Back To The Island 2022

January 5 – 10, 2022

A week ago today I was enjoying my last evening in Jamaica, relieved to have received a negative Covid test to be able to fly back to the US in the morning. Today, I’m sitting in my bedroom in a snowy Nashville, still in disbelief that this year’s trip actually happened. If you’re tired of hearing about Covid, feel free to skip down to paragraph three. Right now, the travel requirements for Jamaica are that you have to have a negative Covid test 72-hours before you arrive, regardless of vaccination status. I’m happy to report that I’m triple Pfizered, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t on edge for an entire 6 weeks prior to the trip. I wore my mask everywhere, including in my own house, starting around mid-December, and spent New Year’s Eve alone in my bedroom while my roommate had some friends over.

Maybe I was being overly cautious, but between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, I dodged two roommates, three family members, and more coworkers than I can keep track of who had all tested positive. I was beyond relieved when both my PCR and Antigen tests came back negative and I was clear to head to Jamaica. Even then, I was still worried about the possibility of any of my friends or Hanson testing positive. But eventually, my friends’ tests started coming in one after the other, all negative, and then all three Hansons were on my flight into Montego Bay, which finally put all my worries aside for a few days.

I always opt to travel to Jamaica a day before the event starts because by the time you get through customs, baggage claim, and a 90 minute shuttle ride, it ends up being evening by the time you get to the resort. We finally checked in, dropped our luggage in our room, and then my friend gave me a quick tour of the Jewel. This was my 4th BTTI, but my other three years were at the Melia. I now understand why everyone liked the Jewel so much better: the staff was friendlier, the layout just makes more sense, the beach was 100 times better, and in my opinion, the food was better. The Level rooms at the Melia were pricier, but they were nicer than the rooms at the Jewel, and the Level Lounge had better quality alcohol, but that’s really all it had going for it. We then changed into swimsuits under dresses, grabbed some teppanyaki, hot tubbed, and called it a day.

I inadvertently found myself falling into a daily routine on the island. I’d wake up, put on a swimsuit and coverup, get a cold brew, and go to breakfast. Then I’d grab a frozen drink, get in the ocean and float around until the fish started nibbling. Then I’d go to one of the pools, get another frozen drink and float around there. I’d get a snack from the pool restaurant and a diet coke and bourbon and continue to sit around in the water. Eventually I’d get out and dry off in time to walk over to the stage for a solo show. After that, I’d freshen up, grab dinner, and watch the main show. Basically, I was living my best life as only a half-mermaid Hanson fan can.

I thought each show was far better than the past few BTTIs, despite missing their backup guitarist/keyboardist Demetrius. (Rumor is he didn’t have Covid, but had marked on his travel form that he had been exposed, and thus wasn’t allowed into Jamaica.) They started the first show off with a cover medley of “Three Little Birds” and “Stir It Up”, and then proceeded to play some of the non-single favorites such as “Dance Like You Don’t Care”, “Sunny Day”, “Dancing In The Wind”, and “Tearing It Down”. One Against The World song made the cut on night one, and it happened to be my favorite of the seven, “Only Love”. I just got my first tattoo ever of this song back in November, so it was really special to hear it for the first time since then.

I don’t know if this was always the plan, or if it was a last-minute switch after losing Demetrius, but night two was all acoustic. I unexpectedly ended up front row for this one, which I think made it that much better. I wonder if I would have found it to be a bit too mellow otherwise, but I really enjoyed it. They pulled “River” out of the vault, complete with a mashup of Hootie and The Blowfish’s “Only Wanna Be With You”, an acoustic “Runaway Run” never disappoints, and we heard a couple of my favorites “No Rest For The Weary” and “Tonight”.

The final full-band show was all rock no stop, and I loved every minute of it. I could go on and on (no pun intended) listing almost every song they chose as a favorite, so instead, I’ll just let you read the whole setlist:

https://www.hansonstage.com/setlist.php?show_id=1425

Zac started his solo show out with “Change”, which had previously only been played on 2021’s BTTI stream from 3CG. He also played us a brand new (well, brand new to us at least) song called “Magic Man”, and I’m curious if it’ll end up on the recently announced upcoming Red Green Blue, but it sounded to me more like something that would be found on a members’ EP. And speaking of members’ EPs, Zac played 10 songs during his solo set and 8 of them were members’ only! This is the kind of content I like to hear during these sets, so Zac got an A+ from me.

I need to be honest with you here about Isaac’s solo set: I wanted to be able to say that I watched at least part of one of the shows from the ocean, so I chose Isaac’s solo set… and I may have had a little too much bourbon in the process. I distinctly remember he played “Soldier”, which hadn’t been played since 1998, and he played “Begin Again” for the first time, which I love. Beyond that, I had to resort to Hansonstage for the rest. There was a gorgeous sunset happening during his set which took me back to The Albertane Tour. I saw them at an amphitheater, and to this day I have a vivd memory of 18-year-old Isaac telling us all to turn around and look at the sunset as he began playing “More Than Anything”.

Taylor’s solo set was, to me, the best of the three this year. He started with one of my favorites, “Feeling Alive”, pulled “Out Of My Head” from the unreleased-never-been-played*-but-everyone-knows vault, gave us a hint about the now-announced Red Green Blue album by playing its yet-to-be-released first single “Child At Heart”, covered “Dancing In The Street”, and ended with last year’s new song, “Sound Like Joy” which I believe was supposed to be released on some sort of Black Wallstreet Music Project. (What ever happened to that?)

Overall, there was a really great mix of old favorites, unreleased, brand new, and new covers, and everything sounded really well rehearsed too. Aside from the couple new songs, if I had to pick a highlight it would be hearing “Begin Again” and “Change”. Without having Hanson Day in 2020, we didn’t get to hear all of CBIB live, and I had resigned myself to it being the forgotten EP, never to be heard of again. I didn’t go to the July shows last summer, so I still need to hear “Dressed In Brown Eyes”, while “Miss You Like Crazy” and “All I Know” still haven’t been played live. Maybe there’s hope for hearing them at Hanson Day 2022.

This year’s special guest was a local Jamaican band named Raging Fyah. From what I saw on Facebook, people had mixed reactions to this news. I for one was really excited. I don’t know if this was just a result of Covid and it being harder to find a US band willing and able to travel in, but I had actually suggested getting a local Jamaican band on my feedback the past few years. We get to hear Hanson’s friends on almost every tour, so why not take this opportunity to hear something different. And let me tell you, they did not disappoint! I had such a great time listening to them, and everyone seemed to have fun dancing around. I hope we get more native bands in the future, wherever Back To The Island takes us.

This year in general felt different than previous years just due to the ever-present concern about Covid, and this was hit heaviest when they announced that they were cancelling our photos with the band. I respect the choice they made, but I do wish they had announced that decision prior to our arrival in Jamaica. They are making up for it by giving each of us a free ticket and a meet and greet to a show of our choice on the upcoming Red Green Blue Tour, and I think that’s a fair trade-off. For this same reason, there wasn’t any interaction with the band outside of two socially distanced rounds of Family Feud with Isaac and Zac, and a DJ Taylor Up On An Elevated Ledge Pool Dance Party.

Family Feud was split into four teams this year: a yellow Team Zac and red Team Isaac night one, and a blue Team Zac and green Team Isaac night two. I was on yellow Team Zac, and my friends and I ended up being the very first team called up… which was unfortunate as I had too much to drink to be climbing onto a stage without stairs and thinking quick on my feet. A friend captured a very embarrassing video in which I was asked: Name a bad job for someone who is forgetful. I immediately hit the buzzer, and then my mind went blank. Isaac proceeded to yell at me to answer, so I blurted out my own profession (accountant), which was not on the list. The top answer ended up being doctor. I’ll spare you the video, but please enjoy this photo of me facepalming while trying to think of an answer while Isaac is yelling at me. Our team was able to redeem ourselves with our second question: What is something a musician buys when they hit it big.

 📸: Laura Thorp

Despite the lack of interaction and photos with the band, this was probably my favorite Back To The Island that I’ve been to, save for maybe 2019 which was my first year that didn’t get ruined by four days of monsoon. I do think this year objectively might have been better than 2019 (other Islanders, I’d love to hear your thoughts!), but 2019 I was just so overly excited about everything because it felt like my first real time going. As a 4th year attendee, I begrudgingly packed a bag with room to bring home an ugly, red visor and was pleasantly surprised to see that this year they switched to a pretty blue full cap that I will actually wear! Here’s hoping for a smooth, rain-free, pandemic-free 2023 Back To The Island where I can finally receive the coveted 5th year gift of a passport cover and luggage tag, and I hope any and all future BTTI DJ Taylor dance parties take place in the pool. In the meantime, you may now return to your regularly scheduled RGB tour planning… will I see you on the road?

*”Out Of My Head” was actually played one other time, over 20 years ago.

New Utulsicona + (ATW + Listeners’ Choice)²

September 22 – October 4, 2021

New Utulsicona = Utah + Arizona + New Mexico + Tulsa. My friend and I started talking over a year ago about going to Utah and New Mexico sometime in 2021, since we both wanted to cross them off our list of states we need to visit. Before Hanson announced the Against The World+ concert series, we had talked about going some time in the fall. So when we saw the October dates pop up for Hanson, we got to planning our epic adventure, and invited a third friend to join us.

The three of us met up in Salt Lake City to begin our adventure. We got in pretty late, so we grabbed a quick dinner by the hotel and called it a night. We spent most of that first full day exploring the city. We went to Temple Square and walked around the LDS conference center, which has an observation deck with cool views of the city. Unfortunately, the actual temple is under construction until 2025, so we were not able to go see it. Then we headed over to a music venue called The Great Saltair. It looks like it belongs on the set of Aladdin, and is right on Salt Lake. We walked along the salt-crusted beach and took a lot of fun photos. We didn’t have time to walk all the way out to the water, because there’s probably at least a mile of beach leading up to it. It was definitely a unique experience (one of many on this trip!) and felt like we were in such a desolate area. A friend of ours lives just outside the city, and we met up with her and her husband for dinner. After dinner, we went to the Usana Amphitheater for a Garbage & Alanis Morisette concert. I never really followed either of them back in the day, but I was surprised by how many songs I recognized. It was a lot of fun, and was my first non-Hanson concert since before covid.

The next day, we slowly made our way down to Zion National Park, stopping for a look at Bridal Veil Falls along the way. After settling into our hotel, we wandered off to Grafton Ghost Town. We got there right at golden hour, and it made for some fun photo shoots amongst all the old buildings. For being a ghost town, some of the buildings had some impressively new construction, but my absolute favorite part was a tombstone for someone named Cedar Pete. I’m filing that name away as a potential future pet name.

Saturday was our big hiking day. My friends were wanting to hike Angel’s Landing, and knowing it was a popular trail, plus knowing the high was going to be 91°, we agreed to get an early start. We ended up getting to the park around 6:30am, and by the time we got on a shuttle and got to the trailhead, it was around 7:30am. If you aren’t familiar with Angel’s Landing, it’s a 5 mile round-trip difficult trail. The last round trip mile is a narrow, rocky trail with chains to help pull yourself up. Over the past few years, I’ve developed a new fear of heights. Some things don’t bother me, but the idea of falling off a canyon cliff certainly does, so I opted out of that portion of the trail. The end of the trail leading to the chain section has a set of 21 switchbacks named Walter’s Wiggles. While I do enjoy hiking, I am not at all in shape, and therefore am quite slow at it and need to stop to catch my breath a lot. I wasn’t confident I would be able to make it up Walter’s Wiggles, but I was determined to try. Knowing that I’m slower, I told my friends to go ahead without me and that I’d either meet them at the top or the bottom, depending on how long it all took.

Having started early in the morning, the sun was technically up, but it had not yet risen over the canyon walls, which meant the hike up was mostly in the shade. It was actually kind of chilly, and therefore I was so glad we started when we did. After maybe an hour, I asked a passerby if she was keeping track of how many switchbacks we had hiked – I wanted to know how close I was to finishing Walter’s Wiggles… only to learn those were not the wiggles. Here I was thinking I was almost done with the trail when in fact I had barely gotten started. However, after those first few long switchbacks, you reach what is called Refrigerator Canyon. It’s a much flatter portion of the trail that stays in the shade all day. It was a nice relief before actually reaching Walter’s Wiggles. I had stopped so many times to catch my breath and take pictures, I was convinced I would run into my friends coming down the trail before I got to the wiggles, but I was wrong. So, I got back to it. I think I ended up stopping after every 2-3 switchbacks to catch my breath, but I eventually made it to the top – to Scout’s Lookout.

I’m about to be more vulnerable than I typically am on this blog, but I found myself getting emotional on the way up Walter’s Wiggles. As someone who is plus size, I was getting frustrated with myself for how often I needed to stop and rest – even before the wiggles. Every so often, I passed someone who was on their way down who would stop to tell me “You’re doing great! You’re almost there!” (That last one was usually a lie.) I couldn’t help but wonder if they were telling that to everyone they passed, or if it was so obvious that I was struggling more than anyone else on the trail. But then about halfway up the wiggles it dawned on me that no one I had seen (so far) on the trail looked like me… and yet, here I was, still doing it. So what if it took me longer, if I had to stop twice as often, if I was obviously struggling? I was doing the same activity at nearly twice the weight as some of these other people, and that’s a different kind of strength. I pushed myself beyond what I thought I was capable of (remember, I wasn’t convinced I’d actually make it up all the switchbacks), and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

After wrestling with my emotions, I rested at Scout’s Lookout for about half an hour, and kept an eye out for my friends up ahead. Here there were beautiful views of the canyon, outhouses, a ton of people stopping to eat before hitting the chain section of the trail, and a million aggressive chipmunks literally climbing onto people searching for food. I ended up wielding my hiking poles around like a weapon while eating after a man told me there was one on my back. There were a lot of people milling around, and so I decided I should go ahead and start back down the trail in case I missed my friends, and knowing I’d be slower than them on the descent anyway if I hadn’t. Once again, I was glad we started early in the morning, because most of the way down was in the sun and it had finally reached 90°, and it was way too hot. I ended up getting back to the trailhead about 30 minutes before my friends. We rested for a bit at the picnic tables, then hiked the short 1-mile Riverside Walk trail which leads to the narrows. We did not have the energy (or the time, really) to actually go into the narrows, but it seems like a cool experience. Maybe someday.

The next day we were sore and tired, but thankfully we had a 4pm check out at our hotel. We slowly got around to packing up and eventually headed south to Page, Arizona. It was a short drive, and we did nothing but hang out in the hot tub once we got there, which felt great on our tired muscles. In the morning, we headed out to see Antelope Canyon. I was actually in Page for a couple days last summer, but at the time, Antelope Canyon was still closed due to covid. This time we lucked out, and reservations had opened up just before our trip. They still have limited capacity, so we were in a small group with about 4 other people on our tour. Our guide showed us the best places to stand and what angles to shoot our phones at to get some breathtaking photographs. I’m actually glad they have limited capacity – I imagine that in normal times, there would be too many people in the way. If you have the chance to go before they fully open back up, I highly recommend it!

After visiting Antelope Canyon, we went down to Horseshoe Bend. It’s such a beautiful overlook into the Colorado River. Last summer when I was there, it was about 110°, and even though it was a short walk, I got overheated and started feeling lightheaded. So it was great to have a do-over this year and enjoy it a little more. We finally headed out to a small trail past the Glen Canyon Dam, where we wanted to wait out and watch the stars after it got dark. However, we took one look at the trail and decided we were still too tired and sore from hiking Zion, and realized it was also going to be too overcast to see a lot of stars anyway. We stayed for a little while and enjoyed feeling like we were the only people left on the planet, and then called it an early night.

Finally feeling rested, we were ready for our road trip day: an 8-hour drive from Page to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with some planned stops along the way. The first of which was Four Corners Monument, where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado meet. It was about 30 minutes out of our way, and I’m glad we made the stop – but if I’m being honest with you, I don’t think it’s worth going more than that out of your way. There’s a plaque built into the sidewalk where the four corners meet, a plaque for each of the four states with their state seals, and a few booths where you can buy Native American crafts and souvenirs. Other than a quick photo op, there isn’t much to see. So we continued on our way to stop number two: Shiprock, New Mexico. Or rather… we tried. We had seen online that Shiprock is a cool looking monadnock, but what we didn’t realize was there is no quick access from the highway. We were literally chasing daylight, so we decided seeing it from a distance in the car was good enough, and did not actually go to the landmark.

The reason we were chasing daylight is because we wanted to have plenty of time to see our final stop, the Bisti Wilderness. Throughout the trip (and the planning of our trip), we jokingly referred to it as Not Earth. I mean, just look at these pictures: if I woke up in these badlands with no memory of how I got there, I just might actually believe I had been abducted by aliens. It was so cool to see all the hoodoos and piles of petrified wood, and if we had more time to spare, we probably would have been easily lost. Now this would have been a great place to stay up and watch the stars, but we had an extra early morning planned for the following day, so we needed to keep heading east and get to Albuquerque.

Why such an early morning in Albuquerque? We had booked a flight on a hot air balloon and needed to be checked in at 6:15am. New Mexico is known for it’s hot air balloon fiesta, but we were actually there a few days before the start. This meant there were “only” about 20 balloons flying (instead of ~600!), and this also meant our flight (and our hotel) was about half the price. I also had the chance to ride in a hot air balloon over Asheville, NC back on the MOE tour, so this wasn’t my first trip, though it was both of my friends first times. Riding in a hot air balloon is unlike anything else I’ve experienced. It’s very calm, quiet (when the flame isn’t going), and gentle. It was a gorgeous morning and we watched the sun rise over the mountains. After landing in the middle of a residential street, we ended with a mimosa toast. After some much needed caffeinating, we headed up to Santa Fe where we spent the rest of the day. It’s a very colorful, quaint town with lots of little shops. I bought myself a little red chile ornament and had fun taking lots of photographs. We found some really great chili rellenos for lunch, spent too much money relaxing in a hokey salt cave, and finished the day with some churros from a food truck behind a muffler shop.

The following day was supposed to be pretty easy: sleep in, pack up (for the 84th time), grab lunch, fly to Tulsa. The first three activities went as planned. We had plenty of good food on our trip, but had not yet had any Native American food. So, for lunch, we went to the Indian Pueblo Kitchen. Never in my life have I had such a hard time deciding what to order. Everything sounded so delicious, relatively healthy, and unlike anything I had had before. We ended up splitting some blue corn onion rings with green chile ranch and some fry bread with honey and red chile raspberry preserves. For my meal, I went with their version of a french dip: fry bread, beef, cheese, hatch green chile, and served with a red chile au jus. It was all so good, but my favorite part was the red chile raspberry preserves. I’m not sure if they sold any in jars or not, but I was already packed with no room to spare, so I’m just going to have to buy some online now that I’m home. We also picked up a few Pueblo pies to take with us to Tulsa.

We got to the airport two hours before our flight, dropped off our rental car, checked our luggage (we had a lot of luggage), and went through security. Sure enough, the massage gun I packed in my backpack was stopped by security. I couldn’t check it since it has a lithium battery, but it was worth hauling it around for the relief it provided after hiking. As soon as we all got through security, I went to double-check the monitor for what gate we were leaving out of… and that’s when I saw it: ABQ to DAL was cancelled. We kept walking to the gate to go ahead and get in line to talk to an agent, and meanwhile we were alerted on our phones that we were automatically rebooked for a flight the next day, going from ABQ to PHX to TUL. We were supposed to be getting to Tulsa Thursday night, and now we were rescheduled to get there Friday afternoon. Thankfully, the new flight was still getting us in before the first Hanson concert, but we were looking forward to spending the day in Tulsa with our friend who did not do the rest of the trip with us.

We looked up all the other possible flight options, including other airlines, and without spending $700, it looked like this was our best option after all. However, we did ask the agent if we could fly to Phoenix that same night rather than the next day, and we lucked out. We decided this would leave one less thing to deal with the next day, plus it meant we didn’t need to stay another night in Albuquerque as the balloon fiesta was starting and hotel prices had risen. So, after getting our checked baggage from baggage claim at ABQ, then re-checking it, and then going through security again, we made it to Phoenix. Last summer I went to Phoenix and found a fun taco restaurant in an old church that serves tequila flights out of communion cups. So we decided to make the best of our unexpected 15-hour Phoenix layover and went out for tacos and drinks. The following morning, we flew to Tulsa and made it there without further incident.

Tulsa is literally home to one of my friends who was on this trip, but for my other friend and I, it certainly has begun to feel like home this past year. After a long trip visiting new places, the idea of home away from home had all new meaning. Right around the time we landed in Tulsa, Hanson was posting on social media about a few new beers they had at Nothings Left Brewery: a Russian Doll Stout and a White Russian Stout. We were already planning on going anyway, so as soon as we got settled in to the hotel, we got our friend and headed out. I thought they were both pretty good, but so far nothing has topped the Second Breakfast Oatmeal Stout they had at Hop Jam one year.

I have a confession to make: I am not a fan of setlist voting. Usually the songs I’d pick aren’t even options, and the ones I vote for tend to lose. But the main reason I don’t like it is because it leaves little room for surprises during the concerts. That said, the Listeners’ Choice shows back in January were some of my favorite over the past year, so I had hope that we’d have a few surprises this time around (punavoidable song reference). We voted on a total of 20 songs for this set of shows, so I was hoping each show would be 6 ATW songs + 10 voted songs one night, the other 10 the next night + 5-6 surprise songs. Instead, each show was exactly the 20 voted for songs + the 6 ATW songs and 0 surprises. They did switch the order around for night two, but they were otherwise identical, with the one surprise exception of an acoustic version of “If Only” on night two (which, considering my body was tired and broken, I was grateful for).

As we figured this was our last time to be in Tulsa before returning to the normal business of Hanson Day weekends, one friend and I decided to stick around on Sunday and head home Monday. This ended up being one of the best decisions we made. At first I was worried that extending our trip from 12 days to 13 days would be the tipping point of exhaustion, but I found the opposite to be true. Having a lowkey day on Sunday meant the chance to sleep in, then nap, and take the chance to repack one final time without feeling rushed. We also had an opportunity to volunteer with Food On The Move, and soaked in one last quiet night on Main Street. While I was certainly tired when I got home Monday, I wasn’t as exhausted as I anticipated, and for that I am grateful.

I don’t know if I will ever have the opportunity to go on a trip that extensive again, and I’m still recovering from the amount of missed work emails and lack of introvert time. However, I would jump on the chance if it comes up. I have seven states left to visit, and an international bucket list that is over 40 countries long. I don’t know if I’ll get to all of it in this lifetime, but I know one thing for certain: “God only knows all the places I’ll see.”

ATW² + Shout It Out + Anthem

September 2-5, 2021

The Travel

I don’t have quite the travel adventure story as my last Tulsa trip, as this one was thankfully without incident. I was surprised, however, to run into a friend and her husband at my gate, and because of Southwest’s open seating, I was able to fly with them from Nashville to Dallas. (She’s also a co-worker, so reader beware if you’re one who fakes a sick day for a travel day!) I did end up spilling my soda all over myself on the flight, and I was thankful to be next to a friend instead of a random stranger.

We’ve done the Tulsa thing quite a few times over the past year, and the heat index was over 100°. So, my friends and I did not do much sight seeing this trip. The only place we went outside of the Arts District was to Nothings Left Brewery. I tried two 5oz pours of their beer: a chocolate peanut butter stout and a strawberry blonde ale. I didn’t care for the strawberry blonde, but the stout (Deez Nuts) was great! I also got their frozen flight, which is the main reason we went. It came with a cherry blackberry lime beer slush, a strawberry piña colada beer slush, and a boozy dole whip. The dole whip was definitely the best of the selection, and I’m looking forward to going back for another one some time. They were all small pours, but it added up and I was feeling quite silly the rest of the afternoon!

ATW + Shout It Out

I’ll admit it, Shout It Out is probably my least favorite Hanson album. But it’s still Hanson, and I really do love a lot of the songs on it. I didn’t realize until we were at the show how many of those songs I haven’t heard in awhile. Most notably, I’ve really missed “Give A Little” live, and I think it should come back out of the vault and replace any time Hanson wants to play “Get The Girl Back” instead. It had also been awhile since I had heard “Make It Out Alive”, “These Walls”, “Carry You There”, and “Kiss Me When You Come Home”. The biggest surprise of the night was when the groove for “Kiss Me When You Come Home” kept going, and then suddenly turned into a cover of “Hard to Handle” followed by “Hold On I’m Coming”. I was right in front of Isaac for this show, and he was really getting into, and it was great watching him have so much fun.

As for the new single, “Stronger”, this month I opted to skip listening to it until after the first concert. It had been awhile since I’ve heard a new song live for the first time, and so I wanted to remain spoiler-free this time around (pun intended, of course). I did listen to the preview clip on Hanson.net, and from that I was expecting a Taylor solo… especially after seeing the t-shirt design with just Taylor in the spotlight. And speaking of Taylor in the spotlight, if you’ve watched the music video, they mimicked that same lighting for the performance. I couldn’t easily understand all of the lyrics live that first night, but I got chills regardless. I’ll save the rest of my thoughts on “Stronger” for my Against The World review, but I hope this is one we get to hear repeatedly for a long while.

ATW + Anthem

A lot of the songs off Anthem are still in pretty heavy rotation live. However, despite it being (sort of) the title of this whole blog, I almost didn’t recognize “Scream And Be Free” when it started, because it had been so long since I had heard it live. A quick search on what my friends and I now call Hoogle (Hanson Google), aka Hansonstage, the last time I heard it was at the 2016 Hanson Day – five years ago! The highlight of the show for me was Zac’s solo of “Save Me From Myself.” This song absolutely wrecks me (and apparently Isaac), and I had only heard it one other time.

My friends and I decided to hang around and get some things signed by the guys at the end of the night, and I decided there was no better time to ask Zac to write out the words “Scream And Be Free”. One of my friends had a migraine and went back to her room, but she asked me to have Taylor sign something for her. I only had two pieces of paper on me at the time: my concert ticket (print at home version), which I decided should be the one for my friend, and my boarding pass from my flight to Tulsa – which I don’t even always print. As this blog is part Hanson, part travel, part both, it feels serendipitous that I was able to get him to write it out for me on the boarding pass, especially considering I had never even thought of asking him to until hearing it live that night.

With that, another great weekend in Tulsa came to an end. As much as I miss traveling to new places to see Hanson, and all the other things that come with a regular tour, it’s going to be weird when we eventually go back to only having Tulsa shows once a year. I always joked that it was like a second home (or third, or fourth, since Nashville isn’t my original home), but the past 12 months have definitely taken that to a new level. But whether in Tulsa, Tokyo, or the Middle of Nowhere, I will aways Scream and Be Free(s).

The PNW: Mother-Daughter Edition

August 20 – 25, 2021

Oregon

My mom and I both have a goal of seeing all 50 states. Before Covid times, she had made it to all but three: Washington, Oregon, and Hawaii. I went to Hanson’s show in Hawaii in 2019 which was state #39 for me, and Washington & Oregon were two of my remaining states as well. So, we started talking about going to see them together. Then Covid happened and travel took a halt. But, here we are a year later, vaccinated and masked and ready to go somewhere new!

I live in Nashville, and my mom lives in Michigan, so we tried our best to coordinate flights that got in around the same time and were decently priced for each of us. This meant a layover in Phoenix for each of us, and from there we were on the same flight into Seattle. However, that flight got into Seattle at midnight. Pacific time. For those of you who might be reading this outside of the US, that means it was 2am for me and 3am for my mom. We. Were. Tired. AND THEN we waited over two hours to get a rental car. I had reserved an SUV just because it was the cheapest option at the time. Instead, we got a Camaro which barely fit our luggage. At that point I had been up for nearly 24 hours and was thankful to have a car, no matter what kind it was.

After a few hours of sleep at our hotel, we got up and headed for the coast. What should have been a 3 hour drive ended up taking quite a bit more time, but we finally made it to our first real stop: Canon Beach, Oregon. It was an overcast, foggy day with a high of 63°, and honestly it was a relief after months of 90°+ in Nashville. I love any chance I can get to see the ocean, and it had been two years since I had been to the Pacific Ocean, so I made sure to stick my toes in the water – though not for long! We had a late lunch at Mo’s where we each tried their famous clam chowder. I wouldn’t normally want hot soup in August, but the weather was perfect for it.

We spent some time driving around the Canon Beach area, and then made our way toward Portland. This was a beautiful drive, and one of my favorite parts of our trip. We went through the Tillamook Forest, a rainforest that had vibrant greens everywhere we looked. As much as I did not like having a Camaro for the trip, I could tell it was built to handle curves, and it was fun to drive as we wound our way into the city. We got to Portland in time to grab dinner, but wanted to keep it light since we had a late lunch. A friend had recommended BG’s Food Cartel (technically in Beaverton, OR, which is where we were staying), as Portland is known for its food trucks. I got some sushi and tried a loganberry cider. I loved the cider and immediately regretted not having room in my luggage to bring any back home with me.

The next morning, we got an early start and went straight for Multnomah Falls. Currently, timed reservations are required to visit the falls, and we managed to book a morning time slot. However, having the reservations does not guarantee a parking spot, and everything I had read said to get there early because parking was limited. And y’all, they weren’t joking. There was one tiny lot that could maybe fit 20 cars. I was expecting a bigger lot than that! (And maybe there is additional parking elsewhere, but if so, we missed it). But, we lucked out! When we pulled in, there was one open spot! The waterfall is directly across from the lot, with a little gift shop. I was expecting to have to hike up a short path to get to it, so I was surprised to see it right away! There is a bridge that crosses between the upper falls and the lower falls, and it’s a 1/4 mile hike up to the bridge. I went up there to take some pictures, but I honestly thought the view was better from the lower falls. From below, I had a better idea of just how high up the falls are! The bridge was also the start of a longer 1-mile hike up to the top of the falls, but it was raining and we were limited on time (and I’m a slow hiker), so I opted out of that trail.

Next, we headed into the city. I love reading, but bookstores are not really my thing. I prefer borrowing from the library for free over buying a book, unless it’s something I think I’ll read multiple times. However, I knew my trip to Portland would not be complete without a visit to Powell’s City of Books. I’m big on the Enneagram (9w1 here), so I was hoping to find The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher Heuertz. How is it that a massive, four-story city-block sized book store did not have the one book I was looking for? Instead I bought The Enneagram of Belonging, also by Heuertz. I’m looking forward to digging into it, but I have another nonfiction that I’m finishing up first. I also perused the shelf of staff recommended books, and found What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad. I had never heard of it, but it’s a fictional story of a child refugee from Syria, and it sounds so good! After buying the books, we went over to Deutsches Brewery’s Public House for lunch. I’m slowly learning what beers I like, and it’s mostly porters and stouts. I ordered a half pint of their Black Butte Porter and loved it! (As a side note, can we get more half pints in America, please? In my opinion, a full pint is way too filling to have with a meal.)

After lunch, the rain cleared up and we decided to stop and smell the roses. Literally. We went to Washington Park to see the International Rose Test Garden, where they test different cross breeds of roses. There were thousands of rose bushes and hundreds of varieties, and they were all so beautiful. After visiting the park, we spent some time driving through different neighborhoods of Portland. We then grabbed some pizza for dinner from Pizzicato and then called it a night.

Washington

The following morning, we headed back up to Washington. We both wanted to see Mt. St. Helen’s, and it was only about an hour off the interstate. Once again, we found ourselves on a beautiful, winding road with incredible views. All along the way, there were patches of pine trees that were so perfectly straight*, so symmetrical, and so identical to each other that they seemed like they belonged in one of those Christmas village house sets. (*Why do we use the phrase “stick straight” when most sticks are really anything but straight?) I was told that there are two sides of the volcano you can easily get to, and that the north side at the Johnston Ridge Observatory was the more dramatic side, so we chose that one. The view from the observatory was incredible. At the observatory, there’s a summit with a 360° view, and nearly all of it had been destroyed. Mt. St. Helen’s erupted 41 years ago, and there is still very little new growth in the area, and we could still see a stream of gray ash that went for miles.

We then made our way up to Tacoma, which was on my list of places I wanted to see if we had time, but that I didn’t ever bother to read anything about, or look into any specific places to visit. We put in the address of a small waterfront park and got out and walked along a fishing pier. We drove around the town a little bit, and it seems like a beautiful place. We finally decided it was getting late enough that we should check into our Seattle hotel and grab some dinner. A college friend of mine lives in Tacoma, and he had suggested a waterfront seafood restaurant called Anthony’s. I looked it up, and it’s a local chain that had a location in the suburb of Des Moines, which was only about 10 minutes from our hotel. It was a beautiful evening, so we opted to sit outside on their deck and watch the sunset over the water while we ate. I love seafood, and that night I had some incredible scallops along with a fun cocktail. We ended up finishing dinner before the sun went down, so we walked out on another pier to wait for it to set. There were lots of people out crabbing, and I was surprised to learn they use chicken legs as crab bait!

Our fourth and final day, we made our way into downtown Seattle. Our first stop was, of course, coffee, especially since our hotel ran out and only had decaf! Neither my mom nor I care about Starbucks, but we wanted to start the day at Pike’s Place Market, so I found a different local shop, Anchorhead, right near the market. It was a great cup of coffee, and I wished I had room in my luggage to bring a bag home. Wandering through Pike’s Place took up a good portion of our morning, and it was fun to see all the different flowers, seafood, and beautiful produce for sale. At that point, we were getting hungry for lunch, and my mom had a craving for Chinese. We found a great spot in Chinatown where we could have split a meal, the portions were so large, had we only known. On our way to Chinese, we drove by the Space Needle to take a quick picture, but neither of us wanted to spend the money on going up it. After lunch, we went to find the houseboats (ala Sleepless in Seattle), but not surprisingly, they’re blocked off with private entrances. That doesn’t mean I didn’t peak my head over the hedges when I could, though.

Although neither of us care about Starbucks, I had heard that the Starbucks Reserve Roastery was worth going to, even if you aren’t a big fan of the regular Starbucks – and I agree! Aside from watching them (well, the machines) burn roast their beans, they have an entire pastry section as well as a cocktail bar. My mom doesn’t care for coffee that isn’t a simple black cup of coffee, and the normal coffee line was too long to be bothered. But, she humored me while I went to the cocktail bar and ordered a flight of espresso martinis (Orange Cacao, Molé Spice, and Cherry Limone), and we split a strawberry tart. I enjoyed each martini, and it was a fun way to wrap up the day. I had heard that Kerry Park has a great view of the city, but when I saw the hill that needed to be climbed to get up there, we decided we were too tired to be bothered. We decided to just go back to Anthony’s for dinner again and call it a night, as we had an early (5:30am) flight the next morning.

Overall, I had a great time in the Pacific Northwest, and I’m already looking forward to the chance to go again. This makes 41 states, and I have to say Oregon is at least in the top 3 most beautiful states I’ve been to so far (along with Maine and Hawaii). I know they’ve had their fair share of awful heat and wildfires the past couple years, but the weather we experienced when we were there made me want to never leave, and stepping off that plane in 97° heat was not the welcome home I would have chosen. My plane landed in Nashville at 11:50am, and I went straight from the airport to a work lunch. I can’t say that’s the first time I’ve gone straight from the airport to work (or vice versa), and I’m sure it wasn’t the last.

ATW² + Underneath + The Walk

August 6-8, 2021

The Travel

In my experience, some of the best adventures and subsequent memories start with the phrase, “I wasn’t going to go, but…” and this weekend was no exception. When Hanson first announced this 4-month ATW+ series, I decided no thank you to Oklahoma in August. (Though to be honest, it wasn’t any different than Tennessee in August.) This decision was cemented after I had a work event scheduled for the day of the Friday show.

But then.

But then I got to work on Thursday morning and was told our event needed to be rescheduled. I messaged a couple of my friends and said that now that there was no work event, I wished I was going to Tulsa. As all good Hanson friends do, they reminded me that technically it wasn’t too late, and one of them had space for me in her hotel room. This wasn’t my first last-minute decision to go to a Hanson concert two states away, but it was the first time it involved booking a last-minute flight… I bought my plane ticket 27 hours before departure time… and I only told the one friend who had a hotel room, intending to surprise the rest of my friends.

I still had a work meeting to go to on Friday morning, and there was only one flight option that left late enough for me to not miss the meeting and still arrive early enough for me to get to the show on time (read: landing at 5:48pm for a 8pm show). I arrived at the Nashville airport 90 minutes before my flight, but as soon as I stepped out of the Uber I got an alert that it was delayed 15 minutes. I’ve had worse delays, but this took my layover time down from 50 minutes to 35 minutes. By the time I got to my gate, we were delayed an additional 15 minutes… so now I had a 20 minute layover at DFW, which is not a small airport, and at the time the airline app was telling me I’d need to get from the A terminal to the C terminal.

While waiting for my flight, a woman walked up to the gate agent and started asking her questions. I couldn’t hear their exchange, but from their body language I could tell things were not okay. I assumed she was just stressed or upset about the delay, and the agent eventually asked her to please have a seat. She came and sat next to me, reeking of alcohol, and started ranting to me about the agent being rude to her. A few minutes went by, and she went back up and started asking the agent some more questions, and was again told to please sit down.

After she said back down next to me, a manager came out to talk to her. The woman kept saying she needed to get to Austin, insisting she was “okay to drive”, and that they could take her “blood alcohol” because she doesn’t drink. Thankfully, they told her she would not be allowed to get on the plane and that she could try again later in the day. She stormed off saying she’d just go to another airline, but I’m guessing that didn’t work out too well for her either. All I could think was that if they had let her on the plane and she had started acting up mid-flight, I would have been grounded somewhere and most definitely would not have been at the Friday concert.

Once we got off the ground, most of my flight to DFW went smoothly, other than half the plane being stressed about making our connecting flights. But toward the end of the flight, the woman next to me started having a panic attack and kept saying she was going to throw up. I felt for her, but was scared for myself that she would get sick – thankfully, she did not. Then, as we we’re descending, I heard a thud followed by people yelling. That is a terrible thing to hear when a plane is going down, so I immediately started thinking the worst. As it turns out, someone’s cat managed to get out of its carrier, and the owner was able to get it back in. When we landed, I noticed we were taxiing to gate C, not A like the app had told me, and I could see the plane I needed to be on to get to Tulsa. But then we stopped just shy of the jet bridge – and sat there waiting for a good 10 minutes because there was a baggage cart blocking it.

I only had to get from C15 to C8 to catch my flight, but I still literally sprinted through the airport and got there while they were boarding group 4 – and I was group 6. The flight from DFW to TUL is a short one, and I let my one friend know that I had made my connection and would be there as planned. I’m one who typically gets to shows early – even if they’re seated – so walking off the plane exactly 2 hours before show time was a new one for me. My friend was already at the venue when I landed (which I suspected she would be), so I grabbed an Uber, dropped my luggage off at the hotel, and took a Lime scooter to the venue. All the hassle was worth it when I got to surprise my friends by showing up at the venue just a few minutes before doors.

ATW+ Underneath

I’ll be honest, one thing I don’t like about “themed” concerts is that it usually leaves little room for set list surprises. However, the good part of that theme being one album+ is that there’s a good chance they’ll play some favorite songs that are rarely heard live. One of those songs for me is “Dancing In The Wind”, although I did hear it a couple times last year. It was a great opener for this show, but I do wish Taylor would pull the electric guitar out for it like he used to back in the day. If you’re reading this blog, you probably know the story behind Underneath. (If you don’t, and you’d like to, the documentary Strong Enough To Break is available for free on YouTube, though it’s broken into several parts.)

Despite knowing what they went through during the season of recording this album, and on top of knowing all these songs by heart for 17(!) years, I still never really realized how depressing some of these songs are until I heard them live this weekend, in non-album order. Putting “Underneath” and “Misery” back-to-back later followed by “Believe” and “When You’re Gone” back-to-back was a lot to process. I love all those songs, but I was thankful for the energy to pick back up at the end as they played the four released Against The World tracks. Until this show, I had only previously heard “Annalie” and “Don’t Ever Change”, but I didn’t know “Don’t Ever Change” well enough at the time. “Don’t Ever Change” and “Against The World” both sound like songs that will become future live staples, and I hope “Only Love” sticks around for a long time.

ATW+ The Walk

The Walk has always been my favorite Hanson album, and lot of the songs are ones I haven’t heard live in quite some time. That alone is reason enough that I did almost consider attending these shows from the day they were announced, and this is the one I was most excited about once I did finally decide to go. The Walk Tour in the spring of 2008 wasn’t the first time I saw Hanson live, but it was the first time I really started to “do tour” and go to multiple shows in a row. So maybe it’s nostalgia talking, but I don’t think any song can beat “Great Divide” for the best set opener. As soon as the first bar dropped, I started crying happy tears.

Maybe it’s because it was my first front row general admission show since Covid (and first front row GA in Tulsa), but I think it was more than that. Part of what keeps me coming back for more (pun absolutely intended) is that you never know what show is going to do it for you… but every once in awhile that feeling pops up. I don’t mean this to say I don’t have fun at every show (I wouldn’t keep going if I didn’t), it’s just that some of them have some sort of way… the band’s energy and the crowd’s energy match in a unique way and everything is just surreal. After talking to my friends, I definitely wasn’t the only one who felt it this time, and many of us have decided this was one of the best Hanson concerts we’ve ever been to. Since it’s not on Against The World or The Walk, I wasn’t expecting to hear “A Minute Without You”, let alone as Isaac’s solo choice. It’s a song I’ve heard live almost as many times as “MMMBop”, but the crowd sang along so loudly that it caught Isaac off guard and he forgot what he was singing half-way through the song.

I absolutely loved getting to hear some rare songs like “One More” and “Your Illusion”, and The Walk also has some old staples that haven’t been played much lately like “Blue Sky” and “Running Man”. I’d be remiss if I didn’t make a (probably insensitive) joke about Hanson playing “Something Going ‘Round” during a pandemic, but let’s just say I don’t have it (but maybe I don’t know it), and I definitely don’t need it. And we could get this herd immunity thing in motion if you’d stop acting tough and get vaccinated. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

The Moral Of The Story

If you’re on the fence about doing something, no matter how last minute the planning is… I highly suggest you just do the thing. You never know what concert might be your new favorite, or if whatever your version of a Hanson concert is will be your favorite of whatever it is. Buy the ticket. Book the flight. Run through the airport. Make the memories. Blog about it later so you don’t forget when you’re old and start losing all of your hair.