October 15, 2020

This One's Optimistic: Live & Electric Revisited

The Announcement

It's an understatement to say that 2020 hasn't given us much to look forward to. You know things are rough when the highlight of your month is a save the date for some cryptic announcement from your favorite band. Even then, you know they're not going to release their new album yet, they haven't found a cure for Covid, and they're not about to announce a live tour, so while the prospect of news is exciting, it's not that exciting when the possibilities are pretty limited. I opted to watch Jeopardy with my mom that night vs. sitting glued to my computer awaiting this big announcement. I jokingly messaged my friend to call me if I needed to buy tickets to a show, knowing full well that would never happen.

I physically jumped out of my seat when my phone actually rang at the beginning of the Double Jeopardy round and I saw her name on the screen. I'll take plot twists and questionable life choices for $1000, Alex.

The Decision

My reaction was a mixture of pure adrenaline, excitement, and worry. On a scale of total home isolation to anti-masker, I'm at neither end of the spectrum, but I definitely fall towards the end of always wearing a mask in public and only going out for essential outings. Though the introvert in me doesn't mind much and has been relatively content to plow through a hundred books as a substitute, it didn't take long for me to deem my first opportunity to see Hanson live in eight months as an extremely essential outing.

I tried to have a very real talk with myself about expectations when I made the decision to go. I knew that going on this trip was going to expose me to more people in closer proximity than I would like, and I told myself that if I was going to get angry or scared every time I crossed paths with someone without a mask, then it was my responsibility to keep myself home, not my responsibility to try to police other people. To me, getting on a plane and doing this was accepting that I can't control anyone outside of myself. If nothing else, this year has been an exercise in learning how to navigate what I can control and what I can't and not holding onto anger over things that are not within my power to change. I made the decision to go and to do everything I could to minimize my own exposure and risk. Instead of approaching or starting a debate with someone not wearing a mask, I simply distanced myself from them. I wore an N99 mask on all of my flights, knew all of my table mates, and made sure we all agreed to wear our masks during the entire show. I roomed with only one friend and she was the only one to ever be in a room with me while I was maskless. Acknowledging that I was willingly taking a few calculated risks and doing my best to minimize them for myself went a long way towards having a good time without getting caught up in how I wanted other people to behave.

The Shows

Finally stepping inside Cain's was a weird mix of surreal and normal. I loved the amount of space we had and not having to worry that someone was going to push ahead and take my spot. With a limited capacity, assigned seats, and no opener, I felt just as spoiled as I did for String Theory. We plopped a bottle of sanitizer on top of our table and geared up for what was sure to be one of the strangest best Hanson shows in history. Emotionally speaking, at least.

The first show had a kind of pent-up energy that I didn’t quite know what to do with. I know how to navigate a sweaty, neighbor's-elbow-in-your-kidney, sticky-floored good time smashed against a barricade. I know how to hold on for dear life and how to dance in the negative six inches of space I can call mine in any crowd. Sitting front row center for the first ever socially distanced Hanson show that is being live streamed to thousands of people wasn't on my concert resume. I felt weirdly exposed and visible having our own table with an eight foot empty radius around us and being unsure if it was okay to stand when the majority of people weren't yet. I was relieved when Taylor finally made a reference to getting up and dancing at the end of “Dancing In The Wind” and more people began to stand. And so we did, all at our own tables, and it was a beautifully respectful experience. Jumping during “A Minute Without You” has never been so cathartic.

From the first time I heard the Live & Electric version of “Look At You” years ago, I remember thinking "Wow, Hanson seems to love performing this song. There's an extra something here in this live recording that definitely isn't on the MON version." I got that exact same vibe standing in the room with it in Cain’s, and it was a fun surprise to hear it flow seamlessly into a new cover of "It's Your Thing." The standout of that first show for me though was “Love Me.” I wasn’t around for the L&E era, but when I got on the Hanson train in 2007, “Love Me” was the first solo I ever heard Taylor perform live in Atlanta. I thought it was jaw-on-the-floor beautiful and felt honored to be in the same room with it at the time. Thirteen years later, he’s still slaying it and I’m still impressed. Honestly, all of the solos from all three were top-notch each show, and I could probably spend another three paragraphs swooning.  Let's just pretend I did: "Being Me," "Lullabelle," "The Walk." They did an amazing job.

It took me until the start of the second show when a friend pointed at my chest to realize I somehow legitimately packed and wore a shirt that said "Optimist" on it without ever connecting it to the show theme. I was standing there during "Optimistic," wearing an "Optimist" shirt with an extremely confused look on my face while she gestured at me. "Oblivious" would've been more fitting. Overall, the second show felt very much the same as the first with a few minor setlist changes and the added bonus of feeling a little bit more comfortable in that space. We stood sooner and were probably more relaxed being in the center of the room instead of up close near cameras, or at least that’s how I felt. I don’t know that there was any one standout moment at that show when the whole thing was good, though I’m not sure I’ll be quick to forget the first time I had my view blocked by a couple slow dancing to Weird.

The third show was the best. I don’t know if it took two shows to loosen everyone up or if we were all just hyperaware that things were coming to a close and it was our last chance to enjoy a concert for a while, but the energy was so much better at that one. The real standout performance to me across the entire event has to be "Every Word I Say" from the third show in particular. There was so much energy and I just felt really connected to it like I wasn't ready to give up that moment and that space in that room. That was the moment I felt the most present and alive and like I was right where I belonged.

By the end of the night after dancing and jumping to “If Only,” “Lost Without Each Other,” “Rock ’N’ Roll Razorblade,” and “In the City,” I was happily exhausted and wrecked in all the best ways that music can figuratively kill you. I came home with calves so sore I felt like I'd gotten to work Hop Jam 2020 after all and with a glimmer of hope that maybe I'd be lucky enough to do it all again in November.

The Outtakes

-The amazing moment when you somehow wind up with the only empty middle seat on the entire plane
-That awkward moment when your view is blocked by a couple making out during "Weird," and all you can do is turn to your friends and go "Isn't it strange?"
-Walking back to the hotel surrounded by unexpected fireworks that seemed magical at the time but went on to make the morning news by starting a small fire on a rooftop.
-Two words: Sushi. Burrito.
-Being in the middle of the dance floor, light shining on my face.
-Fording the river that was Main Street without losing any oxen. (TL;DR- burst water pipe. Serious applause to whoever got the water turned back on so the concert didn't have to be canceled!)

The Conclusion

It was great and weird and I don't regret it. I've run out of fingers to count the number of times I've been to Tulsa, hung out with giant groups of friends, and played tourist in a city that always seems to be building something new to check out. It was so strange to go there for under 48 hours, see three full-length shows, and actively avoid many of the people I've really missed seeing, Hanson included. If I saw you and didn't stop to talk or make plans to hang out, it's nothing personal and I really hope all that can change by next Hanson Day.

Instead of hitting the "usual" spots, I had expensive sushi delivered right to my room and joked through a virtual dance party where there was no pressure to actually dance. When we found ourselves with a few hours to kill between two shows, we traded Covid masks for skincare masks and watched a live stream, because what better way to wait in line for your next show than chugging chocolate milk in PJs in front of a giant flatscreen replay of the concert you just went to? It was weird and I don't want to call it my "new normal," but it was just the right mount of strange and we made the most of it.

I almost always end my posts with some sappy, positive, borderline-cliched statement that wraps the whole experience up with a cute bow for closure and paves the way for me to do it all again next time.

So how's this for sappy irony? After months of needing something positive to look forward to, when the lights cut out and Hanson finally came on stage, it was the most at home I've felt all year despite literally being at home all year.

The real conclusion here is I'm glad I went and I'm happy with the outcome. I had a great time and I feel oddly refreshed, sore muscles and all. Sometimes you just have to try the best you can and hope that it's good enough. In my experience, it was. Spoiler alert: this one's still optimistic.


September 26, 2020

Me, Myself, & I: A Self Reflection on Expectations



I’ve considered writing a post like this for over a year now, but I’ve always talked myself out of it. This topic has been on my mind a lot more lately, and I finally caved and let myself write a draft several weeks ago. I still talked myself out of putting it out into the world at first because I don’t mean to come off like I’m sharing this perspective from my perch atop a tall horse mounted on a soapbox (or as some may see it, from the cozy safety of my sheep pen). It may be better left in my own head, but once I put it into writing, I couldn’t let it go. I should probably throw in a disclaimer that this is just my own opinion and I don’t mean it to cover any broader personal social or moral issues. This is about being a fan of a band and the way we consume music. It’s a look at my own perspective as a music fan and an introspective journey I’m inviting you to share with me.




The topic I’m talking about is the growing dissatisfaction among Hanson fans surrounding their music and business decisions in recent years. It started pretty quietly after the release of Anthem in 2013 when it became apparent that Hanson wasn’t going to release another studio album for a while. At first there were vaguely dissatisfied but harmless questions: Why tour with a cover EP instead of taking time off to write new music? Why put time into a greatest hits compilation instead of releasing a new album? I didn’t share in these worries, so it was easy enough for me to brush them off. My stock answer became “Of course I want a new album, but I’d rather Hanson take the time to write something that inspires them than churn out something lesser for the sake of meeting a deadline.” 




In 2016, we got a double EP: Loud, and Play. One was released for fan club members only, and one was a public (albeit quiet) release. Combined, we got 10 songs that fit together as a cohesive single project. It didn’t carry the pomp and excitement of a new full album release, but to me, the content, the quality, and the time spent creating it were all there. Still, the questions remained. “If they can do this, why can’t they just put out a full length album?” I started to wonder if those comments would have sounded different if Hanson had simply put all of those songs on one disc and called it “Play Loud” instead. It reminded me of the time I went to Starbucks and absentmindedly asked for a “sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich”. The barista said “I’m sorry, we don’t have those.” I looked at the menu, searching for the fancy name that had slipped my mind, and tried again. “Okay, can I have the Spicy Chorizo, Monterey Jack, and Egg sandwich, then?” “Sure, that’ll be 7.95.” I left with my sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich under another name, amused by how the branded marketing could completely alter her perception of the ingredients she was actually serving. It tasted the same to me.




Several years passed and the things Hanson felt inspired to do turned out to be anniversary tours, orchestra collaborations, Christmas releases, and just about everything except for a full length album of new music, and the dissatisfaction and complaints grew. I could understand the fan frustration, but I still clung to my perspective of wanting things to happen organically on the timeline that felt right to Hanson. I still didn’t want an album that they weren’t excited to make. I didn’t want outside pressure and expectations to kill the joy they once had in doing a thing they’ve clearly loved. In 2019, we finally got news that quieted the concerns and left all of us happy: We’d be getting not one, but two new albums in as many years. The waiting would finally pay off.


Until it didn’t, because 2020 became the dumpster fire we’re all currently living and the promise of a new album was pushed back. While the dissatisfaction is probably a small minority in the grand scheme of things, if you’re super active in the fan world, it’s virtually impossible to miss the complaints that now range from “Where’s the new music?” to “These streams should be free” to “They’re selfish for selling this shirt”. While I sympathized at first, the optimist in me has a hard time not writing off the increased and frequent complaints as spiraling into “the boy who cried wolf” territory. Instead, I’m trying to open my mind and figure out why we have such a gaping hole between fan perspectives, expectations, and contentment.




The new album has grown quiet, the old questions have grown loud, and after years of brushing off the discontent and carrying on in my happy bubble, I decided maybe it’s time to ask some tough questions of my own and tackle some critical thought. My questions aren’t for the band, though; they’re for myself. I looked at the growing number of fans seeking new music and throwing increasingly pointy jabs at Hanson's music abilities, intent, and business decisions and I asked myself: Why don’t I feel this way? Should I feel this way? Am I letting Hanson off of some sort of hook by choosing to be happy instead of expecting more? Should I be pushing them to reach some higher musical potential? Am I the wrong one as I stand nodding and smiling in a crowd with an increasing number of shaking heads? There’s no denying that in an overly-simplified cross-section of the fan base, I fall on the “Hanson can do no wrong” side of the stereotype and tend to disagree with the “Hanson can do no right” camp. I thought maybe it’s time to question all of it, why I stand where I do, why I’ve remained content when others haven’t, and if I find that some of those opinions are founded in nothing, is it time to change my own mind?


I felt like the answers to those questions were buried inside more critical questions about my music consumption in general. How had I handled dry spells or disappointments from other artists I loved? I thought of my musical past: Relient K was my other forever constant. I'd been head over heels for Andrew McMahon’s piano in his SoCo days and still followed much of his career, always hoping to love something as much as I loved Leaving Through The Window and never quite getting there. In high school, it was Dashboard Confessional with hints of The All-American Rejects and a dose of The Ataris. Most were fleeting. I'd intensely loved an album or two and then moved on. Relient K is the only other band I've seen live several times spanning more than a decade and own all of their studio albums. So what did I do between their releases? How did I react to that one album that was instantly my least favorite? It was during the break after that one that I rediscovered Hanson. And when I'd had my fill of currently available Dashboard material? I found Andrew McMahon. When I didn’t like the newest All-American Rejects release? I bought a Regina Spektor CD instead. So there was my pattern and my answer to my first question. When life presented me with a musical hole, instead of asking questions or expecting changes, I learned to fill it with other good music and seek out my next new favorite. My loyalty was to my own musical tastes, not to the artists. 



Obviously I can’t ignore the fact that Hanson is in a league of their own in my life, which led me to my next question: What is different about the way I'm a fan of Hanson and the way I'm a fan of any other artist? How did I create this complex history that makes them something bigger to me than the rest? The answer is I’ve put a lot more time and money into loving and supporting Hanson than any other artist. I own every Relient K album, some EPs, a few t-shirts, and have bought a handful of concert tickets and a VIP pass. In the 16 years I’ve been a fan, I've probably spent less than $500 on them. And Hanson? I spent $2,000 on them this January alone. Every January since 2013. And that’s not including 100+ other concert tickets, travel expenses, 14 years of fan club memberships, and a lot of other things I don’t ever want to tally.


So next I asked myself: Should I expect more out of Hanson than I do out of other bands because I've invested more of myself and my bank account in them? If I add all of those numbers up and it's a really exorbitant, painfully embarrassing amount that I'd like to take to my grave, does that mean they owe me more than the other bands in my life do? Is it fair to expect more out of the people I've given so much to, whose career I've helped maintain, whose family I've helped feed? I asked myself all of these questions, and the answer I've landed on is still no. No, because giving them that much of myself is a decision I made without them. No, because for every single dollar I chose to spend, they've delivered on their end of the monetary transaction. My $2k got me a trip to Jamaica. My $15 got me a copy of String Theory. My annual $40 got me access to the fan club forums and an exclusive EP. They offer a product, I buy it, they deliver it. Repeat. The collective sum is irrelevant and doesn't entitle me to anything more.



Often they've given me more anyway: dozens of photos, conversations, private messages, song requests, drumsticks. I'm grateful because none of it was guaranteed and it always feels above and beyond. I don’t show up expecting those things to happen which means I also don’t leave disappointed when they don’t. I try to remember that every dollar I've spent was a personal choice that Hanson never asked of me. They never told me to get on a plane or promised to learn my name or make time for me after a show just because they put a tour on sale and I made the choice to buy 20 tickets. There isn't some unspoken "Buy 50, get special treatment for free" program where my money also buys me the right to weigh in on what they do. No amount of membership fees buy me entry into the band and the way it's run. And if I’ve ever been disappointed by something that didn’t happen? It's because I started expecting something extra that was never part of the bargain they willingly entered into when I bought their CD or their concert ticket. It's a conscious perspective that I choose to have: be grateful for every moment that feels above and beyond rather than ungrateful for every moment that doesn't. TL;DR? I'm probably an optimistic realist.


Ten paragraphs of rambling introspection have finally led me to what I believe is at the root of all of these feelings: Expectations. Whether you're feeling frustrated, disappointed, happy, or forever in love with what Hanson is doing or not doing, it all boils down to personal expectations. We’ll probably never agree on what realistic ones look like or where the line is drawn for expecting too much. I stopped for a moment and made myself question if maybe mine were too low, if maybe the reason I’m not upset by the lack of a new album or the way they run their business is because I set my expectations low to avoid disappointment. I thought about my brief time as a teacher and the hours spent in college classes discussing the importance of expectations and how sometimes raising yours can help bring a student to reach a higher potential. If you lowball what you want out of them, they won't push themselves to grow. They’ll coast and you’ll settle. But I am not Hanson's teacher. They are not my students. I am the fan and they are the band, and for me, that musical relationship means that the only shots I get to call are how I choose to consume (or not consume) their music. I can't control them; I can only control myself.




I guess in the end the thing that really colors my perspective the most is that I’ve always viewed music as a gift. It feels foreign and wrong to me to form ideas about what someone else's music should be and to place constraints around it, like claiming ownership over something that isn't mine to change. I can look at a painting and acknowledge ways I would have liked it more, but it’s not my place to ask the artist to do things differently when art is a form of self-expression, and we haven’t commissioned a thing from Hanson, try as we might. I’m not saying I don't have hopes and desires and my own personal tastes. I don't think it's wrong to want something, but I see a solid line somewhere in between hopes and expectations. They are truly not the same thing, and one is much more likely to leave you hurt.



So why am I writing this at all? What is the point if I'm just patting myself on the back and validating my existing opinions in the end? Because it's healthy to question yourself once in a while, and I find questioning my own beliefs and motives a lot more productive than questioning the band and other fans. I'll wrap this up just shy of bashing you over the head with a mirror while quoting "maybe you could take a look at yourself lately" and say that the point of this post is that I decided to look in the mirror to make sure I was okay with what I saw there. The truth is while I’m usually all rainbows and butterflies, I don’t love every single thing Hanson does. There are skip songs. I’ve employed the “keep scrolling” approach to plenty of their merch endeavors. I’d love love love a new full length album as much as the next fan, and yes I would have enjoyed that about a hundred times more than the Middle of Everywhere release. But I also never expected them to be my idea of perfect and I’m happy with the big picture—I still love their albums even if they aren’t new anymore, there are some real gems on the fan club EPs, I can lose my worries in a crowd, and no matter how many times they “recycle” an old favorite in a setlist, the right song can bring me back to the first time I heard it with the added bonus of dozens of other great memories I’ve collected from it along the way. Loving their music doesn’t feel like an obligation or a drain or a disappointment to me, and it hasn’t yet sent me searching for that next great band or someone else’s new album. And so here I am, and there’s my answer.
 I'm not done with these guys yet, and I'm glad.


Part of what makes our community and the friendships I've made in it exciting is the way music can bring together people who are otherwise very different. Maybe that means a deep difference in expectations is inevitable and it was silly of me to question why I didn't feel the same way others felt in the first place. I think the place I've landed is that if I can ask myself those critical questions--how I see myself, what my expectations are, how and why I formed those expectations--and I can still feel good about the fan staring back at me and the band she chose to support? Then that's all that matters.

July 20, 2020

Continental Breakfast In Bed: Food For Thought


As someone who runs a blog about traveling to Hanson shows, I’m sure you can understand that 2020 hasn’t given me much material for content. I also enjoy reviewing new music, but there hasn’t been any of that up until now, either. Add in the serious issues going on in the world that are far more important than any fluffy filler post I could possibly write about my top five most amazing Hanson encounters, and you get a blog that hasn’t been updated in five months. Who cares about the time I (insert textbook privileged brag-sounding story from an expensive vacation) while people are hurting, struggling to cope with injustices, and literally dying all around us? And so as you may have noticed, I chose silence. If it’s as loud as some would suggest, then I hope the tone you have heard in it is not one of complacency, blind loyalty, or indifference. I hope you can understand that sometimes silence can be a mode of respect, a personal choice to allow room for things more important than yourself and your own opinions. Sometimes it means discreetly nudging your own soapbox away to allow room for the voices of others to be heard.

And while I’ve struggled these past few weeks with a constant urge to write but something inside telling me that the timing is all wrong, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s okay to embrace the things that make me happy, because we’re all struggling right now for a variety of reasons, and music is one of my favorite coping mechanisms. If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you can relate. Hanson has often been that thing to put a smile on my face in darker moments. They’re the song equivalent of a comfort food, the mac & cheese of my musical diet. Logging onto hanson.net this week to see a surprise release of their latest EP put a smile on my face and felt like one piece of normal in world full of crazy. I needed it.

So to serve up another course of normalcy, here’s my review of this year’s Fan Club EP, Continental Breakfast (In Bed).

1. “Dressed in Brown Eyes” is your typical earworm-level catchy Hanson tune. I’ve listened to it maybe four times total and have caught myself humming it several times despite the fact that it’s not my personal favorite of the bunch. The thing that takes it up a notch is the addition of a harmonica part, courtesy of John Fullbright. The lyrics are nothing particularly deep, just an upbeat story of a guy who really wants to be with a girl, and who is possibly implying that his favorite outfit is when she’s wearing nothing but brown eyes. Don’t quote me on that. Maybe it’s a little more G-rated and her eyes are so captivating that they’re all he can see when he looks at her. *sappy gag emoji*

TL;DR: The only part of me that feels moved by “Dressed in Brown Eyes” is my feet, which is a decent place to start.

Breakfast Food Equivalent: Straight syrup.

2. “Good Days” is like the followup answer to “Better Days.” Instead of pushing optimism and looking for something better, it’s saying take the time to notice that these are the good days here and now, so you might as well make the most of them while you can. “Don’t let a moment pass you by.” I really like the sound of this one and it feels like summer and outdoors and backyard barbecues to me. Also, I took just enough Spanish classes that I cannot unhear “huevo” every time he says “wave, oh.”

Breakfast Food Equivalent: Cheesy scrambled eggs.

3. “Miss You Like Crazy” is in an epic battle against another song for my favorite of this EP. It’s another surface level love song lyrically, but where “Dressed in Brown Eyes” might be moving my feet, “Miss You Like Crazy” makes me want to jump around and sing loud and put it all on repeat to do it again. I have absolutely nothing of substance to say here except I love the sound of it. I love Isaac’s guitar solo (and how ridiculously proud he looked of himself nailing it in the making-of videos), I love the “oh oh ohs,” and I love the line “you were perfect from the start”—not for the lyrics, but for that melody. The Billy Joel “heart attack-ack-ack” bit seems random, but it works.

Breakfast Food Equivalent: A stack of those Hanson symbol waffles and two shots of your favorite Starbucks drink. Filling, sweet, maybe not all that nutritional, but with a giant sugar rush.

4. “Everyday” is one of those songs I knew was unreleased but sometimes I forget it’s not already on an EP because I’ve heard it live a few times. For that reason, it doesn’t really feel like “new” music to me and I’m struggling to look at it that way, but hearing it fully mixed and with strings added is definitely an improvement over the times I heard it with inappropriately timed shouts and shushing. I love the cello and am curious if Isaac played those parts himself. The way the violin blends with it later in the song feels perfectly symbolic for a wedding song and the joining of two lives. I’m curious what made them decide to release it now and with this particular combination of songs, but I’m glad it finally found its home. It’s not a song that resonates with me personally, but I can appreciate the emotion that went into writing it and the beauty in its simplicity.

Breakfast Food Equivalent: The joining of cereal and milk into one perfectly dependable breakfast dish that you can eat...yes...everyday. With the nutritional value of Raisin Bran, not Cap'n Crunch.

5. My first thought about “Change” was that the title and the lyrics sounded somewhat relevant to current events, but a quick listen to the podcast assured me that while the theme may be applicable to a lot of situations, it was written at least several months to a year ago during the writing of “Against the World.” My second thought was how ironic it is that during that writing period, they wrote both a song called “Change” and a song called “Don’t Ever Change,” which they debuted during the Wintry Mix tour. (My third thought was to laugh out loud at myself because while writing thoughts #1 & #2, I totally blanked on the title of “Against The World” and found myself in some zombie autopilot mode writing the phrase “New Anthem” instead. Going forward, “Against the World” will now be referred to as “New Anthem”).

The truth is I *want* to like this song. The lyrics are fine, parts of it have been catchy enough to pop into my head uninvited, but I really, really don’t like the “oh oh, oh oh, oh oh oh oh oh oh” bits. It feels a little gospel choir-y to me and if you read my review of last year’s EP, then you might remember I just really don’t like that sound.

Breakfast Food Equivalent: Cinnamon rolls. Because no matter how good they look and how many other people love them, I just don't have a taste for them.

6. “Begin Again” has the opposite issue of “Dressed in Brown Eyes” for me. The lyrics outrank the sound by quite a bit. Since we don’t have a lyric booklet, I took the time to write down all of the lyrics as I hear them before writing any of this, and I’m so glad that I did. Sonically, “Begin Again” felt very familiar. It reminded me of “Make It Through Today,” “Everyday,” and “Bad For Me” at different moments, and I found myself not listening all that closely to the lyrics because I felt like my brain was labeling it as something I’d already heard before. When I sat down and wrote out the words, I had a moment of wow, I really didn’t get how poignant and meaningful these lyrics are the first two times I listened. If anything on this EP feels like a true reflection on current events, it’s this song. Though I don’t recall "Begin Again" being in any of the “making of” videos to give us an insight into when it was written, I’d wager that it, too, was probably written months ago and that we can thank the power of a good set of vague lyrics for its relatability.

I am curious to see the official lyrics because I spy a homophone and it could be either version and possibly a play on both:

We’ve lived together, we’ve walked alone
No destination, just a struggle to be (won? one?)

TL;DR: Caution: Deep. Flotation device recommended.

Breakfast Food Equivalent: Everything bagel with a side of apple juice.

7. All I know is that “All I Know” is top song material. I started this blog with a real fear that it would be two sentences about the first six songs and two novellas about this one. I listened to this EP for the first time on my way home from work with a significant portion of my attention reserved for driving rather than fully focusing on the music. About halfway through this song I found myself crying and then asking myself why I was crying when I wasn’t even sure I’d heard most of the lyrics. I was on day seven of eight in a row and had just finished a nine hour shift, and so I brushed it off and thought maybe that’s really not the best way to absorb emotional new music. I went home. I slept eight hours. I listened to it again the next morning and found myself crying on the way to work, because apparently that is just what this song does.

It’s vague enough that on the surface, plot wise, it doesn’t seem to be about anything in particular. It could literally be about anyone in any time period in a wide variety of situations, but at the heart of this song is a feeling anyone can relate to. It’s about struggling with self-worth and with not living up to one’s potential. It’s beautifully, soul-crushingly bleak. And I’m not sure there’s any Hanson lyric in existence quite as heart wrenching as the line:

“I’m done with living in the past
Anything I’ve done that’s good I doubt will ever last”

(The next line may be just as profound, but in true Taylor fashion, I can’t quite make it all out).

I am so awed by the ability to pair a couple of piano chords and well-chosen words to craft such a perfect replica of a feeling into a song that one moment I can be driving and feeling fine, and the next I’m transported to this place of anguish that suddenly feels like it’s mine. That’s the power of great music.

It makes me feel almost the same way the song “Top of the World” by the Chicks does. I may have to file it in the same drawer, right next to “I Lift You Up” and Relient K’s “Deathbed.” That drawer’s labeled “Don’t go there, but bring tissues if you do.”

Breakfast Food Equivalent: Gourmet omelet with a double side of bacon, grapefruit, and black coffee. Caution: load up on napkins; you're going to need them.

Additional Thoughts:

This EP ranges from light and fluffy and syrupy sweet to dark abyss levels of deep. The track list also seems to be in ascending order of seriousness from start to finish and makes for a smooth transitional flow between each song. Apart from my silly breakfast food analogies, I really see no connection between the songs and the E.P. title and think Hanson must have abandoned the original plan to have a song for each continent, unless they only ever meant that in a strictly numerical sense. It really makes no difference to the songs and their meaning to me, but I'm up for hearing an explanation if one exists.

I'll spare you any further hungry and now I'm full gag-inducing food analogies, but for what it's worth, I've been looking forward to new music and am happy to finally have this taste to tide me over until "New Anthem." You're probably already a fan club member if you've bothered reading this far, but in case you need to hear this, the membership now includes a digital download option which means you can renew or join right now and be listening to the new E.P. within minutes. Maybe it will brighten your day, too.

Months ago when we first started quarantining and places went into lockdown, there was a lot of positive encouragement to “wash your hands,” “practice social distancing,” and “check on your friends.” I don’t see as much of that last one anymore, but I think this is where I'd like to wind things up, even if it's a bit off topic. So whether you’re one of my close friends, an acquaintance I’ve interacted with in line or online, or someone reading a random girl's blog on the internet, I hope you’re doing okay. Whether we share all the same opinions or have nothing in common but a love for music, I wish you the best in navigating 2020, this year of dumpster fires, travel bans, and making plans for the future. I hope you're finding your own moments of happiness whether it's a song, a book that takes you away, or a ridiculous long distance midnight conversation about what type of breakfast food a bunch of songs would be.

February 15, 2020

Back To The Island 2020


I try not to get my hopes up before each Back to the Island. Maybe that's a weirdly pessimistic thing to say. Maybe a truer statement is that I try to go into it with an open mind and without a checklist of things I want or need to happen. I'd rather be pleasantly surprised by the way things turned out than feel let down because I had this false vision in my head of how things should be. At the end of the day, I just want to be happy, and over the years Hanson has proven able to accomplish that for me in a lot of different ways. I want to trust them to do just that without putting too much pressure on the details of how. As always, they delivered on that unspoken promise and I'm coming home from BTTI 2020 satisfied with my experience.

The first day of the event was already a vast improvement over the last two years. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky, and I planted myself on a float in the level pool for most of the day just soaking in the sun (which felt far rarer than any song I've heard at BTTI since 2014). I got the most ridiculous sunburn I've had in decades and wound up somehow getting stung by a bee in the middle of my palm in the same day. A bartender expertly pulled out the stinger, doused and massaged my hand in rum, and sent me on my way with a "No problem!" I really wish I thought to get his name so I could give great feedback; he deserved it and turned what could have been a bigger issue had I tried to remove the stinger myself into a fun anecdote about how the best drink I had all trip was a shot to my hand after a literal shot to my hand.








A post shared by Holly (@_hollywouldnt) on

Show #1
After I got back home, I saw a blog Zac shared on hanson.net where he mentioned playing almost all of the MOE tracklist on the first night, but I didn't notice it at the time. It was mostly setlist "staples" and singles, but it was all upbeat and fun, and part of why I go back to show after show is I do love those songs. "Give a Little" and "Thinking Bout Something" are always highlights for me, and it hit me that this year makes 10 years since I danced on stage for one and since I learned the choreography for the other. Consider that a disclaimer, I guess. If you ever watch me butcher the TBS dance, know that 10 years since I learned it also means 10 years since I practiced. The point is I'm not sorry enough to stop or do it better; I just like the way it makes me feel and I like that I can count on them to play it almost every year. God knows how much worse we'd be at that dance if they left it off of setlists for a while.

Zac Solo
I came home with exactly three songs stuck in my head this trip: Shania Twain's "Man I Feel Like a Woman," Lonestar's "Amazed," and the line "I don't wanna be a trash ma-a-a-a-an," which is apparently the silly origin of a much more serious new Zac ballad called "Better Man." I can't help but think of an older story about how "Misery" began with "This time, I'm gonna kill your cat" and wonder how many deeply moving Zac leads actually started out as a joke.

Zac's set was good, and my instant first thought was that "Lullabelle" and "Seymour" need to change their status to "in a relationship" because man, I really liked that pairing back to back and I love both songs so much. I have to say though I kind of regret standing in the back for this one because I wound up being blocked by a multitude of livestreaming above people's heads, and it took something away from the experience for me. I know moving is always an option, but then I wind up blocking the people behind me who, like me, chose their spots based on the crazy idea that the person in front of them isn't going to hold a phone two feet above their head the entire time or constantly switch spots.

It didn't seem worth preaching in the BTTI group and trying to be the phone police, but this is my blog so here's my whiny two cents: If you think you're being amazing for livestreaming or facetiming and allowing someone who couldn't be there the luxury of a fraction of the experience, please also try to remember to do it in a way that doesn't take away from the people that worked hard to get there in person, and that some of those people might only get to experience it live once and it shouldn't be through your phone. I'm sure your bff/vlog followers/30 strangers in a Facebook group are your biggest fans right now, but I really didn't come here to watch a pixelated image of your five-year-old niece who doesn't care about Hanson bobbing in front of Zac's face the entire time. This isn't the first year I've watched Zac's solo live through a screen, and I really don't think that's what the term "livestreaming"is supposed to mean, but here we are, politely streaming things for the people back home AND the people behind us. Please stop or at least keep it at your own face level or below.

Show #2
The second show was one of my favorites even though I'm always saying how much I live for the upbeat songs. I know everyone wants rares, but you can't tell me that opening a show with "Love Song" isn't in itself rare. The whole show was a slower pace than I'm used to, but I think it made me slow down and appreciate some songs that I tend to gloss over in favor of the fast ones in past setlists. They performed "More Than Anything" full band rather than the usual Isaac solo (though Zac and Taylor only added vocals, not instruments), and Isaac's piano playing was so beautiful that it left me wondering why he doesn't do it more often. He joked that the last time the other two were on stage during that song, Zac was a kid doing ballet moves, which elicited the quickest fake ballet pose from him at the end as if on cue.



My favorite song of the night surprisingly ended up being "Carry You There." I wrote a fantasy setlist post a few weeks before BTTI this year, and "Carry You There" ended up on it. I know many fans want rares and deep cuts, but I feel like there are so many good album songs and songs that used to be setlist staples years ago and maybe only for one tour that are even more rare than songs like "Never Let Go" or "Breaktown." Just hearing it brought me back to 2009 and what it felt like doing walks on college campuses and trying to finish written midterms on sidewalks around the southeast, because why stay on campus and study when you can drag Shakespeare with you to the Use Your Sole Tour? "Use Me Up" had me feeling the same wave of nostalgia, and I've never seen a crowd rock out so hard to "Runaway Run" in my life. I had a great time.

Isaac Solo
I should probably feel bad ranking the solo sets when I love all members of Hanson and I don't do favorites, but inevitably I do walk away having a favorite solo performance each year. Each brother has held that spot at least once, but the years Isaac "wins," he really, really wins.

There have been a few years where he showed up in a pretty laid back vibe asking for requests, which tbh is probably my polite euphemism for "unprepared." This year though, I think he found his happy medium by asking for requests before his show and giving himself time to practice. Earlier in the day while lounging in the pool, I noticed my friends turning their heads followed by a shouted "What do you guys want to hear later?" One was quick enough to shout back "Grace Unknown!" and he worked it into his set and mentioned taking requests from several others throughout the weekend. He seemed well-rehearsed and confident and everything was flawless.

"Ain't No Sunshine" was on my fantasy list so I was happy when it turned up in the set even if I never actually asked for it. He also played "I Don't Know" for the first time ever, along with another song none of us even knew existed called "Your Eyes." I keep seeing people say it's about his daughter, but I felt like it was more of a progression where it was first about his wife, then the next verse led to his daughter, and I'm struggling to remember, but I think the final verse led to his daughter as an adult and maybe even a future look at them as grandparents. It felt like more of a snapshot of a life well-lived together and a picture of that love through generations. I'm single and childless but I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel some tears forming at the emotion in that song. I'm also not normally one to use the term "romantic" to describe anything apart from19th century literature, but I can't think of a better word to describe that performance. Well done, Isaac.

Taylor Solo
Though I know Isaac's solo was my favorite at the time, rereading Taylor's song choices and remembering how I felt during the show already has me second guessing myself. He brought special guest performer Milck out for a duet of "Get Out of My Heart," and their voices were great together. I don't think I've ever seen any Hanson do a duet with a female artist, so it was neat to see and was actually really good; I'd be happy to see them work together again in the future. "Dreamgirl" was a fun surprise and one I'd never heard before, and I was a little shocked to see Taylor attempt and then back out of "Dying To Be Alive" after he couldn't get it quite right. As far as I can tell, he's consistently the most polished and rehearsed of the three when it comes to solo sets, so I hope he's not too hard on himself about not finishing the song. It's not the only time I've seen that happen--it's just the only time I've seen it happen to Taylor.

I thought I'd made it out of the woods with "With You In Your Dreams" but somehow wound up sobbing uncontrollably about 3/4 of the way through it. "These Walls" brought back the 2009 Use Your Sole Tour vibes that I was already feeling the night before, and I'm pretty sure my next step is to go dig out the Stand Up Stand Up EP and make sure it's downloaded onto my phone ASAP.

My favorite part, though, wasn't even a song. It was something he said between songs along the lines of how he didn't know how anyone could not believe in God when you stop and think about the gift of music, and I so very much agree. Just the fact that we all get to be part of the few living creatures on this planet that can not only appreciate but also create music makes me feel blessed. Being born in the same decade as this band that I love and getting to stand in the same room (or on the same island) while they perform their music live instead of listening to it 150 years into the future in some format that has yet to be invented makes me feel blessed. Standing on the beach during a sunset and having this realization surrounded by friends and prompted by the source of this music that I love so much makes me feel blessed, and yeah, I thank God for that privilege all the time.

Taylor took the seriousness back down a notch by joking that he didn't mean HIS music, he wasn't like "Hey Guys, I'm a gift from God, enjoy!" he just meant that music as a whole is a gift and maybe not a collection of sounds we came to on our own. I tend to agree, and I was happy for the reminder.

Show #3
I loved the energy of the third show which I think was meant to be the "rock all night" set if they had themes in mind when creating the setlists. There weren't really any gasp-worthy unexpected songs and it was somewhat similar to previous years sets, but everything just sounded so good. It may be an unpopular or borderline suck-up opinion, but I'd rather hear "Waiting for This" and "Rock 'n' Roll Razorblade" for the dozenth time in a year than watch Hanson struggle pulling out a set of songs they haven't touched in 20 years and clearly aren't comfortable playing. Now if they want to pull a few out of the vault and brush up enough to blow our minds with them next time? Even better.

My favorite of the night was probably "Tearing It Down," I always always love "I Don't Want To Go Home," and the final group performance of "Back To The Island" was one of the better performances of it that I've seen. The musical guests were a hit this year and I think everyone's enjoyment showed as they came together for one final song.

The Activities
I like the super chill atmosphere of video games with Zac, and I strangely really like that you have to line up if you want to play. It means that anyone who really cares about participating can make sure they get the chance, people that don't really care won't be taking up any spots, and people like me who will always have anxiety about being called up with no notice can relax a little and control when we do or don't join in. I'm glad Zac seems to enjoy it, too, but I do think I'm ready for a change after two years (though if we do bring it back for round 3, I vote for the Mario Kart battle mode course with the bombs in place of Super Smash Bros). I also appreciated the irony of being given literal button-style pins from Zac after we played in place of getting digital pins on hnet.

The promise of Team Trivia night with Isaac somehow turned into Family Feud season three, and it reminded me a lot of the year he accidentally played "Smile" instead of "Sometimes" and didn't notice. When the Family Feud screen came up, I couldn't help but joke "Does he even know we're not playing Trivia right now?" I actually really don't care for trivia so I wasn't sad about this last minute change. He seemed very intent on sticking to the rules this year, which is nice in theory, but I think adhering so closely really cut down on how many people got to participate. It would have made a lot more sense to me to only let each team stay up for one round regardless of who won. We were all there for a good time and I don't think anybody cared all that much about winning (as is evident by the fact that the actual winners were in bed when their names were called!).

Mac showed up about halfway through to help co-host and any thought that he was going to help speed things along went out the window as soon as he introduced himself as a German scientist with a thick accent and a fake name. The whole thing quickly spiraled into a mess of drunken innuendos and tangents, but it was more entertaining than watching real Family Feud and I found myself laughing out loud more than once. Since all four Hanson brothers were around right before the event, I feel like it was a real missed opportunity that there wasn't at least one round where they were their own team for a literal family feud. They probably have plenty of that without us.

I don't know if I should blame getting swept up in the prom theme, the excitement of randomly running into Zac right beforehand, or maybe a contact high from standing a little too close to certain fumes during the show, but for whatever out-of-character reason, I actually danced the entire time during Taylor's dance party and had a lot of fun. I tried not to take the prom theme too seriously, but I love a great dress and I couldn't help wanting to shop around for a fun outfit for this one. Ironically, I eventually decided on a semi-formal black dress that I last wore to a masquerade ball when I was 16 that was somehow still in my closet and in good enough condition to drag back out 16 years later. Maybe that was the confidence boost that had me dancing all night; I don't know.

Taylor was heavy-handed on the slow ballads and it had me wondering if he knows that proms actually do play a decent mix of fast music too, but we all treated it a bit like prom karaoke and enjoyed it anyway. My friend looked at me like I had seven heads when I started singing every word to "Amazed" by Lonestar, and I was shocked to find out she had never even heard the song. I kind of shocked myself knowing every word when it's been close to 20 years since I heard it, but I think we all know that a good song can stick with you and bring you back to a specific space and time like no time at all has passed. For me, it was all the middle school dances and all the crushes I danced with where I just knew it was "our" song. Sometimes I forget there's a southern girl in me with deeper country roots than I think. And then I remember there's another southern girl out there married to the DJ of this particular event, and I can't help but wonder if he ever found himself swaying to this sappy love song and feeling the same teen angsty feelings at a real prom, and I kind of hope he got to have that cheesy normal life moment at least once.

I don't have enough to say about the special guests to write about them in their own separate heading, but I will say they were among my favorites that Hanson has brought to the island with them. Milck is incredibly talented and has a killer voice, and I won't be surprised if we see her career blowing up soon. Joshua & The Holy Rollers are the exact opposite of the mellow solo guy with a guitar formula that Hanson normally follows, and I definitely prefer the upbeat change. This might have been my second-favorite special guest year overall. Chris Carrabba holds the first place title until further notice.

The Resort
I don't normally bother commenting much on the resort when I recap BTTI, but after three years at the Melia Braco Village and a growing number of complaints from fans, maybe I should. The grounds and rooms of the Melia are beautiful. The beach is gorgeous to look at and everything is pretty exquisite on paper and on Instagram. The problem is when you dig a little deeper and start to notice that the gorgeous beach is full of rocks that make it impossible to fully enjoy a swim, the food is mediocre at best, and at worst, there were rumors of multiple cases of salmonella this year once fans got home. I'm grateful that I managed to avoid whatever digestive issues everyone was suffering from, but as a pretty adventurous eater, I'm not sure I would be able to enjoy a meal there again without worrying if we ever go back. I kind of hope we don't.

Up until this year, I did always wonder if maybe the bad weather in 2018 and 2019 made us all a little unfairly biased against the Melia. It's hard to appreciate the beauty of a place while it's pouring down rain on your tropical vacation. We were very fortunate with perfect sunny days this year, but the day we left I dragged myself out of bed and to breakfast in a rain jacket while inches of water puddled around my ankles, and I left convinced that that side of the island is just a target area for rain.

In the positive column, every shower I took this year was a temperature that made sense, and random cold showers have always been my biggest complaint the past two years. Then again, we got bumped from our level room the first night, had to relocate the first day of the event, and spent three hours "homeless" because apparently overbooking and displacing guests isn't a good enough reason to make cleaning the overbooked rooms faster than the rest a priority. Truthfully, I spent those three hours happily roasting in a pool so I can only complain so much, but it's a whole lot of money to spend to have so many things go wrong. When we finally got to our stage view room, I was extremely disappointed to find that a giant palm tree blocked 2/3 of the stage and we would never be able to see anything but Taylor. The room was great, the proximity to the stage was convenient, but it never should have had a stage view price tag. I realize that's more Island Gigs' fault than the Melia.


Overall no resort we've been to has been perfect and I think we all suffer from a "grass is greener" syndrome. We can romanticize the Jewel all we want but the beach was small and it didn't have enough hot tubs, we walked what felt like miles to get to the stage in Negril, and let's not talk about the fenced-in corral of a concert area in Cancun. They could take us somewhere new next year and I'm half-afraid I'd start whining about missing the stage view rooms and the filet mignon at the Melia. I don't think a perfect place that would please everyone exists anywhere in the world, much like Hanson can't please us all no matter what setlists or activities they plan. Regardless, I think we're all ready for a change in 2021 and hopefully for the better.

20/20 Hindsight
We've reached the part where I bring up some of the highs and lows of the trip but inevitably tip the scales in such a way that I come out sounding like I loved the experience regardless of any downsides. It might be predictable of me, but it's still true and eight years in, I just can't imagine BTTI going on without me.

Hanson sounded amazing this year and I feel like they tried their best to come in prepared and blow us away, and it makes me sad to think of them feeling like they did a good job only to come home and see a ton of complaints and harsh comments about everything they should have done differently. It's totally okay to have disappointments, but I hope everyone will remember to give credit where credit is due for all the things they did well, too. There were countless song performances that left me giddy. "Annalie" solo. "Believe." Isaac's ridiculously romantic new song. Taylor soloing "Hey" and "Voice in The Chorus" and the entire rest of his setlist. ALL of it. I'm so glad I got to hear so many songs from "The Walk" and "Shout it Out" that I've missed so much since those tours.

I loved spending hours on a silly float in the sun and don't even regret my sunburn that currently looks like I developed some kind of skin disease. I enjoyed getting a quick moment to greet the band and tell them thank you, though instead of saying thank you, leave it to me to ask if a hug is a hug because I'm trying so hard not to repeat misinterpreted awkward moments of the past. I'm here to forge new ones instead. So for what it's worth and for every awkward M&G moment where I wind up rambling about my sunburn instead of saying anything meaningful, thanks, Hanson, for inviting us back. Thanks for putting so much into your performances and for continuing to put on this event no matter how busy you are with other projects. Thanks for inspiring me to travel to new places but also for giving me a few staples around the world to always go "back" to that feel like home. Whoever named this event so many years ago understood the magic you were creating and that I'd never want to leave, and that while leaving is always inevitable, so is coming back.