December 17, 2020

Sequins, Sweaters, And String Lights: The Christmas Ball

Every year around this time, I see fan stories about how Snowed In has been a staple in their Christmas traditions for decades. Some decorate their trees with family while playing the album, some remember playing it while baking cookies and wrapping presents, and plenty have now made it part of the next generation’s traditions. For me, Snowed In is a reminder of family road trips where one person being happy with the music selection inevitably meant that two others were not. It never stopped me from begging and insisting that we listen to Snowed In at least once per four hour drive to visit my grandparents. Every trip, I would “sneak” my Snowed In and A Chipmunk Christmas cassette tapes into the car. Mom would ask if it was over yet, Dad would tell me to “take those chipmunks out already” (even when the three brothers singing weren’t Alvin, Simon, and Theodore), but they always let me listen to it anyway. It’s been more than 20 years, and now there are only two of us in the car. These days the destination is a nursing home instead of my parents’ childhood homes. Mom still lets me listen to all of Finally It’s Christmas and complains every few songs. Sometimes I wonder if she thinks about my Dad when she does, even though Hanson doesn’t sound like chipmunks anymore. It’s a bittersweet feeling, and I’m thankful to share it with her and to have music that reminds me of all the great Christmases that came before.

But this isn’t a nostalgic blog post about Snowed In or about holiday memories. It’s about an exciting new event that gave me something to look forward to this holiday season instead of looking back. It’s about feeling festive, enjoying good music, and looking for the silver lining. Or in this case, the sparkly, shiny, dripping-with-sequins-and-disco-balls silver lining.

As soon as we found out about the themed streams, I was hopeful that December would be all about Christmas. I’ll be spending a quiet Christmas at home with just my mom, and a Christmas theme for these shows gave me something positive to look forward to during a season where I’ll be skipping all the best extended family traditions that I'm used to. I’m grateful for the opportunity and truly enjoyed getting to hear these songs and see all of the festive outfits and decorations. From ballgowns to onesies, Christmas trees to train sets (tiny fireplace ftw), and from living room selfies to front row tables—everyone really brought the cheer I've been missing.

Of course, I can't write about The Christmas Ball without first mentioning its namesake. The song "The Christmas Ball" is a truly deep cut in the Hanson catalog that had never been played live prior to these shows. It was released on a fan club EP called "Super Digital Pants" back in 2016, and I'm pretty sure I listened to it once and never looked back. Some songs take time to grow on me and need a very specific moment to reveal their potential. This was definitely one of those moments, and two weeks later I'm still catching myself singing "ho ho ho, mistletoe, now we're on a roll," which tbh is about a 250% increase in the number of lyrics I knew to this song prior to these shows. Consider me impressed that Zac knew them all, too.

"Joy To The Mountain" was every glorious note I remembered it being from the Finally It's Christmas Tour in 2017, and I'm giving extreme bonus points for the lack of catcalling. I can't wait for the moment it's safe to have regular concerts back, but on the bright side, a 10% venue capacity where most people are fan club members sure helps keep things respectfully quiet for acapella performances. "Wonderful Christmastime" with Hanson's "Come on It's Christmas" addition will also always be a favorite of mine; it's fully danceable no matter where you are and demands you to move even if it's awkward car dancing at a red light while the people next to you probably envision Mariah Carey on your radio. They don't know what they're missing. 

My absolute favorite, though, was "My Favorite Christmas Sweater." It's in my top five favorite Hanson songs of all time, maybe even top three material. I love it that much. It checks all my favorite boxes- it's catchy, it's sentimental, and it's one giant pun. I tried to tell Hanson that it’s one of my all-time favorites once and they seemed mildly confused, but I stand by it and wish it had made it onto the Finally It's Christmas album instead of remaining one of Hanson's best kept secrets. I’ll just be over here spilling it to anyone who will listen.

The setlists for these shows were very similar, but that's to be expected when they only have two full-length Christmas albums to pull from. During the first show I kept wondering if they were going to play any "regular" songs from non-Christmas albums since previous newsletters suggested it would be a heavy mix of Christmas with some other Hanson hits sprinkled in, but it never happened. Every last song was a Christmas song. I was thrilled, and I think stopping a wall of Christmas cheer to play "Where's the Love" wouldn't have felt like the right flow for the atmosphere they were creating. I also genuinely love their Christmas albums and haven't had the privilege of hearing live performances of them very often, so I was pleased with the song choices. 

The shows weren't error free. There were lyric flubs, keyboard malfunctions, a few guitar chord mishaps, and one moment they abandoned a song entirely and didn't play it until the following show. Taylor has since revealed on Instagram that he had a minor surgery not long before these shows and welcomed his 7th child the day after the last one. It’s probably a Christmas miracle that things went as smoothly as they did with all of that going on behind the scenes. If we were grading them on performance accuracy, they wouldn't get a perfect score on this one. But I'm not here to grade them, and while I might be literally here to review a performance, I'd rather do it holding a cup of hot chocolate than a sharp red pen. I'm not looking for perfection; I'm looking for a good time, and that’s exactly what I got.

"Everything is different, but nothing's changed" feels like a pretty accurate statement for how I feel about The Christmas Ball event. It can probably be applied and interpreted in many ways, but for me, it means being grateful for good music and for all the usual warm fuzzy feelings it gave me when so many things aren’t usual at all right now. I've made plenty of cheesy past references to feeling at home at Hanson shows (I might be just shy of a "home is where the hanson show is" doormat), and I think it's so true for many of us. So for everyone who might be missing out on in person shows or missing out on family gatherings this holiday season, I think it's fair to say-- "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my streams." Thanks, Hanson, for bringing us your brand of Christmas cheer. 💗

No comments: