April 30, 2022

So You're Thinking about Going to BTTI...

With the recent announcement of BTTI 2023, I've seen a lot of questions from hopeful first-time attendees and thought it might be helpful to write a more logistical post in addition to the reviews I've shared in the past. Think of this as a practical overview of what to expect in place of my usual fangirling and gushing about how much you'll love the shows. (Spoiler: you're also going to love the shows).

Booking Your Room

It's no secret that repeaters who have been to previous BTTIs get first dibs on rooms based on the number of times they've attended. I know this can be intimidating and give the impression that the event could sell out before the public sale date, but the good news is that this has never actually happened. There have been a few times when it sold out within a few days of the public sale, and one year it sold out within minutes of going live to the public (Cancun), but the last few haven't had that kind of rush. What will happen, though, is certain room types start to sell out. You may not be able to get your first choice of room type, but there are no bad rooms anywhere, and you get to participate in everything regardless of which room you choose.

If you can't book right away and rooms do sell out before you have a chance, this doesn't mean you're just out of luck until the next one. Island Gigs offers a waiting list and continues to contact people in order as rooms open up, and fans are also allowed to sell their own rooms when their plans change. This always happens, and every single year fans buy last minute rooms from each other. If you're serious about going, keep an eye out, ask around, and keep saving like you're going. You might have to wait a few months, but odds are good that you'll find a room if you don't give up.

You'll need a $400 deposit up front if you have a roommate, or an $800 deposit if you plan to room alone or find a roommate later. If you have a roommate, only one of you needs to initiate the booking process. Sale dates, payment plan info, and more can be found on the official BTTI page on hnet.

You and your roommate also need to be active fan club members at the time of the event to attend, but let's be real: if you're prepared to spend $2k+ on a trip to see Hanson, a $40 membership should not be your hill to die on.

Planning Your Travel

When you book your room, you are paying for your stay at an all-inclusive resort, meaning food and drinks are covered, but your flight to the event is not. No matter where you're coming from, you'll need to fly into Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay (MBJ). Once you arrive, Island Gigs will arrange bus transportation from MBJ to the resort as long as you are not spending extra nights elsewhere (meaning if you plan to fly in 3 days before the event and stay at a cheaper resort before going to BTTI, you have to figure out your own transportation to the BTTI resort. I have never done this, but I'm sure other fans could offer advice). 

I have seen customs in MBJ have no line whatsoever, and I have spent two hours in line waiting to be let through. There's no way to know what version you will get, so if you are flying in the day of the first show, plan for potential delays. The resort is about an hour and a half drive from the airport, and the only event on the first day is the concert around 9-10pm.

For return flights, nothing is ever planned on the final day of the event dates, so you are safe to leave without missing anything (ex. BTTI 2023 is Jan 5-9. They won't plan any events for the 9th, so you are safe to fly home any time that day). However, the dance party the night before is known to run late. With that hour and a half drive to the airport and the additional time you should arrive before your flight, do yourself a favor and don't pick the first flight out. They'll put you on a bus at least three hours before your flight time if not sooner.

Resort Life

If you're familiar with the concept of "Hanson Time," you can thank them for preparing you for Jamaica Time as well. It's not that things are necessarily running behind schedule or on a time crunch, but more of a laid back, everything will happen when it happens and be fine sort of vibe. Your room service, dinner at a specialty restaurant, or those extra towels you called and asked for might take their time showing up. Go ahead and accept this, remember that you're on vacation, and try to relax.

Another good thing to know about the resort is that it is pretty spread out, and each building has three levels and no elevators. You might be doing a fair amount of walking depending on where your room is, so getting down to the beach and realizing you left your sunglasses on the bed might be the moment you decide you didn't really need them anyway. It's not a mile walk or anything, but something to be aware of if you're used to one big hotel with everything in one building...or if your knees don't like stairs.

And that bed you left your hypothetical sunglasses on? It's either going to be a single king bed or two twins. You can't specify which one you want when you book, and requests aren't guaranteed. If you're rooming with a spouse or a stranger and have a strong bed preference, you'll probably want to reach out and try to put in a request anyway. 

Shows & Events

One of my favorite things about BTTI is it feels so much more relaxed and calm compared to tour shows. I'm not saying the crowd is quiet or that the music is all mellow, but that anxious "I need to get to the venue" and "I need to get in line" feeling doesn't exist. Traffic can't make you late. You don't have to worry about a bag check at doors. There ARE no doors. You don't have to stand through the opener or even show up to their show if you don't feel like it. There are no lines (except for the M&G photo). Some will choose to wait longer by the stage for a good spot, but most show up right before the show. The stage is on the beach, and there is plenty of room to spread out in the sand. You can stroll right out of the pool, throw on a coverup, and roll up to the stage area five minutes before show time while double fisting ice cream cones or daiquiris if that's what you want.

Side Excursions

If you prefer some exploration alongside your relaxation, there are optional side excursions arranged by Island Gigs for an additional fee. These options may appear on the booking page when you reserve your room but can also be added at a later date right up until the event begins as long as there is still space. (My memory is murky here. They may not be offered at all when you book your room and only show up later. I just know you don't have to book them right away.) Most involve water and a certain level of physical activity. Below are a few examples from previous years:

Dunn's River Falls
Blue Hole Adventure Tour
Bob Marley's 9 Mile Tour
Martha Brae River Rafting

If you're interested in something not offered by Island Gigs or prefer to do an excursion on an extra day outside of the time offered to us, you can also contact the resort or ask in person once you arrive. One year I came a day early and randomly wound up swimming in the Luminous Lagoon because I asked the front desk what was available and it sounded fun.

Pro-tips for Dunn's River Falls:  
1. Bring your own water shoes and a towel for after.
2. Wear a swimsuit and don't carry any electronics that can't get wet. There are moments you may be fully submerged. You can rent a locker for anything that needs to stay dry.
3. Beware of aggressive selling techniques for souvenirs and be prepared to give a polite but firm "no thanks" if you're not interested in buying. Some of the sellers will try to grab your hand or put merchandise in it and ask for payment if you're not prepared. 

Is It Worth It?

I can't answer this for you. If you love Hanson's music and relaxing on the beach, almost definitely yes. If you want to go to spend time with friends or with the possibility of coming home with a few new ones, also yes. If your idea of the perfect vacation includes bringing your spouse and kids and doesn't include sand or swimsuits, then this one's not for you (the event is 18+ and all rooms have a maximum capacity of two).

The other thing you should know is that if the thought of spending time with Hanson on a beach is factoring into your decision at all, the only guaranteed face time we get with the band is during the M&G photo. Some fans have been lucky enough to run into one of them and have a conversation at other moments during the event, but you're not going to find a Hanson lounging in a chair by the pool or find yourself seated next to them at dinner. That being said, they are incredibly kind and gracious to greet every one of us attending, and the M&G photos are a "holy grail" opportunity you really can't get anywhere else. The trip is what you make of it, and if you show up with an expectation to have fun with fellow fans while relaxing on the beach and listening to great music, then you're going to have an amazing time.

The real answer here is if you have been considering going for a while and have just never taken the plunge, I think it's worth trying at least once. The worst thing that can happen is you realize you don't love it as much as you thought you would, and then you can save up for a different vacation next time without having to always wonder if you've been missing out. The other worst best thing that can happen is you realize you have been missing out, and now you can't imagine not going every year. Fair warning...it's called BACK to the Island for a reason. 😉

And if you do want all the sentimental/FOMO reasons you should go, I've got you covered:

BTTI 2013
BTTI 2014
BTTI 2015
BTTI 2016
BTTI 2017
BTTI 2018
BTTI 2019
BTTI 2020
BTTI 2022
Packing List
HDay vs BTTI
How To Tell Your Loved One That You're Going To Jamaica

April 1, 2022

How To Get Front Row At A General Admission Concert

Today we’re going to talk about a topic on par with the likes of Bruno, Fight Club, and recent inductee Jada Pinkett Smith: how to get front row at a GA concert. If you’ve clicked on this link, it’s probably safe to assume that you are either 1) dying to know all of my best front row tips, or 2) terrified that I’m about to reveal yours. I have thought a lot about whether it is my place to share trade secrets that have taken many of us decades to learn, and I realized that it may be best to consult someone else who is passionately invested in this topic before publishing this blog. I reached out to the best person I could think of for the job, and after a lot of consideration, we have decided that it’s time to put our differences aside and work together to help everyone get the front row they deserve.

Joining me today is fellow concert addict and front row expert, special guest blogger Caroline. Below you will find a carefully curated collection of tips and tricks that we felt it was time to share with the greater music fan population. We hope that you will use these tips widely, share them indiscriminately, and think of us fondly as you rock out against the barricade!

1. Post your plans to line up in as many public places as possible. You’ll want to show up early, and you’ll also want to make sure that everyone knows what time you plan to arrive. Be as specific as possible; no one likes a Vaguebooker. The best thing to do is share on all your social media accounts and cross-post in fan groups for maximum effect. The goal is to have as many fans as possible know what time you are lining up so that they will admire your dedication and tailor their own plans to arrive after you out of respect.

2. Invite everyone to camp with you. Sitting on a sidewalk for hours (or days) can be boring and uncomfortable, but with the right attitude, you can turn it into a fun adventure that others won’t want to miss. There's also no need to worry that too many people will show up and there won't be enough room for everyone up front. You’ve probably heard front row referred to as a "magical experience" and brushed it off as a figure of speech, but the truth carefully guarded by generations of concert addicts is that front row actually is magic and has expansive properties that cannot be detected from a distance. Fun fact: rumor has it that the creator of Doctor Who was a massive music fan and based the TARDIS structure on the phenomenon that occurs when one touches the barricade in front row and is suddenly able to see its true infinite capacity. Allons-y, y’all! There's room for all of us.

3. Post live updates about your line experience to all of your social media accounts. This not only provides hopeful future front row enthusiasts a step-by-step guide that they can follow at a later date, it also provides a trail of timestamped evidence should anyone accuse you of not waiting in line or not being first. Oh really, you didn’t see me sitting here at the front of the line all day? That’s odd, because here’s me at 6:03 am drinking coffee in my sleeping bag with a backwards three smeared on my forehead that already has 72 likes and three identical comments that say "I'm on my way now!!!"

4. If you are near the front of the line, keep in frequent contact with the venue staff. After years in the live music industry, many employees develop a condition known as Going To Forget Order Syndrome, or GTFO for short. Individuals with GTFO suffer from an inability to remember numeric patterns and often have difficulty with basic counting and remembering the order in which to complete tasks. You’ll want to check in with staff frequently to be sure that they remember which line goes in first and that you are at the front of it.  (A good rule of thumb is to check in at least every half-hour up until doors open.) Your instincts may suggest to remain calm and patient, but studies have shown that the familiarity of loud noises can help release the deeply trapped memories of how to do their job. Do not be afraid to raise your voice as it can actually put the staff member at ease and help restore their ability to retain order.

A second, less common but growing condition among venue staff is the Inability to Differentiate General Admission Fans, also referred to as IDGAF. In this case, the individual has seen so many fans throughout years of concerts that they all begin to blur, and over time they lose the ability to differentiate faces, i.e., the first person in line looks exactly like the last. Research suggests that memory retention of a familiar face in someone suffering IDGAF typically lasts between 10 minutes and an hour, so similarly to GTFO syndrome, the best thing for you to do as a fan is repeatedly remind them of your presence. Don't worry that approaching them too frequently may become annoying and make them less likely to help you in the future as you will be safely forgotten before the show even starts.

5. If you are unable to wait in line, have a friend save you a spot until you arrive. All they need to do is save you a number and vouch that you are "coming soon," or better yet, “coming back any minute." There is no need to ask those behind you in line if this is okay; music fans are known for their kindness and generosity above all else. They will respect the fact that you have more important things to do than sit on a sidewalk for hours and will instinctively trust that you have a good reason. Be careful not to mistake perceived standoffishness for rudeness or dislike. More than likely, they are simply too intimidated by your front-of-line connections to speak to you first. A well-timed wave and smile as you step ahead of them will be greatly appreciated, and many friendships have begun this way.

6. If camping out isn't an option for you, you can try faux camping. Not all of us are cut out for sleeping on sidewalks, and there's nothing to be ashamed of if you are one of the thousands of fans that suffer from an allergic reaction to prolonged exposure to sidewalks commonly known as "sidewalk intolerance." Sidewalk intolerance affects roughly 1.5 in every 10 fans, and common symptoms include increased irritability, heightened sensitivity to hard surfaces, and a sudden, intense need to be literally anywhere else upon exposure. There is no known cure, but faux camping can offer a safe alternative to traditional concert camping. 

For those that don't already know, faux camping is exactly what it sounds like: you show up early, get a number, and give the impression that you are, in fact, going to sleep outside in line (bonus points if you put on pajamas because they do half of the work for you. You don't have to actually say "I'm totally going to sleep out here!" when fuzzy panda bottoms will do it for you). Then you leave, come back in the morning, and imply that you've been there all night. Make a few off-hand comments like "man, that sidewalk was rough on my back" or "I tossed and turned all night," but avoid being overly specific in case you missed something important. If you do a good enough job, no one will question your absence, and you can avoid those awkward explanations about your status as someone who absolutely loves front row but won't can't sleep outside for it. 

7. If you do not have any friends to hold you a spot and can't faux camp, you can use your anonymity to casually blend into the front of the line at the last minute. You need precise timing for this move and should not attempt it any sooner than ten minutes before doors. The goal is to slip unnoticed between groups of friends without leaving enough time for anyone to stop you. If you're lucky, you'll be surrounded by passive fans who either won't notice or won't be brave enough to speak up. This may seem unfair to some, but you know the truth: You are just as deserving of front row as someone else who put in hours waiting in line. It's not your fault that they don't have a life and you do. 

*You should not attempt this method unless you are prepared to fight back or run in the event of an altercation. Exercise caution as results may vary.

8. If you have more cash than integrity, a great alternative to waiting in line is simply buying your way in. This tactic is only for the brave, but if you're a good judge of character and can spot the right like-minded person, you can open a lot of doors for yourself (namely, the one into the venue). Some would call it bribery, but really it's just being resourceful enough to use the tools at your disposal. Remember: Just because it's not for sale doesn't mean it can't be bought!

(Pro tip: Be sure the staff member you approach does not suffer from IDGAF or GTFO. They may be on board in the moment, but you will be no closer to front row if they've forgotten what you look like when doors open, or worse, they think you’ve paid to be let in last.)

9.  In the event that you cannot secure a spot at the front of the line, get to the barricade by any means necessary. With a little determination, acting talent, and brute force, the literal end of the line doesn’t have to be the end of the line for you. Try looking for gaps in the crowd and shout a random name followed by "Excuse me! I'm just trying to get back to my sister!" while forcing your way through as though she's up front waiting on you. Oh, there she is! Right between the two people in front row center. 😉 

If your hand-eye coordination is strong, another option is to double fist two open drinks in the air while shouting "Sorry!" and sloshing them dangerously. The key is to slosh just enough to make someone want to step back, but not so much that they want to punch you in the face. If you're not successful the first time, simply turn around and try another route in the crowd or another method entirely. The possibilities are endless; be creative!

So there you have it. Nine tips and tricks to help you get front row from experts who have witnessed the effectiveness of each method countless times. Remember, you deserve front row regardless of how you get it, and don't think twice about anyone that says otherwise because they are not worth your time.

For more concert hacks & live updates from future events, you can follow Caroline on Instagram @rowzb4hoez.

January 21, 2022

Back To The Island 2022

I don't think I have ever looked forward to a trip more than this Back to the Island since the very first one in 2013. I spent the weeks leading up to the event balancing extreme excitement while also trying to mentally prepare myself for a possible last minute cancelation. I wasn’t fully convinced that it was happening until I was standing on a beach in Jamaica seeing mildly creepy photographic evidence of Hanson at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. We were short a backup player and a couple of friends, but the show must go on. I had a great time but am so looking forward to a year without any nasty surprises where everyone who planned to go gets to be there and enjoy themselves. If you planned to go and weren't able to be there for whatever reason, I hope you have a truly amazing experience at the next one.

Full Band Shows

I have no idea what Hanson's original plans for these shows were when they thought they had a five-piece band, and I'm glad. I'm always team "surprise me" when it comes to setlists, but I am more grateful than ever that we didn't have setlist voting or a list of themes this year. Maybe Hanson played exactly what they intended to play and Dimitrius' absence was minor, or maybe they had an entirely different plan that had to be scrapped and rebuilt at the last minute to make sure the show went on as seamlessly as possible. They did a good job either way, but having photos with the band canceled was enough. I'm glad it wasn't amplified by disappointment over major setlist changes from some theme we were all looking forward to. 

The three main shows were a good mix of singles, fan club songs, and a couple of fun covers. I'd say the first set was more of a traditional Hanson show, the second set was three-piece acoustic, and the third felt like more of the "Rock All Night" theme with more upbeat songs. After eight trips to Jamaica, we finally got a (very well done!) Bob Marley cover as well as "Islands In The Stream" that they live streamed for us last year during the canceled BTTI. I really enjoyed the acoustic show, though I wish it had been longer than 16 songs. The most surprising thing to me was that there was no mention of Against The World and we didn't even get to hear the title track. I think we got three out of the seven songs, though maybe being short a player had a hand in that decision.

It feels weird not having more to say about the shows, but nothing crazy happened and the setlists were fairly typical of BTTI which isn't bad at all, it just isn't particularly interesting to read. Don't worry, I'll gush about music soon enough.

Solo Shows

Zac went first this year (does he always go first? It feels like it) and the most memorable parts were a brand new song called "Magic Man" and the part where he threw it to the crowd during "I Don't Wanna Go Home" and we were virtually no help. Sorry, sir, I love that song, but if you never sing the lyrics the same way twice and don't ever sing it the way you did in the recording, I can't help you. I know there's a pool hall, a country bar, Caz's corner bar, and Carnegie Hall, but I can never predict which one is coming up next and I'm not sure Zac can either.

He played "Magic Man" on the guitar and opened by saying he likes to play it when he's alone. He didn't say anything that gave me the impression that it's meant to be on any specific upcoming project, so we may or may not ever hear it again. It was pretty mellow and quiet and he said it was inspired by Nick Drake.

The best part of Isaac's solo for me was when my friend shouted at him to play "Soldier" and he actually stopped and tried. At some point during all of the Cain's shows in the past two years, we ended up listening to Soldier in our hotel room. The part that says "Well the boat began to sink, and it sank to the bottom of the river" got completely embedded in our brains and for days and multiple trips we would just burst out into that line. Our lives have since been changed by looking up the lyrics (Thanks, Hansonstage) and learning that the line right before it is actually "as he floated past the river rat" and not "as he floated past the river raft." We've both spent 25 years not knowing there was a rodent in that song. Naturally he made it right up to that part before he stopped and gave up, but I was super impressed he made it that far and knew all of the lyrics up to that point.

He made some comment about how he had played it at another BTTI, and I couldn't help but shout back "No you didn't." He responded with something along the lines of "Okay it must have been a Hanson Day" and I shouted again "You've never played it at either!", not entirely sure how or why I started a yelled argument with Isaac mid-show, but adamantly positive that I've been to all of the shows he's claiming to have played "Soldier" at and I've definitely never heard it. 

We looked it up later and the only place he's played it since 1998 was his own house during the Quaranstreams, so now I understand why he thought he played it recently. Dear Isaac, you should totally play it in full at a future BTTI and/or Hanson Day for real! And if Quaranstream content is up for grabs, I'll take a Lucy solo, too.

Taylor's Solo Show

You know what, this guy gets his own segment. Caution: Extreme fangirling ahead. I know I've said this before, but I don't play favorites with Hanson. I might have a current favorite at any given moment for a variety of reasons, but it always changes. But for approximately 45 minutes on January 9, 2022, I was a full-fledged Taylor girl. It happened. First, he opened his solo set with my favorite Hanson song of all time, "Feeling Alive." "Feeling Alive" led into "Crazy Beautiful," and I've gushed about that song being one of the reasons I got back into Hanson enough times that I'm not going to do it again. Next was "You Never Know," which I know in a previous year I proclaimed was Taylor's best performance of anything ever, and it was no less amazing this day. I freaking love the piano. Then he played "Out of My Head" which I've always overlooked in the past but I couldn't not love it in person and felt lucky to be standing there hearing it live. (click here for video)

I absolutely loved the new song "Child at Heart" which will be the first single from RGB, and it has me incredibly excited to hear this new project. Taylor apologized for his guitar skills but as much as I adore him on the piano, it was a fun way to switch things up with a different sound that I can't wait to hear more of. I'm a little afraid of not loving the studio version as much as I loved this stripped down version because I'm not sure I have the capacity for such a thing.

I was already dying of happiness by this point, but then he ended his set with "Sounds Like Joy" which is such a gorgeous song both melodically and lyrically, and I hope it gets an official release one day so I can overplay it to the point of sickness.

Literally everything about Taylor's show was just pure perfection from the song choice to the delivery and how he sounded, and it had me walking away going "This is my favorite band. This is why I'm here." I may be reaching, but it felt like he knew things have been rough and there was some residual disappointment about the photos, and he really understood the assignment and went a little above and beyond to make it feel more special. 

(Full disclosure, I made involuntary heart eyes at him and said something about it being perfect as he left the stage...then wrote a fangirl post on Instagram...then may or may not have also mentioned it to him on an airplane....and now I'm doing it again here. I think I've reached my limit for exactly how much I can gush about this one show on all the platforms including twice to Taylor's face, so feel free to set up an intervention if I keep going on about it after this moment. It was just so good. 😍)


Family Feud was more enjoyable to me with the dynamic of two brothers hosting it instead of just one, but I think I'm mostly over this game as a side event. I really do not enjoy being put on the spot on stage and chose not to join a team even when my friends got called up and had an extra spot to fill. I prefer the smaller more interactive events of past years like tie dye or bracelet making, or even Cards Against Humanity because handing in a card that Zac has to read while I get to sit there quietly is my ideal level of crowd interaction. If we're going to keep the co-hosted large scale game format, I hope we either try something new next year or go back to a year of CAH.

Then there's the afterparty, which is never really my favorite, but I am all for future dance parties being pool parties going forward. I got to lay on a float in a side pool that nobody else bothered getting in, and it was such a social distance happy place for me. The only thing that would have made it better is if the pool was heated or if there was a hot tub in the vicinity. If circumstances were different I would have loved to be in the main pool mingling with more people, but my comfort zone just isn't there, and that's part of why I hope we get to have this experience again during a time when I would be comfortable being in the bigger crowd. 

At the very end, Taylor jumped right into the big pool with everyone in it, and it was even faster than the time he ran into the ocean. I saw him run, jump up, disappear, and run back out all within like a 20 second span. He wasted no time sticking around but turned the excitement level way up for everyone in that area, which again probably would have been more fun during a time where it would have been safer for him to be in a crowd for longer. (Then again, will there really ever be a safe time for Taylor to spend more time in a pool full of fans?) Nobody had time to do anything crazy, but I was impressed with everyone giving him space anyway.

As for the special guests, I don't have much to say about Raging Fyah, but what I do have to say is 100% praise. I really enjoyed getting to see a Jamaican band while in Jamaica. We've had much smaller scale local entertainment with steel drum bands and dancers performing before dinner or singers with an instrument or two around the bonfire, but nothing to this scale of a Grammy-nominated band. I didn't know most of their music but they played several covers that were impossible not to recognize (including Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" with some truly impressive vocals), and I really liked one of their original songs called "Never Give Up." I'm glad they had the opportunity to join us!

Photos With The Band

If you attended BTTI or followed any updates from fans online, you're probably already aware that we received a notification the day of the first show alerting us that "out of an abundance of caution" photos with the band were being canceled. As you can imagine, this came as a huge shock to all of us attending, and the initial message led me to believe that they were trying to come up with some piece of memorabilia to send us once we got home to make up for it. I was disappointed for myself, but I was more devastated for those attending for the first time. I'm fortunate enough to have photos from past BTTIs and as long as BTTI continues, I know I'll have more in the future. I also know plenty of people save up for years and make plans to attend once in a lifetime knowing that they'll probably never make it back, so the idea of having a major selling point and the only opportunity for them to ever get a solo photo with the band taken away is heartbreaking.

I think the overall consensus was shared outrage, but I saw several unkind messages from fans not at the event insulting others for putting so much worth on a photo and demanding that we be grateful that we got to attend at all. The insinuation was that anyone upset was petty, selfish, and privileged. While I was not outraged on a personal level and trusted that the volume of complaints would lead to some action better than a mailed piece of merch, I fully understand being upset, needing to vent, and asking for a better fix. Yes, we were all "lucky" to have made it, but most of us jumped through a ton of hoops to get there, whether that means working two jobs, saving for years, driving two panicked hours to find a last minute rapid test, or isolating from our friends and families during the holidays to ensure a negative test. We weren't "lucky" to be there in the sense that this trip just easily fell into our laps; we worked hard to get there and are allowed to feel disappointment at not getting part of what we were promised.

I'm all for creating realistic expectations, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with expecting something you were promised in writing and paid money to receive. That's not being ungrateful, that's basic business. Next time you make a large purchase at a store and the favorite expensive purse you found gets left out of the bag, please remember to be grateful for the things that were put in the bag and remember that some stranger somewhere would be thrilled to have even a portion of what's in there. Also don't ask for the purse or a refund on it because that would be ~selfish. I mean, what?

That being said, I'm not blind to the state of the world or Covid and I do get why the decision was made (even if similar precautions weren't being taken during other events). I'm sure it was a tough choice for whoever had to make it and it honestly may have saved us from an outbreak, but thankfully we'll never have to know. In the end, they offered everyone at BTTI a free ticket to a show of our choice on the upcoming tour as well as a M&G photo at the show, and that feels plenty sufficient to me. I hope that everyone who attended BTTI will be able to get to a tour stop and take advantage of it. 

Sappy Endings

You know my usual pattern in the concluding paragraphs here, but I'm going to take a slightly different direction this time. This year's sappy ending is brought to you by arbitrary milestones instead of reruns of "I needed my happy place during this unhappy time and I'm so glad Hanson provided it."

There was a nice symmetry for me with our return to Jewel Paradise Cove this year because the very first show Hanson played there in 2016 was my 100th, and now the last show at the Jewel was my 200th. As far as defining who I am as a person or trying to categorize me in some non-existent hierarchy of fans, telling you this is about as meaningless as telling you I've eaten 3,400 apples in my lifetime and trying to compare it to someone else's apple count. It literally does not matter, and I hate the weird dynamic that happens between some fans when it comes to bringing up how many shows you've been to like it's this taboo subject. Do we all need to keep track and compare? Of course not. Is there something wrong with keeping track if you do? Also no. There's probably an issue if you blast your number at people constantly and state it like it's an A+ on a test, but most of us aren't doing that.

So here's what I'm celebrating and why I keep track, and it's not really about a triple digit number at all. I think the real reason I keep count is a part of me will always remember when my answer was zero, when I was young and my future was this big question mark full of possibilities, and I had a massive desire to dive headfirst into this crazy fanbase that normalized following a band and getting to see the world. I had no idea what I was doing but just enough crazy optimism to believe I could make it happen. That part of me that always wants more is still in there, still traveling to shows, and still celebrating the fact that she has somehow managed to do this crazy thing that she wanted. It's not about celebrating an exact number, it's about still being grateful for every single one that came before it. I hope I'm fortunate enough to celebrate #300 on a beach with you guys one day, too.

P.S. I forgot to explain the nighstand. Cliff's notes edition:
Live grasshopper + night stand drawer + bathroom quarantine = sleep.

December 28, 2021

BTTI Essentials: A Packing List

Today's procrastination technique: writing about packing instead of actually packing. May my past fails be your future successes. If you're headed to the next Back To the Island or are considering going at a later date, here are a few things you should bring that may not make your regular packing list:

1. A pen you can easily reach mid-flight. You'll have to fill out a customs card before you land, and airlines don't provide enough pens for each passenger. If you don't bring your own, you'll have to awkwardly wait to borrow one from a stranger, and that's even less exciting during a pandemic.

2. A physical paper with your return flight details and the address of where you're staying. The customs form that you'll be filling out with that handy pen you remembered to pack is going to ask for the resort address. If you're like me, you'll try to look it up on your phone and realize there's no international flight wifi. Next you'll dig through the BTTI packet that you printed and realize it's not in there either.

You'll also have to fill out a card with your return flight number and time before you're allowed to board the bus to the resort, and there's no airport wifi outside to access your confirmation email. Save yourself the trouble and have all of this information written down, or at the very least, have screenshots.

3. Plenty of small bills for tipping. Yes, it's all-inclusive, but tips are appreciated and often expected even though they're not required. As for currency, if you have American money and don't plan on leaving the resort, don't bother exchanging. USD is welcome and is also preferred over credit cards in the gift shops.

4. A folder to pack your autographed photo in for the trip home. Unless you like creases.

5. A few Ziploc bags big enough for wet swimsuits/clothing for the trip home. It's humid in Jamaica. The wet thing you took off yesterday is not going to be dry today.

6. Basic first aid supplies and medicines. Bandaids, Neosporin, Ibuprofen, Pepto Bismol, Nyquil, Benadryl, etc. Anything medical that you MIGHT need, pack it. If you have to track any down once you arrive, you either won't find it at all, or you'll pay 5x what you would have paid if you brought it with you. 

7. Shoes you can wear in the water. The beach at the Jewel is less rocky than the Melia, but there are a few areas in the water with pointy rocks and sea urchins, and you can't tell until you're standing on them. All I'm saying is if you don't pack #7, you're definitely going to need #6.

Bonus TMI: It's not that common, but I've known more than one fan to contract hookworms in their feet from going barefoot at past BTTIs. Don't let that scare you away from taking your shoes off, but I would avoid walking shoeless in the grass or even being barefoot for extended periods of time in the sand. You can blame the cute cats that roam freely around the resort with some innate cat instinct to identify sand as their litter box.

8. Bug spray. Some people swear it's unnecessary and that they never get bitten at BTTI, but I can definitely remember itchy ankles after shows when I forgot to put any on. It's not an issue during the day, but as soon as the sun starts going down, I swap out sunscreen for bug spray. A friend getting bitten in the face by a mosquito and having to show up to photo day with a swollen eye is also enough of a cautionary tale to keep it on my packing list (and my body) indefinitely.

9. One light-weight layering piece just in case it's windy or cool at night. If you're from some cold place that wears shorts when it's 55 degrees out, you can probably skip this one. Fellow southerners, you're welcome.

10. Less clothing. I overpacked SO MUCH that I never wore the first year. Every person has their own style and preferences, so pack for your own comfort zone, but I quickly found that my happy place is swimsuits under a coverup or a summer dress. That's it. No pants. One pair of shorts that I may or may not actually wear. No more than four pairs of shoes including my water shoes and whatever I wore on the plane. If you want to go carry-on only, it's doable with a little work.

P.S. Don't forget to leave space to bring home any souvenirs you might want as well as your merchandise package which always includes a towel and a t-shirt. Also, don't pack toy water guns because they'll cause an embarrassing misunderstanding about firearms and get confiscated by Immigration...but that's another story.

Happy packing! Feel free to leave a comment with your own packing essentials.

November 12, 2021

Against The World Release

It's official. Hanson's latest album/project/controversially labeled collection of songs, Against The World, is finally out in full. I tried to get on board with the unique release format and honor the band's wishes of giving each song the spotlight for a month by posting a separate blog about each, but I'm admitting defeat here in the 11th hour with the final two songs. I don't have it in me to write two full blog posts about "One" and "Fearless," and I'm not going to feign inspiration and write something that winds up terrible just to see it through. Please don't mistake this for disinterest; I like the music, I just don't like forced writing for the sake of meeting a deadline when the inspiration isn't there. I imagine a certain band feeling pressure to write new music would understand.

If you'd like to check out my posts about the first five tracks, you can find those here:

Don't Ever Change
Only Love
Against The World

Instead of talking about the final two tracks or the album as a whole, I mostly want to talk about the unique release method of Against The World and how much of an impact it has had on my consumption of this music.

Speaking of consumption, I don’t know what your Thanksgiving dinner traditions look like or if you even celebrate Thanksgiving, but let me start an excessive food analogy by telling you a little bit about mine. I LOVE food. I want a little bit of everything on my plate, and I don’t care if my foods touch. I’m not the kind of psychopath that mixes everything together into a cranberry-infused abomination, but I’m of the opinion that some foods are just better together and can enhance each others’ flavors when eaten in succession or combination. I would never eat my turkey separate from my dressing. None of that finishing all of one food before moving onto the next, and I’m sure if you told me I had to eat all of my sweet potatoes before trying something else, I’d be 1) sick of sweet potatoes by the time I finished, even though I love them, and 2) mad that I’m out of sweet potatoes later. Just let me sample everything and alternate bites so I can enjoy the variety. The best part about Thanksgiving isn’t that we get to have turkey or macaroni and cheese or pumpkin pie; it’s that we get to have turkey AND macaroni and cheese AND pumpkin pie. It’s the combination and the variety of options and the ability to gorge yourself on all of it at once that really makes it a special occasion and not just another macaroni and cheese Thursday.

Now replace “sweet potato casserole” and “turkey” and “macaroni and cheese” and “pumpkin pie” with “Don’t Ever Change” and “Against The World” and “Annalie” and “Stronger,” and my food analogy is complete. In short, I like the dishes. I like the holiday. But to me, delivering them course by course feels a lot like taking the magic of a full album and and dividing up the ingredients in a way that detracts from the overall enjoyment rather than enhancing it. It’s like I feel full but still hungry all at once, and I don’t really know how to digest that feeling.

I probably don’t need to explain that I was skeptical when the announcement of Against The World revealed that we’d be getting one single per month over the course of seven months. I know my music consumption habits just as well as my Thanksgiving ones, and there’s no escaping the fact that my favorite way to listen to a new album is all at once in my own little vacuum that doesn’t really exist, but that I try really hard to preserve anyway. If you’re lucky enough to experience it, there’s something magical about getting your hands on a brand new album that you’ve never heard before. That first listen is pure, full of potential, and untainted by critics and outside opinions. I suppose the same is true when you’re counting down the seconds to a midnight release of a single song, but there’s just something more satisfying about the sensory overload of being hit with so many new songs all at once, sorting through how they all flow together, and finding out which ones you’re drawn to from the beginning. I knew that I wouldn’t get that with Against The World, but after the initial shock of the announcement wore off, I tried to keep an open mind. It might not be my ideal way to experience a new album, but I wanted to give Hanson’s preferred process a chance the way that they intended it to be experienced.

Honestly, having a song to look forward to every month for the better part of a year was exciting (the book nerd in me really wants to refer to this as a “slow burn” experience, which can be an effective way to build anticipation). I don’t think we have ever in the history of Hanson had this level of frequent music releases, and while it was drawn out, it was almost challenging to keep up with at times. With real life happening between releases, a couple of trips to Tulsa, and other responsibilities in general, despite the lingering anticipation, some months seemed to go by in the blink of an eye and I would find myself yet another week behind in reviewing the latest song. If Hanson has ever struggled with fans jumping ship during droughts of creative silence and lack of content, this certainly seems like a solid way to keep the interest alive.

Which brings me to the simple fact that no matter how strong my personal preferences may be, I am not the average music consumer, and if you’re reading this incredibly niche super fan blog, spoiler alert: you probably aren’t either. We are simultaneously Hanson’s target audience and NOT Hanson’s target audience. The truth is while us die hards may be Hanson’s ideal audience, the type of fans that jump in and cling on for dear life and allow them the luxury of continuing to do what they’re doing, we are not the audience that they have to actively target. They’ve already got us. They know we are listening. Instead, I think you could argue that the real "target" is getting more fans. New fans. Casual music lovers who may be willing to listen to a random new single that pops up in their timeline but are not actually out there waiting on pins and needles for that vacuum-sealed magical music experience of an entirely new album that they may not have the patience, desire, or funds to listen to all at once. I really can’t fault Hanson for knowing this and for trying something outside of the box in a world where the music industry is always changing.

Though it has certainly been exciting getting new music constantly, I can't say it really feels like getting a new album (and I think I would feel this way whether it was 7 songs or 14). It still feels solidly "other" to me, like String Theory. Not bad, just not like a fresh new album, almost like if you'd given me short 10-minute mini episodes of a really good TV show once a week and then told me at the end that I'd just watched a full movie. It might be true, but it still doesn't feel the same.

What it comes down to is I think I really like the individual pieces from Against The World, but I've been a bit too distracted by the packaging and think I need some time to gain perspective and get over the lingering foreign feeling to truly appreciate it. There are some great songs in this collection, and I can't help but wonder if I had stumbled into this fan base five years from now, would I be raving about Against The World while going “What’s the big deal?” any time someone inevitably brings up the ATW era like it was some bad moment that fans made it past? Give it a couple of years and I will probably look back on these songs with a happy nostalgia and reread this entry and laugh at how extra I was feeling because boo hoo, my favorite band gave me good music but in a weird new way that challenged my dislike of change. I suppose not liking the package a good gift comes in is a first-world problem if I ever heard of one, but the purpose of this blog existing in the first place was to give an honest depiction of fan life, so here we are. In conclusion, I am still at this table and ready to dig in, but my personal opinion? It should've always been as one.

October 19, 2021

Against The World: Stronger

When Hanson announced Against The World, I committed to writing a blog entry per song. They chose this song-per-month release format to give each song the attention it deserves, and for better or for worse, I signed on to blog in that same format for the duration of the project. At first I kind of liked the idea of challenging myself to dig deeper into every song. There can be no skip songs here, and I was curious to see where that would lead.

While writing an entire blog post about a single song is not new territory for me, I have only ever done it when inspiration struck and I had some grand-feeling epiphany about a song. I have only ever done it when the words were already building up in my head and practically begging to be let out. Making an advanced commitment to write about a song I haven't even heard is a little scary. What if I don't like it? What if I don't "get" it and have nothing to say? What if I love it to death, but we're five songs in, and I'm just kind of over the concept of making myself do this thing that I have only ever done out of desire, and turning it into an obligation makes it not so fun anymore?

That's where I'm at now. "Stronger" is a truly amazing song, and I can already tell you it deserves better than this blog of duty when it might have been a blog of passion if I hadn't turned it into a homework assignment all those months ago. I sucked the fun right out of it, which is a shame because I do believe this is one of those songs that would have demanded my attention and my word count all on its own. I'll do my best to do it justice anyway.

So "Stronger." I want to take this one in a different direction and instead of forcing a close reading of lyrics that are already pretty self-explanatory, I want to take you through my first impression of hearing it. I accidentally watched a few seconds of a clip Taylor posted of his hands playing the piano on Instagram days before "Stronger" was released. When I heard the notes he was playing, I immediately thought "Dear God, PLEASE let this be from the new single, and if not, please don't let this beautiful piece of music stay hidden in the vault."

The first time I listened to "Stronger," I did it alone in my room at midnight with my earbuds in and my eyes closed. I didn't get distracted by all the pretty northern lights in the music video or the dramatic stage lighting (which is actually really cool and very well done). And when I pressed play for the first time and heard those opening piano notes, my grin was instant and involuntary. 

When the harmonies hit about 47 seconds in, I felt giddy. THIS is what good music feels like: adrenaline and butterflies and threats of tears regardless of whether you're experiencing it live in a symphony hall with the best acoustics or sitting alone in your room, completely transported by a pair of cheap headphones and the simple magic of stacked sibling harmonies. 

The 1:03 mark introduced strings, and with it, a subtle connection to String Theory. I found myself wondering if they ever play another String Theory show, would they consider reworking newer songs that fit the story and the style? "Stronger" is exactly the type of powerhouse that deserves to be backed by a symphony orchestra. (This is also the part where I admit that I initially thought this second verse was sung by Zac. It wasn't until I was watching the video for the first time hours later that I realized it was Taylor!)

At 1:16, we get five rapidly ascending notes from a harpsichord, and that was the first moment I went from fully on board and in love to suddenly unsure where this train was heading. Ten seconds before, I'd been imagining String Theory, and then suddenly I was transported to "An Evening At The Big Top," which is not a place I'm sure Hanson meant to take me. That minor introduction of a few notes on a harpsichord was all it took for me to hear the beat of the piano chords in an entirely new way, and I couldn't help but get this sudden cyclical circus-y feeling like someone was slowly turning the handle of a jack-in-the-box, and we're on a carousel inside. I didn't dislike any of it; I just no longer knew what direction this song was about to take. Maybe it wasn't the beautifully safe piano ballad I thought it was going to be.

At 1:47, an electric guitar sneaks in on top of those stacked harmonies, and I for sure no longer knew where we were headed, but man I wanted to go there anyway. The song progressively takes off from there with more guitar, more harmonies, and more Queen vibes before finally crashing back down to a single stripped-down note at the end. It leaves you feeling like that abrupt stop at the end of a great rollercoaster where you're already climbing out of your seat, but your mind and body still haven't caught up from the fact that you were hanging upside down at 80 mph just 20 seconds before.

"Stronger" is not the piano ballad I thought I was signing up for when I pressed play. During that first listen, it felt progressive and even experimental at times, not taking any of the safe, String-Theory-esque turns I expected it to take after such a simple and beautiful opening. After listening a few more times, I accepted the harpsichord and the guitar and the Queeny harmonies, and it no longer feels as "out there" as it did on that first listen. I still can't explain the circus feels and won't try to invent some conspiracy theory level explanation, but I'm curious if it was intentional, and if so, what was the intent?

Thematically, the lyrics are straight-forward and I won't bother with an analysis, but I will say that I like the overall sense that it's about someone striving to be better, and the song itself gets progressively "stronger" by adding in more voices, more instruments, and ultimately more support from others. Taylor also talked about this some in a speech he gave the first time they performed this song live back in September. He mentioned a special music teacher, Ron Anderson, who helped him at a time when he was struggling vocally to be strong enough to perform all over the world as a young band. It was a touching moment and I think one of my biggest takeaways from this song and from that bit of insight is that we are ultimately stronger when we work together and when we accept help from those who are willing to give it. 

I think if I had not roped myself into this series of ATW blogs, the blog I would have naturally written about "Stronger" would have been tying it to the themes in "All I Know" (and maybe also "Believe"). I would've talked about how "Stronger" feels like a progression of that utterly defeated person in "All I Know" waking up and feeling the slightest bit more hopeful that maybe he's not about to reach an end, maybe he can find his way, but all he knows is that he needs to be stronger to get out of that place. Maybe one day I'll feel like writing it, or maybe giving it one paragraph here is all it really needs anyway.

So final thoughts? Falling victim to the unavoidable wordplay opportunity here, I have to say that "Stronger" is the "strongest" song yet from ATW. The piano is breathtaking, the lyrics are powerful and full of raw emotion, and I never stood a chance against those harmonies. Despite its theme about not feeling adequate and striving to be stronger, "Stronger" itself is certainly not suffering from any of those shortcomings.

Hanson: *writes song about feeling weak and inadequate*
Song: *is the strongest, most impressive release of the entire project so far*

October 10, 2021

Listener's Choice: ATW + Concert Series

When You Have No Flight To Guide You

Welcome to the trip that almost didn't happen. I'd like to start by giving a shoutout to American Airlines for having more cancellations in one day than Hanson had in all of 2020. What a truly remarkable accomplishment.

I started out with a flight to Tulsa the night before the first show. As in, about 24 hours early. As in, if anything goes wrong there should be a multitude of other options and plenty of time to get me there. Wrong.

First, my flight from my home airport was delayed. No big deal; I go to the counter and they're able to switch me to a later connection that still gets me to Tulsa about 1.5 hours after my original flight. I'm all set...until the flight from my home airport gets "delayed" until 6am the next morning due to maintenance. My first thought is okay this sucks, but that's still plenty of time to get in tomorrow afternoon, and if I'm going to be stuck overnight somewhere, I might as well be stuck at home.

Then things get crazy. First, I get an email saying I've been automatically rebooked on a new flight and telling me there are other rebooking options if what they gave me didn't work. What they gave me was a flight that landed during the first show...in a city in Arkansas? So apparently that's a thing now, canceling your flight and sending you to an adjacent city. When I speak with an agent they tell me that the news is grim and that even looking at all options from their partnerships with other airlines, there are no flights that can get me to Tulsa until 11:30pm the following night. AFTER the first show. I tell them I'm willing to drive a few hours to a different airport if needed, but the results are the same. There's nothing in a 200 mile radius from home that can get me to Tulsa before that first show. I even check outside airlines, well aware that I'd just have to pay for another flight out of pocket, but the results are no better. The universe does not want me in Tulsa on October 1st.

Thankfully, my friend that lives in Tulsa is a part-time superhero and offers to pick me up in a different city if I can get to another airport in the vicinity of Tulsa. I have the agent check the next closest airport to her. Still nothing. So after four hours in the airport, I give up and let them rebook me on the 11:30pm flight the following night and walk out close to tears, resigned to accept the fact that if I'm lucky, I'll get ONE show.

I'm in my car about a block from the airport when I get a call from my friend telling me that she found a flight to Kansas City that she can drive to that would get me in that same night. The kicker: the flight is at 8pm. I look at my clock and it is 7:20 and I'm no longer in the airport. I activate illegal U-turn mode. I call customer service and by some miracle, someone answers on the first ring and confirms that there are seats on both flights if I want it. I tell her YES, put me on that flight, and explain that I am running back into the airport as we speak. She goes "Wait, you’re not in the airport? What time is it in your time zone?", and when I tell her, she tries to talk me out of it and says that the flight is already boarding and I still have to make it through security and they might not let me board. She tells me that if she changes my flight and I don't make it, then I've also lost the other flight for the following night. I tell her to do it anyway, she reluctantly listens, and I sprint through security and thank God for southern hospitality as I dash past the few people in line, asking their permission while I'm already ahead of them. They all give me encouragement and tell me "GO! You're going to make it!"

I'm the last person on the flight, but I do make it. I message my friends that the crisis is averted, sorry for the long drive ahead, but see you tonight after all, etc. I go to put my phone in airplane mode at the same time I get a notification from my airline app: flight number whatever to Kansas City has been canceled. We're taking off and I'm now on a plane to nowhere useful because I no longer have a connection and it's too late to deplane. I desperately message my friends and tell them please look for anything else while I fly.

Once I'm in the air long enough to get wifi, I see that my friends have miraculously found a flight into Oklahoma City, which is even closer to Tulsa than my canceled Kansas City flight. I spend the whole short flight terrified that there won't be a free seat for me, but my luck takes a positive turn and I manage to get a seat on this savior of a flight. Suddenly I'm back on track to get to Tulsa the same night, and my friends get to cut their drive in half. It's a win-win. I get to the Oklahoma City gate with plenty of time...only to see another message that says "Delayed" with no new ETA for takeoff. We wait 30 minutes, then an hour past takeoff time while maintenance tries to figure out what's wrong. Finally somebody comes to the counter and tells us the plane won't be able to take off until 7am the following morning, BUT, they have us a new plane in another terminal, we just have to get over there and wait for them to do safety checks and we'll be on our way. THANK GOD.

We all make the trek across the airport and wait. And wait. And then we're being told that maintenance will have an updated boarding time for us soon because of course there’s some maintenance issue with this new plane too, and then I'm cackling out loud by myself in a crowd of people because literally what else is there left for me to do? I've just spent a combined 8 hours in two airports and I'm only 150 miles from home. I could have driven to this airport in less than half that time.

We finally, FINALLY take off, everyone around me grumbling at the super late arrival time, and I'm just discreetly grinning under my mask because I really had resigned myself to not seeing the first show. My friends pick me up and we find ourselves eating gas station hot dogs and taquitos at 3am, get to our hotel at 4am, and don't actually go to bed until 5. It's the most obnoxiously real "tour" thing that has happened since 2017, and I love it.

Here We Go Round Again

We all bent over backwards to get me there, so the only thing left to do is gush over how worth it all that effort was. Right? The truth is I had a lot of fun, but I was also a little disappointed by the setlists being the exact same songs both nights, and it reminded me a lot of how I felt after the first BTTI: happy to be there, underwhelmed by the setlist repeats, and then guilty for not just being happy. My expectations were probably too high for these shows because I really loved the January Listener's Choice series and the fact that Hanson snuck a few surprises into those sets. I had no real reason to think this would be the same, but I was expecting at least a little deviation from the voting and was definitely not expecting all of the same songs twice. I can’t help but wonder if maybe it was a case of Hanson knowing we all loved the January Listener’s Choice shows but not really understanding why we loved them so much and missing the mark while trying to replicate it. I can’t speak for the class, but I think the positive reaction to the first Listener's Choice overall had less to do with us getting to vote and more to do with what we got to vote on, the extras Hanson brought on their own, and the fact that the shows weren’t identical.

Only Love

Rest assured, despite the disappointments, I can still muster up some of my usual cheesy praise: The mere existence of the piano in “Crazy Beautiful” is a work of art in itself. “If Only” acoustic feels a little bit like trying to feed myself ice cream with my non-dominant hand while wearing my shoes on the wrong feet because it’s so foreign not to be jumping, but I love it despite the innate feeling of wrongness. I'm considering converting to the church of Isaac every time I hear “Only Love.” I'm pretty sure the guitar part of "Don't Ever Change" actually changes every time, but I love the feel of that song and the ridiculous strobe lights it's necessary to switch on my light up mask when it gets played. Also, “Stronger” is the best song of 2021 so far and is so gorgeous and raw that I may be at risk for salmonella.

Just As Long As I Get To Go

In conclusion, attending an underwhelming Hanson show is still better than attending no Hanson show, and I had fun regardless of the setlist, I just wish I could be writing a different blog about how I had fun because of the setlist and not despite it. In the grand scheme of things it's an absurdly first-world problem, and sometimes you have to actively choose to get over yourself and have a good time and turn down the tempting option to have a pity party instead. Poor me, getting to attend multiple shows and having to hear a bunch of songs I like TWICE. I think I'll survive.

On a happy note, one of my favorite moments was getting to hear “Carry You There” at the end of the first night, partly because I was so happy it beat WYIYD, and partly because it felt like an anthem for this trip that almost didn’t happen. I found myself giggling during “You don’t need a Cadillac,” because after my flight experience, I SO needed a Cadillac. I’m grateful to have friends that are caring and crazy enough to drop everything and drive to carry me there in the middle of the night just to make sure I don’t have any FOMO and miss something epic during the first show (#irony). Now let’s pretend I’m just as grateful to have a favorite band considerate enough to play the same show twice in case I really did have to miss the first one. 

September 4, 2021

Against The World

Welcome to another edition of ex-English teacher Hanson fan gets carried away analyzing lyrics and seeing connections between songs.

You don't have to read my past posts about "Tonight" and "Feeling Alive" to make sense of this review, but at the very least you'll need a TL;DR summary: "Tonight" is about a band that feels defeated and is struggling not to throw in the towel and give up. "Feeling Alive" is a continuation of said band having made it through that rough night to the next morning and feeling ready to fight together and push forward.

Thematically, I think "Against The World" fits nicely into a grouping with these two songs as well as "This Time Around." I won't draw you another Venn Diagram, but all of them have similar themes of going into a battle and being willing to protect something that's worth fighting for, regardless of the potential outcome.

I love, love, love the lyrics in ATW because they manage to tell the story of an underdog band striving to keep going in the face of difficulty (oh hi, Cliffs Notes String Theory!) while also being full of references to Hanson's past work (which in itself feels like some meta connection to all the Hanson references in "Tonight." What can I say--Hanson aren't the only ones who like to reach). The word nerd in me is in love with the first line of the song which somehow manages to be an entirely new lyric while mashing up references to two past ones:

"If tonight we reach, it won't be for the first time." = "Tonight is the first night, tonight is the last night." + "I am reaching for the sky."

They're saying that they're no strangers to "reaching" for something more, which is evident if you know anything about Hanson's history and past songs. The first verse talks about belonging with the "restless," the "rebels," and the "dreamers." It's vague enough to apply to just about any scenario where people persevere in the face of obstacles because they feel driven by a passion, but I think it fits well with casting them in the company of other musicians who have been cut by the metaphorical rock 'n' roll razorblade. "Only the good die young" is certainly a Billy Joel reference, and I may be reading too much into "Landslide" being a reference to Fleetwood Mac, but it definitely tips me in the direction of interpreting this whole verse as Hanson feeling a kinship with other hardworking artists.

The second verse reminds me the most of that drive to fight in "Feeling Alive" and also has connections to "Reaching For The Sky" with its mention of climbing a ladder despite having reservations. They're not that Broken Angel from pre-Underneath anymore--or rather, they're not going to allow themselves to be defined by it--and they aren't going to let some broken wings stop them from jumping in and giving it everything they've got.

The final chorus is the most reminiscent of "Tonight" with the subtle lyric change from "If tonight we reach, it won't be for the first time" to "But tonight we reach, it might be for the last time." It's a shift from saying "IF we reach" to a more definite "Tonight we reach," but shifts the uncertainty to the outcome. The line "Can't swear we'll still be standing at sunrise" means they know that they might not win, but they think it's worth the fight anyway. Know what else says that? "Tonight I won't stand still, even if we don't survive" and "Don't wait for tomorrow's daylight, 'cause it just might be tonight." And if they don't win? Well, you can't say they didn't give it their all.

One of my favorite parts is the very end when Taylor's singing "I hear you say, let me hear you say it's just you and me and us against the world." Even though it comes after about a dozen repetitions of that title line and might be brushed off as typical Hanson phrasing variation, I can't help but notice that for the first time in the song, it sounds like he's speaking directly to the audience. In all the other choruses it's easy to believe that "It's just you and me and us against the world" might be the band singing to each other; it's Hanson vs. the world. But that ending, that "I hear you say, let me hear you say" feels like tearing down the fourth wall and inviting the audience just like he calls for a lifting of hands and voices in "Feeling Alive." Suddenly we're invited to be part of the "Us," and we're a much larger force to be reckoned with than three guys on their own. It feels like a thanks for sticking by them even when it hasn't been easy and crediting a little bit of their drive to keep going to fans that have done the same.

It also hit me that "you and me and us" is lyrically parallel to "me myself and I" and further highlights the difference between giving up because you're feeling alone and soldiering on when you have someone to fight beside you. I have no idea if that was intentional, but it was a beautiful coincidence if not.

It's a great song worthy of its title track position. If only I didn't need Dramamine to accompany the music video.

P.S. I have no excuse for thinking the first chorus sounds like Wilson Phillips, but it was my first reaction the moment it started playing, and I am here for that sound. 

August 29, 2021

I Get Around: Iowa State Fair

I had no intention of being at this show. When it was announced well over a year ago alongside the possibility of a world tour with new music, I told myself I'd rather save my PTO for something more worth the effort. Why spend money on a flight to Iowa for a one-off show with a predictable setlist when I could buy a flight to a tour stop, potentially hit 5+ shows in a row, and get new music? It was an easy pass for me.

Fast forward to the summer of 2021. Out of my last 17 shows, 16 were at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa. I'm grateful for every one of them, but suddenly the prospect of seeing Hanson open for the Beach Boys in Iowa seemed downright exotic. Throw in an unexpected John Stamos appearance, and two weeks before the show, my resolve to hold out crumbled. The only problem was I had already requested off part of the week right before to see Hanson in Tulsa again. I would have to make a last minute time off request and also somehow operate as a functional adult at work on about three weeks of no actual downtime. I started to talk myself out of it as fast as I had gotten on board.

The deciding factor came down to one final question that I asked myself, a variation of the same question I've used more than once to push myself to do/go/be when I'm starting to question if I should stop/stay/rest:

Years from now, are you going to remember that extra day of sleep, or are you going to remember the night you saw Hanson join The Beach Boys and John Stamos on stage?

It works every time.

I'd love to tell you that we showed up early and enjoyed the food and the rides and say clever things about how we had the perfect summer day where Hanson opened for The Beach Boys, and the fair opened for Hanson. But truthfully, it was hot and crowded in the middle of a pandemic, and as I get older my motion sickness on rides grows inversely proportional to my trust in fair construction, so we showed up at 5:30pm just in time to find a secluded corner to eat a corndog. 

Hanson's set was mostly as predictable as I would have guessed over a year ago, but just seeing them that happy and getting to be there to support them made it something special anyway. They played longer than I expected for an opener and got in a full 13 songs. Highlights for me were getting to hear "Give a Little" for the first time in what feels like way too long, and living through the awkward moment of attempting the TBS dance alone since I bought my ticket too late to sit with friends. It's definitely more of a group project. I was surprised that they didn't play any of the new singles from Against The World, but I got to hear them all the week before and really can't complain. I just thought it was a good opportunity to share their new music with a larger audience.

I really wasn't sure what to expect from The Beach Boys set, but the show was incredibly fun. They blew through song after song with a full ten-piece band including John Stamos on drums and guitar, one of the original member's sons, and a guy that can really nail an unexpected flute solo. The whole crowd sang along, and it was impossible not to join in and dance like we were all going to be in a music video about surfing.

I expected Hanson to show up for the encore, but I did not expect the encore to be three songs or for one of them to be a Hanson song. They started out with "Summertime Blues," and I immediately thought of the videos I've seen of tiny Hanson singing it a capella. Next was "Where's The Love" where The Beach Boys band played the music and Hanson provided the vocals. I know Taylor usually gets in the occasional "round and round" arm spin on WTL, but it was cute seeing the whole band get into it for lack of anything else to do with their hands. (Cue Taylor making dad puns and pointing to Mike Love after saying "Where's The Love".)

"Fun, Fun, Fun" was the highlight of the night with Taylor singing lead and Hanson looking so gleeful to be up there with musicians they've clearly admired since childhood. At one point John Stamos disappeared, then ran out to the front center of the stage and opened his jacket to reveal an old school Hanson shirt to the crowd. We ate it up, and I think Hanson was really enjoying the love and antics as well. 

I feel like this blog is starting to sound like the song title with the amount of times I've used the word "fun," but it really, really was. It was great to see everyone on stage and in the crowd having such a good time and enjoying what felt like a celebration of live music together, regardless of who we actually came to see or what decade we were born. I'm glad I got to experience The Beach Boys and a moment of music history that will never happen in that same way again. Getting to see an older band show up decades after their original hits and still filling the stands with fans spanning several generations was as treat that I can only hope is a glimpse into our own future. Who knows, maybe one day I'll be looking up at 80-year-old Hanson, surrounded by fans of a younger band and feeling connected by a timeless love of good music, and I'll think back on this day.

Whether I have that luxury or not, I certainly won't be 80-years-old looking back on that fantastic night of sleep I got in my 30s (if only because I've deprived myself of most of them). No regrets.