the beaten path, you can usually run to an ATM if you fail to bring enough cash, but that won’t help when you need smaller bills or coins. There’s always tipping, tolls, cab fares, and laundry services to consider. Splitting costs in a car full of people also gets complicated fast when nobody remembered to bring anything smaller than a $20. (Side note—as someone with retail experience, I promise no cashier has ever wanted to break that $100 bill into your preferred combination of $5’s, $1’s, and quarters with your purchase of a pack of gum, either.)

2. Assuming the weather reports are accurate.
I have packed a suitcase full of the wrong clothes more than once because I based my choices solely on weather reports. Always opt for that one jacket, pair of long pants, pair of shorts, or umbrella that you don't think you'll need. Otherwise you may wind up miserable or on an unplanned shopping spree.

3. Overpacking.
Just because you have extra space doesn’t mean you should fill it. There was a time for me when going to a show in a car automatically meant packing a camping chair and a cooler. I’m not saying those things are never worth the space—for some people, they are. But if you’re like me and you wind up not even using the cooler and being angry you have to keep up with a chair, just save yourself the trouble and don’t bring it in the first place. One time I accidentally packed my medium sized suitcase instead of the carry on size. It fit in the car just fine, but I had to lug that thing around for a month. I dragged it around uneven city sidewalks, down narrow hallways, and at my lowest moment, up 5 flights of stairs in NYC. I came home with some newly impressive muscles, at least. Never again.

4. Not taking the time to print electronic tickets and itineraries in advance.
This one is my tragic flaw. I know most people love traditional hard copy mailed tickets for the souvenir factor, but I am in love with e-tickets. They’re usually cheaper because you don’t have to pay for shipping, and you can lose them 37 times and just reprint them the day before the trip if you need to. Until you can’t, because it’s 3 am, your flight leaves in 4 hours, and you just realized your printer is out of ink. I did this to myself last fall. Three months later, I traveled to Jamaica without printing my flight itinerary because I knew I could just print my boarding passes at the airport. That plan worked out fine until the travel agency wanted my return flight information before putting me on a bus to the resort, and “Let me just pull up my email confirmation” isn’t really an option when you're out of the country and there’s no wi-fi. Save yourself the hassle and have all of your tickets, flight information, and hotel confirmation numbers on paper in one place before the trip, just in case.

5. Traveling domestically without a passport.
Obviously you don’t need a passport to travel in your home country, but if you already have one, take it with you. You never know when something might come up to make you glad you had it. A friend of mine had a canceled flight once and the only route that would get her back home the same day had a layover in Canada. She was able to take that flight and avoid being stranded overnight because she had her passport on her, even though her original trip was only in the United States. There was also a tour one year where an unexpected opportunity came up for my friend and I to continue on to the last two shows that happened to be in Canada after our planned east coast run. We had to go back home instead because guess which one of us didn’t bring a passport? Lesson learned.

6. Not reading ticket and reservation details before clicking “purchase.”
If you’re a regular concert ticket buyer, then you know the adrenaline rush that accompanies the moment tickets go on sale. Being too slow to buy can mean the difference between front row and the nosebleeds or missing out on a ticket altogether. But that adrenaline rush can make you do stupid, stupid things, my friends. Stop and read the details once you've got it in your cart.

I had a “Spring Awakening” phase back in 2008. If you're not familiar, it's a play with a pretty neat setup that allows 26 audience members to sit directly on stage mixed in with the actors. When I managed to snag one of the coveted and impossibly hard to get stage tickets, I jumped at the chance to buy it. I had planned to go to the showing in Tampa because it was the closest show to me that hadn't gone on sale yet. I was on cloud 9 after my purchase right up until the moment I finally read the word “Broadway” in the confirmation and realized I had bought myself a ticket to the Broadway showing in New York City instead of the tour version of the show in Tampa. In my moment of excitement I had clicked the wrong ticket link and failed to read the details before completing my purchase. As a result, I got stuck with an expensive ticket I couldn’t use, and to add to my fail, the Tampa on stage seating was sold out by the time I finally figured out what I had done eight hours later. Thankfully, having an extra front row stage ticket made for a pretty easy sale, but not every mistake ends in an easy fix. (In the end, I wound up with stage tickets to two showings in Cleveland because yes, I’m that person that tries to buy a ticket to Florida, accidentally gets one to New York, and actually winds up in Ohio).

7. Not double checking GPS travel routes.
Because the "unexpected beautiful" you find might turn out to be Lake Tahoe when you meant to be at Yosemite.

8. Traveling without a cushion.

Of money, that is. I love saving money and whittling down my travel costs to the bare minimum, but I know it would be irresponsible and dangerous to go without having extra money in my account for emergency situations. Be prepared for the moment your tire blows out or your suitcase gets lost. Once over the course of a month long roadtrip, I had to replace windshield wipers, a headlight, a turn signal, and TWO GPSs. That same trip, a week of the tour got canceled and we found ourselves with no place to go for a week where we had planned out free places to stay in advance. Luckily, we had a friend in the area that we were able to crash with, but that could have easily been a week's worth of unexpected hotel fees.

9. Not knowing how to work your new camera in advance.
I went to Niagara Falls and took the most gorgeous pictures...in 640x480 resolution. They make for some really high quality thumbnails. #NiagaraFails

And finally,

10. Don't pack toy guns if you're traveling out of the country.
Because the Jamaican customs form categorizes them under "traveling with firearms," and that is one box you do not want to have to check "yes" because they're already in your checked luggage. I laughed at the situation, but the customs worker was not amused by me and my colorful squirt guns that had to be confiscated. Or maybe the lesson here is don't check "yes" next to the firearms box just because you have tiny plastic water guns in your bag.

What are some of your travel regrets?