May 30, 2017

Hanson Day 2017

I’ve been very fortunate as a Hanson fan and have found myself in more than a few situations that made me stop and think “If I could tell 9-year-old me what I’m doing right now…” Let’s just say 1997 me would be pretty impressed or in a constant state of disbelief with a lot of the situations I've wound up in over the last decade.

This is the year I would have to break it to 9-year-old Holly that present day Holly would have a ticket to a sold out Dance Party hosted by Taylor Hanson but opted to have donuts and go to bed early instead. I guess the 20th/25th anniversary is a fine time to realize you’re not a kid anymore, and Hanson Day 2017 provided plenty of opportunities to feel old and tired with a jam-packed schedule of events, plenty of which overlapped and ran past midnight. Busy as it was, I’m still on board for the most exhausting vacation I know, and they've obviously worked hard to create an event worth every mile we've traveled to get there.

The Art Gallery/Hanson History

The nostalgia at this Hanson Day weekend was almost as abundant as the lines at this Hanson Day weekend. The Art Gallery included a special look back at the past featuring photographs from every year of Hanson’s career in addition to some beautiful throwback pop-art style paintings from Zac. It was probably my favorite set of paintings to date with all of the bright colors and polka dots. I was super excited to visit the Hanson History portion of the gallery after having mentioned the idea of a "Hanson museum" three years ago on here. The new addition featured props from several music videos throughout Hanson’s career including:

-Furniture from the set of “Weird”
-The Are You Listening piano from "Lost Without Each Other"
-Zac and Taylor’s outfits from the “If Only” video
-Weird Al’s outfit & tambourine and the keyboard used in “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin”
-Some of the costumes worn by the children in the new “I Was Born” video.

All of this led up to the iconic giant pansy backdrop from the “MMMBop” video, which they had set up with a photobooth and props for all of us to pose with. This was such a fun surprise that I think everyone loved. We were given free photo strips and the opportunity to record a short video message to Hanson as well.

My own visit to the gallery was a spur-of-the-moment decision made while decked out in full rain gear simply because we didn’t see a line, but we fully intended to go back the next day dressed like normal people and take better pictures. Unfortunately that didn’t happen, but what we got instead is certainly memorable. My friend Rachel and I just happened to be wearing rain coats that matched the backdrop perfectly. We picked out “wham!” and “ouch!” props and decided to pretend she was punching me in one of the shots. I didn’t realize it was actually a double-sided caption until we were walking away with our pictures and noticed my angry face paired with a perplexing “Poof!” sign. We didn’t get digital copies, I held up the wrong caption, and we look like a North Face ad. It's perfect.

Acoustic Storytellers
The nostalgia reached its peak when the Acoustic Storytellers "Lecture" opened with an acapella rendition of "Rockin' Robin" followed by "Stories." This show was definitely my favorite event of the weekend even though I got more new songs and a better spot at the regular show. This trip was never about ticking songs off of a checklist or going and doing something new; it was about revisiting the music and friendships that have grown to mean a lot to me over the years, and sitting in the back with my friends during this set was a great way to celebrate how far we've come together, both literally and figuratively, Hanson included.

For the third year in a row, Hanson chose to play "With You In Your Dreams" during the lectures. It fit with the rest of the set and is obviously a powerful song in the band's history, but sobbing uncontrollably during WYIYD during the lectures every year is turning into some kind of weird accidental tradition that I don't exactly look forward to. Isaac solo-ing "A Life Without You" directly after didn't really help, but I'm glad so many people who haven't had the opportunity to attend BTTI finally got to hear it. I enjoyed all of the insights and stories they shared and would love to see this event done again with new songs and more details. And the answer we finally got about where Johnny went after all these years? In Zac's words: "Hell if I know."

The best part of the show (aside from Rockin' Robin) was the moment at the end when someone switched on the disco ball during "Been There Before." I had flashbacks to middle school dances with the little mirrored lights bouncing off of the hardwood floors while I stood in the bleachers. It was just one of those great shared moments that you know is unrepeatable and that you somehow already miss while it's still happening.

The Concert
The main show was almost entirely fan club songs with just a few singles at the end. I don't want to go into too much detail about the new EP songs because they'll get their own separate post soon, but "I Don't Want To Go Home" certainly has the feel of a new fan anthem and I can't stop blasting it in my car. "I Lift You Up" was an interesting deviation from their usual performance style. I think Isaac was holding up his cell phone with Taylor's breathy percussion recording playing into the microphone, and Taylor and Zac were both at the keyboard for the duration of the song, but a spotlight with the intensity of a thousand suns aimed at my face means I can't really tell you what they were doing there. I just know that seeing them both at the keyboard brought back memories of seeing them drum in unison during "Roller Coaster Love" in the same room back in 2013.

Just looking at the setlist, a lot of my favorites that I voted for in the Members Only song poll a few months back made the cut (On and On, Sound of Light, White Collar Crime, and No Rest for the Weary were all near the top of my list), and "Sunny Day" is the only song I can think of that would have made it even better. I'm kind of amazed that with all of the throwbacks and bad weather and the new rain jacket in the store, we didn't get an acapella version of "Rain" anywhere on the setlist, but the set was still solid without it.

Hop Jam
Someone joked that Hanson must have paid off the rain gods for good weather on Hop Jam day this year in exchange for letting the weather be horrible every other day of the event, and I'd believe it. I was a little nervous that I'd be running around doing odd jobs in my rain boots, but the weather was absolutely gorgeous. It was great to see Hanson headline again after taking a year off, and I'm proud to watch the event continue to grow year after year and become an annual staple in the Tulsa festival lineup among the likes of Mayfest and the Blue Dome Arts Festival.

I failed miserably at taking pictures just like I do every year, but most of the best moments can't be captured by a camera anyway. To quote a song I hope to hear a lot more of, I'm more of a "trying to capture each moment like a picture in my head" kind of person.

This year was full of those moments. I'll never forget running for our lives barefoot in a lightning storm arm in arm while getting drenched. There was photobombing a sleeping friend at karaoke, watching a lady with giant rainbow butterfly wings dance around Hop Jam, hauling chairs up a ramp in the rain with a great team of friends, and getting lost in a moment with a cheesy disco ball while wearing an even cheesier pre-fame Hanson t-shirt without apology.

God only knows all the places I'll see, but there's one place I know I'll always go back to.

May 5, 2017

Middle of Nowhere Acoustic: Ten Years Late(r)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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