January 24, 2017

How Many Shows Have You Been To?

Recently, an acquaintance who is not a fan asked me how many Hanson shows I've been to. I have to admit, I'm always hesitant to give a concrete or even ballpark 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, especially when the person asking doesn't know you very well.

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 forming an opinion about me based on how many times I’ve seen Hanson is like me forming an opinion about you based on how many times you’ve gone to a family reunion, or how many times you’ve eaten at your favorite restaurant. Do we have to set limits on meaningful experiences? Am I supposed to react a certain way depending on your answer? Is it even normal to quantify the things that make us happy?

And lastly, the real question here, the one I find myself asking internally any time I get a negative reaction to the fact that I follow a band: 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 your opinion of me any more than the number of apples you've eaten in your lifetime should affect my opinion of 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 truest answer is "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