March 28, 2019

String Theory: Canberra & Gold Coast

Trying to write about the last half of the Australian String Theory Tour feels like a bigger challenge now that I’ve thoroughly gushed over the Sydney shows. The fact is Hanson nailed every show, and that kind of leaves me with nothing to say that isn’t going to sound repetitive. I’ve already shared several in-depth reviews, and I’m not going to try to invent fluffy new adjectives for “Battlecry” 13 shows in. If you don’t know how awesome it is by now—do yourself a favor and get to Tulsa or Buffalo, buy the album, or go the completely free route and search #hansonstringtheory on instragram. (Good luck weeding through roughly 90 billion recordings of “MMMBop” first, though.)

Canberra and Gold Coast felt almost interchangeable to me thanks to unintentionally winding up with almost identical third row Zac seats for both shows. Add in the fact that both crowds rushed the stage during “No Rest For the Weary,” and I legitimately can’t separate some of the minor details to know which happened at which show.

The one thing that definitely sets the two apart for me is the ice cream incident at the Canberra Theatre. Imagine this: You’re attending a String Theory show, and for reasons you can’t explain, you’re absolutely starving about four songs in. Like stomach growling, actual painful level of hungry even though you ate dinner. You find yourself shamefully looking forward to intermission just so you can run to the concessions area and grab a snack so that your stomach will calm down and let you enjoy the second half of the show in peace. You get there as fast as you can, but a hundred other people were faster, so you go back to your seat hangry and empty-handed. As you’re relaying all of this to the friend that thought you got lost going to the bathroom, you spot…ice cream vendors? That can’t be real at an orchestra show. You almost wonder if you’re having some kind of hunger-induced desert mirage hallucination, but no, it's dessert and no mirage. There are real employees with coolers strapped around their shoulders wandering up and down the aisles holding up ice cream bars as if you’re seeing The Braves rather than String Theory. You flag one down and within moments, you’re having ice cream brought directly to your seat and feeling smugly superior to that long concessions line.

The only downside was we couldn’t finish them before the second half started, so suddenly we’re those people in the third row eating ice cream on a stick during a formal orchestra show. I have to say that trying to eat an ice cream bar with a crunchy chocolate shell during “Reaching For The Sky” is actually super awkward and somewhat difficult. I quickly realized that biting it would not be an option at all during such a quiet song, which left me with the challenge of at least keeping it from melting all over me until I could take a bite. I dared to glance at my friend to confirm that she was having the same dilemma, so then we became the people eating ice cream and stifling laughter. Forget the challenge of clapping on beat; try timing all the crunchy parts of a rapidly melting ice cream bar with the beat of TTA. Thanks to the Canberra Theatre, "Eat to the Beat" now has an entirely new meaning for me that has nothing to do with Epcot. I'm torn between now always wanting ice cream at shows and hoping this never happens again.

As for the stage rushing, I’m not a fan at all, and I didn’t participate (granted if I’d had a front row seat, I'm sure I would have jumped up in the rush to make sure I kept it). I know there was some chatter during the U.K. tour about whether or not it's okay to rush the stage, and most fans seemed to be in agreement that it's disrespectful and inappropriate. I'm not sure if the crowds at these shows didn't share that opinion, or if they found themselves reacting differently when faced with the option in real life, but a few fans bolted full-speed down the aisle in Canberra starting an actual stampede, and people were climbing over seats around me to get closer in Gold Coast. The poor staff looked completely overwhelmed and at a loss for what to do. I noticed at least one girl who had been in a front row seat was suddenly 3-4 people deep, and one mom was climbing seats trying to get back to her younger daughter who made it up front with a drumsticks sign in the mad dash.  (Further unpopular opinion- please don't let your adult-height kid hold a three-foot poster above her head for 15 minutes. It's nice that she got drumsticks, but I couldn't see Zac for the last several songs, and I'm sure the people directly behind her saw nothing at all). In all honesty and despite my own personal feelings, Hanson didn't really react. They definitely didn't prompt people to do it beyond their usual "let's pick things up" cue to stand, but they didn't discourage it after it happened, either.

At one point in Gold Coast I turned to look around the room as Hanson was about to give their final speech before bowing, and some woman (let's call her "Sloppy Susan", because apparently I predicted this behavior) was standing in a seat a few rows behind me shouting “IT’S INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY!” at the top of her lungs. Then Taylor said “I’m so glad you mentioned that; why don’t you come up and tell us a little bit about it?” Just kidding. That only happened in her head. In the real world, I looked at her like she was nuts, Hanson ignored her, and I heard her mumbling “Well, it would’ve been a good announcement to make” as she climbed down from the chair in defeat. If you really care, maybe quit mistaking row J of a symphony performance for your own personal Facebook wall and go do something to raise positive awareness instead.

The shows were good, but the ending of both felt more like a zoo than the actual zoo did, and I’m kind of okay with String Theory coming to an end for now if this is going to be the new norm. I should only ever dread the end of a show because it's over, and not because I fear for an inevitable stampede that I'm either going to have to watch angrily or contribute to the problem myself with an "if you can't beat them, join them" mentality. Both options feel more like a fail than some energy-filled crowd unity thing to me. Regardless of however Hanson feels about it (and we're all just speculating unless Zac decides to give us a "How To Fanson @ String Theory Pt. 2" post), I still find it extremely inconsiderate, and I really hope the Tulsa crowd will be more respectful to each other.

On the tourist side of things, we got to see the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra where Australia's coins are made, Kangaroos lounging in a friend's backyard, and beaches we probably would have enjoyed more if it wasn't so cloudy in Gold Coast. I got to drive in a parking lot for about 30 exciting seconds, though I'm convinced I never need to try this on an actual road. I fully enjoyed my first authentic Tim Tam slam complete with a glass of Milo and am thankful to my Aussie hosts for showing me how it's done. I'm always down to try chocolate milk products, and there are definite bonus points if I'm getting to use a chocolate cookie as a straw.

March 21, 2019

String Theory: The Sydney Opera House

The Shows
Australia might have been on my own personal bucket list, but I think the Sydney Opera House was bucket list material for all of us. It's one of the most iconic buildings in the world with a rich history in music, and Hanson managed to sell it out in just over a day. Pair its reputation with the throwback video Hanson shared of themselves singing a capella on the same stage over 20 years ago, and the nostalgia and pride were enough to make more than a few people jump on a plane. I'm happy to say it lived up to every elevated expectation. Melbourne may have been my favorite city, but Sydney...Sydney definitely wins for the best show.

Before tickets went on sale, I couldn't help but think how it would be a dream come true to not only see Hanson at the Sydney Opera House, but to experience it from the front row. I knew the demand would be high and tried to tell myself that I'd be lucky to sit in any seat and not to get my hopes up. The pre-sale was a mess and seemed to be giving people random seats all over the venue, but by some miracle, I pulled up front row tickets just two seats off from dead center. I could not believe my luck, and I found myself double and triple checking the seating chart and confirmation email, sure that it was somehow too good to be true. (Side note: Melbourne was the weird anomaly of the tour where the Stalls section was in the back. I knew I would screw this up. I even wrote a note to myself in all caps and stuck it right next to the Melbourne presale link: "DO NOT BUY STALLS." What did I buy? Stalls Row A. You can understand my hesitancy to believe that the Stalls Row A seats I bought for Sydney were actually right).

When the second show was announced, I told myself I didn't care what seat I got and that anywhere further back would be fine because I already found my golden ticket, and I didn't actually need the whole Chocolate factory. And then it was 10am (in Sydney, anyway) and I was being let in to choose a seat from an actual map this time, and somehow front row was wide open for the taking. I don't think I'll ever stop being amazed.

The first night felt absolutely electric to me. The crowd was excited and full of energy while still managing to stay respectful, and Hanson themselves were smiling the whole time and seemed just as thrilled as we were. It truly felt epic to be there, and I think that feeling resonated through everyone in the room.

I was so entranced by the show and wrapped up in the performance in front of me that I was completely blindsided when a girl wandered her way down the front row towards my seat during "No Rest For The Weary" (?). I was so focused on the music and not on the crowd that I actually found myself sliding over, making room for her, and nodding in passive agreement as she said "I'm just going to take some pictures" and pulled out her phone. A second later I came to my senses and gently nudged her with my hand, said "No, you need to go," and successfully ushered her back in the direction she came. I think I spent the second half of the song staring after her in complete awe of how I and the rest of the front row had just let that happen, and laughing at myself for literally moving so she could stand in my spot. I'm normally all over holding my ground, but it was like she Jedi mind-tricked us all with such an unexpectedly ballsy move.

Next up was "I Was Born." Something went wrong near the end and Taylor lost his place, if only to further prove that there was still a little bit of reality in the whole surreal experience. He finally found his way back to the right part of the song with the help of his brothers and without the orchestra ever skipping a beat. It probably wasn't that noticeable to anyone who doesn't know the song word for word. They handled it like true professionals, and our grins got even wider as they finally got back on track at the end. I think sometimes the way you react to a mistake can speak to your talent just as much as if you'd done it all perfectly to begin with.

The second night was beautiful and still a little bit magical, but I'm not sure any String Theory show could top Sydney night one for me. Then there was the encore, a gorgeous cover of "Too Much Heaven" a capella without  microphones about three feet in front of my face, and I was in awe all over again. I will never get over how flawless Hanson's harmonies are, and I'm glad they shared that final moment with us. They nailed it, of course, and I was also extremely impressed by how silent the crowd stayed. Please excuse the somewhat awkward angle, but for once I actually recorded a video to share. I promise the sound is worth a replay or twelve:

I tried my best to play the role of a tourist in Sydney since I knew it might be my only chance. My favorite was a coastal beach walk from Bondi to Coogee beach which meant walking several miles down the coast of Sydney's finest beaches for some seriously breathtaking views. My only regret is not buying a swimsuit somewhere along the way to add to my collection. We also explored the Royal Botanic Gardens and took a boat across the harbor for even better views of the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

We splurged on a backstage tour of the Opera House the morning of the second show and got to see a lot of the inner workings of all six performance spaces housed within the complex. It became worth every penny for me the moment we were led into the rehearsal room where Hanson had practiced for the previous night's show, and our tour guide asked the group "Does anyone play?" while gesturing to a grand piano. No one else spoke up, and my friend began nudging me, accurately knowing that my stage fright extends to even the smallest of audiences but that I'd regret not taking the opportunity. Do I play? Yes. Do I play in front of people? I haven't in over a decade. Give me a small audience of strangers, and 10 years of lessons and 25 years of playing by ear go right out the window. I ignored the nagging part of my brain that told me to pass on the opportunity and successfully butchered the first few lines of "Reaching For The Sky" before bowing out and wishing I'd practiced the song to perfection (as if I could have possibly known that this was going to happen). Still, I'm glad I tried, because I know there won't be a next time. 

On a scale of 1-10, Sydney was a 15. I'm so thankful I got to experience the magic of these shows firsthand, and in a strange way it felt like a celebration of everything Hanson has accomplished up to this point. I could not be more proud of this band and the career that they've built by creating music that they believe in. They may not fit the textbook stereotypical mold for "success" in terms of radio hits or mainstream attention, but selling out the Sydney Opera House and drawing fans from all over the world to witness it is an achievement worth celebrating. Who cares about a bunch of numbers and meaningless accolades if you can't make an actual impact on real people? I'm not going to remember who had the #1 song in the world on March 4th, 2019, but I'll sure never forget where I was that night. Congratulations, Hanson. I hope you felt a little bit of the magic you've shared with us, too.

March 19, 2019

Melbourne: String Theory & The Zoo

Travel & String Theory
The journey to get myself from South Carolina to Melbourne was easily the longest continuous travel day of my life. I left my house at 3am EST on February 24th for a one hour flight, followed by a six hour flight, then a 12-hour layover, followed by a 17-hour red-eye flight that same night. I slept for a total of three or four hours (yay, sold out flight in economy), then landed in Melbourne around 10am on February 26th with the sudden task of living through another full day before sleep. I was fine for about an hour until we checked into the hotel and I was given access to a real bed for the first time in over 36 hours.

We forced ourselves out of the room and prayed that the ample sunshine would work a miracle and keep us awake. I’m not sure how we did it, but we managed to check out the beach and some local shops and ended our day watching penguins at the St. Kilda pier, all without ever passing out. I can't say much of the conversation was coherent, or that I even remember much past the penguins and a ridiculous hunt for gelato. In the end, suffering through the three-day day paid off, and it felt like we were synced up to Australian time by the next morning and for the rest of the trip.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous for the Melbourne String Theory show. I was finally getting to do something I’d been wanting to do for years, so I think there was a natural added amount of internal pressure to feel like I was fulfilling some epic bucket list moment. My excitement should have been off the charts, and yet I’d already allowed myself to experience String Theory eight times, and the exciting newness of the show had already worn off into a more happily familiar territory. How could this show possibly live up to the pedestal I’d been placing it on if I’d already let myself become desensitized to the shiny new parts of String Theory?

When “Reaching For The Sky” began, I felt nothing, and then I felt guilty for feeling nothing because "Reaching For The Sky" is a beautiful song plenty worthy of epic feelings. Then “Joyful Noise” started, and my feet began to tap of their own accord, and without realizing it, I let go of the arbitrary expectations I had in my head and began to lose myself in my happy place just like I always do. I’m fairly certain only Hanson could give me mild shin splints while confined to a seat. The sound was great and Hanson and the orchestra sounded as tight as ever. The upside to seeing an identical show over and over? There is a truth to the saying “practice makes perfect.” Everything sounded flawless.

The Zoo
Naturally, the two hottest days of the entire trip landed on the two days Hanson booked outdoor shows. The first zoo day was absolutely brutal, and I am so thankful that the Melbourne Zoo staff devised a ticketing system that allowed everyone to get numbers and leave. Even showing back up an hour and a half before doors felt excruciating as temperatures climbed to 102 degrees Fahrenheit/ 39 degrees Celsius in direct sunlight. I forced down bottle after bottle of water and stood with my printed ticket shading my face until we finally escaped to the shaded front area next to the stage. I don’t think I’ve ever been so hot during a Hanson show, including the time I got sick at an outdoor show in Florida. The big difference is this time I made sure I stayed hydrated. I’ve also never been so happy to be stuck standing outside in the rain as when we were blessed with a light shower before Hanson came on.

The setlist the first night was a pretty solid mix of singles and upbeat crowd favorites, and it felt like they were actually trying to kill us putting “Fired Up,” “In The City,” “Lost Without Each Other,” and “If Only” all back to back at the end after we were already half-dead from the heat. It was a lot of fun and a nice break for both the fans and I assume the band from their set String Theory shows. It also made for an incredibly satisfying shower afterwards.

The zoo shows were both sold out to a crowd that must have been in the several thousands spanning across the large field area each night. There were two big screens on either side of the stage to allow a better view for those further in the back, and the cameras panned across the audience while we waited, often zooming in on excited attendees and their cheeky kids with the sudden spotlight to dance around and show their enthusiasm on the big screen, much like at a baseball game. I fully enjoyed the people watching and seeing families point in excitement to the screen as a kid or two enjoyed their fifteen seconds of fame. And then there was that one kid on the second night. He was about three or four, blonde, adorable, and I watched to see what dance he would break out into like all the kids before him. My smile turned into a horrified laugh as he instead proceeded to turn and drop his pants, mooning a few thousand people at once. The camera quickly panned a few yards over...but he was not satisfied with his moment being cut short. Instead, he could be seen running across neighboring blankets to follow the gaze of the camera, and when it stopped, so did he, and he turned and mooned the crowd once again. His family now has a great story to embarrass him with for years to come, and I've got a memory that I'm pretty sure will always be unique to this show. Good luck, mom and dad. You've either got a natural star or a natural troublemaker on your hands.

The second show felt like some weird bonus BTTI show in a good way. In addition to being hot and outside and full of plenty of the same people, there were a few sound issues that led to some impromptu tuning songs and banter (something about Isaac's spirit animal being a wombat?). I think the true MVP of that show might be the stage tech, though, who not only crawled under the piano mid-song twice and disassembled the keyboard while Taylor was playing it, but he also came out to do an epic stomp on stage to stop what I can only assume must have been a giant bug aiming to carry Taylor away. Somehow I don't think that's in his job description, but he rose to the occasion in a moment of need.

I found myself loving "Wish That I Was There" just as much as I loved it in Jamaica, and I'm really not sure when or why I started loving it so much, but it's happened twice now so I'm fully embracing it as an unexpected new favorite. It's acoustic Hanson at their finest. I loved the second show even more than the first, and the crowd energy felt even better. I think being just a few degrees cooler made all the difference.

The City
In all, we spent five nights in Melbourne. That's longer than anywhere I've ever stayed while seeing Hanson with the exception of Tulsa and Jamaica. We visited St. Kilda, Luna Park, Brighton Beach, and the Central Business District in addition to both shows. I loved walking around the St. Kilda area and the overall laid back vibe of the beach town. Bonus points for all the adorable dogs we saw everywhere. I can't say if it's because we had more time to explore than any other city or if it's actually superior, but I'll go ahead and admit that Melbourne was probably my favorite city this trip. I loved the convenience of walking around St. Kilda and being a block from the venue, the beach, shopping, and penguins, and the beaches were a nice calm change from the overcrowded touristy beaches I avoid at home. Thanks for hosting us, Melbourne! You were a great first stop and did not disappoint.

March 15, 2019

I Am Reaching For The Sky

Maybe it's the jet lag talking, but before I dive into reviewing my most recent trip and the shows I've just been to across the southeast coast of Australia, I feel like I need to give a little bit of a sappy context to put it all into perspective. Feel free to skip this one and wait for the actual reviews in a few days if that's not your thing.

I've wanted to go to Australia for as long as I can remember. The first time it entered my brain to combine this desire with my love for traveling to Hanson shows was when they toured there back in 2012. I had been around as a fan just long enough at that time to have seen much of the U.S. in the name of Hanson, but I hadn't yet set foot outside of the country for them. It felt like a crazy goal to set, but at some point while scrolling past updates from the 2012 tour on social media, I decided that one day I'd make it to Australia to see Hanson play. I knew it would be expensive and that if I really wanted it, I would have to be patient and start saving for a trip that might be years into my future. "If you can dream it, you can do it" feels like an accurate summary of how I made it happen.

Sometimes I get the feeling that it looks deceptively easy for me to go to as many shows as I do. Maybe that's a fair assessment for some trips, but there was a lot more behind-the-scenes planning than simply deciding to go to Australia when this leg of the String Theory Tour was announced. This might be an overshare, but the truth is I wanted this trip badly enough that I opened a separate savings account specifically for Australia back in 2012, way before String Theory existed and with blind trust that if I kept saving, it would eventually all work out even if I had no idea when or how. In 2014, I opened an airline credit card, and I never touched a single rewards mile until this trip. That same year, I even trolled my parents with an April Fools' blog post announcing that I was going to Australia, setting the stage for that inevitable "someday" when it would be true, and they believed it wholeheartedly to the point that it took some convincing to get them to believe that I was NOT going to Australia after all. I wish my dad could have been here for the moment I finally announced the real trip to see how he would have reacted. He probably would have claimed he knew it was real all along. I'm sure he knew I'd wind up there eventually.

So after seven years of saving and five years of stockpiling enough rewards miles for a free round-trip flight to Australia (and even turning down the 2017 Australian tour because the timing didn't work), a seated tour including two nights at the Sydney Opera House suddenly felt like the exact right time to finally make it happen. In the end I overshot my stockpiled miles by almost double, I flew for free, and everything cost a whole lot less than what I had planned for, allowing me to splurge on a few great hotels along the way. I'm so happy the timing all worked out the way that it did and that I was able to share it all with a friend that has been on board with this crazy plan right alongside me since 2012. It's been well worth the wait.

Now that I've rambled on as though I've just achieved the ultimate trip of a lifetime, I do have to add that I know I'm no special snowflake for traveling to Australia to see Hanson. Plenty of Americans have done it before me, many will do it after me, and if anything, going on this trip gave me a small taste of just how hard it is for those outside of the U.S. to see Hanson on a normal basis. I have so much respect for every person who gets on a plane for 20 hours every time they go to Back to the Island or just for the chance to see Hanson even once because tours never reach their own country. You guys are dedicated in a way that I've never had to be, and I admire that determination.

Not to go all Taylor Hanson motivational speaker on you (seriously though, I love his speeches and his passion), but if you don't fall into that frequent traveler category and you find yourself dreaming of going some place that seems crazy or unrealistic or too expensive--quit getting in your own way and don't be afraid to start planning now. The concept of "Tonight" and the "do it right now while you can" mentality is a nice idea, but sometimes that means starting something tonight to build towards an even better tomorrow. Save whatever you can whenever you're able; it adds up. Do yourself a favor and join a rewards program for the airline that flies out of your home airport with the best prices. You don't need a credit card to do it, and many offer free ways to earn points just from shopping for things you're already buying. Research it, dream it, do it, cliched etc.

Maybe it will take you ten years, or maybe it will never actually work out because life happens and this isn't a Disney movie no matter how many uplifting mantras we repeat or how many cheesy blog posts we read. But if the worst that can happen is you wind up with extra air miles and a savings account for a rainy day emergency, I say find your patch of green and go for it. To quote part of my own motivation for winding up halfway across the world, "Chase down the dream and don't give up without a fight," and you, too, can find yourself in your own personal version of sunburned and grinning surrounded by kangaroos.