January 11, 2023

Back to the Island 2023

Before I even left the resort this year, I was already hearing people praise Back to the Island 2023 as the best one yet. The feedback I’ve heard so far is overwhelmingly positive, and while I’m not sure I would label it my personal favorite, I would agree that it has probably been the smoothest event yet where everything consistently went well overall. The music was well-rehearsed and varied, the weather was decent, the food was better than usual, the fans were relatively calm, and the staff went out of their way to make sure we were happy. There are a lot of little ways things can go sideways at these events (hello, cold showers and food poisoning), but we didn’t experience any of them. In the words of Isaac Hanson via Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah!

Island Vibes

I don’t know if it was due to the new mix of people that attended (with lots of first timers) or if maybe we’re all celebrating the lack of Covid testing and travel restrictions from last year, but whatever the reason, this year felt a lot more chill. The guys were able to mingle a bit more without being mobbed for selfies, and even the occasional cluster that formed around them waiting for a moment of conversation was nothing compared to the absolute swarm I remember forming around Zac in 2018 when a show got rained out. Taylor didn’t mingle much from what I could tell, but maybe his brothers will put in a good word about our behavior and he’ll feel more comfortable next time.

I think partial credit for the overall relaxed and happy vibe also goes to the resort staff, who in my experience were nothing short of wonderful. They were all smiling, friendly, and attentive. I didn’t get the feeling that they were fed up with us and hating their jobs, which is more than I could say for the Level staff at the Melia at times. I had a really nice conversation with one of the food servers at the buffet who seemed genuinely interested in knowing if we could tell that they were happy to have us there. I gave him an honest yes and a thank you for helping make it an enjoyable experience.

Full Band Shows

The first show was my personal favorite. It stayed mostly upbeat, had several lesser played album songs that I was happy to hear (Get Up and Go, Make it Out Alive, Musical Ride, Watch Over Me), and you can never go wrong with “Sunny Day” during an island vacation. My favorite part, though, was the medley at the beginning of the show. They played “Three Little Birds” with “Stir it Up” into “Back To the Island,” and the whole thing had a very mellow, slow tempo reggae feel. But then the reggae subtly morphed into more of a country vibe, which left me wondering what was going on, and suddenly, right in the middle of covering “Back to the Island,” I heard the unmistakable opening to “Man of Constant Sorrow” from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou. I think it has to take the place of #1 most random song to ever happen at a BTTI, but it was so, so good and honestly my favorite part of the whole trip. It put me in a great mood and set the bar high for the rest of the shows. I tried to tell Hanson how much I enjoyed it during the M&G photo but fully blanked on every identifying aspect of the song in that moment, so I ended up thanking them for “that song in the middle of “Back to the Island” by the Soggy Bottom Boys.” I’m sure they understood. 🤣  

The second show felt like it had an unspoken fan club theme, and I suspect it's the fan favorite. Highlights for me were "Somebody That Wants To Love You," "Running Man" (which has become incredibly rare in the last decade), "Stop Me In My Tracks," and "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" featuring Zach Myers. The setlist was top-notch for stat seekers looking to add to their songs heard live list, but I think the crowd around me ruined some of the potential magic. I stood maybe 6-7 rows back on Taylor’s side at the “end” of a row and managed to have just enough gaps between heads that I could see. That changed when Zac came forward for the acoustic set and multiple people (including several tall men) came out of nowhere for a better view and filled in all of those gaps. I'm usually team "let tall people have good spots too" because they can't control their height any more than I can control mine, but that opinion doesn't extend to choosing a good spot in front of someone else halfway through the show.

Unpopular opinion: I'll take the same people in front row for every show over people casually wandering up to third row mid-show any day. At least I literally know where they stand and can plan accordingly, unlike nomadic drunk person #5 who's moving around like the ground is lava and the only path to safety is to carefully guide three friends into every sightline I ever thought about having.

There were also a lot of phones held way above heads in my vicinity at this show. To leave you with a visual, it wasn't my first time seeing "No Matter The Reason" live, but it WAS my first time seeing "No Matter The Reason" live while also watching a man brush his teeth live on FaceTime. Can we please not?

The last show was mostly RGB themed, which I fully expected to happen at some point. I probably would have swapped the order and made it the first night, but that’s just a minor preference and I don’t call the shots. I didn’t get any new live RGB songs out of it, but I loved the random inclusion of “Dying to Be Alive,” and it was fun to hear Hanson cover “Don’t Worry Be Happy” for the first time. I always forget what a great whistler Isaac is and am impressed every time I hear it. 

It had nothing to do with Hanson, but I can’t leave out a particularly memorable moment that happened during “If Only.” I know I’ve said the service was amazing, but what I haven’t said yet is that it was almost too good at times. Servers were constantly weaving in and out of the crowd with drink trays, and I got asked a minimum of 10 times per show if I wanted something from the bar, even though my answer was “no thank you” every single time. It was a bit much, tbh. Anyway, early during “If Only,” I see a single brave, unsuspecting server start to squeeze his way to the dense center of the crowd while balancing a tray of drinks. I lost track of him before I could see what happened, but all I could think was “That’s not going to end well.” I hope for his sake that he emptied that tray before the harmonica hit.

Solo Shows

This is the part where I remind you that I’m a 10 year attendee and that my expectations for BTTI have been adjusted accordingly. I’m fully aware that it’s not possible to shock me with brand new experiences and song debuts every single time. I can love Isaac’s performance of “Hallelujah/Amazing Grace” and Taylor’s “Sound like Joy,” but that gut punch, butterfly-in-your-stomach “is this moment really happening?” feeling only comes once, and in my case, both were in previous years. I still loved hearing the songs and have zero complaints about the solo shows, they just didn’t send me into gushing fangirl overdrive like I know Hanson is capable of once in a while.

My favorite part was getting to hear "Climb", and even though I heard it once years ago, it took me a moment to figure out what Isaac was playing when he pulled "Make it Through The Day" out of the vault. The timing of the shows meant we got to watch the sun set during Zac and Isaac's sets, and there's really nothing better than standing on the beach watching your favorite band play while the sun goes down over paradise.

Side Events

Family Feud may not be my jam, but at this point it feels like an inevitability that I need to accept. A friend made a comment about a Hanson version of Family Feud, and I think there’s some potential there. Make up some Hanson related questions and use Hnet members to poll as the audience.

Name a reason that Hanson would be late to a concert.
Name something embarrassing you might do during a M&G.
Name an item you might have to borrow at BTTI because you forgot to pack it.
Name a behavior you don't want to see at a concert.

I don't know that there are enough good questions to get two game nights out of it, but I feel like if we're sticking to Family Feud for the long haul, there must be a way to refresh it.

That's not to say I didn't laugh and enjoy parts of it, and I think the whole crowd walked away with a handful of new "inside" jokes with the band. There were definitely a few "you had to be there" moments. 

As for the dance party, I’m all for letting it stay a pool party forever and think themed is definitely the way to go even if they switch it up. I didn’t get in the pool this year, but give me a reason to pick out cute beachwear and I’m down (I’m just more down if the pool is heated). This year's dance party felt the most active with the most people attending/participating and visibly having a good time over previous years. I don't know if that's because it was moved forward a day and people didn't need to worry about packing or not being hung over on a plane, or if there were just more people at BTTI this year so the crowd was fuller. Either way, it was a good time, and the addition of an acoustic set at the bonfire with AMMM the final night kept me from being disappointed about not having anything to do after the show.

Allen Mack Myers Moore

Speaking of AMMM, I just want to drop a quick mention that I enjoyed them as special guests and appreciated all of the fun covers that they did during their set and during the bonfire. I only got to see them twice on the RGB tour, so I was glad for another opportunity. They were talented, entertaining to watch, and seemed genuinely happy to be there.

Gag Reel

If you've been near me at a BTTI in the last several years, you've probably seen me perched on an island-shaped pool float. Last year, I left my beloved island at the resort, so I had to find a replacement. Enter: 72" watermelon raft. It was the perfect size to lay on, but as a 62" person, I can assure you I did not think things through in terms or transporting it once it was inflated. After one rigorous trip of carrying it all the way down to the beach by myself from our room in the farthest building, I finally realized it would be easier with a friend. We devised a simple way to attach my roommate's ice cream float to it and just carry the two together. It worked well enough, but I'll definitely find something more to scale next year.

But lugging it from one end of the resort to the other was just the start of my watermelon woes. My second day using it in the ocean, I was floating next to my friend, other Holly, who was reading in a lounge float that leaves you mostly submerged. I was lying down, eyes closed and halfway asleep when I heard her begin to scream. I picked my head up just in time to witness several small fish jumping out of the water around/on her and one land directly on her chest while she’s desperately flailing her arms to shoe them away. I barely laughed once before I felt something moving on me and looked down to realize that several fish had jumped right up onto my float and body. For those keeping track, the screaming Holly count is now at two. (To her credit, Rachel also caught a spontaneous float fish, but simply tossed it off and went back to relaxing).

I’m not afraid of fish, but it was such an unexpected jump scare moment that I swear I levitated and flew right off of my float and into the water without even realizing that my brain had made the involuntary decision to jump ship. At the last second I heard someone shout "your sunglasses!" because yep, I noped out of that watermelon fishnet so fast that I forgot sunglasses even existed much less that I was wearing them when I dove into the safety of more fish. Pro tip: when three fish are on you, diving face first into a school of a hundred more isn't the answer. Adrenaline and intelligence aren't always linked.

So other Holly ran out of the water while someone helped me retrieve my sunglasses from the ocean floor. Everyone around us was in hysterics including me, because once the shock wore off I realized how utterly ridiculous the whole thing must have looked. There's actually more to this story, but I'm going to drop a link to other Holly's blog and let her tell you the rest. I’ll never forget a moment of it.

If you think I'm done talking about the watermelon, bear with me a moment longer. As you can imagine, Holly and I and several other friends made camp in the pool the next day. Safer, right? I wanted a few photos laying on my adorably inconvenient watermelon since I knew it was my last time using it. When I flipped from my stomach to my back, one of my friends said “Holly, where did you get that bruise on your leg?” I sat up and looked down to a horrifying discovery: my legs were totally discolored with large black marks. Turns out if you lay on a painted float with sunscreen that isn't fully dry, you run the risk of turning the entire thing into a giant ink pad. My legs were covered in watermelon seed prints. The view from the back was worse, but I ran away to clean it before it could set, so there's no photo evidence. Suffice it to say that mistakes were made, lessons were learned, and my watermelon is now, as the saying goes, "sleeping with the fishes."


I can't end without mentioning the fact that this year, we got to celebrate 10 years of Back to the Island. I took a moment to look back at my photos from BTTI 2013, and while I'm lucky not to suffer from FOMO (or rather, my FOMO is so intense it keeps me coming back), the nostalgia is real. That first resort no longer exists; we couldn't go back if we tried. A lot of the smiling faces next to me in those photos are no longer fans, and some, no longer friends. We'll never get to relive the mild chaos of Zac's first tie dye session, and I think it's safe to say that Isaac's days of being coerced into doing the Soulja Boy dance while mixing us drinks are long gone.

A lot can change in a decade, but it's not all bad. They've added the unique experience of solo shows that you can't get anywhere else. We got upgraded from Taylor cooking us fish to Taylor DJing a massive pool party. I've grown from being anxious about my first international trip to feeling like dancing in the Jamaican sand at a Hanson show is my second home. I've learned that the key to my happiness is overpacking swimsuits, that the rain never lasts long, and that there's nothing quite like being in a resort full of people who "get" you and the band. If you attended this year, the first year, or any (or every!) one in between, thank you for being a part of the experience. Happy anniversary. Here's to many more!


asphodelia said...

Great post Holly (but how do you do it? Do you write them while you're still on the plane?).
I had the same impression that this year was a very relaxed, laid back affair. But weirdly, I also noticed that it was a lot harder to get a decent spot like in past years. There were definitely a lot more men, and a few inconsiderate people too (men and women). Like you, I'd much rather have the hardcore front row type of fan around me, because they play by the rules. I think being in this fanbase makes you appreciate our crazy rules more: give me a hardcore fan than the obnoxious drunk couple who have never been to a Hanson show anytime, with the girl dancing to get attention and the guy eyerolling at his bro-friend for the duration of Zac's set.

Anyway - I thought it was the best one, in terms of shows but the first show was way too short! Funny how you thought it was the best one!

Back to writing my own post now - which will probably take me weeks...

Holly said...

@asphodelia Thank you! I got this post done so quickly because for the first time ever, I had the foresight to request an extra day off at the end so I could rest at home for a day before returning to work. And then I completely forgot I did that, so I went back in and requested an extra day at the end of my vacation time. Again. I ended up with two extra days at home after and it was a wonderful mistake. I used one of them to work on getting this post done.

I almost mentioned that the only flaw of the first show was that it was too short, but I decided to leave it out because in all honesty I didn't notice until Katie told me after. I was too distracted by "Man of Constant Sorrow." I feel like I've complained of a setlist being too short a time or two from past BTTIs, and I really don't know what makes them decide to do shorter shows once in a while.

Good luck writing yours! I'm so glad you got to be there :-)

Allie said...

I took a similar photo of all of the phones. I’m 5’5” but when the sea of phones go up it’s nearly impossible to see! Your comment about the bartender entering the crowd during If Only has me cracking up. I wonder what happened 😂