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!"

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