May 5, 2017

Middle of Nowhere Acoustic: Ten Years Late(r)

I’ve been excited to write this blog post for about 6 months now. Last fall, I was going through some old things and I came across a notebook from my freshman year of college. Inside was a detailed review of my very first Hanson show on May 5, 2007. “Detailed” might actually be too mild a term; it’s 18 single-spaced handwritten pages. There’s even a “map” of the seating and stage layout, complete with a legend detailing exactly what every squiggle and circle(ish) shape is supposed to represent. I obviously meant what I said in the opening sentence: “I decided to write about this because it’s not something I want to forget.”

It’s the only show I’ve ever attended that isn’t already at home in the archive here, and the ten year anniversary of the ten year anniversary seemed a fitting time to break it out of the vault. So here we are, exactly ten years later. I'm two days shy of 29 instead of two days shy of 19, and in two weeks, I'm getting on a plane to Tulsa for the 11th time instead of the first. I’m not going to bore you with the entire 18 pages or try to make you decipher my handwriting. Instead, I want to revisit that first show from my perspective today.

Ten years ago, I was the new kid. I fell head-first back into this fan base after almost a decade of being absent. The first thing I did was buy every album I had missed, but it still didn’t feel like enough (“It’s scary how fast an obsession can come on. One minute I’m studying for my first college midterms, and the next I’m importing my childhood love from Japan.”) I didn’t have any fan friends yet and spent months on just sort of absorbing everything and becoming desensitized to some of the "crazier" aspects of Hanson fans, like how many shows some fans had been to and the idea that someone would willingly camp out on a sidewalk. Reading about other fans’ experiences going to shows made me excited for the possibility of something more. I don’t remember ever feeling jealous; I remember feeling hopeful and exhilarated at the thought of becoming a part of it all.

My opportunity came in the form of an announcement that Hanson would be re-recording Middle of Nowhere acoustically for an audience to celebrate Hanson Day. The fact that I had barely left the tri-state area in my life and that Oklahoma was over a thousand miles away wasn’t enough to deter me. It was terrifying, but in an unfamiliar grand adventure sort of way.
 “I did the unthinkable. I called my dad and asked for what would be any dad’s worst nightmare—I asked him to let me fly halfway across the country, alone, with no friends to meet up with, in three weeks, with no more details than a date and a city…He asked for more details than Hanson themselves could have given him…We argued about it over the phone for a week. He threw out phrases such as “child-molester” (mind you, I’m 19) and “woodstock” (mind you, it’s HANSON) in overprotective rants.”
I won the argument eventually, with the stipulation that my mom would fly out with me. I still kick myself for getting her all the way to Tulsa and not dragging her to the show. The part about the event being only three weeks out was true, so the concept of “Hanson Time” was introduced to me pretty quickly. Further proof:
“Finally, three days before the event, the location was released along with some other key information. I learned that we were to wear dark clothing for videotaping purposes and not wear any Hanson-related items.”
If you find yourself groaning that ~6 months isn’t enough advanced notice to plan for Hanson Day, just remember that some of us didn’t find out the venue for the first Hanson Day event until we were already en route to Tulsa, and we were given wardrobe restrictions after we had already packed. (Imagine all the nit-picking and overthinking you put into finding that perfect outfit to meet Hanson in and then being told "Oh, by the way, you can't wear any of that.") The wealth of planning time and available information about present-day Hanson Day feels like an extreme luxury in comparison.

In line, I began to meet what I considered to be the pillars of the fan community. I recognized a lot of faces from pictures fans had shared on, many of whom I had seen in pictures with Hanson themselves. Everyone was genuinely friendly and included me in their conversations. I remember meeting a pair of sisters from Canada, debating the definition of Smarties candy with a girl from the UK, and admiring the Walk symbol tattoo on a fan from Denmark. Then there was “Deal or No Deal Girl,” who ended up directly behind me in line. I’d long since forgotten this was a thing, but at the time, everyone seemed to know who she was and whispered excitedly about her presence and identity. Hanson had been special guests on an episode of Deal or No Deal a month or two before because one of the contestants was a big fan. They sang for her and cheered her on and she walked away with almost $100,000 on top of her personal performance from the band. It was kind of nice to see that she was a “real” fan that would show up to see them in Tulsa and that it wasn’t just a staged episode. I wonder if she’s still a fan now.

We had been told in advance that a few fans would be asked to attend both of the two recording sessions “for continuity purposes” due to the DVD recording. I listened to the three friends ahead of me all reassure each other that if only one or two of them got picked, they would all stick together and turn down the opportunity. I also watched moments later as a staff member invited just one of the girls inside, and she walked away with a smile and a wave without protest. It was uncomfortable to watch, and it was enough to help me adopt a more relaxed relationship with some of my own fan friends years later. There’s a mutual understanding that if you get an opportunity, you take it (as long as you’re not truly ditching or hurting someone). A real friend will cheer you on and ask for details later rather than holding you back.

I guess this was my first taste of mild fan drama and disappointment, and I wasn’t immune, either.
“The band manager went around the line, obviously trying to pick the lucky fans to go to both sessions. I had so much faith that I would be one! But alas, not this time. I was less than happy to see the girl directly in front of me and the two people directly behind me get picked while I was skipped.”
(I thought about editing out "alas" here, but no, we're just going to cringe about it together. Nineteen-year-old me was probably re-reading the Harry Potter series for the hundredth time. Blame Dumbledore.)

I remember the harsh feeling of being directly between people that got picked but being skipped over myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t want them to have it, it’s just that standing right in between them and not being picked made me feel so invisible. I’ve since been the lucky chosen person in other scenarios, and it has changed my perspective for the better. Jealousy is an ugly trait. You can’t always have everything, but sometimes good things come to those who wait.

And then there’s one of my favorite quotes from the entire rambly mess because it is so naive and so far from the truth now:
“After several hours, the front of the line started to swell. I’m positive that more people skipped us than the amount of people that were in front of us in the first place. It happens, though, and we couldn’t do anything but glare.”
Thankfully, I’m way past this “couldn’t do anything but glare” phase and well into the “not happening” stage. I like it here.

We finally went inside an hour later than expected and were subjected to more waiting. It felt like I’d never actually get to see Hanson. A staff member came out and asked the crowd questions, obviously stalling for more time (Who thinks they traveled the furthest? Who has never been to a Hanson show before? etc.). I was nervous to raise my hand at that one, but I was happily surprised when a few dozen hands shot into the air with mine; I wasn't alone. I knew they were stalling when he pointed out a random guy in the audience and said “Raise your hand if you know this guy’s username.” Several hands raised, someone won a t-shirt, and the same guy would go on to be recognized again in a few years' time for his tall baldness at 5 of 5.

The show was surreal and my 19-year-old self used the words “amazing” and “awesome” to describe it in just about every other sentence. I was impressed not only by the music but by how well-behaved the fans were. We were told not to scream or even audibly sing along during the songs, and nobody did. I don’t know what I expected, but I guess when your only previous experience of a Hanson show is via TT&MON on VHS with crowds upwards of 20,000 screaming pre-teens, a crowd of 400 seated people in a bar is going to feel tame.

I loved watching their brotherly interactions and the teasing between takes, and they played the familiar roles I have come to know and love, i.e. Isaac stopping to tune, Zac trying to deflect attention for him by cracking jokes, and Taylor giving the heartfelt introductions as needed. Taylor and Zac teased Isaac about rambling the same as they do now, probably in a tradition that goes back much further than my own presence in this fan base.
“Zac and Taylor made fun of Isaac at one point about saying all kinds of boring stuff no one wants to hear just because it comes into his head.”
Isaac was sassy and didn’t care back then, either.
“After being teased by his brothers for saying random unimportant things, Isaac said ‘I think you’ll want to hear what I have to say this time,’ and went on to introduce Yearbook. Several genuine gasps followed…My one consolation for not attending the second, longer session was that I got to hear “Yearbook” the first time it was played live ever.”
My favorite part of the show was “Lucy,” which was my favorite song growing up. I also remember being really disappointed that "Man From Milwaukee" didn't get played during my session. Truthfully, it’s hard for me to think back now about how I felt about most of the songs. My written descriptions were positive but vague, and I've had ten years to listen to the recording and form new opinions. At least for every detail I can't recall, my first show lives on in CD/DVD format.

I know group pictures with the band are a fixture at Hanson Day now, but I didn't know what to expect when we were told about this perk. I imagined giant class pictures from elementary school and no real time to interact with the band, so I put zero thought into what I might say if the opportunity came up. To make matters worse, I somehow found myself in the very first group picture of the event, so there was no time to watch other groups and form expectations. It did not occur to me that I would actually get to meet them until Isaac, Taylor, and Zac were walking straight towards me.
“I was in the front middle with stairs in front of me. It was clear that I’d be right by the guys. Seeing them walking towards me was so surreal.”
After the picture I just stood there, frozen and unsure of what to do as the rest of my group flocked around Isaac and Taylor, wisely making the most of their time. I managed to silently shake Taylor’s hand, thankful that the safety of the crowd meant I wouldn’t have to speak to him. I realized I couldn’t get to Isaac from where I was standing and turned to look for Zac. He was standing behind me on the floor, alone.
“I couldn’t believe it. Not a single person was near him or trying to get near him. I took the opportunity to meet him. I stuck out my hand, shook his, then realized I had no clue what to say. I guess I was hoping he’d throw out something clever to break the ice, but he looked just as surprised as I was...He smiled and shook my hand, but said nothing. I mumbled “nice to meet you” and then walked away to buy a t-shirt. I can’t believe I did that! I could have stood there and had an actual conversation with the guy. Nobody was making me walk away from him, but I chickened out. I definitely should have at least thanked him, told him he did a good job, and, I don’t know, introduced myself maybe? Oh well, I can hardly complain about getting to meet Zac Hanson the first time I get to see Hanson ever.”
In further retrospect, it’s obvious to me the real reason why nobody had approached Zac yet: my oblivious 18-year-old self was standing frozen at the head of the stairs and blocking everyone from getting to him even if they tried.

I bought my t-shirt, and it was over. No after party, no Hop Jam, and no tearful hugs and goodbyes and promises to see anyone soon. I left with nothing (and everything) to look forward to. My review ended with two bold statements. One epically true, and one laughably false.

The biggest lie I ever told:
“Overall, it was the experience of a lifetime. I never get to do anything like that; I can hardly believe it happened.”
(As I've joked since. Once in a lifetime opportunity? More like once a year for the rest of my lifetime.)

And a truth I couldn't have predicted any better:
“I’ll end with one of the many things I should have told Zac when I had the chance—it may have been my first time seeing Hanson live, but it won’t be my last.”

While digging through a lot of old files and making sure I didn't skip any other great gems from my first show, I found two other things I had long forgotten. The first was a screencap of an article I wrote for HNOTES (remember HNOTES?) about my Middle of Nowhere Acoustic experience. You can see my first ever public show review HERE. The second was an autographed picture. I was lucky enough to get reporter just a few months after that first show, and I ended up bringing a printed copy of my group picture as the item I chose to get autographed. I knew this existed, but I had completely forgotten what Taylor wrote on it. When I read the message the day he wrote it, I felt a little undeserving. Of course he had no way of knowing that I was "new" (or reformed), so I just smiled and accepted the personalization. Finding it again now felt a little serendipitous, like finding a note Hanson wrote me ten years ago that I was meant to read today.

Now I can finally say it back. Happy 10 years, Hanson! You have, in fact, given me all the best. ♥


Mel said...

I always love reading your blogs. They make me remember details of my Hanson adventures. What an amazing first show to have gone to! I need to watch the dvd again to try and find you now.

P.S. I still use "alas" thanks to Dumbledore!

Holly said...

Thank you, Mel! I was sitting directly next to the camera in my session, so I'm not really in it. You can see like 75% of me in a corner of a shot during "I Will Come To You" if you pause it at the right moment. Exciting stuff, I know. :-p

Unknown said...

Great blog post (as always) Holly! I teared up towards the end- hearing about a fan's first experience at a Hanson Day event reminds me of mine- happy memories live on forever and stay with us always. Thank you for sharing! :)

Mel said...

Good to know! And it's very exciting! I hate being on camera, but get excited seeing myself in the 5 of 5 dvds, because it's Hanson.

asphodelia said...

I really enjoyed this post - that event happened before my time so it's always fascinating to get a glimpse of 'the past'.
This part really resonated with me:
" I’ve since been the lucky chosen person in other scenarios, and it has changed my perspective for the better. Jealousy is an ugly trait. You can’t always have everything, but sometimes good things come to those who wait."

I wholly agree that jealousy is an ugly trait. I will admit here that I am not immune to it - it's an ugly trait but it's also human nature. The important thing is to try and overcome it and be a better person. I think you're right in taking a more relaxed perspective on fan friendships; those situations are unique and ...well, we have to surrender to the Carpe Diem, whether it involves us or somebody else.

Finally, the experience of a lifetime....I said that about BTTI 2015 ;)

Kelly said...

The Deal or No Deal girl is Jackie Monroe and yes, she's still a fan! I don't think she goes to shows much anymore because she has children but she's from my hometown and is a popular news anchor there. She still posts about them on Facebook from time to time :)