January 3 – 9, 2023
This year was my 5th Back To The Island, and hands down the best one so far, and even all my 10-year friends and Hanson have said the same thing. But when friends back home asked me for highlights, I couldn’t come up with a single one. When everything is, to quote guest artist JR Moore, “Almost Perfect”, nothing in particular stands out. So here I am, trying to do my best to capture the week in words. Spoiler: I’ll fail.
All the other years I’ve gone to BTTI, I’ve added an extra day on the front end. The first day starts with a Hanson concert at 9pm which gives people time to fly in and get settled, but that has always sounded too stressful for me, especially when you never know what winter storms might cancel or postpone flights. This year though, my roommate and I signed up for two extra days because it made flights significantly cheaper, even after paying for the extra night at the resort. My beach-loving self was so glad we made this decision, and I plan on keeping it up as long as finances and work allow. Living in Nashville, I didn’t have to worry about snow this year, but I did have to stress about a tornado watch. Thankfully my flight took off about 3 hours before it was supposed to get bad, and it never did get as bad as they thought. I had a short delay after taxiing, but still had time to grab a bite to eat and make my connection, and I got into Jamaica with no worries, mon.
Based on previous years’ events, I fully expected the first show to be a repeat of the RGB Tour setlist. Imagine my surprise when three songs in they started playing a cover of “Man of Constant Sorrow”. Not only was this not the setlist I expected, it also was quite the turn from the reggae vibes of “Best of Times” and “Back To The Island” they started the show with. They also threw in some deep cuts I hadn’t heard in awhile, namely “Musical Ride”, “Can’t Stop”, and “Make It Out Alive”. Overall, I was impressed with both the variety of songs played and the general performance – the guys were clearly happy to be there and the energy was top notch.
Easily the best show of the trip, and a milestone show for me (#150), night two went above and beyond. Again, based on past years I had expectations that were not met, but in a good away. Typically it seems the second night is more acoustic and mellow, so that’s what I thought we’d get again this year. Instead, we got mostly members’ only songs and deep cuts, which is all I really hope for at events like BTTI and HDay. I mean, just look at this setlist:
Honestly my only complaint about this set list is that, based on how he introduced it, I really thought “No Matter The Reason” was going to be “Greener Pastures”, which I’ve been dying to hear live. My friends and I are all bad fans though, because it took us way too long to realize it wasn’t. (I requested it on the RGB Tour, was told no, and then he started playing it after I finished my run of shows. Isaac hates me lol.) But the only other time I heard NMTR was during HDay when I didn’t really know it yet, so I was still happy to hear a new song off RGB.
Turns out, the last night’s show was the RGB Tour setlist I had expected on night one. I wasn’t mad about it though; we had two solid shows so far, the RGB Tour had a lot of solid song choices, and they even threw in an incredible cover of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. Zack Mack from AMMM joined in on “Dressed In Brown Eyes”, which I love, and like the previous two nights, the energy of the show was, well, Fired Up. I did find out later that the set list had two members’ only songs on it that they skipped (“Worth The Wait” and “Ooh La La La”), but those aren’t my favorites anyway if I’m being honest.
I ended up snagging a really great second row center spot for Zac’s solo show, but had to abandon it half-way through because my achillies tendon was starting to hurt – the joys of aging. So if you happened to see me leave midway through, now you know why lol. Zac started his solo set out with a deep cut – “I Am”. I honestly had forgotten this song existed, so it was fun to hear it live and be reminded of how great it is. See also: “No Sleep For Banditos”. I feel like Zac usually does a good job of throwing in at least one new or rare song, so I was pleased.
Last year, I watched Isaac’s solo set from the water, and I had planned to do the same this year. But after a mishap (see “The Outtakes” below), I ended up watching from a lounger in the back. I have now decided that loungers or the ocean are the only acceptable ways to watch a solo set on the island, especially as they tend to be more chill and less Get Up And Go. Highlights of Isaac’s set include “Lonely Again”, “What’s Your Name”, and “Make It Through The Day”. He ended his set with a cover of “Hallelujah” and “Amazing Grace”. It was a beautiful moment accompanied by an even more beautiful sunset. And then the nostalgia feels started as I remembered that back in 1998, during my first Hanson concert, just before he started his solo, Isaac told us to all turn around and look at the sunset. If only 15-year old Holly knew then how many more Hanson concert sunsets she would see, let alone all the places she’d see them.
Like with Isaac, I chose to watch Taylor’s solo set from a lounger while literally soaking up the last bit of Jamaican sun before heading home the next day. Taylor won some points by playing “Climb” for the first time ever, which really was just a reminder that we didn’t get to hear any of White Rabbit at Hanson Day last year. We also never got to hear CBIB in full, but at this point I’ve heard all but two of the songs, so maybe there’s hope for the rest of White Rabbit. In related news, during my photo I told Taylor that I would love it if he would play “All I Know”. He said he had been thinking about it, so I thought the chances were pretty good, but he opted out. I like to rank the solo sets each year, and this year I’d have to say Isaac wins, Zac gets 2nd, and Taylor gets 3rd place. Nobody loses.
Having the extra extra day on the front end of the trip meant I had time to get the best 80-minute massage I had ever had. Mostly deep tissue with a little hot stone mixed in, she was the first therapist I’ve ever had actually get the knot out of my shoulder, though I did end up with quite the bruise afterwards. For the first time in BTTI history, I actually read an entire book during the trip (People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry gets 5 stars), and I managed to get a tan without getting burned.
Family Feud with Zac and Isaac felt better this year than it had in the past. I didn’t get to play this year, but being a spectator was just as fun. Maybe this is just a symptom of a really great crowd of fans, but both nights were full of laughs and new jokes that I’m sure will stick around for awhile. I do have one PSA to make though: please don’t drink and take pills and give Zac a bracelet. It’s not a good look for either of you.
I typically love dancing during Taylor’s DJ sets, and last year’s addition of having the party in the pool was a blast. But, like with Zac’s solo set, my foot was hurting too much to enjoy it this year. My friends and I ended up spending the night in the lobby judging his transition skills and drinking rum and Cokes. Even though I didn’t get to dance in the pool, it was still a fun night.
I didn’t do any excursions this year, but my friends and I did go out on the resort’s glass bottom boat. The ride was about 30 minutes, which was a little less than I expected. I was getting pretty dizzy from looking down during the ride so much, so it’s probably for the best that it wasn’t any longer. We did get to see quite a few fish, a lot of coral, some huge starfish, a shipwreck, and a plane crash. It was a fun way to spend the morning, and I’ll never forget how clear the water was.
AMMM made for a great guest artist this year – more full bands, please. (Although I still think the other Kris Allen and Jon McLaughlin would make a fun combo.) They were fun to see on tour and put on a high-energy show, and Hanson joined in on a couple songs. On the last night, a small stage was set up by the bonfire and AMMM put on a bonus show for us, which was a fun surprise and a much more chill way to end the trip than the usual drinking and dancing late into the night.
If you heard or saw someone screaming in the ocean a few hours before Isaac’s solo: Hi. It’s me. I’m the problem. The first few days in the ocean, I noticed there was a lot of seaweed floating around, but not very many fish. This made me happy as I remembered last year the fish kept biting, meaning we didn’t stay out there very long. But on Isaac day, the water was much clearer. I was minding my own business, sitting in a floaty with the water just below my shoulders, reading my book. I looked down at one point and saw a whole school of fish. But, they weren’t biting, so I decided it was fine. If they did start biting, I would get out and join my friends on the beach. What I didn’t expect was for them to start jumping.
All of a sudden, multiple fish jumped in the air and INTO MY CLEAVAGE. I screamed. I stood up. I saw a fish jump back out of my swimsuit, and I decided I was done. Next thing I know, my friend is screaming and diving off her float. I look over, and 3-4 fish are jumping around on top of her float. So I’m half-screaming, half-laughing as I make my way up to the beach. I swore I kept feeling fish still inside my swimsuit, but when I looked down all I saw was the loose ends of the tie on my top, and so I figured I was just psyching myself out.
When I joined my friends on the beach, they obviously wanted to know what all the commotion was about. I told them the story, and then my brilliant friend asked, “are you sure it’s gone?” I said “I think so, I don’t see or feel anything.” But, I decided I should check real good just to make sure. So I bent over and looked closely, and sure enough there was a dead fish trapped underneath my boob. I screamed as I scooped it out and threw it on the beach, and then I stayed doubled-over from laughing so hard. Just then, one of the beach servers walked up and asked what happened and if I was okay. I told him the story and he said it was the funniest thing he had ever heard, and then asked if I needed a drink. (The obvious answer being yes.) Needless to say, that was my last voyage into the sea on this trip.
I know I already said this, but this was hands down the best Back To The Island. While I would have loved a few different song choices, the set lists were fantastic, the energy of every show could not be beat, and the weather was perfect. But I think overall what made the biggest difference was the general vibe of the group of fans who attended this year. There were no complaints, no drama, and everyone gave Hanson some space rather than mobbing them for selfies. Isaac and Zac hung around and chatted with fans for hours on the last two nights, and I hope that this can continue in the future. As my mom often reminds my young nieces: the better you are, the more you get.