February 9, 2019

Back to the Island 2019

Day 1: The Arrival

The first day of the trip is always a wild card. I never know if I’m going to get smooth sailing and arrive bright and early to the beach as planned or wake up to a canceled flight at midnight like I did for the past two years. Delays and cancellations are normal at this point, but this was definitely the first time I flew in a circle around an airport for an hour before being diverted to another city due to rain. If nothing else, Jamaica has never given me a dull travel experience.

I have to say the best twist to my travel day, though, was waiting to board my connecting flight and seeing a friend who decided not to attend BTTI for the first time in years roll up to the gate like it was perfectly normal. She did it so casually that it took me a second to do the double take and realize something was out of place. Well played, Tara. You win the 2019 ninja award.

 I'm glad you made it.

Our arrival at the resort might as well have been a scene straight out of a sitcom. There was that great moment of relief when we finally walked into our room and dropped our bags and our worries in the middle of the floor. The first thing we did was head out to the balcony to check out our view of the beach and the stage, both of which were everything we'd hoped for. Then this conversation happened:

Rachel: Shut the door, it smells like smoke out here.

Holly: *shuts the door*

*insert rambling forgettable conversation about how happy we are with our room location*

Rachel: Okay, let’s go back in.

Holly: *turns knob* Yeah…so it’s locked.

Rachel: Why did you shut the door?

Holly: …because you literally said “shut the door?”

Rachel: I didn’t mean shut it all the way. Who does that?

Holly: People that follow directions?


Those are literal, not-comic-relief crickets, by the way, because there wasn’t a soul out on the beach to call for help. I was even thorough enough to lock our phones in the room, too. We just stood there and looked around in the dark for a few minutes, and I had to laugh because of course I managed to not only lock us out of our room, but into a confined space in a resort that literally ties the key cards to your wrist so you can’t possibly lose them. What can I say? It’s a skill.

 Thankfully, our concierge had dropped us off to our room at the same time as another pair of girls in our building, and they came out to see their balcony a few minutes later. They got to be heroes and alert someone on staff that we needed saving (seriously, thank you!!), and security finally came around and tossed us a metal key from the beach. I’m proud to say I only knocked it into the dark bushes below us once before catching it.

Day 2: Rock All Night Show

For the Rock All Night show, I walked away from my group of friends in the back of the crowd before the show started and left them with the famous last words, “I’ll be right back.” At the time, I meant it. I wandered up to an empty corner near the front of the stage just to see, and before I knew what I was doing, I was 2nd row, the show was starting, and I forgot I was supposed to be anywhere else. How could I be anywhere else?

Karma came literally raining down on me when the show opened with “Fired Up.” I’m told that there was a tarp full of rain water draped over the top of the stage and that someone climbed up and pulled it down, but I didn’t notice. At the time all I knew is that one moment I was bending over to pull my hair into a bun, and the next water was pouring down off of the scaffolding at the side of the stage and onto my head (the girl in front of me got it worse). I think this falls into the category of "be careful what you wish for" when I'm always saying how much I want Hanson shows to surprise me.

My favorite song of the night was “Tearing It Down,” and I've really missed “Lost Without Each Other” since I haven’t heard much other than String Theory in the last year. The set felt like a good mix of songs that I’ve heard plenty of times individually, but never together in one show. There were a few that I wouldn’t have classified as Rock All Night, though, like “Make It Out Alive,” “Thinking of You,” and “Where’s the Love.” As a whole it felt more like Hanson plays whatever they want than a strictly rock set, but that’s what I ultimately want out of any show anyway. I personally think they’d get a much more positive reaction to their setlist choices in the future if they played exactly what they did and just stopped trying to stick a label on it.

Gag Reel: You’d think water dumping on my head was enough for one show, but it wasn't the only "surprise." At some point, a large bug started crawling up my leg. My friends can tell you I have a very predictable reaction to bugs coming near my feet, and apparently being in the second row in the middle of a concert does not alter this reaction in the slightest. I jumped and stomped in a full circle and screamed until I was sure it was gone. I doubt Hanson noticed, but it makes me laugh thinking that it must have just looked like I was really into whatever song they were playing. At least it wasn't Ballad Night.

Day 3

String Theory Q&A

By my third day there, the weather was finally gorgeous. First up after a morning spent by the pool was the String Theory Q&A session. I've seen a number of fan club Q&A events with Hanson over the years, and none of them made me excited for this one. It's always hard to hear, and the questions can be cringeworthy for a variety of reasons. I have to say with my expectations ridiculously low to begin with, I was actually pleasantly surprised by this event. They had chairs for us. There was a microphone set up in the middle of the room, and people lined up to ask their questions—no shouting from the back or worrying that you wouldn't get picked if you had something you really wanted to ask. Most of the questions were insightful and managed to elicit responses I hadn't heard before. Props to those of you that got up and got Hanson talking about things we didn't already know. Feel free to drop any Q&A details in the comments at the bottom if you remember any or asked one yourself!

Things I can tell you:

-Isaac got glitter on his face.
-Taylor's beard is named "Leon" after Leon Russell.
-Taylor said they didn't include "This is Criminal" in String Theory because it's more of a love song than what they were going for with the ST storyline.
-Zac explained that they actually have to play out of sync with the orchestra because of the way sound carries to make sure it sounds right to the audience. I had no idea!

Zac Solo Show

Zac’s solo show was my favorite this year. He played "On the Rocks" and talked about how it's not an autobiographical song. He joked that it was inspired by his wife liking a song about a rocky relationship by some other artist, so he wanted to write one of his own. I’m glad he felt the need to one-up somebody because the result was good for all of us.

He also played "The Ballad of Seymour Better Times" that we heard for the first time during his solo show last year, and I cannot say enough good things about this song. It feels like "My Favorite Christmas Sweater" level of clever to me, and I love that about it. It's been on repeat in my head since I got home and is basically my new favorite thing right now even though I don't know most of the words. I was excited to hear him say that it will be included on this year's Fan Club EP, so it won’t be lost in the vault forever.

The final highlight of Zac's show was a brand new song called "Reading Your Mind" that will also be on this year's Fan Club EP. I don't want to ruin it for you, but if you've ever read Twilight, you can probably ruin it for yourself just by listening to the lyrics. It's a really sweet song, but I was unable to boot the image of Edward Cullen from my mind as soon as it mentioned climbing through your window and reading your mind. Sorry, Zac. I'm sure that's not what you were going for, but on the upside, I was thoroughly entertained. I'll try to listen to it more seriously next time.

String(less) Theory Show

I shamelessly chose the “Surprise Me” option when BTTI setlist voting was announced. My thought process was something along the lines of "Well, at least there's one show where I won't know most of the setlist in advance." Then they announced that String Theory was their version of a surprise, and it felt like I was being punked. I realized I could be annoyed or I could embrace it, so I shrugged, ordered a galaxy print bikini, and decided that since I love String Theory and the beach, there's no reason I couldn't love the unexpected combination of the two.

After the announcement, people kept speculating that Hanson wouldn’t bring an orchestra to Jamaica and that they would probably play with the instrumental CD to fill in the missing symphony parts. I was so sure that Hanson would never do that, but they proved me wrong. I guess I thought maybe we’d just get to hear the songs performed their normal way but in String Theory order, which would have been great for several of the songs that we’ve never heard without strings before.

We stood in our balcony and took advantage of our one and only time to experience String Theory standing and not having to worry about bothering anyone. The best part by far was finding out during the chorus of "Battlecry" that this song was built for jumping. I don't know what everyone else did, but as soon as the chorus hit, there was just this unspoken moment of "Oh, this feels right!" and so we jumped and danced the whole time. Dear Hanson, please don't retire this song after String Theory. It needs to be played at a rock show.

I hoped that they would do something different at the end, maybe keep going or play a special encore, but it didn't happen. I enjoyed taking advantage of our freedom to let loose, but sound-wise (please hold your pitchforks!), it kind of felt like a poor man's String Theory show to me after hearing the same show performed with some very talented orchestras. My favorite band is human just like me, which means sometimes they wow me in the best way possible, and sometimes they aim high and fall a little short of the destination I expected. Maybe they reached for the sky and landed somewhere in the water for this one, but hey, I'm still happy to be there on the beach.

Day 4: Isaac Solo Show

Isaac's solo set felt very similar to his last few, and it hit me that one of the reasons we always get the "rarest" songs out of Isaac is that he doesn't have all that many album leads to choose from. More than anything (ha), it left me hoping for new music in the not-so-distant future that includes Isaac leads.

He opened with a cover of David Garza's "Too Much" which includes a loop pedal and Isaac playing both guitar and piano. He also used the loop pedal to make "Being Me" more “R&B" (his words) by adding a beat to it. It was fun to hear it performed in a different way, and I appreciate Isaac's willingness to go a little experimental and off-grid for his set. He took a few crowd requests and things picked up more when he agreed to play "So Lovely," but he forgot the lyrics about halfway through and ended up playing "Smile" instead. I think "Smile" has pretty much become the BTTI anthem for "We're sorry, but something went wrong."

He ended on a strong note with a great performance of “Watch Over Me,” which oddly feels more rare than fan club songs these days. I still miss the crowd clapping during this song, and I’m not sure why that died out several years back.

Special Guests

The guests this year weren't really my preferred style of music. A few of us were in my room when soundcheck started, and there was a sudden distinct sound of country music coming through the door. One of my friends decided this was our cue to head to dinner a few minutes early. We joked that we were literally "fleeing the country," but the joke was on us, because somehow when we arrived to our dinner reservation, we were seated right next to Jacob Tovar. I think he teleported.

To be fair, I did watch his set from our balcony after dinner, and he seems like a talented guy. I just don’t personally care much for country music or anything that could be described as “twangy,” and I think a lot of fans felt the same way. Isaac, on the other hand, joined him and Dimitrius for a cover of "Take Me Back to Tulsa," and Isaac looked absolutely thrilled to be playing with them. It made me think maybe a relaxed jam session of some kind should be an activity to watch at a future BTTI. Just give Hanson a few instruments and friends and put them on the stage for 30 minutes and see what happens.

I can't speak to Lewis Watson's set because I somehow wound up squished in a bed crying laughing with four of my friends while he was playing. It was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip, so I'm happy with my life choices.

Video Games with Zac

Zac set up video games two nights in a row. First was Super Smash Bros., and when that seemed to go well, he invited us all to come back for Mario Kart the next night. Watching someone else play video games has never been my idea of a good time, but I actually enjoyed the relaxed environment where I could hang out with my friends in the back and not worry about needing to pay close attention because I might miss something. I liked that I was free to jump in the line and try playing for myself when I got a little bored watching, and there wasn't pressure to stay until the end, either. I wouldn't mind a rematch sometime, and who knows, maybe we'll give Zac a little more competition in the future. He played without mercy and beat just about everybody. I wouldn't have expected anything less.

Day 5

Dunn’s River Falls

I already climbed the falls once back in 2016 and enjoyed it, so I decided to go again since it was included this year. I almost wish I hadn’t done it before, because I think knowing what it could have been made this time a little more disappointing. The first time we went, the bus stopped for all of five minutes at a roadside stand to let people buy water shoes. This time, all three buses parked at a tourist trap shopping center and we were told that we had 30 minutes to look around (this was not mentioned anywhere in the itinerary). Thirty minutes turned into 45, and I sat in the bus the whole time annoyed that I was missing out on the gorgeous beach at the bottom of the falls.

The climb itself was short. We were led in at an entry point about halfway up, so we didn’t actually do the full climb that starts at the beach. It took me less than two minutes to get in, go down a natural rock slide, and lose a contact, so I did most of the climb with impaired vision (Better yet, I chose this day to wear the sample pair of color-enhanced contacts my eye doctor gave me, so I did most of the climb with two slightly different colored eyes, too. Thank God the difference was subtle).

Even with one eye down, I managed to spot Taylor standing on a rock above us while we were climbing. It was nice to get a moment to say hi as we passed him, but apparently my default social skills were not built with a setting for how to interact with Taylor Hanson in a waterfall, so I felt weird about asking for a photo and just didn't. I realized later that almost everyone else did and it was fine. When we got lunch next to an Island Gigs staff member after we got back, he even asked us how our photo with Taylor was at the falls. Photo? Yeah, I didn't get that memo in time.

Once we got to the top, we quickly realized we didn’t actually know what to do next. It was a big group outing—were we supposed to meet up together afterwards? Did we have time to go down and check out the beach we didn’t get to see? No one had told us what time to be back at the bus, and there was no sign of any Island Gigs staff members to ask. We had two options: go back to the bus past the no re-entry area and risk missing something, or stick around to sightsee and risk being left.

It had the potential to be a really cool experience, and I'll try to cut them a little slack for trying something new for the first time. I’d love to see Hanson involved in another excursion in the future because it's a great way to change things up, but it needs work if they plan to do anything like it again.

Taylor Solo Show

I really liked the setlist Taylor chose for his solo show. "Be My Own" is such a gorgeous solo song to me, and I loved getting to hear "Sunny Day" and "Lost Without You" again. I think most people would agree that the highlight was getting to hear "This is Criminal," the song we briefly heard about in the documentary that didn't make the cut for String Theory. He said it was co-written with Imani Coppola at a Fool's Banquet, and it didn't sound like anything I would have expected. His voice was higher for most of it, and the melody was complex in a way that it didn’t stick with me after one listen. I'd definitely be curious to hear a studio version, but he said "first and last time” before he played it, so that probably won't happen.

He finished with "Feeling Alive," and I'd like to offer a million thanks to whoever requested that one. It's my favorite, and you're my new friend.

Members Only Show

I felt like the members only show had the most energy of the three shows and that Hanson saved the best for last. Looking at the setlist on paper afterwards, it was probably a little bit of a letdown if you were looking forward to rare songs. We got plenty of fan club songs, but we also got several album singles (and Been There Before?), which just further solidifies my feelings that we should ditch voting altogether and let Hanson do what they're going to do anyway. The only disappointment I felt, though, was when they walked off stage before the encore and I realized we were close to the end. It felt super short, but they came back out and played a few more. Highlights for me were: "I've Been Down," "White Collar Crimes," "I Don't Want To Go Home" (duh), and I don't care how many times I've heard them, I love "Thinking 'Bout Somethin'" and "Give a Little" to death.

"Don't Stop Believing" was a really unexpected closing song that I haven't heard Zac perform since his 24th birthday show (how was that almost 10 years ago?!), and he got really into it and even climbed the piece of scaffolding that dumped water on my head on the first night. The final encore was "Wish That I Was There," and while I've never loved it on the album, they always slay it acoustically. He made it an ode to everyone back home missing out, and it had a funny way of making me feel nostalgic for a show that I was watching in person that wasn't even technically over yet. That's the feeling that keeps me coming back. I will always, always wish that I was there.

BTTI 2019 v. The Rest

BTTI 2019 was different than previous years due to the lack of pre-planned activities with the band, and it got some backlash when it was first announced. Fans argued about whether or not a surge in selfie requests is what got tie dye taken away from us, which led to a larger debate about whether or not it's okay to ask for selfies throughout the event in general. Regardless of where you fall in that debate, the fact is there was a lot less of that this year, and I heard several stories of Hanson saying no to photos. It felt like there was still too much staking out where Hanson would be, and that seemed worse to me this trip than in recent years. Just think of them as skittish wildlife. If you calm down and stand back, they might come up to you and stick around. If you swarm them, they’re going to run every time.

I'm aware that this is me wandering into an unpopular opinion/controversial area, but it's a part of the event that is increasingly hard for me to ignore. I think part of what felt "off" to me this year had nothing to do with Hanson and everything to do with the rise of social media and the constant push to capture every single moment and make it into this perfect Instagrammable experience that might not even exist. Every passing year since the first BTTI makes me nostalgic for an era of spotty wi-fi service when my phone never left my room and I got to watch Taylor's actual face instead of watching Taylor's face twice removed through a phone recording a phone recording Taylor's face.

I try not to let the way other people behave affect my own enjoyment, but man, that's hard sometimes when I just want to stand in the back and see over what feels like a crowd full of Edward Selfiehands, and it somehow becomes a choose your own adventure story of would you rather be blocked by an iPad, a cell phone, or a Go Pro. Maybe that makes me the old lady in the crowd shaking a cane at the youngsters she just can't understand, but better a cane than a selfie stick.

In Conclusion...

To be honest, I struggled with writing this post because I'm used to gushing about how awesome everything is. When I re-read my first draft, I was left going “Who is this girl and why does she keep going back every year if this is how she really feels?” I started over and tried to reconcile the bits of harsh truth with a perspective that also explains why I keep throwing thousands of dollars at my favorite band while simultaneously complaining about cold showers, painfully rocky beaches, and an arguably mediocre show. The fact is that there is something stronger that draws me in despite the little disappointments, and I refuse to believe that FOMO is that thing.

Here's what I've come up with: a lot of little pieces this year weren't great, but the trip as a whole was still the beautiful mess I’ve come to look forward to every year. I loved "The Ballad of Seymour Better Times" and letting loose during "Battlecry." I found out that it's actually possible to enjoy a Q&A session. The filet mignon was the best I've ever eaten in my life, so I ate it twice. Five of us crying laughing in bed was by far my favorite opener of any Hanson tour ever, and I will never forget feeling like the island of misfit toys stranded to one corner of the pool for half an hour after accidentally wandering into the background of the M&G photos. Above all, I love the feeling of getting to live in my own happy little Hanson music-filled bubble on an island for a week once a year. It feels like home and a vacation all at once, and there's absolutely nothing like it.

And if you prefer my usual rose-colored rave reviews? Here's an alternate version where I only have nice things to say.