December 12, 2018

For Sale: Two Gold Coast String Theory Tickets

For sale: Two tickets to Hanson's String Theory show at The Star Gold Coast in QLD, Australia. In exchange for $265 AUD (face value with fees), you will receive two print-at-home tickets for seats LL 24 and LL 25 in the now-sold-out Stalls 4 center section. These tickets guarantee that you will get to experience an unforgettable performance of String Theory live from the 11th row on March 8, 2019.

Choosing tickets for a seated show is no easy task, and unlike general admission, you can't change your mind once you get inside. Before you buy, you must ask yourself: do you prefer to sit in front of Zac, Taylor, or Isaac? If answering this question gives you anxiety, or if your answer is a solid "Isaac" or "Idk, whatever's in the middle," then these are the seats for you. At just three seats off from dead center, LL 24 and LL 25 will offer you a well-balanced view of the entire stage with a slight lean towards Zac (and if it really matters, just put your Taylor friend in LL 24. She'll be fine). They are far enough back to afford a view of the entire symphony orchestra while still being close enough to discern every smile, hair flip, and judgy glare from *anywhere on the stage.

Maybe you're still unsure. Buying seated tickets can be intimidating even if you know where you want to sit because you have no control over who is sitting around you. Who's to say that Tall Bald Guy won't be in seat KK 24? No worries, my friend, because I have reached out and can personally confirm that this will not be the case. What other pair of tickets for sale out there comes with an **anti-Tall Bald Guy guarantee? None of them. This is a exclusive offer.

I'll admit, there's still nothing stopping Standy McTayfan from being in KK 25 or Sloppy "I swear I'm just buzzed" Susan from climbing over MM 24 to get one row closer to happily oblivious humiliation. (In the highly unlikely event of both of these situations occurring simultaneously, just let her keep going and hope she takes down Standy McTayfan on the way). It's an unfortunate risk that comes with any seated show. Trust me, I've been there, done that, and had the sloppy seat scaler pried off of me by security. Somehow I still always come out of it glad I decided to go. The way I see it, there may be a 50% chance of having your fun night compromised by an obnoxious fan if you go, but there's a 100% chance of not enjoying yourself if you don't. The answer is obvious. Don't let Sloppy Susan win.

And though there will always be a few horror stories out there, far more common are the happy endings that come from taking the plunge and braving the crowd. Many fans can testify to having met their closest friends and even spouses next to them at Hanson shows. By not buying these tickets, you could just as easily be turning down the opportunity to sit next to your future best friend or even your soul mate. Do you really want to risk giving that up?

So take a chance, reach for the sky, and don't wait for tomorrow. Dance all night (no--but really--stay in your seat), find your courage, and treat yourself--tonight!

*Anywhere in the first row of performers. You probably won't be able to see disgruntled trombone player #2 from anywhere in the venue. (It's probably why he's disgruntled.)

**Guarantee applies to THE Tall Bald Guy™ only. The presence of generic guys who are otherwise tall and/or bald will not be monitored.

November 15, 2018

Me Myself and I: A Theory

Let’s talk about Me Myself and I for a minute. It’s obviously a break up song, but I’ve never gotten the feeling that it was about the end of a romantic relationship even though that’s one interpretation. To me it has always sounded like a band break up song, but I oddly never worried that Hanson was actually going to break up even back when it came out in 2010. I guess I always assumed that Hanson, being the talented musicians that they are, were capable of imagining a scenario and writing in that head space even if just from a therapeutic, creative “what if” perspective. These are the guys that have written songs about divorce having never experienced one and wrote about the fleeting nature of life at the grand old age of ~10. I guess the bottom line is I always suspected that it was a band breakup song that must have been rooted in some real emotions but ultimately was not a declaration of anything I needed to worry about. They put it on an album. They toured with it. They obviously weren’t going anywhere yet.

Fast forward to String Theory. When my album package came, I sat down with a piece of paper, a pencil, and the In Verse lyric book for my first official listen. I intended to make notes about things like orchestral details I noticed for the first time on the album but hadn't been able to pick out live, whether or not I thought vocals had been rerecorded, and overall what my feelings were on the album vs. live. Instead, I found my pencil wandering away from the paper and into the lyric book itself (please hold all pitchforks for defacing an expensive package item for after class). I couldn't help but notice a few subtle differences between the lyrics on the page and the lyrics being sung on String Theory. I've been around long enough to know better than to put much stock into spelling and proofreading anomalies in the Hanson world, but surely a project so focused on telling a story and one providing the first ever formal lyric book would include a closer attention to detail, right? I’d like to believe that any variation between written and sung lyrics in this case were a careful stylistic choice made to better serve the story rather than a typo that made it past the editing stages. I’m probably kidding myself here, but regardless, for just a moment the subtlest difference in My Myself and I lyrics had me breaking out the chalkboard and forming string-free theories about what this song means.

The difference? Here you go:

String Theory uses “we will be fine” instead of “it will be fine.” For just a moment, the minute difference made glaringly obvious by spacious formatting had me reading “We” out of context as Hanson instead of the individual parts of me myself and I. So where I’ve always read “Me myself and I will never be alone” as a more poetic way of saying “[I] will never be alone, [I] will find a way to get along, etc.” this time I read the whole chorus in the context of Hanson. “[I] will never be alone, [We/Hanson] will find a way to get along, We [Hanson] will be fine, when all that's left is me, myself, and I.”

I’m oddly not sure if it’s happier or darker that way.

I had a few fleeting thoughts when the song came out that there was a nice symmetry to "Me Myself and I" being three entities when there were also three members of the band. I am probably an idiot for not reading more into that sooner, but now I find myself wondering: what if “Me Myself and I” was never about the breakup struggle of one person leaving behind something he used to care about? What if "Me Myself and I" was always a metaphorical way of talking about the dividing of one whole into its three sum parts: Isaac, Taylor, and Zac? (see how much better that looks with the Oxford commas? Just saying.) The fact that each brother takes a verse in the String Theory version pairs perfectly with this interpretation. Whereas I always took there to be only one speaker throughout the song, hearing them all sing a verse gives the feeling that each verse is the perspective of each member of the band individually, and they’re all coming to the same conclusion. You could practically put quotation marks around the whole thing and read it like a dialogue.

“When did it start getting old? When did it stop being worth the time just to see it through?”

“Well I tried to be everything that you’d want me to be. I don’t have to give you reasons why.”

“I don’t really care who was right. I’ll give you the last words tonight.”

It comes off more like a defeated conversation than an argument, which is almost worse and more final in a way. And it all makes so much sense—until I start thinking about the chorus. The verses are so dark and lonely and then the chorus talks about never truly being alone and finding a way to get along. The line that confuses me the most is “When I’m alone in a cold, dark room, well, there’s still someone that I can tell my troubles to.” Is it talking about still being able to talk to each other in spite of everything? The fact that no matter how alone each of them feels, they’re at least alone together? There’s clearly dialogue happening in the verses, which means they aren’t literally alone, but maybe it's just inner dialogue, the things they've always wanted to say to each other but haven't. It's a little bit "Breaktown" in that way. "I'm the walls that close in. I'm the words you won't say. I'm the voice that you choose to keep inside and lock away, every day. You keep it all to yourself, you're just like everyone else, so take a good look around."

I’d love to hear other perspectives on this. Who do you think this person is telling his troubles to? Have you always seen the song this way? Do you get something completely different out of it all? I'd love to hear what you think!

November 6, 2018

String Theory: Louisville

title photo credit: @hfrees

The Louisville Scream String Theory show was my last Hanson show of 2018. I flew in the day of the show and spent a whole 27 hours in Kentucky (and about two hours in Indiana for lunch just to knock a new state off my list). I booked a random Priceline hotel that ended up being right on the Ohio river. As I was admiring the view from our 14th story window, my friend Holly pointed at the walkway below and said "That's where the halfway speech was." I had no idea what she was talking about at first, but then I saw the flags and I understood. I had the vaguest memory of trying to stand on the base of one of those flag poles ten years before to get a glimpse of Hanson during a walk. Even standing on it, I could barely see Taylor's head. That was my ~8th Hanson show and I was a broke college student, completely exhausted from having driven overnight and "camped" for about 2 hours of sleep. It was kind of surreal being in the same place and seeing it from a totally different perspective a decade later. It's funny how much and how little can change over time. In the major plus column: 2018 Louisville included real beds, a flight instead of driving, the option to lounge in a hotel room and have Starbucks delivered right to your door, and front row without ever setting foot in a line. It turns out being older and lazier doesn't suck entirely.

This show opened with a lot of unnecessary screaming. People shouted straight through all three guys trying to talk about the meaning of the show, and they had to stop talking and tell everyone to "get it out of [their] system" more than once. Zac made a pretty pointed comment after one bout of random screaming and said "Well, you'd think 26 years had passed..." and then suggested that everyone try to listen to the show "as if you were listening to your favorite album." They used key words like "sit" and "listen" multiple times, and it was pretty obvious to me that they were silently begging us to sit down and STFU for lack of a better term. For my first draft of this post I had this whole spiel written out about the importance of reading between the lines when it comes to understanding what behavior Hanson wants to see from us this tour. I was prepared for some to say "But Holly, you don't really know what Hanson wants. This is all your personal opinion. They love to see energy in the crowd and people staying seated and quiet is stuffy and disrespectful." With all the cues and hints they've been dropping at every show, I'd consider that perspective borderline willful ignorance at this point.

But that was yesterday. Today, Zac shared his own blog post called "How to Fanson @ String Theory," and now I don't have to convince anyone to read between the lines; just read the actual, literal lines that have now been provided for us. I know it probably seems like I'm preaching to the choir, and Zac, too, since how many of the screamers and rebellious standers are really keeping up with blog posts? But I promise, some of the fervently nodding choir members have been misbehaving too, and most will probably find an excuse for it not to apply to them specifically. It applies to all of us, though. These guys work so hard to be recognized for their music and talent, and to scream while they talk and shout for attention during songs, or to stand when no one else does and make it so that others can't see or hear is to undermine their skill. And that's a shame, because they deserve every ounce of respect that they don't always get, especially from their own fans.

There were outbursts here and there throughout the show, but it didn't get as bad as I anticipated after the rough start. Hanson soldiered on and put on a great show that we probably didn't deserve. The orchestra was much smaller than at the other stops on this tour (a friend counted a total of 21 orchestra members), but they made the most of it and the sound was full enough that I didn't notice a big difference. There was a speaker directly in my face, though, so a lot of the finer details were probably lost on me this time anyway. I did kind of an out of character thing for this one and bought a single ticket for myself and enjoyed this show from front row just slightly left of center surrounded by strangers. It was my "best" seat all tour by normal show standards, but I stand by what I said in my last post. It was just a bit too close and wouldn't have given me a full show experience if it was my only opportunity to see String Theory. I could see Hanson just fine, but the extent of my view of the orchestra was an unfortunate waist-down perspective of a single violin player from underneath the piano. I'll always take front row violin crotch over sitting behind Standy McTayfan, though.

I tried hard to think about all of the best parts of the show as they happened and to take it all in for the last time this year. I walked away knowing I'd miss the special treatment that only an orchestra could provide for songs like "Siren Call" and "No Rest for the Weary" (which has a very catchy string part that reminds me of "Bittersweet Symphony" that is forever stuck in my head). I tried for the millionth time to remember more lyrics from "Battlecry," but I'll just have to wait for the lyric book to finally learn it for myself. "Tonight" is the one that managed to make me feel something every single night I heard it. It never fails to be a powerful reminder that we just don't know what life is going to throw at us, good or bad. And while I initially felt like "Feeling Alive" was missing from the final songs, I've come to realize that I think "Feeling Alive" would've created a more "happily ever after" ending than the story they're trying to tell. Instead, "Tonight" says be happy right now because right now is all we have for sure. A few shows in, I questioned for a moment if I really needed to see so many performances of an identical set. But then I remember that while I can hopefully see Hanson for years to come, String Theory has a much shorter shelf life, and the answer is a solid yes. See it tonight.

The String Theory tour as a whole has been a fun and very different experience from past Hanson tours for me. I did eight shows over four months, but never more than two in a single trip. I swear it was somehow more exhausting than doing eight shows back to back in ten days, and if I have to pack another liquids bag any time soon I may boycott shampoo. I loved not having an opener for the second tour in a row, but good luck to Hanson ever trying to bring one back now that we're all spoiled and used to sitting in comfy seats while we wait. It was harder to meet the band this tour, which mostly just reminds me how spoiled and lucky we've become. The fact that Hanson is literally playing two shows a day to rehearse with each orchestra and are still making time to increase M&Gs and occasionally greet fans afterwards speaks volumes about their work ethic. I have no idea how they do it all. After eight more or less identical shows, I kind of can't wait for the next "normal" show where I can jump and clap and be surprised by the setlist, but I'm also hesitant to let this one go when the time comes. I'll enjoy it while it lasts and look forward to what's next. Australia, anyone?

Until then, enjoy String Theory, break out Finally It's Christmas, and if you have any questions left about "How to Fanson at String Theory" after Zac's guide, you can always see the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for some light reading about How to Behave and Why.


October 26, 2018

String Theory: Atlanta & Nashville

This post picks up right where the last one left off, at 4am coming home from Phoenix. The abridged version is this: I am an idiot who planned a cross country trip to see two shows, then three days back home, and then a six hour drive to the next two shows with a four hour drive in between and then a nine hour drive home again. The problem is I (perhaps willfully) forgot those three days "off" from traveling were actually full overnight shifts for me at work. The day before I left for Atlanta, I worked 11 hours overnight, took a three hour nap, packed, and somehow slept again that same night and got up at 6am to leave. These shows did an excellent job of reminding me that while I am physically not the same stupid college student that once drove nine hours home overnight from Birmingham, AL to run straight into my 9am English class, sometimes I make the mistake of acting like it. It's a miracle I made it to Atlanta and back home on my own, and I sure hope I remember this feeling next time I look at flight prices and think "Nah, it's just a six hour drive."

Both of these shows were packed. Nashville was definitely sold out, and Atlanta must have been really close. For the Atlanta show I was in the last seat on Zac's side a few rows from the stage. The drums seemed a little overpowering from there at times, and I noticed during the second half of the show I had trouble hearing Zac and Taylor's vocals on a few songs, but I think that was more of a technical issue than my seat location. This particular venue had a light pattern projected on the back wall behind the orchestra that changed with each song, and I had to appreciate the fitting starry backdrop during "Reaching for the Sky."

Despite having rehearsed and performed this show plenty of times by now, this one brought out the kind of technical difficulty no amount of practice can fix. It wasn't bad or even all that noticeable if you hadn't already seen the show, but Taylor's acoustic guitar didn't work during "No Rest For The Weary."  You can't exactly stop an entire symphony for one instrument, so he kept playing silently. Isaac tried to give Taylor his guitar at first, but there wasn't time to switch mid-song. They handled it like true professionals, Taylor strumming his heart out on an oddly silent guitar on the off chance that it would work, and Isaac picking up the chords on his electric guitar to fill the void. They played the whole song that way, and it was a weirdly good performance to see them soldier on and another beautiful show overall. And as for instructions on how to act at these shows? Fear not, the Atlanta Symphony souvenir shop has us covered:

(I only wish there were a few to distribute later when people screamed bloody murder and literally chased Taylor and Zac from the stage door to the bus. This is why we can't have nice things.)

I was really excited for Nashville because it looked like a cool venue with lofty ceilings, chandeliers, and some unique tiers of box seating all around the room. We opted to sit side-stage similar to where I sat in Denver, but behind Taylor's piano instead of behind the drums. It was fun to hear some bells (and a giant xylophone?) that my ears hadn't picked out at any of the earlier shows. The crowd was pretty respectful, though come to think of it, so was Atlanta pre-bus. Way to uphold the stereotype, southerners! There was a funny moment during "Chasing Down My Dreams" when Zac started early. He sang the opening line "Now that I've started" before anyone else actually started. If you're going to screw up a line, it might as well be that one. We all had a good laugh at the irony and he sang it again, this time with the rest of the orchestra. I had a ton of fun at this one and was so ready to stand up and clap during "I Was Born" when the invitation finally came. As much as I'm loving String Theory, I know I'm going to be so excited to see a "normal" Hanson show again the next time I have that opportunity.

I've really enjoyed seeing this show from so many different angles, and by this point I have seen it just about everywhere from front row to the balcony to the side of the stage and behind the orchestra. They've all offered something a little different and I've enjoyed each one for different reasons. If you only get to do it once, I do think going for center in the middle of the crowd or balcony is the best sound and view, even if you love front row every other time. Of course if you have front row for your only show, you also aren't going home disappointed. In any case, see it if you can, and try a few different views if you get the chance. You know the drill. Get out there and Do, Go, and Be(have). If you're not sure why, just ask the Atlanta Symphony. 😉

October 16, 2018

String Theory: LA and Phoenix

Los Angeles
Confession: I enjoyed the String Theory show at The Greek Theater way more than I thought I would. I'm not a big fan of outdoor venues, our seats were good enough but not amazing, and it didn't seem like the show sold all that well. I feared that the show would be lacking in energy or that I wouldn't be able to see or hear or that I'd be freezing by the end of it. None of that happened (partly because I realized blankets were allowed inside with enough time to hit up Target beforehand). The sound was surprisingly good and it felt like the entire orchestra was being piped through the speakers for the first time. I don't know if it was due to my seat location or the bowl shape of the venue aiding the acoustics, but the sound seemed way better than it was at the outdoor venue they performed at in Vienna,VA back in August.

The crowd felt excited to be there, and what we lacked in numbers we made up for in respectful enthusiasm. I knew before it happened that this crowd would be a vocal "Something Going Round" crew. I pulled my phone out just in time to capture the moment, and I wasn't wrong. At the end during "Tonight," I noticed lights coming from somewhere behind me. I turned to look and saw a sea of cell phone lights swaying in time with a chorus of "Don't wait for tomorrow." No one asked us to do it; it was a weird piece of magic that happened on its own.

I remember being in awe at their voices at one point (Zac's in particular was absolutely flawless during "Battlecry") and feeling overwhelmingly happy sitting there next to one of my best friends wrapped in a cozy blanket and listening to the closest thing to musical perfection. I began to notice how nice the orchestra members looked and my mind wandered to Hanson's unexpected choice to wear relatively plain clothing, all in muted shades of gray. I've never been one to care about their fashion choices or their hairstyles, but it hit me in that moment that Hanson has never been flashy and has never needed to add sequins or smokescreens to detract from their talents in the way that so many seem to do to distract from a lack of the same. They are truly artists rather than showmen, and I think they'd prefer us to all leave chattering excitedly about "Did you see the way they played the drums in perfect unison on 'Siren Call'?!" than "Did you see that sequined jacket Isaac changed into during the second act?!" (don't worry, he didn't).

It was a beautiful show, possibly the best yet. I promise I'll try not to say that for every subsequent show, but I can't promise they won't keep getting better and better. I told Zac after Phoenix that the sound at these two shows seemed even better than the rest, and the girl next to me made a joking comment about it being insulting. I meant it as a compliment. Doesn't everyone strive to be better than before?

We had better seats in Phoenix and the sound was still great, but the crowd took something away from the experience and kept me distracted at times. The girl next to us showed up drunk, standing, and screaming from song #1, and there were others that were over the top, too. There's nothing wrong with drinking and having fun as long as your fun isn't encroaching on the enjoyment of others, and I think that line was crossed a few times in Phoenix. Let's just say my first draft of this was a little too snarky and needed to be watered down a good bit, much like many fans' drinks at this particular show.

It was still worth the trip, and Zac got to play on the most gorgeous turquoise drums I've ever seen. The crowd surprised me and kept singing at the end of "Something Going Round," but quieter. I can really only say how good Hanson sounds so many times, but I went home with "Dream it, Do It" and "Battlecry" on loop in my head. I can't wait to have them and the entire String Theory album on November 9th.

My trip home was a nightmare. First, my 2pm flight out of Phoenix was delayed 25 minutes. No big deal; that would leave me with a layover just under an hour and still enough time to get to my connecting flight in Houston. We somehow landed in Houston another 10-15 minutes or so later than expected, even calculating in the 25 minute delay. My connection time was dwindling. Then we sat on the tarmac for longer than made sense, everyone crowded into the aisle waiting to deplane. "Sorry folks, there's a jet bridge malfunction." Another 15 minutes ticked by as they fixed the jet bridge, and I hit that critical point of if I run, I *might* make it. I checked my phone while we waited and was relieved to see that my connecting flight had been delayed an hour. I was safe after all.

I made it to my connection without having to run. The flight was never officially delayed longer, but we boarded another 20 minutes past the hour delay time. We boarded the plane and proceeded to taxi for a full hour around the airport behind an infinite line of planes. And then they made an announcement that there was a crew shortage issue and that we'd be returning back to the gate. It turns out we had taxied for so long that it would no longer be legal for our pilot to fly us by FAA regulations; he had maxed out his hours. We traded pilots fairly quickly, but at that point, they told us, we'd burned through too much fuel taxiing and would need to refuel as well. We finally took off again, but apparently taxiing for an hour, having to replace your pilot, and needing to refuel does not give you line cutting privileges at IAH. We went to the back of the line and taxied for another 45 minutes. I literally spent 2 hours driving in circles around the Houston airport before taking off for my 2 hour flight. I landed at 2am, where I then had to drive another two hours home. I made it home at 4am, which in the grand scheme of things was only a three hour delay overall. It was just a very odd, very annoying sequence of events one after another. Still beats being stranded overnight in Miami, and I have to give United credit for being so transparent about the reasons for the delays. I even received detailed text updates from them explaining and apologizing about the pilot.

And though I tweeted it about five issues before I knew just how bad my night would be, I still stand by what I said during the whole ordeal:

September 15, 2018

String Theory: Denver

Denver was kind of a one-off accident. I never planned to go when dates were announced, but on a whim I decided to look at tickets after they went on sale. The venue looked interesting with seating in multiple layers in a circle around most of the stage, and I was shocked to find that there were cheap seats still available directly next to the orchestra. They were behind Hanson, but I knew they would offer an unforgettable view of the symphony. I bought a pair "just in case" and figured I could always resell later, and if not, a $29 ticket wouldn't be a huge loss. Pro-tip: buying Hanson tickets "just in case" is basically sealing the deal that you're going.

After going to two String Theory shows where it was a struggle to hear the orchestra at times, I knew I didn't want to let my "front row orchestra" seats go. I ended up going, and I'm glad I did. (Let's be honest though; you'll probably never hear me say "I ended up going, and I wish I didn't. That's when I'll know it's time to move on).

I also ended up at a last-minute baseball game with a friend the night before the show, because why not? I'm not really into sports, but baseball is the one I understand the most, and there was the promise of ice cream sundaes in plastic baseball caps. I convinced myself to choose random life experience over naps in a hotel room, and in the spirit of winding up places I never really meant to be, I'm glad I ended up there, too. Go Rockies?

The orchestra experience was everything I've wanted out of String Theory from the beginning. I'm not sure if the superb sound was due to our seat location or the acoustics of the venue, but the sound was without a doubt better than the other String Theory shows I've attended. (A few videos I've seen from mid-crowd lead me to believe the sound was overall better everywhere). We were so close to the orchestra that we could literally read the sheet music over the shoulders of the bass players, and the parts that had been harder to hear before were easy to pick out. We referred to them as the "spoiler seats," and I'm so glad this wasn't my first show because we would have known every song before the last one was finished.

The unexpected best part, though? The conductor stole the show--from our vantage point, anyway. In addition to conducting the orchestra flawlessly, he had the most animated facial expressions and gestures and is clearly passionate about what he does. Don't ever make the mistake of thinking an orchestra can't rock out; we saw living proof, and not just from Hanson. We had huge grins plastered on our faces at several times throughout the show because we couldn't help but love his energy, and I kept hoping nobody was going to look over and wonder why the crazy girls in the corner were laughing during a somber moment. Sorry, Hanson. This is the one where I fangirled over the orchestra more than you.

After the show was over, Hanson came out for a final bow and a surprise acapella chorus of "Weird." They didn't do this at all in Vienna or Columbus, and Pittsburgh got the chorus of "This Time Around." I'm curious to see if they'll continue doing this at future shows and keep choosing different songs from String Theory for each one.

As for the ongoing standing vs. sitting debate, Zac said something in the beginning of the show about sitting back and listening to the music that made me think it was a polite suggestion setting the tone for people to sit. Most of the crowd stood around "I Was Born" at the end like at previous shows, and Hanson seemed ready for it at that point, too. I think we're starting to find our normal for this tour. I'd give Denver an A for consideration to blocking views (one random girl that stood the entire time mid-crowd is keeping them from an A+), and maybe a B-/C+ for catcalling and outbursts. And "Something Going Round?" We stayed 100% silent at the end. I suppose Vienna was an anomaly to remember after all. 

This trip helped me knock a few unexpected things off my anti-bucket list, including my first MLB game and getting to sit behind Hanson for an entire show. I flew home straight into hurricane warnings and packed up and evacuated less than two days later, and my planned 3-day weekend has now grown to an unplanned 9+ day hurrication and counting. In other words, I'm safe and have no more excuses not to write this blog post.

For a closer look at the song choice/storyline, check out my first String Theory post here.

August 9, 2018

String Theory: A First Impression

The Spoiler Debate

Disclaimer: I'm sure it's obvious, but if you're still avoiding String Theory spoilers, stop reading now. This blog is going to be full of them, and it goes a bit more in depth than just the setlist titles.

The whole concept of posting ST spoilers on social media has been a mildly heated topic ever since Zac released the full setlist on just before the first show in Columbus. For the record, I've always hated spoilers for two reasons: 1. It takes away the excitement I get out of the element of surprise, and 2. Sometimes the spoiled content doesn’t happen, and that just leads to disappointment. It's like being told you're getting a new car for your birthday next month. You get to be really excited on that random day a month early, and you'll still be excited on the day you actually get the car, but you never get to live that moment of waking up to an unexpected brand new car. The excitement you'll feel on your birthday is only a fraction of what it would've been if you didn't know in advance. Or God forbid you wake up on your birthday and there’s no car in the driveway (*ahem* Zac mentioning “Bridges of Stone” in a post about String Theory).

The fact that each setlist varies and virtually any song can show up has always been part of the draw for me to attend multiple Hanson shows. For a tour that is guaranteed to be the same setlist every night, I guess that’s even more of a reason to try to protect my first experience with it. I knew I’d only get one shot to be surprised, and I really would’ve preferred that moment to happen while grinning ear to ear in a balcony watching it all go down vs. casually perusing Twitter while getting ready for work and scrolling past a glaring “OMG BREAKTOWN!” tweet that I can’t unsee. 

Consider it a personal preference and one I know I can't enforce, but it didn't stop me from trying to at least protect myself. I ended up knowing over half of the setlist by the time I was at my first show anyway, but that’s life. Kudos to anyone who makes it to their own show spoiler-free. If you’re still trying to steer clear now that the tour is on, 1. I don't know why you're reading this, and 2. Good luck. You might as well get rid of the internet.

The Show

Seeing the String Theory tour is probably the most excited I have been for a show since my first few times seeing Hanson over a decade ago. I'm always excited to go to shows, but it's a different kind of excitement after you've been to so many. You anticipate the happy familiarity and the tiny moments of surprise and change that come with each show, but the novelty factor is pretty much gone. With this tour, I got to anticipate something new and different and it was a refreshing feeling that reminded me of how I felt when everything Hanson was new and exciting. I'd hazard a guess that Hanson can relate.

I felt like an emotional sap the minute I walked onto the floor in Heinz Hall and saw the orchestra setup with Hanson's instruments in front. I don't think I stopped grinning for most of the night. "Reaching for the Sky" was a beautiful introduction to the show. "Siren Call" with all three Hansons on drums gave me chills, and the orchestra made it sound so full and haunting. "Me, Myself and I" was so much more than the clip we were played at Hanson Day, and I think having each brother sing a verse was a genius way to add to the story. The orchestra added a beautiful layer to each piece of music we got to experience. I only wish it had been a bit louder and easier to hear with Hanson's instruments at times.

"Something Going Round" brought an interesting difference between the two shows I saw in Pittsburgh and Vienna. On a regular tour, Hanson cuts the music and singing just in time to let the crowd ring out singing the final word alone. They end it with "You need that something--" silence, just the crowd "--now." I love that moment live. For both String Theory shows, the crowd sang along as usual for the "When the sun goes down, it's here waiting" part. Then Taylor sang the final "Well I've got this something" and did an exaggerated cut gesture with his arms, abruptly ending everything. In, Pittsburgh, this motion was followed with an eerie almost "loud" and powerful silence. It gave the song a strong ending where you can't help but feel the major difference between the full orchestra sound immediately followed by complete silence. In Vienna, his "cut" gesture ending all of the music was followed not by silence, but by a loud fan chorus singing the implied final line proudly and without hesitation: "I've got this something, that's been going round." It was kind of a magical moment and one I'm not sure was supposed to happen. They all grinned so big, and Zac even seemed to be laughing. We either finally got something right that didn't work in Pittsburgh, or we did something so unexpected that it came out epic. I suspect the song was meant to end on the silent note we got in Pittsburgh, but it made for an unforgettable moment either way. It's also a great reminder that no two shows are ever the same, even when they're supposed to be.

"Broken Angel" was probably my one true surprise in the setlist after a month of spoilers jumping out at me and was the source of the only excited butterflies I felt all night. "Breaktown" was breathtaking whether you knew it was coming or not, though I have to say Taylor gave kind of a mischievous grin right before starting it in Pittsburgh, and it got zero crowd reaction when they started the opening notes. I can't imagine the number of gasps it would've gotten if most of the crowd hadn't known it was coming. Hanson gave the invitation to get up and dance during "I Was Born" in Pittsburgh, and a song earlier during "No Rest for the Weary" in Vienna. I absolutely loved the final four songs together and selfishly wish "Feeling Alive" had been included somewhere with them as well. "Tonight" was such a powerful ending to the show, and I don't think they could've picked a better final song. I think it's an absolutely necessary "end" to the story they've created and lived.

ETA 8/13/18- I knew "Battlecry" sounded familiar when I heard it, but I brushed it off as having that "Hanson sound" that is always going to feel familiar. It just hit me today that it is the same song Everybody Else released on their album Wanderlust back in 2011, and it must have been a Fools' Banquet collaboration between both bands. This may be old news to anyone who hasn't attempted to live under a spoiler-free rock for a month, but my mind was blown for a moment. I guess unexpectedly hearing it years later with a different band and an orchestra makes a two week delayed reaction understandable.

The Story

I don't feel like I can fully grasp the story until I get the lyric book and can really look at the lyrics of the new songs that were written with String Theory in mind side by side with the rest. Don't be surprised if there's a future blog post with a fuller analysis. But even without all of the lyrics, I think it's obvious that the story they're telling is their own journey.

The first half is the story of a band starting up, dreaming big ("Reaching For The Sky"), having success ("MMMBop" & "Where's the Love"), and then ultimately coming up against an obstacle that could be their end ("Siren Call," "Got a Hold On Me," "Me, Myself & I"). If we didn't know the story already, the end of the first half might be a cliffhanger, or a crossroads moment where they can choose to keep going or say goodbye. I suspect the obstacle at the end of the first half is the struggle they went through with deciding to break from their record label, but it could just as easily apply to any or every problem they've faced. I'm sure there have been more than we know.

Having each brother sing a verse alone on "Me, Myself and I" was a great way to introduce the feeling of isolation and self-doubt and juxtapose it with the chorus that brings all three together. Though it sounds like a song about ending a relationship, I've always thought there's room for it to be about a band parting ways. The relationship isn't necessarily a romantic one, though they're expertly vague as always. I think for the purposes of String Theory, it's a song about making a hard choice that has the power to shape the band's future. Whatever the conflict, I'm glad Hanson chose onward.

Then they're back on track in part two, still "Reaching for the Sky" and pressing on with renewed determination as seen in "This Time Around" and "You Can't Stop Us." But the second half isn't just one uplifting song after another building to a final happy climax; "Broken Angel," "What Are We Fighting For," and "Breaktown" all serve to bring a little bit of that conflict back. Personally, I think it could allude to their issues during the making of Anthem that led to some talk of the band potentially breaking up. More than any individual breaking point though, it could be about any and every moment they stop and question themselves, whether it happened once in their career or once a day forever. But instead of choosing to wallow in the misery of Breaktown, they persevered ("No Rest For The Weary"), and once again found that spark inside and let it burn into something strong and uplifting with "I Was Born." They end with the positive but powerfully ambiguous note of "Tonight," and I'm again left looking back to my interpretation of that song as being the story of a band that almost broke up. The truth is they might always be on that ledge, but I don't think "Tonight" is there to add a sense of finality or closure. I think it's there as a reminder that every day takes work, and every moment is a conscious choice to either keep pushing forward or to take a step back, and that none of it should be taken for granted. For now, they're still searching for "The Sound of Light," and that's enough to tell me that they still have that hunger and passion to keep creating and doing great things. The mere existence of String Theory is proof enough of that.

I love "Tonight" the most because it mirrors String Theory as a whole. They literally ended a show that tells Hanson's story of struggle and success through their past songs with a song that does the exact same thing. The symmetry is perfect.

The Crowd

I saw several debates between fans before these shows about how everyone should behave for String Theory. People worried about everything from how to dress and when to stand to whether or not it was okay to sing along. I was curious too, but the arguing felt pointless because no matter what side anyone fell on or how passionate they felt, it was all speculation. I figured we'd just have to wait for the first few shows to happen to get a sense for what felt right for this tour, and even then it's down to personal preference. Nobody is going to hand us a set of concert rules with punishments for violators. It's up to all of us to do what we think is right and considerate, and that's something we're never actually going to agree about.

Now that I've been to two shows in vastly different settings, I'm not sure I'm any closer to an answer. The attire ranged from home-made fan shirts to little black dresses and formalwear. As a whole, people were more dressed up for Pittsburgh than Vienna, but that's to be expected when one venue has chandeliers in the bathroom and the other sells bug spray. In any case, wear what you're comfortable in because there's no actual dress code for these shows, and whether you wear a formal dress or jeans and a t-shirt, you won't be the only one.

As for the standing vs. sitting etiquette, I think the jury is still out, and I won't be surprised if it becomes a hot topic for the duration of the tour. There was more sitting in Pittsburgh and more standing in Vienna. As far as I could tell, most people didn't get up in Pittsburgh until Hanson gave the cue to dance during "I Was Born" near the end of the show. At the Wolf Trap in Vienna, there was a lot more standing and sitting every few songs, and to me it felt more like a chain reaction to the people up front standing when they felt like it and everyone behind them standing so they could see moreso than everyone as a whole collectively standing at the "right" time. The only time I heard Hanson comment on it one way or another was Zac saying we "now have permission to dance" at the start of "No Rest For the Weary." I'm sure we all have varying perspectives on this, and we're probably all a little bit right and wrong. Personally, I'm fine sitting and listening unless the person in front of me stands to block my view or Hanson tells us to get up and dance. As long as you're not dancing into someone else's space or being the one person standing up blocking thirty rows of seated people who didn't follow your lead, you're probably fine.

There were several songs where it made complete sense to sing along loudly, and those moments were obvious. The crowd sing-a-long part of "Something Going Round." The "oohs" in "Siren Call." Most of "Tonight." But there were also a few quieter moments where people around me were still singing loudly enough to drown out the orchestra. Like I said before, there were times when Hanson's parts drowned out the quieter orchestra, probably because they're used to playing loud and not having to worry about it at a regular show. I think the same goes for fans singing. Yes, sing along quietly the whole time if you want, but it's not your normal Hanson show so maybe bring the volume down from eleven and wait to belt it out when Hanson gives you the cue. Besides, if you're singing too loudly for me to hear the orchestra, I know you can't hear it either. And man, there were so many breathtaking sounds to miss.

The Verdict

It's a beautiful portrayal of my favorite band and their life's work. It's not perfect, and despite boasting an identical set, it will probably have a slightly different vibe unique to each orchestra they invite to share the stage. For someone that lives for live performances, I oddly can't wait to get my hands on the studio album so I can hear and replay all of the subtleties of the orchestra that are quickly lost in a moment where there is so much to take in at once. If you have the opportunity to see it, go. You won't regret it, and odds are you'll sit and watch it with pride and admiration like a parent at your kid's recital. Because however many years ago, you made the choice to attach yourself to this band and call yourself a fan, and their success feels like your success. Spoiler alert: They'll earn a standing ovation and make you proud.

June 2, 2018

Animal Instincts: 2018 EP Review

You should know by now that I like to analyze anything written; I guess you could call it an instinct. That being my "professional" opinion, I have no idea why this EP is called "Animal Instincts." I tried. I looked up definitions (instinct. noun. : a way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is not learned : a natural desire or tendency that makes you want to act in a particular way). I read the lyrics. And I found nothing in particular that makes the subject matter in this group of songs any more instinctual or primal than any other songs. I suppose you could argue that wanting to stay young and opportunistic is an innate trait in most of us, or that love in even the worst of conditions is an animal instinct that is hard to overcome. But gold digging? Enjoying your weekend? Being attracted to flighty girls? My official comment on the title for this EP is that I'd love to pick Hanson's brains for the reasons behind their choice, because I'm personally at a loss. (Maybe we should have asked that question instead of Taylor's shoe size or whatever during the Q&A at Hanson Day, but that's neither here nor there now). I trust that there's a reason, but my red pen couldn't find it.

1. "Working"

This is the most 50's rock 'n' roll/Jerry Lee Lewis sounding song we've ever gotten from Hanson, and the studio recording doesn't do the live version justice. It's a fast-paced Isaac lead and is basically the non-Christmas version of "Til New Years Night" with way more piano. And man do I love that piano. I probably won't seek it out often on iTunes, but I'll be rooting for it to make an appearance at any and all future fan club shows.

Best lyrics: "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday in my Sunday best."

2. "Goldminer"

Every time I try to think about this song, I wind up singing "Ghostwriter" to myself instead. I'll trust that you can hear the similarities without me listing them. The best part of Ghostwriter Goldminer is the clever wordplay in the line "She's a goldminer, stealing your cents, robbing you blind" because she's stealing both your money and your sense (homophones ftw!). My other favorite part is when a friend ruined it (aka made it better) by pointing out that the first line kind of sounds like the girl in the song is a prostitute, and now I can't help but hear the whole song in the context of a guy who just wants to pick up girls but can't tell a prostitute when he sees one. And on that note, let's add "Working" to the list of titles I will inevitably confuse with this song.

"Out on the town, you're looking for love.
She's on the prowl looking for money
What can you say? How can you tell? What can you trust?
What can you do? How do you know? Who's out for blood?"

Better call the coppers!

Best lyrics: "She's a goldminer/ stealing your cents/ robbing you blind"

3. "Young and Dumb"

This is the part where I try not to go all "Feeling Alive" on you again and wind up with a full separate post about this song. "Young and Dumb" is definitely the breakout song of this EP, and it's full of lyrical gold.

My first reaction to the title was a flashback to 10th grade English class and Daisy Buchanan's comment in The Great Gatsby when she learns that her new baby is a girl: "I hope she'll be a fool – that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool." Of course the context is completely different and "Young and Dumb" isn't social commentary on a sexist world, but the basic idea of romanticizing ignorance as bliss is there.

To be fair, I don't really think being "dumb" the way Hanson is using it is synonymous with literal ignorance. Dumb in this case means not yet jaded by the world; it represents the idea of being younger and a little more naive and wide-eyed in a hopeful way. They're not advocating for stupidity, just reminiscing about a simpler time when most of us had a lot less worry and a lot more optimism. It's nostalgia for the kind of innocence Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden before they ate the forbidden fruit and their eyes were opened to all of the evils possible in the world.

My reaction after hearing the whole song and seeing the full lyrics is that it's a more accurate perspective of how I've always felt about "I Was Born." I'd rather be young and dumb and surrounded by the possibility of still being able to believe that I was born to do something no one's ever done before. The reality is I'm not, and I can relate to this song so much more because of it. "Young and Dumb" is practically someone narrating how I felt while listening to "I Was Born" for the first time.

Best Lyrics: For a song about missing being young and dumb, it sure is packed with great lines full of wisdom. I might as well paste the whole song here.

"Been a hero and a deadbeat/ A pencil pusher and a piece of meat/ Wish I could forget what I know"

"And when my eyes are clear/ I see good intentions are a cheap veneer/ For every evil justified"

"It's hard enough to know it's not enough to know better"

4. "Bad For Me"

I'm actually surprised I like such a sad song, but I really do. It's about a heartbroken guy that is finally realizing he's in a bad relationship with a girl that clearly doesn't value him the same way he feels about her. I think I like it because it doesn't have the expected ending where the guy finally decides to move on, or the unrealistic happy ending where the girl sees what a catch he is and suddenly becomes worthy of his affection. He never follows "Now I see this love's bad for me" with the logical "so I'm leaving;" he just acknowledges the truth of his situation and we as listeners get no resolution. Maybe he stays, maybe he doesn't. All we know is he loves this girl whether she deserves it or not, and he seems resigned to that fate. It's kind of romantic in the saddest way.

Best lyrics: "When you love someone it's easier believing in the lie"

5. "Sophia"

The lyrics remind me a little of Billy Joel's "Always a Woman" where you get the list of potentially infuriating character traits that somehow wind up being endearing when you're in love with the person, but I'm not buying it. Sophia just sounds kind of annoying as a person, though props to her for still being songworthy. Her most redeeming quality is how her name sounds when Zac sings it.

Best lyrics: "Sophia."

Final EP thoughts?

Check out the final episode of The H-Bomb Show podcast June 8th to hear more EP talk.

May 28, 2018

Hanson Day 2018

I think my favorite part about Hanson Day 2018 was choosing not to stand in avoidable lines. It was uncomfortably hot most of the time, and after I got sick from waiting all day in the heat in St. Pete last September, I know better than to hang out on hot sidewalks all day now. Some lines like registration and the store are unavoidable if you plan to do them on the first day, but there is so much room to avoid lines if you want to, and I swear my quality of life over the weekend improved because of it. I walked into the gallery with no wait because I didn't bother trying to go until Saturday. I showed up to both concerts at doors and didn't have to bring an umbrella for shade or worry that someone might cut me in line because there were already 800 people ahead of me. Not caring makes vacation feel a little bit more like vacation, and it makes me super excited for the upcoming seated tour where I will also not have to wait in lines. I can't not wait?

The Store
Hanson tried a new thing this year that fans have suggested in in the past and put up a page on their website listing all of the new store items and prices. It was really helpful to walk into the store and mostly know what I wanted without having to wait my turn to get a good look at everything, and the line seemed faster all weekend because of it. I was also spared the awkward moment of blurting out "What do you mean $80 for an umbrella?!" at an employee in shock because I was able to get that moment of disappointment out of my system on the sidewalk before I ever set foot inside. I'd say it went pretty well. I only bought one shirt, a pop-socket, and a pair of sunglasses (that are too big for my head), so I did okay in the spending department, too. If it's anywhere near as hot next time though, I fully expect to see affordable "Hanson fans" for sale.

I'm not normally one to pay a bit of attention to Hanson's family, but somehow their brother Mac wound up co-hosting karaoke with Isaac this year, and he did a killer job keeping the crowd pumped. There was a really fun mix of Hanson and non-Hanson songs that people chose, and both Isaac and Mac took turns getting up and singing with fans and with each other. The first fan to sing was a guy that picked "Bohemian Rhapsody" that quickly turned into a giant happy crowd sing-a-long, and it was all uphill from there. There was a great "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" duo, some Wilson Philips, someone that sounded just like Alanis Morissette to me, and a strange but great tribute to Tenacious D near the end that Mac seemed thrilled to join in on. Congrats to everyone that got up there and sang! You guys were awesome and made it fun for everyone.

The storytellers "lecture" was easily my favorite event last year. I'm not sure this one lived up to the bar set by 2017 (it was about 7 songs shorter and there was no disco ball surprise this year), but I still enjoyed it. They chose a lot of throwback songs including a cover of "Money" that I'd only heard once on actual Hanson Day ten years ago in my hometown. "Wish That I Was There" was the unexpected standout for me. I don't care much for it on the CD, but the harmonies are just so good in a live acoustic setting.

I joked later that they're a bunch of storytellers for calling this event "storytellers," but I'm happy for any excuse to go to an extra show with or without the added narrative. We did learn that "Madeline" was named after a real girl that was the daughter of one of their producers(?), and also that someone may have stolen Zac's basketball...though I couldn't tell you what song that particular "story" went with.

Game Night
I'm on the fence about game night. I didn't participate in Hansonopoly last year, but this year seemed better because there were no elimination rounds and everyone got to play for the entire event. I'll give them points for that. But when we showed up the sound system was a megaphone...and then a microphone that was as useless as the megaphone...and then just Zac's shouting, which sadly worked better than all of the above. I think they did eventually get a microphone working but I can't remember. In the end it cost Zac his voice for the rest of the weekend, which is a shame since this was before the concert happened. I'm happy for his sake that he didn't also have to make it through a Hop Jam performance.

It was a little bit like tie dye 2.0 with Zac not making it to every table and people getting up to go to him for pictures instead. We played a few different games and the "Freak Out" game that came with our ticket purchase is basically a Hanson version of Yahtzee, or so I'm told since I've never played Yahtzee. It wasn't my favorite because I could never remember what the combination of numbers meant well enough to figure out how to tally my own score.

Our favorite was the silly poker-type game where we had to place cards on our heads and bet who was wearing the highest card without looking at your own. Sometimes simple is better.

Listening Party
I haven't had time to listen to "Turn Off The Machine" and analyze anything independently from the listening party, but I liked it. Zac recorded a voiceover bit for the beginning and explained that it's a musical story of a guy building a robot, teaching it how to do things, and watching it ultimately come to life and spiral out of control, leaving him with the decision of potentially having to destroy this "monster" that he created. Think Dr. Frankenstein--the original Mary Shelley story and not all of the Halloween green-skinned bolt-in-the-neck adaptations.

It reminded me of watching Fantasia as a kid and felt like it belonged with some kind of animation to illustrate all of the different parts. I enjoyed trying to pinpoint where the mood changed and imagining what might be happening during different sounds. I wrote exactly one note during the actual listening session of my initial reaction and tweeted it after we got out and I had a chance to google the video I wanted to reference:

I have no idea if Zac has ever seen that video or if it's pure coincidence, but I stand firmly behind the Swedish Chef comparison for at least a portion of the song.

I have no artistic skills whatsoever and I don't like wine, so I've never had any desire to do the whole wine and paint night thing despite seeing pictures of friends and their various landscapes, beach scenes, and half-empty glasses on Facebook. A Hanson Day version seemed like the perfect time to go a little bit outside of my comfort zone though and try something new with friends. I don't think I'm going to be commissioning any pieces any time soon, but I had a lot of fun and my pansy didn't turn out nearly as bad as I expected.

I saw a few complaints online about Zac not showing up, but it was clear to me when the event was announced that Zac being there wasn't part of the deal. However, the photographer did show up and film part of my painting class...right as we had finished painting one step and were waiting patiently to learn what to do next. Instead of showing us the next step, they started playing "Lost Without Each Other" and filmed us awkwardly singing and not painting for the entire duration of the song because none of us knew what we were doing. I'm sorry in advance if you ever have to see footage of me singing and awkwardly holding a paintbrush.

The Concert
I'll go more into the new EP with a separate EP review eventually (maybe), but I will say that "Working" is great live. It has this really fun 50's rock 'n' roll vibe and I'm absolutely in love with the piano in it. If you don't love the recording on the EP, withhold your judgment until you see it in person. "Young and Dumb" is easily the standout track on this EP, though I was a little nervous about the techno sound at the beginning of the recording until I heard it at the show. I have no idea how Zac sang his two new leads, particularly Goldminer, with his strained voice, but he did a decent job and gave it all he had left.

The only thing I'd change about the show was the downer solos in the middle. "A Life Without You" and "Never Let Go" might be considered rare, but I swear I've heard that combination entirely too many times at the last few Hanson Days and BTTIs, and I'm a little bit tired of needing tissues. Between that and WYIYD at Storytellers again, I could really do with a year of no sad songs. I'll give them a pass on "A Life Without You" because I know they were streaming everything and I'm sure it meant a lot to those that have never been to Hanson Day or BTTI to get to hear that one. But the fact that it's out there now means they can skip it next year, right?

"Tearing it Down" was the best, and the entire crowd was so, so into it. By the time the encore came and Zac was singing "I Don't Want To Go Home," I had completely forgotten anything was wrong with his voice and it sounded great to me. It's entirely possible I was caught up in a moment and just loving it all instead of looking for imperfections. If we all have animal instincts, there's one of mine--being the eternal optimist. I had a great time this weekend being not quite as young and dumb as I used to be, but every bit as childish and silly as always. ♥

May 9, 2018

So Hold On To the Ones Who Really Care

This week, “MMMBop” as we know it turned 21, I turned 30, and that combination has me thinking a lot about how I got here as a fan. It goes without saying that I am not the oldest or youngest fan by a long shot, and I’m proud to belong to a diverse fan base of all ages and backgrounds. I'm not writing this for me because woe is me and at the ripe old age of 30 I suddenly have all of the answers, but for all of us who have grown up loving a band and have had to navigate exactly what that means. Here's what it has meant for me.

If you’d asked me in 1997, I never would have thought I’d be following Hanson at 30 (or 20, for that matter). When you’re nine and daydreaming about meeting your idols, you think about meeting them tomorrow. You envision that one perfect day—and it’s always present day. You don’t think about what happens the day after that or think up some arbitrary cutoff date that means you’re “too old” and now you're supposed to like curtains instead. You don’t think about growing up and still chasing the music you love. You don’t dream about being an extra in a music video in 12 years, or dancing with a 27-year-old ancient-to-you version of Taylor Hanson, or attending their beer festival when you’re all well past legal drinking age. You don't think about how you'll feel when you're 25 and your friends are all walking down the aisle to the altar while you're walking down the aisle to seat 19A.

As an adult though, those thoughts start creeping in, or at least they did for me. When I got back into the Hanson scene and truly became a part of the fan base in 2006, I was 18. I was the perfect age to fall into this weird world of wanting to follow a band and actually being old enough to go out and make it happen without someone telling me no. I had wide eyes and shallow pockets and always wanted more. And with the joys of camping on streets and experiencing my first few times in the front row and meeting the band came the distinct fear that one day it would all go away. I don’t know at what point you get old enough to start feeling nostalgic about moments as they’re happening, but I felt that way constantly from the time I went to my first show.

I was always telling myself not to take anything for granted because I knew it couldn’t last (MMMBop, much?). I remember sitting in a dressing room interviewing Hanson and telling myself to take in every detail because I knew it was all going to be a memory soon. I can remember sitting on sidewalks at 20 and worrying that there might be some sort of shelf life to it all, and that I should “get it all out of my system” or do as much as I could while I was still able. It’s not that I thought I’d quit loving Hanson’s music, but more of an underlying fear that there would come a day when I would be expected to love it more quietly and from the confines of my car and iTunes instead of a sleeping bag 4,000 miles from home. I didn’t know if my career or family might one day not only take the front seat, but all of the seats, or that God forbid I might grow out of them and find out it was all a phase. It's nice to be able to take a retrospective moment now and realize that I haven't outgrown Hanson at all, and if anything I've grown more into them. I haven't spent 11 years getting the traveling fan lifestyle out of my system and avoiding growing up--I've spent it making lifelong friends and figuring out that being an adult and being an adventurous fan don't have to be mutually exclusive things. It just means that at 30, I've racked up a lot more frequent flier miles to keep going.

So for what it’s worth, life is weird and I’m kind of glad my nine year old dreams didn’t come true because reality turned out to be better. I'm even more grateful that my 20-year-old nightmares didn't come true and that I've managed to outlive the shelf life of the "phase" label, and I didn't wake up on my 30th birthday and feel the need to trade all of my concert tickets for collectible china patterns because I'd passed some socially acceptable expiration point. If I got written off as childish and crazy for hanging out on sidewalks at 20, then the people that are still in my life at 30 should realize by now that there's something more to it than that. If not? You know the saying--hold on to the ones who really care, and screw the rest. Or something like that.

And for the record, they say with age comes wisdom, but to quote an equally older Zac Hanson, "hell if I know" what kind of flower is going to grow. At this rate, it's probably a baby turtle.

February 21, 2018

(Un)Popular Opinion: Sea World Edition

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about Sea World and their treatment of animals. Prior to the backlash about Hanson playing there, in my experience as a non-activist average Joe, I had heard a few vaguely negative things about it, but my general disinterest in zoos as a whole was always enough to keep me from going there or seeking out more information. To be honest I’d heard more backlash against PETA than Sea World, so I sit somewhere in the middle with the understanding that you can’t believe everything you read and that every story has more than one side.

I strongly believe in keeping your mouth shut when you’re not educated about a topic, so I’m not here to argue why Hanson should or shouldn’t play Sea World. I don’t know enough to form a strong opinion much less push it on anyone else. I applaud anyone who has done their research and taken the time to examine a variety of sources and biases about a topic that means a lot to them. Hanson has taught us the importance of standing up for what we believe in time and time again, whether that means taking a symbolic barefoot walk or standing up for the underdog despite what others think. Silence will never evoke change, and I have a lot of respect for anyone that is willing to take a stand and speak out about something they feel passionate about.

Lately there have been several posts across social media and calls to action by fans advocating against Hanson playing at Sea World. I know it takes guts to stand up and call out a band that you love for doing something that you hate, and it’s encouraging to know that others feel the same. My issue with these campaigns is that most are being directed at Hanson and signed as though they represent the entire fan base. I’m not interested in quoting or calling out anything specific because there are several that fit this description, and I’m not looking to shame anyone. My point is this: keep standing up for what you believe in. If you truly care about something, don't back down. Write a compelling argument and put it in a public space; start a petition; re-tweet somebody you agree with; be open to a respectful discussion. Continue to protest Sea World long after this isolated Hanson show has come and gone. Things go viral for a reason, and if you have a good point that a lot of people agree with, spreading the word will become effortless. Stand up and shout it out, but while you’re doing it, please don’t claim to speak for everyone, don't exaggerate the number of fans involved, and please do not presume to speak for me or anyone else when you're addressing the band. Let the number of shares, signatures, or encouraging comments speak for themselves--but please, let other fans speak for themselves as well.



(and 2 or 3 friends that agree, and maybe a dozen or so more that will see this and feel the same…but I’ll let them decide if they want to be included)

P.S. Hanson still doesn't owe us anything.

January 14, 2018

Back to the Island 2018

Back to the Island 2018 wins gold for the strangest event yet. The timing couldn't have been worse for a lot of U.S. fans with a snow storm traveling up the east coast, and despite living in a mild climate most of the time, I became one of many with a canceled flight. You never expect to get snowed in in South Carolina, but the day before I left, six inches of snow fell in Charleston and shut down everything due to impassible roads. I found myself scrambling to rebook a flight for the second year in a row. (Last year a thunderstorm grounded my flight from Myrtle Beach, so I had to drive to Charleston instead. This year I just went ahead and booked out of Charleston to begin with, so naturally that backfired, too. Next year I'm hiring a mail boat). Thankfully I was able to work with American to find the only airport in the area with a seat left that would get me to Jamaica the same day, and I made it. And for the second year in a row, my last minute flight change put me on a plane with Hanson. I don't know what kind of weird backwards luck that is, but I'd honestly prefer to forego sharing a plane with Hanson if it means getting to Jamaica on the first try. Maybe next year.

As I finally descended into Jamaica, the usual beautiful blue aerial view of the island was obscured by fog. I spent the first two days swimming in a hot tub in the rain and substituting my usual cover-up with a rain jacket. I was already sick when I arrived this year, so throw in some major coughing to round out the not-so-perfect paradise image. I'm lucky my friends didn't quarantine me for the whole trip.

The rain and the dozens of flight cancelations led to the first concert being postponed an extra day. By day two, it was still too windy for the beach stage, so we wound up experiencing Zac's solo, Chris Carrabba, and the Rock All Night set in what was essentially a giant greenhouse wrapped in plastic that looked like the inside of a tanning bed. The shows were good, but obviously they would have been better on the beach. Still, I appreciate all of the hard work Island Gigs and Hanson put into making sure they happened anyway. The show must go on, and they probably moved mountains to make it happen.

Solo Shows
Zac went first and kicked off the event with "On the Rocks," which ended up being an entirely appropriate theme because the beach near the stage was dangerously rocky. He struggled with one song but I don't even remember which one, so apparently I'm not too phased. Other highlights include his first time ever soloing "Misery" and a brand new song called "The Ballad of Seymour Better Times." It was a cute and funny song that I doubt we'll ever see on an album, but I do hope we get a recording of it on a future member kit or perhaps Digital Pants. It had a great punchline at the end and I really liked it.

Isaac's set was last and probably the most mellow of the three, and I have to give him props for not making me cry this year. One of my favorite parts was seeing him play around with the loop pedal during "Leave the Light On" and adding in a fun and unexpected guitar solo. He told us he was going to play a song he wrote just a few weeks ago, but at the same time seemed to be improvising a new song on the spot while tuning. It was so put-together and sounded so good that I assumed he must be singing the new song after all. When he flubbed the ending I realized that he really had just been making it all up on the spot. It was super impressive for an off-the-cuff song and I hope we'll see the recording on later. Isaac should definitely be proud of himself for that one; I know I was.

Taylor's solo set probably would have been my favorite this year even without the surprise side excursion. About two songs in, he started talking about how some things can only be done on a beach in Jamaica. He said Zac and Isaac would probably tell him it was a bad idea, but they weren't there to stop him. During all of this, I realize he's pulling off his socks and I'm standing there confused and excited waiting for him to drop whatever bomb he's about to set off. He stripped off his over shirt, invited anyone up for it to go for a swim in the ocean with him, and ran off the side of the stage and into the water without further notice.

For all my talk about owning too many swimsuits, this moment is exactly why I'm always wearing them under everything at BTTI. It paid off this year, because when the moment came, I was standing in the back wearing a bikini and a coverup, and it took me all of three seconds to be heading towards the beach. The whole thing was kind of stampede-ish and was probably cringeworthy if you let yourself think about it for more than a second, but it felt more like a Do Go Be moment to me than something to be embarrassed about. After all, it came with an invitation and it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime moment. So about a quarter of the crowd followed Taylor to the edge of the water, a smaller number was brave enough (or dressed) to go all in, and just about everyone tripped all over the rocks along the way. I went in towards the back away from Taylor and got caught up on rocks immediately along with two other girls I didn't know. Instead of trying to get near him, we spent a hilarious minute flailing around each other, fully submerged in about a foot of water just trying to stand back up again while the waves kept raking us over the rocks. If you ladies are reading this--thanks for the laughs! My friend Yelena captured a picture of the moment below.

Taylor went on to play two of my favorite solos--"Crazy Beautiful," and "Believe," which I'd only ever heard once in a sad carpeted room in Cancun, so this time was a significant upgrade. I love "Sunny Day" even when it's been raining out, and "Be My Own" was beautiful as always. It was a solid set and definitely my favorite solo show this time.

Special Guests
I hadn't seen Stephen Kellogg since he toured with Hanson back in 2008, so it was fun seeing him again. We actually watched his set from the balcony of our room while eating room service dinner in rocking chairs. It's the best way, really. Chris Carrabba as a special guest really made the trip for me though, because I loved his music back before I rediscovered Hanson, and I got to tell him so. While most of you reading this were defending your honor to Hanson haters back in high school, I was off blasting Dashboard Confessional and Something Corporate without a second thought for those MMMBop guys. Now here I am, 15 years later standing on a tropical island with both of them. Life can be weird and great.

I enjoyed Cards Against Humanity again even though I didn't get the opportunity to play, and I thought the added Hanson-themed cards were a fun twist to mix things up a little from last year's event. The "Old MacDonald had a _____" round that someone insisted he sing all of the answers to was the best.

A post shared by Holly (@_hollywouldnt) on

During the last round, a girl two seats over from me stripped off her dress and proceeded to walk up to the stage in her bra and underwear when her number was called. Everyone was super confused, Zac ignored that it happened from what I could tell, and the game ended after that. I spent a minute trying to figure out if she was wearing a swimsuit (nope) and then trying to reason that her bra covered more than plenty of the bikinis I had seen so what did I really care? I ultimately walked away thinking that even if she had been wearing a swimsuit, that's still a super weird and inappropriate thing to do when a Hanson calls you up to play a game. It hit me during Taylor's solo show that we had all just collectively shamed a girl for pulling off her dress in front of Zac, but then I went and removed my own dress in front of Taylor (more like in the very back in his distant presence) and ran into the ocean with him. It's ironic, but there's one major difference: an invitation.

Family Feud went a lot more smoothly this year, but it felt like there wasn't much crowd excitement. By the end, anyone that wanted to go had the opportunity to participate even if their number wasn't called. My favorite part of the night was when my roommate Rachel answered "Name something you wouldn't want to happen while riding in a taxi" with "Get lost," and Isaac got super shocked and offended for a moment thinking she was telling him to get lost before realizing that was her actual answer. We all had a good laugh including Isaac once he realized he wasn't being insulted.

Tie dye on the other hand was a bit of a letdown for me this year. None of the guys ever made it to the table I was at, and I somehow managed to make my worst shirt yet. It looked completely saturated with dye, but when I opened it up back home it's almost all white. This is where I shrug and hope next year is better and am thankful that it wasn't my first or only shot for a good tie dye experience.

Full Band Shows
The "Rock All Night" set had the potential to be my favorite if not for the change of venue and the somewhat short setlist. I have to say I was pleasantly shocked at how much I loved "Oh La La La" as an opening song because I never really cared for it on the EP. The show was heavy with songs from "The Walk" (Blue Sky, Tearing it Down, Something Going Round) which is always fine by me, and I know so many people were thrilled to finally hear "World's On Fire." Getting to see Chris Carrabba perform "Back to the Island" with Hanson was a great moment and I hope just the beginning of a collaboration I'd love to see again. "You Shook Me All Night Long" was the perfect ending for a rock themed set, and I'm not even a little bit disappointed that they repeated it on the final night.

My favorite part of the Members' Only night was "Coming Back for More" with Stephen Kellogg. It's one of those obscure songs that I forget exists most of the time, which means I always forget exactly how much I love it until I'm hearing it again. It's hard to believe the first time I ever heard it live was also with Stephen Kellogg--ten years ago! "No Rest for the Weary" was another standout, and while I love "I Don't Want To Go Home," I completely tuned out the second half of it because baby sea turtles started hatching next to us by the soundboard. I didn't even realize the show was over at first because I was busy trying not to step on turtles. How's that for an epic finale?

I've never waited long for a BTTI show, but something possessed me to plant myself in the front row for the final show this year. Despite my initial disappointment at the announcement of a singles set, I really enjoyed myself and felt like the crowd energy was strong. I lost about half of "Weird" to silent giggles when I looked over and a random tractor was driving by on the beach, completely out of place during a somber moment. We were all just looking at each other and pointing at it whispering "Isn't it strange?" and dying about it while Hanson seemed unaware.

We found out more turtles were hatching right at the beginning of "I Was Born," and Taylor got excited right along with us and kept making references to them in his speech and telling them to DO, GO, and BE. He changed up the lyrics to "Don't want a ticket to the same marine" and "Don't underestimate the sting of the little turtle" which sounds so silly, but the crowd ate it up. Zac reminded me how great "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" is live, complete with belting the final high note right in my face. No camera or video could capture the wide-eyed crazy look that accompanied those high notes, but I don't think I'll ever forget it anyway.

Dance Party
This year's after party was probably my favorite. I thought the space it was set up in lining the street was perfect. There was plenty of room to dance, a bar within arm's reach, and plenty of places to sit and hang out and take it all in from more of a distance if dancing isn't really your thing. I enjoyed getting to hang out with my friends a bit further back without feeling like I was missing anything but also without feeling like I was being judged for not dancing more. I'm glad I stuck around because I got to see the moment when Taylor decided to bring up the entertainment staff during "Pony," and now I can feel like I basically got to see male strippers at a Hanson event, though thankfully their clothes stayed on. It was hysterical and I'm not sure Taylor knew what he was getting himself into by bringing them on stage, but it certainly made for a unique and hilarious moment for me as a spectator.

The End...for now
So it wasn't the best and it wasn't the worst, but it sure beat being snowed in back home. "Isn't it strange" felt like the theme of the trip, and I can't help but embrace the weirdness and be thankful for another unforgettable experience. Sure we got rain and dark walkways and limited hot water, but we also got turtles and a tractor and synchronized swim dancers and a surprise field trip into the ocean with Taylor. I spent it all with friends who would apparently rather get sick with me than stay well without me, and that's the best kind I could hope for. I live for those random unexpected moments, and BTTI 2018 provided plenty of them.

Whether there's rain, shine, or rocky beaches--Back to the Island is my patch of green.