May 20, 2011

MMMecca: The Annual Pilgrimage to Tulsa

Tulsa is where it all began for me four years ago. I still remember telling my best friend how absolutely nuts of me it would be to go, and then the look on her face the very next day when I told her I was going to call my parents and ask for a plane ticket for my 19th birthday. I remember the begging and the reasoning, the sincere claims that it would be my first and last trip to Hanson's hometown over 1,000 miles away from my own. The words "unique experience" come to mind. I meant every word of it.

I had no idea that it was just the beginning.

I just returned from my 5th trip to Tulsa in 4 years. I know well enough now that it won't be my last.

On the Road
I’ve developed some kind of sick enjoyment for insanely long roadtrips. True, the first 400 miles/7 hours alone is a bit of a downside, but the next 12 hours with friends is half of the fun and well worth the first lonely leg of the trip. I can honestly say that all money and time issues aside, I prefer to drive all 1100+ miles than to fly. I’ve flown twice and driven three times, and the hours in a car beat the infinitely less hours in a plane every time. I was honestly sad when I had to fly out for the TBS video shoot instead of riding with friends.

For this trip, the road fun began with us accidentally renting a Cadillac. Cue cheesy Hanson-related puns about Cadillac blues or not needing a Cadillac to carry us to Tulsa. Basically the rental company somehow sold out of the type of car we had reserved, so we were left with the option of a Cadillac or a minivan. I will forever be impressed with the trunk space of a Cadillac that housed four suitcases, four sleeping bags, and a random assortment of other stuff without difficulty. It was also much easier to drive than the Chargers we usually end up with. Perhaps Enterprise should make this mistake more often.

The trip began with seeing Hanson in Nashville and spending time with Holly in the city before we hit the road. She tried to introduce us to the wonders of cookie dough egg rolls, but sadly we went too late after the fryer was turned off. The waiter felt bad and actually gave us some of his own birthday cookies and ice cream on the house! It was good, but Nashville still owes me the experience of cookie dough egg rolls. The next day we had chicken at McDougal’s (yum!) and had a good time taking pictures at a random baby picnic table outside.

The initial drive to Tulsa was strangely uneventful this time, and I give major points to Laura for staying awake in the middle of the night as the rest of us passed out. We stopped at a Waffle House around 3:30 AM to try to wake ourselves up and left with stomachs full of greasy food and a side of frostbite.

In the City
I think I convinced myself that there wasn’t much left for me to see since I’ve played the part of a Tulsa tourist before, but I managed to eat lots of good food at restaurants I had never been to. We hit the Dilly Delly, the Blue Dome Diner, and the Brook, all of which had fantastic food, and all of which were politely accommodating to our small caravan of 12 people. My 2nd Joe Momma’s experience was even better than my first, and we all giggled like teenage girls as one of us left a number for our cute waiter and we constantly cracked him up with unintentional that’s what she said jokes. Before the event, we got to go to the Philbrook Museum (free admission!), and despite the fact that I’m normally fairly indifferent about art and museums, I thought it was gorgeous.
I had also convinced myself that I didn’t need to buy any souvenirs (I already had 2 Tulsa shirts from previous trips), but apparently Tulsa is aware of my weakness for limited edition stuff. I walked into Ida Red and Dwelling Spaces intent on only purchasing a Tulsa is My Graceland t-shirt. I walked out with a t-shirt, a tote bag, and a poster. In my defense, the owner of Ida Red told us that they only produced 25 tote bags period and would not be making any more, and it was reasonably priced. I figured I could always sell it on eBay and get my money back.
Dwelling Spaces got me with a cute, retro-pop looking screen print poster that depicted various landmarks around Tulsa as well as a headshot of Hanson and a shot from the TBS video. I almost got away without it, but then the owner had to tell us that they only made 30 screen prints, and they were numbered and autographed by the artist at the bottom. They later made slightly smaller regular poster prints, but the colors were a little different and they weren’t limited or autographed. Tulsa: 2 (3 if you count the 2009 canvas print still sitting in my closet), Holly: 0.

Facing the Blank Page
I should know better by now, but I’m still disappointed in all of the fans that line up early for these events. It’s a touchy subject for me because I’m well aware that there are multiple people that I actually know and like that do it too, but I still can’t do it or agree with anyone that does. I know tons of people line up early and no one ever gets in trouble over it; I’m well aware that I could get away with it too. But the way I see it, Hanson and the various venues they play put up with us camping out for days on end at every other show, so if they’re going to ask us not to line up early 1 in every 50 shows, I can respect that wish. When we showed up right at 5, the designated line-up time for the 8 PM session, none of us was surprised at the 100+ people already there.

Inside Cain’s, there were rows of chairs on the floor and two small sets of bleachers on either side in the back—we opted for the bleachers. The show was fantastic. It started with some sort of technical difficulty that prompted Zac to sing Happy Birthday at random to stall while Taylor tried to fix something on the drums.

I know my birthday was a full week before, but it was still kind of neat getting to hear it (I loved the climax—“Happy Birthday whoever you are, happy birthday to you”). When it still wasn’t fixed, they went into the Stevie Wonder version of Happy Birthday, and then Jimmy Crack Corn, “Hanson birthday style” (“Jimmy Crack Corn and I don’t care, ‘cause it’s your birthday!”).

They played all of the songs from this year’s membership kit, and I really loved the way they did “Sunny Day” with the stomp-claps and transitioned directly into Cecelia. I really hope to see that combination at regular concerts in the future, but somehow I doubt the chemistry of that moment will ever be exactly right again. There was something weirdly perfect in that moment of stomping in bleachers in heels, praying that I wouldn’t fall and barely catching glimpses of Taylor holding a guitar through raised arms and around tall heads.

I’m hesitant to say that was the best moment, though, because then Hanson did something I’ve been wanting them to do for years. They played Stories. Better yet, they let us sing the first verse, which was another one of those rarely unifying moments as we all stood there singing about having a special connection worth telling your grandkids about. Was the connection between us? Between us and Hanson? Does it matter? Read as much or as little into it as you want, the simple version is I loved it.And yet somehow my favorite moment of the whole show is one I’ve experienced multiple times in the past. Three words: “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’.” I didn’t expect them to play it, and we definitely never had any kind of discussion or conscious agreement about what to do if they played it, which is what made the moment we all piled out of the bleachers that much more awesome. As soon as that cowbell started, we all jumped out of the bleachers and into the empty floor beside us without a second thought. There was no special look, no “Hey, let’s get down and dance!” just the same instinct in all of us. We were in the very back and I know no one could see us, and I think that’s part of why it was so fun. It was nothing more than a bunch of goofy girls living in their own little world for a moment and having a blast.

I enjoyed the Q&A session, but they didn’t remember to repeat most of the questions so we had a hard time hearing in the back. I was floored by their impromptu performance of the National Anthem at a fan’s request, and I had a brief thought of how crazy it is that Hanson could almost make the National Anthem be my favorite song. They’re that good. We were the first group picture, and I think we threw Leigh for a loop by requesting to have MORE people in our group than the allotted 10 when most people probably want less. We squeezed in a whopping 18 plus Hanson, and it was over.

Then we spent what seemed like our life savings on merchandise.

On the Road Again
Instead of driving the 12 hours back to return the rental in one day, we booked a tee pee in Arkansas for Sunday night. That’s right, a tee pee. In Arkansas. Like I said, the roadtrip is half of the fun. Unfortunately, Whitney’s allergies were getting really bad, and it was obvious within 15 minutes of looking around the campsite that we wouldn’t be able to stay if we wanted her alive. We did want her alive, so we explained the situation and the staff was polite and refunded our money under the circumstances. It was a little disappointing, but we stopped at a lookout on top of the mountain to take pictures so we would still get a little bit of the experience.The wind was stronger than anything I’ve ever felt in my life. We take jumping pictures just about everywhere we go, but I’m 100% serious when I say I refused to jump anywhere up there for fear of becoming airborne and falling down the mountain. The wind lifted all 2+ feet of my hair off of my head and even tried to remove my shirt a few times. Laura is a fantastic photographer, so we had a mini photo shoot and took some time to turn Valerie’s sweater into a makeshift cape and do superman poses.

ater, we stopped at a Sonic for dinner. As we waited for our food, I spotted a DVD logo beneath the built-in navigation system that none of us had noticed. I had just bought 5 of 5 at the event, and the idea was born. Sitting and eating hotdogs in the driver’s seat of a Cadillac while watching 5 of 5 is definitely one of my favorite road memories to date.
Back at our hotel for the night after Whit had gone to sleep, Laura, Valerie and I stayed up looking at pictures from the windy mountain. There was a lot of giggling and gasping at some of the horrible faces we made in the pictures. About halfway through, Laura and I noticed that there was a weird stain on Valerie’s shirt in one of the pictures. It hadn’t been in any of the previous pictures, and it was in the perfect shape of a J. Thinking it must have been weird lighting or something on the lens, we continued to look. The J was in other pictures, too—always on Valerie’s shirt, but never in the same place.

We were on a mountain in Petit Jean state park. Jean was the name of a traveler who had died and been buried at the top of the mountain. Make of it what you will, but I could have kissed Whitney and her allergies for the fact that we were making this discovery in a hotel room in Alabama rather than in a remote teepee on the top of that mountain. (sorry, no J pictures for now. They’re Laura’s.)

Well: Done Celebration Nashville 5/10

This show was one of those last-minute flukes that just sort of works. I was already planning a trip to Tulsa, and I was carpooling with friends in Tennessee, so when Hanson plans to be where I am already going to be at the same time I'm going to be there, who am I to say no?

It wasn't just a Hanson concert though, and I would have been disappointed if I had gone into it with that sort of expectation. Instead, it was a celebration of a vision, a passion, and an accomplishment after countless people joined together to contribute to the building of 1,000 wells. Hanson was just one of many guests including Jars of Clay, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, and Eric Wainaina to name a few. Each performed a short set and spoke a bit about the inspiration behind building the wells, encouraging audience members to get involved and thanking them for doing their part. I enjoyed all of the performances, but I was especially moved by Jars of Clay's performance. They were full of passion and had a bit of a spiritual theme going which I loved. One song in particular stood out to me at the time (I think it was called "Oh My God"?). I'll definitely have to check out more of their music

Eric Wainaina was last and definitely an interesting performer. He is from Kenya and brought a full band including a backup singer that doubled as a backup dancer, so it was a completely different style of music than I'm used to. I loved watching the dancing, and got a huge kick when he had the audience play imaginary violins (not so much when he pointed right at me and my friend for not doing it along with them, but we were two of about 4 people in our entire section, and it felt weirdly exposed).

Hanson went on before Jars of Clay and gave a brief explanation about their walks and how they contributed to building a well through They played a short set of songs that related to the celebration at hand, and their voices blended together as well as ever.

1. Carry You There
2. Waiting For This
3. This Time Around
4. Great Divide

It was definitely more laid back than your average Hanson show, and everyone stayed seated with the exception of two girls I saw who were on their feet and jumping around the whole time. It didn't really seem like the right time and place for that, but to each his own. The guy that introduced them to the stage mentioned that their new single "Give it a Little" had reached number one on the VH1 countdown, and I couldn't help but giggle a little at the new title, especially after the mock GAL tee was misspelled just days before. Who knew those three words were so difficult?

At the end of the show, all of the artists came back out and sang along to Jars of Clay's "The Shelter." I've never seen a stage so packed full of performers in my life; everyone was shoulder to shoulder and there were a few behind others. Everyone on stage and the audience sang along repeating "In the shelter of each other, we will live, we will live," and it was a fantastic moment to be a part of. I felt like we were supposed to all link arms and sway or something, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It was just a good, tangible moment of solidarity between everyone on stage and in the audience, and the whole thing was about so much more than just Hanson. It felt like a true celebration of unity and a job well done.

After the show, some of the girls I was with wanted to wait outside to try to meet Hanson. There wasn't really a designated area to do this, so it got chaotic fast with everyone crammed onto the sidewalk to stay out of the way of traffic in the parking lot. There were lots of people in a small space, so I tried to hang back and out of the way with no intention of pushing towards a Hanson. I watched from a distance as the guys came out and Taylor addressed the crowd as someone immediately asked for a picture. He politely said that they would only be doing autographs, and I watched as his polite smile revealed the briefest flicker of annoyance as the girl he had declined shoved her face next to his anyway and a flash went off. I was angry for him, but he simply smiled and continued to sign for the mass around him. At one point Isaac headed straight towards where I was standing away from the crowd and said "Sorry, guys!" as he made his escape. I stepped aside to let him pass and absentmindedly echoed back, "Sorry, Isaac!" as if the crowd was my fault.

I ended up holding a friend's camera to take pictures for her and got my program signed by Taylor and Zac along the way. I told Zac how much I loved the final group performance and that I would see him in Tulsa, and he promised that it would be a good show and worth the trip (side note: it was).