February 15, 2020

Back To The Island 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Anonymous said...

I really love your review and I'm agree with you in every point about the music (except, because Taylor's solo was my favorite). And about Hanson performing with a female singer, I remember they played Superfreak with Meiko, 2011? I'm not sure. (Karina, from Mexico)

Holly said...

Karina, you're so right! They probably have had a few female collaborations that I just wasn't around for over the years, but I actually WAS at the show where Meiko did Superfreak with them. Not sure how I could forget because that was pretty epic!

Carebear said...

Yes Holly and Karina . Get out of my heart w Milck was my favorite too . Ive been closet singing singing along with Taylor for this whole time and while its always been on my bucket list to sing with him at Karaoke , him dueting with a girl was as much . I dont remember Meiko on the 2011 tour , but I have to say this performance was fantastic .