With each new Back to the Island event, there is some instinct in me that can't help but compare things to past BTTI events. Throughout the trip, I find myself thinking things like "They made X way better this year" or "X seemed more prepared the first time" (have fun filling in those blanks). If you've been more than once, it's inevitable that you're going to judge things based on your own past experiences, for better or for worse. You can see it in my other Back to the Island reviews, and it's probably strongest in my 2015 BTTI post.
It's a habit I'd like to break because ranking things will always identify a "best." And in that way of thinking, everything else begins to feel like it pales in comparison, even when it doesn't. The fourth Back to the Island is the one that made me realize that each event has had its own unique and unrepeatable vibe, and that none of those will ever be recreated exactly the way we experienced them no matter how hard we try. Each one has been special and amazing in its own right. We can return, but we can never really go "back."
Back to the Island 2016 is going to leave me in a special state of nostalgia all its own. I'm not talking specifically about the band or the shows or the events, as amazing as any of those were. I'm talking about the overall atmosphere of calm and bittersweet contentment that felt so strong to me while I was there. Maybe it was just exactly what I needed after the hardest year of my life, but I felt like I was surrounded by great people the entire time. Everyone I encountered was wonderful, and I'm so happy to have spent time growing some friendships and meeting plenty of potential new friends along the way. If you were there, thank you for being awesome. I'm going to stop myself short of quoting the Golden Girls theme song.
The first night was special to me on principle because it marked my 100th Hanson show. I got to hear my (current) favorite Hanson song live for the second (?) time ever and got to do it from the front row. It all felt right. The set finished out with a stream of some of my favorite upbeat songs all in a row--"Tearing It Down," "If Only," "Lost Without Each Other," "Sound of Light," and a "White Collar Crimes" encore. My knees were begging me to quit jumping on the sand by the end of the night, and the only thing missing was an exhausting round of "In the City." It was a great show to kickoff the week.
You all saw my last post before I left, so let's not pretend the announcement of a covers show sent me into excited hysterics. After the show, I heard someone refer to it as the "Cliff's Notes version of the RNR tour" and it felt like time to start a slow clap. Despite the predictable nature of that show, it easily had more energy than the four covers sets I saw during the RNR tour. And if we're going to label it as a Cliff's Notes version, I might as well continue the analogy and admit that it would definitely get you an A on the test and might have been better than the actual book. Bottom line, yeah, it was predictable, but it was full of undeniably good performances. "Kate" was a standout, and Zac was as obnoxiously on point for "Chain of Fools" as he was all tour. I can't even comprehend his level of talent. I'm happy that so many foreign fans that couldn't make the tour were able to have this experience, too, I just wish they had done something to tailor it a little more to this special event. And I'm still holding out for that "Holiday From Real" cover one day.
This show actually got canceled due to a lot of rain and lightning, and I was super thankful that they chose to change the date rather than move it somewhere indoors.
The final show put me in kind of a weird place. I was already a bit of an emotional wreck thanks to Isaac's solo set (can we call it a slow-lo set? no?), so "Watch Over Me," "Call Out My Name," "Never Let Go," and "A Song to Sing" all in a row were exactly the wrong combination to lift my spirits on the six-month anniversary of losing my dad. I pretty much wanted to throw rocks at the acoustic set and demand "Scream and Be Free" in its place (which thankfully did come later). They played a lot of singles but I really didn't mind because most of them are upbeat and happy and were very welcome at the time. Tragic Symphony was a great opener, and I can't wait for "Fired Up" and "In the City" to hit a rough patch in their year-long relationship and call it quits. I love them both individually and miss their full potential on their own.
Zac's Solo Show
In my opinion, Zac gave his best solo performance yet this year. His voice sounded amazing, and he chose a good combination of songs. It was neat getting to hear "Lucy" as a solo because Zac usually plays the drums on this song, and "Up all Night" was a fun and appropriate ending. He had us all laughing when he forgot a line from "Give Me Your Best Shot" and wouldn't move on until he got it right. At first, he stopped playing to restart the verse since he forgot the lyrics. He played a few more notes, then went "Nope, still don't know it" and stopped again. Next, he went for the ask the audience lifeline and asked the crowd "Does anyone know it?" He shot down a few shouted answers as incorrect before finally whipping out his phone and going "I'm Googling this." So yeah, that happened. Zac Googled his own song lyrics in the middle of a song, found the right line, and kept going like that was a normal thing to do. It was a about half a step away from Isaac playing Smile without knowing it last year.
Taylor's Solo Show
Taylor's solo show was actually my favorite this year, and I had a moment to tell him as much. The conversation went exactly as I anticipated, meaning it began with me complimenting his set, led to him questioning what I liked about it, and ended with me completely failing to convey exactly what made it my favorite. (I didn't fist bump or hug him though, so win?) What I managed to tell him is that he won me over with "Crazy Beautiful" because I love that song as a solo. It's true enough, but the full truth is that his set was my favorite simply because I loved his voice and he consistently gave a great performance of every song he chose. I haven't played the piano in years, but I still have an ear for it and am always drawn to good piano music. I've heard "Weird" as a solo a few times now and it is definitely one of my favorites. "Dying to Be Alive" was a great choice, too. And yes, I do love "Crazy Beautiful," and one day I hope to hear the Underneath Acoustic Live version in person.
Isaac's Solo Show
Isaac's show turned into Isaac request hour, meaning he showed up about 45 minutes late with no real game plan or setlist as far as I could tell. He had to switch guitars and tune between almost every song, and everything was so off-the-cuff that I feel sure his set has the most polarized opinions with people either loving it or being done with it about halfway through. It was unique, I'll give him that, and it was certainly endearing at times. I didn't personally love the request format though because I was too far away to make a request, and I'd rather be a little letdown by a Hanson-chosen set than feel annoyed hearing the same people shouting the same song six times because he hasn't played it yet.
The best part about Isaac's show was getting to hear a really old unreleased song that none of us knew existed called "A Life Without You." It made me cry and it was all a little downhill from there in the emotion department, but he definitely wins points for surprising us all with such an obscure song, and on the piano at that. You can actually hear some of the piano part in TT&MON. I've wondered for years what song that came from, and now we know.
I don't have a lot to say about the events, but I enjoyed them. I was happy to see Taylor tackle something a bit more interactive with tie dye this year and I hope he'll continue to do his own event outside of the after party going forward. Unpopular opinion, but I kind of hope everyone got selfie mode out of their system for Taylor's next event. That, or let's just go ahead and skip the formalities and call it "Selfies with Taylor" instead. Zac's bracelet making was enjoyable and I actually like the bracelet I made and how everyone was seated and calm during his event. It's the first time I didn't see people following him from group to group. Isaac's trivia was all focused on lyrics, so it was right up my alley and I'm pretty sure I got all but one of the questions right. It was fun to watch a friend get to go up on stage with Isaac and answer a question, too. I feel like 2017 is Isaac's year to try his hand at tie dying and Zac's year to oversee a team-based sandcastle competition. It could happen.
The after party was something else. The stage was super low and had stairs on either side. About 30 minutes in, I was literally standing there being impressed and thinking how respectful everyone up front was being by not taking advantage of such easy access, when I turned and saw a girl on stage with Taylor. And then another. And then a third (I think). Not all at once, but in pretty quick succession. The Free Willy wrap-up song came pretty quickly after that, and then it was over and there was nothing left to do but avoid going to bed because then it's really the end.
My airport experiences were nothing short of interesting this trip. When I made it to the customs counter in Jamaica and handed over my passport, I got all the typical questions. "How long will you be staying?" "Why are you visiting?" "Is this your first time in Jamaica?" It was this last question that yielded a weird response. I told the customs officer that it was actually my third time visiting Jamaica, and as I said this, he flipped through my passport to find the previous stamps. When he found the page, he stopped and stared at it for a little too long, in my opinion. "Have you visited Jamaica two days in a row?" he asked. I told him I had been once in 2013, once in 2014, and then again now. He nodded and called over another employee. They huddled over my passport together, whispered some things I couldn't hear, and then laughed. One pulled out a cell phone and took pictures of it. The two guys actually started craning their necks as though they were looking to bring over more of their coworkers to gawk at what looked like a normal passport page to me, but they couldn't get anyone else's attention and they eventually parted ways and handed my passport back over. I asked if everything was okay and received a quick "Oh no, it's not your fault" and was sent on my way with no further explanation. When I finally got away from the counter, I looked and saw that whoever stamped my passport in 2014 stamped it with a 2013 stamp, so I had two stamps side by side that said Jan. 10, 2013 and Jan. 11, 2013. Customs fail.
On the trip home I managed to be the idiot with a 20 oz. bottle of water in my carry on bag that I forgot I put in there for the bus ride. Security removed it and started opening packing cubes while they were at it. She pulled out my black drawstring bag that had all of my electronics in it, pointed at a light shining through the bottom, and gave me the most unamused look (portable phone charger w/built in flashlight ftw). Next came the little unlabeled baggie of rock candy that Jewel Paradise Cove left on our pillows the night before, and I guess I can see how that might look suspicious. I made it through with everything but the water, but had to do a little repacking and felt like the new kid to the airport after that. 2/3 of Hanson ended up being on my flight home, so I treated myself to the weird inception that is listening to your favorite band on your iPod while riding on a plane with them. It was a short-lived experience because I passed out about five minutes in.
We did discover a new way to delay post-concert depression this time:
Climb a waterfall when it's over. (Shoutout to the man climbing with a selfie stick in a speedo in the background. I didn't have the heart to crop him out.)