June 30, 2021

And We Won't Go Down: Doswell, VA

Photo Credit: kingsdominion.com

On The Road Again

On paper, this trip to see Hanson in Virginia should have been so easy and perfect it was a no-brainer for me to attend. It's a five hour drive, we had great seats and no need to wait in line, and we decided to spend the first half of the day at a theme park literally a mile from the venue. What's not perfect about a summer show close enough to drive to, especially when the opener is a couple of roller coasters?

Well, it turns out a lot of things. This trip was the epitome of the "just roll with it" mentality necessary for any frequent traveler. Our plan A was pretty simple: I drive up to Richmond from South Carolina and stop to pick up my friend from the Raleigh airport (the halfway point) on the way up. It was a plan that died almost immediately when her first flight was delayed enough to miss that connection to Raleigh. All of the options the airline gave her would get her in to Raleigh the next day--the day of the show--which would be pushing it to get us to the show on time and would definitely kill our plan to visit King's Dominion. I was determined to get those thrill rides.

So while she was in the air to Dallas with no idea how she was getting to the east coast, I was frantically searching flight times into every major city on my driving route (hi, it's the Carolinas. I passed four tractors on the way. Raleigh WAS the major city.) "Find something on the way that gets us there tonight" quickly turned into "how far out of the way am I willing to drive to get us there tonight." The answer was Norfolk, which added an hour and a half to the drive and meant I was going to do most of it alone. Still better than having to skip King's Dominion entirely. By some absolute miracle, I was able to get her flight changed while she was flying and get her one of the last seats on that plane.

But then I started driving, and things quickly went downhill for my travel day, too. My phone wouldn't connect to my android auto, so I was stuck holding it in my hand for the first hour. Then it started downpouring while I was holding the map and navigating a narrow two-lane road between tobacco fields. Thankfully, I finally got it connected before I had to get on the interstate, but the rain was freak Jumanji monsoon levels of absurd. It rained off and on the entire way and ended up adding another hour and a half to the drive. My five hour drive creeped up into the 10 hour range, and I've never been more grateful that we chose to come in a day early.

Welcome to the Roller Coaster Ride

Things finally started looking up when the weather cleared and we found ourselves at King's Dominion the morning of the show. Our first ride on The Dominator coaster was amazing, and I was so, so happy to be back at a theme park for the first time since 2019. Then we got on our second coaster, Intimidator 305, and at the first turn, my vision got fuzzy and started to black out. I have never experienced anything like it at the dozens of parks and countless thrill rides I've done. I was telling myself "Don't pass out. Don't pass out." It only lasted a few seconds, and I was worried something might be wrong until we got off and my friend turned to me and beat me to the sentence: "I started blacking out on that first curve." It was a weird relief to realize it had happened to both of us, and Google tells us that apparently this is totally a thing that can happen on that ride, and that they already added extra brakes to it to try to stop it from happening. No thanks, never getting on that one again.

We went on a few more, I got queasy because apparently I'm old now, and I had to sit one out that I knew would make things worse. I finally decided to join in again when we made it to the Drop Tower and reasoned that at least it would be so quick I wouldn't have time to feel worse. The young employee running it had a microphone and was being goofy singing "ring around the rosy" when we made it to the top. He got to the "ashes, ashes, we all fall down" part...and then nothing happened. We sat in silence for a few seconds and I was sure he was building the anticipation of not quite knowing when we would drop, but then more time passed, and still nothing. Then several people talked over each other at the same time on the speaker and we finally heard "Don't panic. There is a maintenance issue and maintenance is on their way. We'll get you down. Just don't panic. Also you may drop at any time." He would be quiet for several seconds and then start talking again, each time emphasizing "Don't panic," and very much sounding like HE was panicking.

I wasn't worried about being hurt, but I was beginning to worry that 1) we'd be stuck up there in direct sunlight in 90 degree heat and 2) I was actually going to miss a Hanson concert due to being stuck on a ride a mile away, and we literally could have seen the concert from that spot if we had just been sitting on the other side of the ride. After several more panicked announcements including a promise of free water and passes to skip a line of our choice once they got us down, we finally dropped about 10 minutes after we got stuck. The whole thing was pretty anti-climactic after a lot of buildup from the guy with the microphone who kept emphasizing that he didn't know how long we'd be stuck while also reminding us in a frantic voice to stay calm. Dude needs some serious crisis training. I got my free pass and walked away thinking "Too bad I can't use this to skip a future Hanson line of my choice."

Every Single Time I See You, I Start To Feel This Way

The show took place on the fairgrounds in Doswell, VA. We're talking a big open field with porta-potties, food tents, and everyone shamelessly getting ready in their cars. The openers were from Nashville and talked about how wild it felt to drive for 20 hours for just one show but that it was a great experience and felt worth it. As I looked around and recognized dozens of faces from all over the country--none of which were from Virginia--I couldn't help but think "You're preaching to the choir here." At the end of their set, the sky exploded into several minutes worth of that Jumanji rain, and none of us had any rain gear. The whole crowd got completely drenched, and all we could do was laugh and be grateful for a little cool-off in the heat.

I didn't think I'd have some big emotional response to seeing Hanson for the first "normal" show since I was fortunate enough to see every one they've played since January 2020. But then they were climbing the stairs to get on the stage, and I could see them grinning, and suddenly my stomach was full of butterflies and anticipation, and my cheeks hurt from smiling so hard. It felt like coming home in the same way most shows feel to me, but this one felt a little extra special. "Waiting For This" was the perfect song to open with, and the crowd went wild when it started. The setlist was your standard one-off set of singles and fan-favorites just as I expected, but the excitement never died down and the crowd was living for it.

One different thing about this show was the presence of a short catwalk, which I had personally never seen at a Hanson show. Isaac came forward to do guitar solos on it several times, and Taylor was all over it any time he wasn't glued to the piano, grabbing hands, shaking the tambourine, and generally having a great time being back in a crowd. The band seemed to be having just as good of a time as we were and really thriving off of the crowd. It was an interesting experience being in the front row for it because it meant sometimes Taylor was technically behind me, and I'd have to turn around to see him jumping at the edge of 4th row. I wish I had anything more specific to share with you, but honestly the whole thing just felt good and right and gave me the best concert high I've felt in a while. 

"And We Won't Go Down" feels like an appropriate title in so many ways. We made it through the rain, the flight delays, the ride malfunctions, and on a bigger scale, the last 16 months since Hanson played their last full capacity show. It's kind of like being stuck up at the top of the Drop Tower. While I was up there, I was going "Yeah we're leaving after this. I may be done with theme parks," but as soon as it was over and I had time to process that I was safe, I was taking my pass to the nearest roller coaster for my next adrenaline fix. All the crazy hours driving in the rain, the detours, the months and months in masks could leave me feeling like I want off the ride for good and that the hassle and risk aren't worth it. But all it takes is that one moment at the top--that one moment in the crowd--to remind me that it's worth the unexpected twists and turns that get us there, that sometimes you just have to trust the safety nets and the science, and that I'll always be stepping off the ride, fast pass in hand for the next one, going "Again!"

June 7, 2021

Against the World: Don't Ever Change

The first time I heard "Don't Ever Change" wasn't earlier this week on RollingStone.com or at midnight on Spotify, it was at a concert in Denver in 2019. The show opened with "Finally It's Christmas," "Don't Ever Change," "Rock 'n' Roll Razorblade," and "Lost Without Each Other." Four songs in, I turned to my friend and asked her "What kind of Benjamin Button setlist is this?!" Hanson had chosen to start the set with the type of adrenaline-inducing songs I had come to expect at the end of a show rather than the beginning, and there was no question that newbie "Don't Ever Change" belonged in that designated rock segment of the setlist.

Now that I have the official studio recording in hand and after a few (dozen?) video watches, I can honestly say for what feels like the first time in my history as a fan, I like the studio version better than when I heard it live. That's not to discredit basically every studio version of a Hanson song ever, but I mean it as a testament to just how much I normally love the feeling of a great rock song going straight to my ears from the stage without the filter of a computer or inferior car stereo. I LOVE this band live, and I love the rush of experiencing a killer rock song in person. To realize I liked this one better on my computer was a bit jarring and out of character. It's a very weird feeling to watch the music video, go "This rocks, I can't wait to hear it live!" then go oh wait, I already did. Four times.

My friend who attended the Wintry Mix tour with me even tried to tell me that she had never heard "Don't Ever Change" before. I had to show her video evidence on Youtube that we had, in fact, stood in a room with that song at least once. In our defense, it was really hard to make out the lyrics, none of the venues we went to had the best sound equipment, and it's challenging to fully appreciate any new song when it's accompanied by a cacophony of shouting and concert talkers. I've been to plenty of gigs with questionable sound quality where my brain effortlessly fills in the gaps for missing words or blundered guitar riffs-- mcuh in teh wya yuor brian cna sitll raed jmulbed wrods--but that's just not something you can do with a song you've never heard before. I hope I get to write another blog in a month or two and recall this moment and just how wrong I was after hearing it live again. 

As for a song analysis? I'm not sure I can give you the type I had in mind for this series of blogs. The lyrics (now that I've properly heard and read them) are straight-forward. If there's any hidden meaning in there, it's deep and my shovel is broken. "Don't Ever Change" is a song celebrating the qualities of a loved one who seems strong, independent, and unafraid to be themselves. It sounds like a vaguely British Tinted Windows song birthed in the early 80s, perhaps in one of the cars in Disney's Rock 'n' Rollercoaster ride. I mean all of that as an overly-specific compliment.

The bridge is phenomenally addictive, easily the Queen-iest part, and I would love to hear an entire song in that style. It also has my favorite lyric: "You're my first day's thought and my last night's prayer." The first time I played it in my car, I caught myself raving in my head thinking "I am LIVING for this bridge!" Then I did some kind of unintentional word association and suddenly found myself making troll puns (see notes below). Welcome to my stream of consciousness; at least there were no raisins this time.

I intended to share my hand-written notes on this one too, but I started doodling on it, and if you think you've had secondhand embarrassment from my dancing skills, just wait until you see the blob that is me drawing a candle. Thank God for free graphic design programs and that I write better than I draw...most of the time.

June 1, 2021

Against The World: ANNALIE

Against The World

Let's have an honest talk about Against The World for a moment. Since its official announcement, fan reactions have been varied somewhere between excited, disappointed, upset, and totally shocked. No matter where you fall on that spectrum, I think it's safe to say that none of us were expecting to be told that ATW would consist of seven songs released one at a time over seven months. I won't lie, I fell solidly in the shocked category at first, and if I had to choose my own three letter acronym the day of the announcement, I'd swap out the "A" for an "F" and reverse the order. Since then, I've thought a lot about how it made me feel and whether I had the right to feel anything at all apart from acceptance. To give you yet another unnecessary food analogy because it's what I do, here's the one I've landed on for an accurate description of my expectations vs. reality regarding Against The World:

Finding out the specifics about Against The World was kind of like having your aunt tell you that she’s bringing her famous sweet potato casserole to Thanksgiving. It’s your favorite dish and you’ve eaten it every year since you were a kid, but this year she shows up and it has raisins in it. Technically she did exactly what she said she was going to do—she brought the casserole—but you weren’t expecting raisins because you didn’t know raisins were even on the table as a possibility. Historically, there’s never been raisins, so you’re disappointed because you made what you thought was a safe assumption based on the information you were given. Basically, Hanson brought the raisins to Thanksgiving, and we weren’t prepared.

It's been a few weeks now, and after having time to digest the announcement--raisins and all--I've accepted the fine print and am excited and ready to hear the rest of the songs. But that still leaves me with a big question as a blogger: how does one properly review an album released in this way? Do I wait until November when we have the whole thing? Do I go song by song? Should I stop at the halfway point and review the first four? Since the announcement, Hanson has made it clear that they are proud of each song from ATW and that they want to give each one the proper attention it deserves. Taking that into consideration, it only seems fair that I try to do the same. I've done a few nerdy analytical posts about single songs in depth in the past, but I normally like to review a full album all at once. Since I also normally like to receive a full album all at once, we're going to try this Hanson's way: a blog post per song, per month, right up until the end.


I loved "Annalie" the first time I heard it previewed at the Wintry Mix tour in 2019. I came home with it stuck in my head for weeks, and I can vaguely remember telling Hanson at some point that they better not scrap it from the Against The World track list. I gushed in my blog and said it was "destined to go down in Hanson history as a classic earworm of a Hanson song."

Now that we have the studio version and the music video, the thing that stands out to me the most is the train imagery. The initial teaser for the release was a cryptic invitation to RSVP with a photo of a train, and the confirmation email included a round-trip "ticket" to Memphis.

The music video followed shortly after and includes similar shots of trains and fields. 

But the most interesting part about the trains is that the lyrics themselves don't actually refer to trains, tracks, railroads, or anything of the sort, just lots of descriptions about traveling through Memphis. So how do I still come away from this song feeling like there were trains hidden in there anyway?

It's all in the sound. The drums, for lack of a better term, have that sort of "chug-a-chug-a" train rhythm where you can practically hear the wheels clicking on the tracks. And the background "ooohs" in the verses? Those are reminiscent of some impressively harmonic train whistles (Think "choo choo," but where the "ch" is silent). I'm a little surprised that they did this all without a single verbal train mention, but I'm also kind of impressed because the image still comes across so clearly that it can't possibly be anything but intentional.

As for the lyrics, if you take it at face value, it's a pretty straight-forward song about a guy searching for this girl, presumably having "lost" her and wanting her back in his life ("Annalie, come home"). He paints her this image of how they could be happy traveling around iconic places in Memphis, emphasizing that it's not really about what they're doing as long as they're together ("I don’t really care where we stop/Just as long as I get to go").

My favorite line is "empty pockets filling our hearts," which reminds me a lot of the feeling I get listening to Simon & Garfunkel's "Looking For America." The sound of the two songs is nothing alike, but there's this similar vibe of two people aimlessly wandering, enjoying their time together, but with a melancholy undertone of still being a bit lost. The difference is in "Annalie," she's not actually with him on the journey; he's romanticizing the idea of what could be if she came back.

Which leads me to the most ironic plot twist of this song that I did not notice until I sat down to write this post and made myself close-read the lyrics. Here's the TL;DR recap of "Annalie" in a single sentence, the bad book summary, if you will: Guy begs girl to come home, cites extensive examples of running away from home as support to get her there.

He's begging her to come home, but then immediately tells her they can run away, "try on someone else's clothes," and disappear in a new city. What? 

I know, I know, I'm reading too much into it. "Home" is simply by his side, and anywhere can be home as long as they're together. I still find it hilarious. "Annalie, come home. JK, here's a list of places I'll take you in Memphis."

Alternate interpretation? Zac has told us that they chose the name "Annalie" because it translates to "God's grace." Given that detail, you could probably argue that the song is about a guy who has lost touch with God and is wandering around trying to find his way again. I'm more inclined to believe that if the name is significant, then the girl--Annalie--IS the grace that God put in his life, and he messed up and lost her and is trying to win her back.