June 9, 2019

Tonight Is The Last Night: Buffalo



You know that feeling when you’re sitting in front of a giant plate of your favorite food, and you reach the point of being full and KNOW you should really stop, but it’s so good and there’s still food on the plate so you keep eating anyway? That’s kind of where I’m at with String Theory right now. No, I don’t feel sick or queasy now that I’ve overindulged, but after ~17 String Theory shows (does BTTI really count?), I think I’m finally ready to put down the fork. It has been a real treat to see things through from start to finish and with plenty of exciting stops along the way, but I’m officially ready to move forward and am excited to see what new project comes next.

Despite being the same String Theory show as every other city I visited, Buffalo was actually a completely unique experience for me due to the trip itself. I bought tickets almost a year ago, but I never made solid plans to go. As it turned out, no one was able to make the trip with me, and I dragged my feet on whether or not to attend alone right up until Hanson Day when I finally decided I didn't want to regret sitting out the "last" String Theory show when I already had a great seat and the time off from work. Finding a direct Spirit flight for a full $250 less than every other airline pretty much sealed the deal. My crammed personal item and I would be making a 24 hour trip to Buffalo.

It wasn't my first time going to a concert alone, but I haven't done it for Hanson since 2007 (and even then I split a hotel with a few other fans). Though I did wind up selling my extra ticket to a friend and not sitting "alone," this was my first time flying somewhere, staying in my own hotel room, Ubering, eating, and just generally doing everything solo. I didn't hate it, and there's kind of a liberating feeling of independence that goes along with putting yourself out there and doing what you want with or without the help or approval of others. In some ways going alone made me appreciate my usual travel companions even more, but it was also nice to step a little outside of my comfort zone and find out that I'm totally capable of doing things for myself, too.

There's another thing I learned by flying solo, and that's that no matter where I go, I'm never truly alone in a room full of Hanson fans. I went to the bar to buy a bottle of water and ran into an old friend I haven't seen in a few years who was there to enjoy the show with her husband. When I found my seat and sat down, the person behind me tapped me on the shoulder, smiled, and identified herself as a friend of a friend. Three seats down my row was another old friend that I met through my local street team over 800 miles away, and later I ran into the pair of girls that called security to toss us a key when I locked us onto our balcony at BTTI earlier this year. I spotted friendly faces everywhere, and a couple of kind strangers even waited with me for my Uber to show up after the show when Hanson took off and I suddenly found myself about to be left completely alone outside at night. I doubt they'll ever see this, but thanks again. All the kind people I interacted with reminded me of the great community we have.

As for the show? On a completely different note from the warm fuzzies I got from *most* of the crowd, I got to see a whole new trend of what happens when people aren't bold enough to rush the stage but still can't quite behave. I think at least a few people might need to amend their claims of "Hanson is my favorite band" to "Hanson is my favorite Instagram backdrop" for accuracy purposes. I've seen the occasional "how cool is this, see where I'm at! Hanson is right behind me!" style selfie from people excited about their spots, and there's really no harm done there. This was not that. This was some weird selfie parade of people wandering past front row to the stage in front of other people's seats and throwing up thumbs-up, OMG faces, and hugging each other in photos with their backs to the stage right in the middle of "Tonight." Part of me wants to make excuses for them and remember that it's always somebody's first show and that there's nothing wrong with being a little over-excited. But then I remember the setting and the fact that even teenage starstruck me would have known better than to run down the aisle at a seated orchestra show and stand in front of each brother taking selfies from multiple angles during the last somber song, and my sympathy morphs back into thinking the adults doing it could have exercised a little bit more self control. #DoGoBehave really made it full circle this tour.

Though the selfie parade may have earned a full paragraph for its standout weirdness compared to other shows, my overall experience was a good one, and I enjoyed the final (for now) performance of a solid set of songs. I may not have the same enthusiasm and excitement for String Theory as I did before my first show, but it's since been replaced with a familiarity that I'm sure will morph into nostalgia before I know it, the same way being sickly full of that favorite meal will turn right back into a craving as soon as you start your diet. (I'm not sure where all the food analogies are coming from. Clearly I shouldn't write on an empty stomach).

I found myself watching the triple drumming of "Siren Call" intently, knowing I might not get to see it performed that way again. I sat through "Battlecry" remembering how magical it was to see at the Sydney Opera House and desperately hoping that it gets reincarnated into a rock song without an orchestra and played to death on future tours.  I looked around and saw the faces of so many others nodding their heads and quietly grinning looking up at the stage in awe, and I got the sense that yeah, I was silly to ever think of it as going alone. Besides, sometimes flying solo and simply showing up to be part of the crowd is how you end up making that lifelong friend you'll find yourself in another part of the world with a decade later, and when you really get lost in great music, it doesn't matter who's sitting next to you. If you've ever let worries of going alone stop you, don't wait for tomorrow. You never know when "Tonight" really is the last, and as cheesy or morbid as that may sound, it's one reason I'll always push myself to avoid those "wish that I was there" moments and do things like fly to New York and share an experience with a room full of strangers over regretting missing out later. So far? I can proudly say I've got an equal amount of selfie parade photos and regrets.

June 6, 2019

In Real Life: 2019 EP Review

This year's fan club EP has been on steady rotation in my car for the last few weeks, and In Real Life and I have sat behind enough school buses together by now that I think I'm ready to share my take on Hanson's latest tunes. I thought this would be relatively short, but now that I'm finished, I find myself sitting next to a bunch of colored pens and a triple Venn diagram wondering how my brain even took this in some of the directions it went. I'll probably change my mind several more times as I begin to read others opinions, and you may have gotten none of the same things I got out of it, but that's always been one of the fun things about music.

COMPROMISE
Whether you see them as brothers first and bandmates second or vice versa, there's no denying that Isaac, Taylor, and Zac by nature have ample experience in the compromise department. The harmonies on this one are A+, as was the decision to have shared leads. Just like with "Me Myself and I," the decision to give each brother a solo verse but then blending together in a beautifully harmonized chorus seems a deliberate stylistic choice that perfectly fits the theme and what it means to work together to reach a common goal. Lucky for us, the common goal in this case was a great new song.

One of my favorite things about this song is that the word "compromise" actually has two meanings, and they subtly include both in the lyrics. The way we usually think of "compromise" and the overall meaning of the song fits the first definition: "a settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions." But then there's the second definition. To be "compromised" is to be "impaired or diminished in function : weakened, damaged, or flawed." They give it to us after the very first verse:

Why does it feel so hard
To give just a little trust?
Feels like juggling in the dark
And all you end up is cut.

Going along, getting along, believing
One day things will change but all you feel is

Compromised.


I can totally appreciate the word play of setting us up to see how "compromised" and defeated someone can feel, only to finally admit that "compromise" is the only solution to make things work.

Favorite lyric:  "Give what you get when you get what wasn't given." 

I have to think about it a good three times to make sense of this convoluted line, but I love it. I read an implied "you" at the beginning of that lyric. "(You) give what you get when you get what wasn't given." Basically, if you're giving nothing on your end, don't expect the other person to be the first to offer up a concession. You have to be willing to give something to get something in return. The nerd in me also likes that "given" at the end of the line is a homophone for "give in," when a good compromise usually means that everyone involved is "giving in" at least a little bit to get something that works for everyone.

What would make it better?  The only thing that bugs me is I don't actually hear the "d" on the end of "compromise" at any point in the recording the two times it's used that way. I see it in the booklet. It makes contextual sense. But they don't enunciate it, and I think that makes it easy to miss the slightly different meaning.

WORTH THE WAIT
I don't think there's any room to debate the meaning of this song: it's a gospel praise song, and the thing that's worth the wait is heaven. There's talk of Sunday mornings, the presence of "technicolor dreamcoats," brothers and sisters that can show you the way, and a liner note that outright says "gospel bass player solo." In Christianity, it's common to refer to fellow believers as brothers and sisters in Christ (not to mention nuns are often referred to as "sister" in the Catholic sect).

It's a different style than we usually get from Hanson and something we'd only ever get in the "safe" confines of a fan club release. It's not my favorite music style, though I have no issue with the lyrics. I do like that they felt comfortable enough to share it with us while also knowing that their fans must have a large variety of beliefs.

I don't actually have a favorite lyric or a suggestion for what could have made this one better. I think it falls into the category of mostly a skip song even though I can't pinpoint anything specifically wrong with it. I just don't care for the gospel sound and it's official that I never will if Hanson can't even make me appreciate it.

THE BALLAD OF SEYMOUR BETTER TIMES

Let's talk about Seymour. He's your typical screw-up just trying to get by in life, and through it all, he just picks himself up, keeps on going, and hums a happy tune along the way. He might sound like the kind of carefree idiot that would star in a sitcom and have us laughing going "Oh Seymour, not again!" with every new misadventure, but I kind of like the guy. I see him as the eternal optimist who knows his life isn't perfect, but he's not afraid to keep looking for the next bright side instead of wallowing in life's latest disappointment.

When his first round of lovely lasses doesn't work out and he's starting to make enemies, he doesn't sweat it or get depressed, he reminds himself that his journey's going to be long so he's got plenty of time to "fight another day." And when his thieving girlfriend is getting taken down by the police, he's not out back in some dark space writing "Hand in Hand" level revenge songs. He's like cool, let me get my slide whistle and I'm out. The fact that he can walk away from every stressful situation with a song makes me think of the line "When you can't get through it, you can listen to it" from "Been There Before." Seymour is low-key a carefree version of all of us that listen to music when we're down.

And all the church talk and "nightly dreaming of those pearly gates?" Paired with the rest of the EP, I can't help but think the choir in "Worth the Wait might be singing right to Seymour and his wayward actions. The whole song sounds like one giant pep-talk to a struggling Christian, and Seymour might as well be the poster child in need of an intervention. What if "Worth the Wait" is even the "simple song" he sings to ease his pain as he walks away from each disaster? More on the conspiracy theories when I get to Better Days.

Favorite Lyric:  *Old ladies singing* No, just kidding.

But on his way to church
Seymour received a sign,
A messenger from the good Lord
In red high heels with blue eyes.

He said "I will praise the Lord in my own way, and revel in his creation every day."


It's the punchline of the song and tells us that despite his best efforts (are they really, though?), Seymour hasn't changed his ways. I laughed so hard at this line the first time we heard the song in Jamaica in 2018.

What would make it better? An acoustic guitar and waves in the background? Seriously, this one's my favorite. The acoustic version without any production elements might be even better.

READING YOUR MIND

I'm going to go ahead and get the unintentional Twilight similarities out of my system so we can move forward and take this song seriously, because it's actually pretty good. Let me just point out a few things I couldn't ignore the first time I heard it with a quick round of who said it, the Zac Hanson/Edward Cullen edition:

"No one needs to know that I climb through your window."
"You give me everything just by breathing."
"I'm reading your mind."
"When I feel you breathing, you make my dreams come true."


Answer key: they're all Zac except the second one.

Okay, so assuming this song isn't actually about Edward and Bella and wasn't ghostwritten for Robert Pattinson, I'm highly curious about the fact that Zac told us that the song was originally written for another artist. For a song that sounds so personal and somewhat specific, it's hard to imagine giving it away to someone else or what other musician might have experiences that would match the song's content. I thought about it and tried to figure out if any artists jumped out as fitting. Who would be singing about forbidden love? A young artist in a serious relationship? Someone with a controversial love life that people might not accept for some reason? The truth is we don't know enough to do more than speculate, so I quit trying and decided to focus on the fact that this is a Hanson song no matter what else it might have been.

Zac also talked about how sometimes you find yourself writing songs at different points in your life about the same things and referenced "Need You Now." So whether or not this song was written for himself or with someone else in mind, I think there has to be at least some of an autobiographical element to it.

When I wasn't giggling about teen vampire fiction or worrying who it might have been ghostwritten for, my first impression of the song was that it's about the intense feelings of young love. You've got a protagonist who is looking forward to getting older when he can be with the person he loves without hiding it. If we want to be serious about literary similarities, we could probably compare it to Romeo and Juliet. It might not have been a window, but Romeo totally climbed up Juliet's balcony, they were both super young, and people weren't accepting of their love no matter how strongly they felt it themselves. The whole song gives off a sense of just needing to be with this other person even if it means having to sneak around and not being able to share your happiness with anyone else.

"Need You Now" gives off less of a sense of forbidden love, but is still so similar the way it talks about watching someone as they sleep (oh look, more Twilight vibes) and the longing to stay with someone rather than having to part ways ("Soon we'll be together all day long" in "Reading Your Mind" and "The sun is always brighter when you stay" in "Need You Now.") I'm glad we found out about the connection between the two songs because I can totally see it, and that song is old and obscure enough that I doubt I would have thought of it on my own. It also makes a little bit more sense about why Zac would be writing a song from the perspective of a young couple in his 30s if it's more of a flashback to a different time.

Favorite Lyric: "You don't have to tell, but I don't want to hide it." 

I like this line because it can mean a couple of different things, and I like to think that he's not saying he's sick of hiding from everyone else; he's saying "I don't want to hide it (from you)." Essentially "Who cares if nobody knows what we mean to each other as long as we both know?" It's followed by "I just need to see that look in your eyes while I'm reading your mind." To me, that look in her eyes is the look that says I feel the same way you do. Is he reading her mind? No, but just looking into her eyes, he knows they feel connected in the same way. It's sort of this genius dramatically intense way to describe young love as it feels to the Romeos and the Juliets of the world. It's pretty spot-on.

What would make it better? I just want more background info.


BETTER DAYS (feat. some stringless conspiracy theories)
It's easier to ignore the potential religious undertones in "Better Days" than in "Worth the Wait," but I can't help but see the two as connected. To me, the "better days" that are coming are worth the wait; they're heaven. Lines like "What we face will one day be inconsequential" and "The will to believe is all that's essential" are vague enough to be interpreted as just having a positive outlook on life and choosing to believe that things will get better with time, but I read them in a more religious context of believing is all it takes to get you to heaven, and your current struggles will one day be "inconsequential" because you're looking forward to one long eternal better day. The songs are practically synonymous; one is just way more overt.

Now for the conspiracy theory path I mentioned above with Seymour. "Better Days" reads a lot like Seymour's outlook on life to me, and even the titles are similar. The speaker in "Better Days" admits to having misadventures with this person and "fighting and seeking" something. Seymour decides to live to "fight another day" and his entire song is one misadventure after another. The part about "trying to live up to our potential" is similar to the brief moment when Seymour tries to change his sinful ways so that "no longer would he stray." The characters in both songs struggle with wanting to live up to some kind of standard, and both have a positive outlook that things are going to turn out okay. It might be a stretch, but I don't think it's completely outrageous to say that the speaker from "Worth the Wait" and "Better Days" could be the same person, and that the two people from "Better Days" are Seymour and this supportive friend (perhaps the "brother" that's offering to show him the way from "Worth the Wait?"). The speaker could even be Seymour himself taking a second stab at changing his "sinful ways" with the help of a friend who is also trying to walk the right path.

I also can't help but see the mention of music in both "Worth the Wait" and "Seymour Better Times." Seymour sings to ease his pain (and as I've speculated, maybe he's singing "Worth The Wait") and includes a choir of "old ladies singing" at the end. "Worth The Wait" has a choir of angels. The line "There'll be a lasting serenade because it's more than just a destination" feels like some pretty targeted advice for a guy who keeps talking about his long journey and leaning on music to help him carry on.

TL;DR? Total conspiracy theory stretch of a conclusion = "Worth the Wait" is some good-intentioned advice aimed at Seymour, and "Better Days" is also about his continued struggles with the help of a friend.

For a less-crazy conclusion, I'll just say that I like this year's EP and its unexpected ability to make me overthink a couple of good songs for a few hours. Is everything secretly tied together with Seymour at the center of the theme? Probably not. I think really it's a group of songs about everyday life and the kinds of struggles we all face, and Seymour just happens to be like the rest of us trying to navigate our way through everything that comes at us (or in some cases, that we get ourselves into). He's by no means a role-model, but he's relatable and flawed in a lovable way and comes with his own catchy song that I haven't gotten sick of yet. I'd consider that a pretty good endorsement and a reason to renew or join to hear it for yourself if you haven't already. And if you have? I'd love to hear what you think.


May 30, 2019

Hanson Day 2019




Watching Hanson Day evolve into what it has become over the last decade feels a lot like growing up in a small town and watching it develop more every time you go back home. I’m not just talking about the growth in the arts district or how much Tulsa has expanded in the last several years, but the fact that Hanson Day itself has grown from a single 45-minute set to a jam-packed four day weekend event. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade my first trip to Tulsa for that 45-minute set for anything, but every time they add another event, the whole thing feels a little bit more worth my paycheck. And with four concerts in four days, Hanson Day 2019 is currently at the top of the list for Hanson Day trips worth the expense. If they keep it up, at some point they're going to have to start calling it Hanson Week.

As usual, I chose to add on plenty of the optional events to my Hanson Day schedule. I attended Karaoke, the Listening Party, the Dance Party, Leaders Lunch, Group Pictures, the Gallery, the I ♥ Hanson Store, and Bowling in addition to the Storytellers show, String Theory, the free Members Only concert, and Hop Jam. Just listing everything together makes it feel like a miracle that I didn’t forget to show up to anything. Who knows, maybe I did and still don’t remember.

Every year gets a bit more challenging writing this review because it feels like I’m supposed to cover each and every event, and that becomes somewhat tedious the longer and more similar that list becomes compared to previous years. To cover some of the extras without giving you a dozen paragraphs to fit each one, here are a few condensed observations:

  • I think it could be fun to see karaoke move to Cain's for a trial year to accommodate more fans, and maybe make it a three-brother-event to keep things fresh and justify a larger venue.
  • Pro-tip: the non-Hanson karaoke song database totally includes a few Disney songs. Use this information wisely.
  • Hanson Heads on sticks + fan song requests + fans dancing on stage = the most lively Dance Party yet.
  • I loved how many of us showed up ironically wearing our new “I’d rather be at a Hanson concert” shirts to the dance party. I can’t think of a more accurate setting for mine.
  • I tried my hand at Hanson Day bowling for the first time and somehow managed a strike on my first turn. Don’t worry, my ego dropped back down the moment I accidentally tossed the ball behind me a few turns later.

The one event I feel like I have to elaborate on is the Listening Party. In case you didn’t go and have no idea what I’m talking about, this year Zac wrote an EP called “Edible Digital Pants.” It’s every bit as ridiculous as it sounds and is full of songs praising junk food, demonizing vegetables, and the ticket included a collectible metal lunch box full of candy, a stress donut, and a fortune cookie proclaiming “You will experience high quality nonsense today.” He wasn’t wrong. Here’s a little more high quality nonsense worth a momentary tangent for you.

A few years back, I tweeted a snarky comment along the lines of “what product will Hanson think up next, fortune cookies?” and wrote a fake example of one (Lucky numbers 1440, 1997, and “soon.” I’ve since accidentally deleted it, because of course I did.) I didn’t tweet it to Hanson, but a fan saw it, thought it was a great idea, and RTed it to the @hansonmusic account. Zac then saw it, must have thought it was funny, and started tweeting me back about making them. I joked that it was my idea first and that we’d have to go 50/50 if he actually went through with it. Here’s a screenshot I posted to Facebook afterwards showing our fake binding verbal agreement:



I forgot all about it until Zac posted a picture on Instagram a few weeks ago revealing that they had, in fact, created some kind of Hanson fortune cookie. I don’t for a minute think that my ancient tweets had anything to do with it or that he even remembered the brief exchange, but it was too great that somewhere on the internet I had “proof” that we had an agreement to go 50/50 on any future fortune cookie production. I thought about bringing it up to him in person, decided it would require too much explaining, and figured I’d just let it go as a great moment of irony. (Besides, it's not like they made a profit off of them for me to even joke that they owed me.) Then after Hop Jam, I was having a completely unrelated conversation with Taylor and several other fans, and out of nowhere I hear some friends calling my name from behind me. Suddenly Zac jumps into the middle of the circle I’d been standing in and dramatically holds out his empty hand to me. Cue total confusion on my part. I think I said something along the lines of “Um, what is that? What are you doing?”



His response? “It’s the 50% I owe you” with a big cheeky grin.



Someone else had obviously told him the fortune cookie story. I’m sure Taylor and the other people in the circle were even more lost than I was, and I didn’t even try to explain. I laughed, pretended to take my cut from his empty hand, and later wished I’d thought to say “I’ll be sure to spend all of that in the Hanson store.”


The weekend was so packed that there wasn’t much time to squeeze in anything outside of the scheduled events, but I did manage to escape to check out The Gathering Place for about an hour. It’s this giant free park with lots of swings, slides, and fun unusual climbing equipment meant for kids, but definitely also enjoyed by adults. It’s a lot bigger than I expected from the few pictures I’d seen, and I’d love to go back with more friends and a little more time to kill. I highly recommend checking it out if your inner kid is screaming for a recess break.



Storytellers
And now, for the real reason I get myself to Tulsa year after year: the music. I feel very spoiled after getting four shows in a row this year, and as much as I always enjoy the side events, I’d gladly give them all up if it meant we could keep up a tradition of more concerts for Hanson Day.

Once again, Storytellers was hands-down my favorite part of Hanson Day. And once again, Hanson dropped the ball on telling any stories. I think a more accurate description is that it was a Hanson history throwback show to the Underneath Acoustic tour, and let me tell you, as someone who missed that tour, I was very excited for this theme. I don't at all hate the idea of transforming the bonus show into a throwback show to a past tour. There are plenty to choose from, lots of memories and nostalgia if you were there, and many fans who missed out the first time. Official petition to change Storytellers to a throwback concert event, anyone? Either that or, you know, add stories.

I was so happy to hear "Lullabelle" again and had only ever heard it once in Florida years ago. To his credit, Zac did try to explain a little bit about that one before he played it. He said it was a song about loss and that it describes his feelings about Cindy Crawford. I never thought much about the meaning when I picked Hollybelle as my hnet username 12 years ago because I was too busy being in love with the melody. Looking back, it's not exactly a very fitting subject to have named myself after, but I guess I could've done a lot worse.

I was just as excited to hear "Crazy Beautiful" as a solo for only the second time, but once again Isaac and Zac joined in at the end and turned it into a full band song. It was gorgeous and a fun way to bring the show back up from a mellow set of solos, but I'm beginning to think I'll never actually get to see the full solo version from the Underneath Acoustic Live DVD. Near the end of the show we were treated with the surprise opportunity to see Isaac play the cello on "Underneath," and then he went on to absolutely slay a cover of "Ain't No Sunshine." I left loving the whole experience and also thinking that the Storytellers show had oddly been a better Isaac show than some of his own solo shows at BTTI. He was just really on point the whole time.

String Theory
Getting to experience String Theory in Hanson's hometown in a room of mostly fan club members was a unique experience. It's hard to say if there was more excitement or crowd participation in a setting that doesn't call for much of it in the first place, but it felt like a special place to be at the end of almost a year of String Theory shows (even if that place was about three rows further back than any of us expected thanks to a surprise pit section. On a positive note, reserving the first three rows for their family is one sure-fire way to deter stage rushing!). There was one magical moment at the end when the crowd began waving their cell phone lights in unison during "Tonight," and I turned to look behind me and saw row after row of the sold out theatre swaying in unison all the way to the top of the balcony. I didn't even attempt to capture it to be able to share it here, but it was a sight worth seeing.

Members Only Concert
I say this with all the love and respect in my heart: thank you Hanson, God, and everybody involved that this year's show did not include "Never Let Go," "A Life Without You," or "With You In Your Dreams." This was the first Hanson Day in quite a few years that didn't make me cry, and I'm really very grateful for that. My favorite part was getting to hear the new EP songs as well as "Runaway Run" as a solo. I'd like to give major props to the girl in the crowd that had a kazoo on her and had the guts to get up on stage when they asked during "The Ballad of Seymour Better Times." I'm not sure why Hanson thought it made sense to bring up a guest to play along with a song none of us really knew yet, but she did fine and I couldn't hear it anyway.

The State of the Band portion answered a burning question that fans have been asking for years now: when will Hanson release a new album? They revealed that if everything goes according to plan, they will release a new album in 2020 called Against The World, followed by an extensive world tour and another new album in 2021. They said there would also be some sort of fall tour in the U.S. at the end of this year to start previewing some of the new music. I can't wait, though I'm hesitant to think of the announcement in terms of what we traditionally think of as an "album" and how it might be released until we hear more details. I'm pretty hopeful that it will be worth the wait regardless of the fine print.

Hop Jam
This year's Hop Jam was a weird mix of great and terrible for me thanks to the fact that by that point in the trip, I'd picked up a mystery cough, had almost no voice, and was generally feeling more rundown than usual. I made it through the first half of the day relatively fine (apart from one unrelated elbow/inflatable slide incident), but by the time Hanson came on stage, I was so dead on my feet that I sat and watched the whole show sitting on the ground in the parking lot. I forced myself up during "Thinking Bout Something" because it's a crime not to as far as I'm concerned, but I was so beat by the end of the song that I was literally laying on the ground for a moment. I'm going to need someone to come slip some vitamin C into all my drinks starting about a week before next year's event.

They closed out the show with an encore including all of the main stage bands + Darren Criss for a fun group cover of Kiss's "Rock And Roll All Nite." At one point Taylor took the microphone and told the crowd that since it was a free concert, we needed to "pay our way" by singing along until we lost our voices. Challenge accepted. I basically prepaid.






So to sum up this year's Hanson Day experience? A pessimist might tell you I waited five hours to buy two shirts, I contracted bronchitis, and I ruined my elbow helping a kid on a bouncy house slide. An optimist might remind you that this year's EP title is "In Real Life," and well, those things certainly are part of it. But the part of me the keeps booking flights back? She has total heart eyes for "Dancing in the Wind," "Lullabelle," "Crazy Beautiful," and the entirety of the Storytellers show. She stood for a standing ovation at a sold out String Theory Performance in Hanson's hometown and got to escape reality and be a kid for just long enough to climb a fortress and captain a ship in the middle of nowhere. She's currently stuffing herself with candy out of a weird lunchbox with pixelated underwear on the front, and she's totally looking forward to May 14-17, 2020.

April 3, 2019

String Theory: Brisbane



My favorite part of Brisbane was getting to visit the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. I’ve spent years admiring adorable photos of fans and Hanson holding koalas, so it felt like a must-do when I finally made the trip for myself. What I didn’t realize while seeing all of those photos is that there are actually very strict laws and rules surrounding handling koalas. I’ve read mixed results on which Australian states allow members of the public to hold them, but it is illegal in most; Queensland is one of the few exceptions. Even then, they can only be handled for a maximum of 30 minutes (consecutive or otherwise) per day, and staff seemed very well trained and perceptive to the koalas’ willingness to engage. If one seemed uncooperative or not into being held, it was immediately taken back to the exhibit and replaced with another rather than being coaxed into working longer. Each one had a handler at all times standing just outside of the frame of photos, and we were shown a specific way to stand and hold our hands in order to safely hold the koala. It was a neat experience and one I’m grateful that I was able to do considering how high the demand was and the limited amount of time the koalas are allowed to work each day. I’m happy to say the longest I waited in any line during the Australian tour was the line to hold a koala, and it felt like time well-spent.


Though it is a koala sanctuary in name, Lone Pine is also home to several other species including kangaroos, platypuses, dingos, crocodiles, wombats, Tasmanian devils, snakes, emus, and several species of birds. We were able to feed kangaroos in a petting-zoo style setting, and they were calm and clearly used to human interaction and the not-so-subtle stomping and running of happy children (there were a few intimidating emus walking around too, but they were giving off some major Care of Magical Creatures angry hipogriff vibes, so we kept our distance). I would have liked to spend longer exploring everything, but it was such a hot day that we didn’t stick around more than the hour or two it took to check everything out. I hesitated to leave as I heard they were offering snake photos somewhere as well, but I Googled, decided the results were less impressive than the Britney-style photo I got in Cancun, and retreated to an air-conditioned Uber back to our hotel instead.


After it cooled off a bit, we went exploring again and found ourselves at a place called Streets Beach in Southbank just a few blocks down from the QPAC venue. It's a man-made beach right in the heart of the city complete with sand and palm trees, and it looks exactly like a real beach minus the waves if you didn't know you were surrounded by buildings on all sides. I was impressed by how big and clean it was and how many families were taking advantage on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It felt like we stumbled onto a free waterpark that seemed better cared for than any waterpark I’ve ever paid to visit. I imagine a day of playing with animals and then going to the beach is a perfect weekend to any kid. Top it off with a Hanson show, and you can add 30-year-old American to that list.

Speaking of zoos, let’s bring this back to the reason I was in Australia—String Theory. I’m kidding, though. We observed our final show from a balcony box near the stage Statler and Waldorf style, but the crowd thankfully gave us little to heckle and even the stage rushing at the end seemed more tame than the previous two shows. I had zero complaints for Hanson, though maybe I should deduct a few points overall because nobody tried to bring me ice cream this time.

I really didn’t expect an encore, so I was happily surprised when they broke out “Change In My Life” a cappella at the end. The crowd got really into clapping along and stayed on beat, but some didn't quite get Taylor's "cut" motion at the end which was kind of funny and led him to give us a "shh" finger motion, too. It was a great way to end the show, the Australian tour, and the String Theory World Tour as a whole now that only a few one-off shows are left. I can complain about crowd behaviors and mean every word of it, but the truth is I've also enjoyed this tour very much, and I'm sure I'll be reminiscing about the good old days of seated shows, no openers, and no lines soon enough.

The night skyline view from our hotel room after the show was spectacular without ever leaving the bed. We chose the unusual route of going with more of a budget hotel but then "splurging" on the nicest room they had. I loved it, and I think we were happier there than we would have been in a basic room in a more expensive hotel (think still less than a night at the Fairfield in Tulsa). We ended up with a corner room on the 19th floor with floor to ceiling glass walls and a stunning view of the city. It made for a bittersweet backdrop as we packed our things for the long journey back home.

The flight back to L.A. from Brisbane was only about 13 hours as opposed to the 16+ it took us to get to Melbourne. Pair that with the fact that I actually slept this time, and it really didn't feel that long. We managed to kill the little bit of time we were awake playing Mario Kart, and I have to say there was some nerdy satisfaction in getting to use a Gamecube controller that I've owned for longer than I've been following Hanson thanks to a portable adapter. Amazingly, none of my flights got delayed or canceled, and though I had to run between terminals at LAX not once, but twice because the AA app told me the wrong gate, I didn't have any major flight issues for a change. I did come home to a news story that there was a confirmed case of the measles through LAX about two days before we were there, so shoutout to the public school system for making sure I got vaccinated for that years ago.

Instead, I'm coming home with a heightened case of wanderlust and not a single trace of FOMO. This might have felt like a once-in-a-lifetime trip and I'm sure it did carry some singularly epic moments, but I know better than to make any bold statements about never doing it again. I hope I'll get to go back someday, but I also hope I get to see many other new places before I return. So what's next on my list of top places I'd like to travel? Let's just say I wouldn't be disappointed if BTTI ever made an unexpected move to an island in Greece just once. My airmiles are ready.



March 28, 2019

String Theory: Canberra & Gold Coast



Trying to write about the last half of the Australian String Theory Tour feels like a bigger challenge now that I’ve thoroughly gushed over the Sydney shows. The fact is Hanson nailed every show, and that kind of leaves me with nothing to say that isn’t going to sound repetitive. I’ve already shared several in-depth reviews, and I’m not going to try to invent fluffy new adjectives for “Battlecry” 13 shows in. If you don’t know how awesome it is by now—do yourself a favor and get to Tulsa or Buffalo, buy the album, or go the completely free route and search #hansonstringtheory on instragram. (Good luck weeding through roughly 90 billion recordings of “MMMBop” first, though.)

Canberra and Gold Coast felt almost interchangeable to me thanks to unintentionally winding up with almost identical third row Zac seats for both shows. Add in the fact that both crowds rushed the stage during “No Rest For the Weary,” and I legitimately can’t separate some of the minor details to know which happened at which show.

The one thing that definitely sets the two apart for me is the ice cream incident at the Canberra Theatre. Imagine this: You’re attending a String Theory show, and for reasons you can’t explain, you’re absolutely starving about four songs in. Like stomach growling, actual painful level of hungry even though you ate dinner. You find yourself shamefully looking forward to intermission just so you can run to the concessions area and grab a snack so that your stomach will calm down and let you enjoy the second half of the show in peace. You get there as fast as you can, but a hundred other people were faster, so you go back to your seat hangry and empty-handed. As you’re relaying all of this to the friend that thought you got lost going to the bathroom, you spot…ice cream vendors? That can’t be real at an orchestra show. You almost wonder if you’re having some kind of hunger-induced desert mirage hallucination, but no, it's dessert and no mirage. There are real employees with coolers strapped around their shoulders wandering up and down the aisles holding up ice cream bars as if you’re seeing The Braves rather than String Theory. You flag one down and within moments, you’re having ice cream brought directly to your seat and feeling smugly superior to that long concessions line.

The only downside was we couldn’t finish them before the second half started, so suddenly we’re those people in the third row eating ice cream on a stick during a formal orchestra show. I have to say that trying to eat an ice cream bar with a crunchy chocolate shell during “Reaching For The Sky” is actually super awkward and somewhat difficult. I quickly realized that biting it would not be an option at all during such a quiet song, which left me with the challenge of at least keeping it from melting all over me until I could take a bite. I dared to glance at my friend to confirm that she was having the same dilemma, so then we became the people eating ice cream and stifling laughter. Forget the challenge of clapping on beat; try timing all the crunchy parts of a rapidly melting ice cream bar with the beat of TTA. Thanks to the Canberra Theatre, "Eat to the Beat" now has an entirely new meaning for me that has nothing to do with Epcot. I'm torn between now always wanting ice cream at shows and hoping this never happens again.

As for the stage rushing, I’m not a fan at all, and I didn’t participate (granted if I’d had a front row seat, I'm sure I would have jumped up in the rush to make sure I kept it). I know there was some chatter during the U.K. tour about whether or not it's okay to rush the stage, and most fans seemed to be in agreement that it's disrespectful and inappropriate. I'm not sure if the crowds at these shows didn't share that opinion, or if they found themselves reacting differently when faced with the option in real life, but a few fans bolted full-speed down the aisle in Canberra starting an actual stampede, and people were climbing over seats around me to get closer in Gold Coast. The poor staff looked completely overwhelmed and at a loss for what to do. I noticed at least one girl who had been in a front row seat was suddenly 3-4 people deep, and one mom was climbing seats trying to get back to her younger daughter who made it up front with a drumsticks sign in the mad dash.  (Further unpopular opinion- please don't let your adult-height kid hold a three-foot poster above her head for 15 minutes. It's nice that she got drumsticks, but I couldn't see Zac for the last several songs, and I'm sure the people directly behind her saw nothing at all). In all honesty and despite my own personal feelings, Hanson didn't really react. They definitely didn't prompt people to do it beyond their usual "let's pick things up" cue to stand, but they didn't discourage it after it happened, either.



At one point in Gold Coast I turned to look around the room as Hanson was about to give their final speech before bowing, and some woman (let's call her "Sloppy Susan", because apparently I predicted this behavior) was standing in a seat a few rows behind me shouting “IT’S INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY!” at the top of her lungs. Then Taylor said “I’m so glad you mentioned that; why don’t you come up and tell us a little bit about it?” Just kidding. That only happened in her head. In the real world, I looked at her like she was nuts, Hanson ignored her, and I heard her mumbling “Well, it would’ve been a good announcement to make” as she climbed down from the chair in defeat. If you really care, maybe quit mistaking row J of a symphony performance for your own personal Facebook wall and go do something to raise positive awareness instead.

The shows were good, but the ending of both felt more like a zoo than the actual zoo did, and I’m kind of okay with String Theory coming to an end for now if this is going to be the new norm. I should only ever dread the end of a show because it's over, and not because I fear for an inevitable stampede that I'm either going to have to watch angrily or contribute to the problem myself with an "if you can't beat them, join them" mentality. Both options feel more like a fail than some energy-filled crowd unity thing to me. Regardless of however Hanson feels about it (and we're all just speculating unless Zac decides to give us a "How To Fanson @ String Theory Pt. 2" post), I still find it extremely inconsiderate, and I really hope the Tulsa crowd will be more respectful to each other.

On the tourist side of things, we got to see the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra where Australia's coins are made, Kangaroos lounging in a friend's backyard, and beaches we probably would have enjoyed more if it wasn't so cloudy in Gold Coast. I got to drive in a parking lot for about 30 exciting seconds, though I'm convinced I never need to try this on an actual road. I fully enjoyed my first authentic Tim Tam slam complete with a glass of Milo and am thankful to my Aussie hosts for showing me how it's done. I'm always down to try chocolate milk products, and there are definite bonus points if I'm getting to use a chocolate cookie as a straw.








March 21, 2019

String Theory: The Sydney Opera House




The Shows
Australia might have been on my own personal bucket list, but I think the Sydney Opera House was bucket list material for all of us. It's one of the most iconic buildings in the world with a rich history in music, and Hanson managed to sell it out in just over a day. Pair its reputation with the throwback video Hanson shared of themselves singing a capella on the same stage over 20 years ago, and the nostalgia and pride were enough to make more than a few people jump on a plane. I'm happy to say it lived up to every elevated expectation. Melbourne may have been my favorite city, but Sydney...Sydney definitely wins for the best show.

Before tickets went on sale, I couldn't help but think how it would be a dream come true to not only see Hanson at the Sydney Opera House, but to experience it from the front row. I knew the demand would be high and tried to tell myself that I'd be lucky to sit in any seat and not to get my hopes up. The pre-sale was a mess and seemed to be giving people random seats all over the venue, but by some miracle, I pulled up front row tickets just two seats off from dead center. I could not believe my luck, and I found myself double and triple checking the seating chart and confirmation email, sure that it was somehow too good to be true. (Side note: Melbourne was the weird anomaly of the tour where the Stalls section was in the back. I knew I would screw this up. I even wrote a note to myself in all caps and stuck it right next to the Melbourne presale link: "DO NOT BUY STALLS." What did I buy? Stalls Row A. You can understand my hesitancy to believe that the Stalls Row A seats I bought for Sydney were actually right).

When the second show was announced, I told myself I didn't care what seat I got and that anywhere further back would be fine because I already found my golden ticket, and I didn't actually need the whole Chocolate factory. And then it was 10am (in Sydney, anyway) and I was being let in to choose a seat from an actual map this time, and somehow front row was wide open for the taking. I don't think I'll ever stop being amazed.

The first night felt absolutely electric to me. The crowd was excited and full of energy while still managing to stay respectful, and Hanson themselves were smiling the whole time and seemed just as thrilled as we were. It truly felt epic to be there, and I think that feeling resonated through everyone in the room.

I was so entranced by the show and wrapped up in the performance in front of me that I was completely blindsided when a girl wandered her way down the front row towards my seat during "No Rest For The Weary" (?). I was so focused on the music and not on the crowd that I actually found myself sliding over, making room for her, and nodding in passive agreement as she said "I'm just going to take some pictures" and pulled out her phone. A second later I came to my senses and gently nudged her with my hand, said "No, you need to go," and successfully ushered her back in the direction she came. I think I spent the second half of the song staring after her in complete awe of how I and the rest of the front row had just let that happen, and laughing at myself for literally moving so she could stand in my spot. I'm normally all over holding my ground, but it was like she Jedi mind-tricked us all with such an unexpectedly ballsy move.

Next up was "I Was Born." Something went wrong near the end and Taylor lost his place, if only to further prove that there was still a little bit of reality in the whole surreal experience. He finally found his way back to the right part of the song with the help of his brothers and without the orchestra ever skipping a beat. It probably wasn't that noticeable to anyone who doesn't know the song word for word. They handled it like true professionals, and our grins got even wider as they finally got back on track at the end. I think sometimes the way you react to a mistake can speak to your talent just as much as if you'd done it all perfectly to begin with.

The second night was beautiful and still a little bit magical, but I'm not sure any String Theory show could top Sydney night one for me. Then there was the encore, a gorgeous cover of "Too Much Heaven" a capella without  microphones about three feet in front of my face, and I was in awe all over again. I will never get over how flawless Hanson's harmonies are, and I'm glad they shared that final moment with us. They nailed it, of course, and I was also extremely impressed by how silent the crowd stayed. Please excuse the somewhat awkward angle, but for once I actually recorded a video to share. I promise the sound is worth a replay or twelve:


Sightseeing
I tried my best to play the role of a tourist in Sydney since I knew it might be my only chance. My favorite was a coastal beach walk from Bondi to Coogee beach which meant walking several miles down the coast of Sydney's finest beaches for some seriously breathtaking views. My only regret is not buying a swimsuit somewhere along the way to add to my collection. We also explored the Royal Botanic Gardens and took a boat across the harbor for even better views of the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

We splurged on a backstage tour of the Opera House the morning of the second show and got to see a lot of the inner workings of all six performance spaces housed within the complex. It became worth every penny for me the moment we were led into the rehearsal room where Hanson had practiced for the previous night's show, and our tour guide asked the group "Does anyone play?" while gesturing to a grand piano. No one else spoke up, and my friend began nudging me, accurately knowing that my stage fright extends to even the smallest of audiences but that I'd regret not taking the opportunity. Do I play? Yes. Do I play in front of people? I haven't in over a decade. Give me a small audience of strangers, and 10 years of lessons and 25 years of playing by ear go right out the window. I ignored the nagging part of my brain that told me to pass on the opportunity and successfully butchered the first few lines of "Reaching For The Sky" before bowing out and wishing I'd practiced the song to perfection (as if I could have possibly known that this was going to happen). Still, I'm glad I tried, because I know there won't be a next time. 





On a scale of 1-10, Sydney was a 15. I'm so thankful I got to experience the magic of these shows firsthand, and in a strange way it felt like a celebration of everything Hanson has accomplished up to this point. I could not be more proud of this band and the career that they've built by creating music that they believe in. They may not fit the textbook stereotypical mold for "success" in terms of radio hits or mainstream attention, but selling out the Sydney Opera House and drawing fans from all over the world to witness it is an achievement worth celebrating. Who cares about a bunch of numbers and meaningless accolades if you can't make an actual impact on real people? I'm not going to remember who had the #1 song in the world on March 4th, 2019, but I'll sure never forget where I was that night. Congratulations, Hanson. I hope you felt a little bit of the magic you've shared with us, too.