Fan Club EP Review: Crossroads

Muscle Shoals

This song’s borderline country feel is the perfect opener to such a rootsy EP. I’m not into country (despite growing up with it), and while “Muscle Shoals” flirts with twang, it’s still very much the ’50s/’60s feel I’ve grown to love from this band. It was a lot of fun to dance to at the Hanson Day concert, and I hope to hear it live again someday. Any Isaac lead with a groove will always earn points with me, and this song also gets bonus points for a Tennessee shout out, even if I don’t live near that particular river. While I had heard of the town, I had no idea of its rich musical history, and until recently I thought it was closer to the gulf. Turns out it’s a short drive from Nashville, so I’ll be sure to make a day trip down there someday soon… and now I’ll have the perfect soundtrack.

Favorite Lyric: “By the Tennessee River, we’ll be turning water to wine.”

EP Ranking: 1st place

Better Man

I got to hear “Better Man” as a solo on the Wintry Mix tour and at Back To The Island. I liked it right away, but I love this EP version even more! However, I strangely didn’t like it as much when performed full band at Hanson Day this year. I can’t put my finger on why, but this has to be a unique situation where I prefer studio, then solo live, then full band live. “Better Man” as a Zac lead sounds to me more like what we’ve heard on full length albums than many of the Zac leads we’ve had on the fan club EPs over the years, which tend to all have the same sound to them. (Don’t get me wrong, I like most of those songs!) While lyrically it’s not as strong as “Young and Dumb” or “Somebody That Wants To Love You”, there’s something similar to me about the sound of these three songs that almost makes me think they could make up 3/5th of their own EP. “Better Man” somehow manages to be both mellow and catchy, and of all the songs on Crossroads, it’s the one I find stuck in my head the most.

Favorite Lyric: “You cut me deep when you let me believe that all of my wounds from you would heal.”

EP Ranking: 2nd place

Undivided Attention

The lyrics to this song have the same feel to me as “Heartbreaker” and “Man On Top”, where the protagonist just seems conceited. Because of that, this song overall falls flat to me. However, I do love the swampy sound this song has, and it’s fun to listen to while driving. But, unfortunately, it won’t make heavy rotation for me.

Favorite Lyric: Taylor’s piano

EP Ranking: 3rd place

Come Over

Do you ever watch the behind the scenes “making of” clips of Hanson’s songs? If so, you’ll know that sometimes when they’re tracking instruments, they’ll just start singing nonsense words to the tune of the song. That’s what “Come Over” sounds like to me. Even the quality of the vocals feels like a demo. In the famous words of Forrest Gump, “that’s all I have to say about that.”

Favorite Lyric: “We can do better [than just survive].”

EP Ranking: 5th place

Missing You

I got to hear this song at Back To The Island in 2018, so I’m surprised it took this long for it to find a home. In the same way that I compared “Better Man” to “Young And Dumb” and “Somebody That Wants To Love You”, the muted drums on this song remind me of breaths in “I Lift You Up”. So while the songs have very different lyrics and meanings, they have a similar sound to me. Lyrically, “Missing You” is pretty much every other Isaac love song, but somehow this time it’s broodier.

Favorite Lyric: “And the sounds of the city make me long for home.”

EP Ranking: 4th place

Overall Impression

I love 2 of the songs on this EP, there’s one I’d toss out, and two that fall somewhere in the middle. This is about on par with most of the Fan Club EPs for me. I do really enjoy the rootsy/swampy feel of these songs, and because of that, I’m looking forward to the release of all the songs from Against The World. If you haven’t listened to “Annalie” yet, make sure you go check it out… I’ll have a review of that coming soon. The second single, “Don’t Ever Change” will be released this week!

Hanson Day 2021

Tulsa, Oklahoma

May 20 – 24, 2021

If you’ve ever had the chance to attend Hanson Day in the past, you’ll know that the extended weekend is typically a whirlwind packed full of events: between multiple concerts, karaoke, the I ❤ Hanson store, the art gallery, the dance party, painting, bowling, and lines upon lines, there’s hardly time to eat or sleep. You can’t go anywhere in the Arts District or Brookside neighborhoods of Tulsa without running into a handful of fans, and if you stay for Hop Jam, you’ll hardly be able to make your way down Main Street amongst all the beer and music enthusiasts.

This year, however, was not that. I still remember that day last year when news broke that Hanson Day 2020 was going to be postponed until 2021. I think we all new it was coming, but at the time I never would have guessed that Hanson Day 2021 would also be affected. The silver lining though is that there was enough notice this time around (see what I did there?) for Hanson to come up with really great back-up plan.

The Events

Hanson put together a full week of streaming events, virtual meet-and-greets, and a full week of “pin hunting” on the website. Everything started on Monday when this year’s Fan Club EP, Crossroads, went up in the media player (and, depending on when you join/renew, available for download). I’ll get more into details on the EP in my next blog post, but it was fun to hear all these new songs and digest them via group chat with my friends. Later that night, Hanson went live and took questions from fans about the EP (and also some inevitable questions about The Masked Singer).

On Tuesday, Hanson live streamed their Hanson Time Podcast. The podcast was a new addition to Hanson.net last year as part of the virtual Hanson Day events, but this was the first time it was shared live, and it was also the first time it was shared with video. I’ll digress a bit here because I actually never blogged about this, but I had the chance to interview them on the podcast last summer. My theme was “Good Days” (both the song and the general idea), and it was such a fun opportunity. I’ll admit I was a bit nervous about it, but mostly the nerves were related to the fact that it would be recorded for all members to hear; I would have been so much more nervous had the video of it been recorded as well. But, this episode’s reporter did such a great job and asked insightful questions. It was easily my favorite episode so far.

Wednesday, Hanson went live again, this time to share more about the art in this year’s gallery. Like Hanson Day galleries in the past, there were original paintings from Zac as well as some photographs from Taylor. This year, Zac also painted on a few sets of Russian Dolls, and I thought they were all really cool looking. Because this year’s gallery was virtual, in lieu of selling the art work on a first come, first serve basis, they set up a raffle system on the website’s store. I thought this was a really great idea, and I hope they keep it up in the future. This will make one less line to wait in for those who make it to Tulsa, and will still allow those who can’t travel to have a chance at purchasing the artwork.

On Thursday evening, Hanson posted a mini “making of” documentary about Crossroads. I had to watch this one twice, but only because I was only half-watching it from a Tulsa Driller’s game the first time. I always love the chance to get to peek behind the curtain when Hanson is writing and recording, and I liked this mini-doc style better than having several 2-3 minute clips like we have had in the past.

Friday was the one-year-later 20th anniversary This Time Around acoustic concert, followed by a virtual DJ Taylor dance party. On Saturday, we had the main Hanson Day concert, a brief promo video for their new project Against The World, and then they wrapped up the week with a “Night Cap” live stream on Sunday where they played a round of Pictionary with some fans, and took questions as well.

The Concerts

Of the two concerts for this year’s Hanson Day, I was much more excited about the Saturday show. When given the choice between album songs that get played at most shows or the more rare members’ tracks, I’ll always choose the latter. That said, I went into the This Time Around Acoustic Show with low expectations…. and I was blown away! Not only was it a solid performance of every song, they also mixed it up and played some of the more common songs (“If Only”, “Hand In Hand”, etc) in slightly different styles (more different than just being acoustic). They also treated us to some rare B-sides: “Lonely Again” and “Smile.” Unfortunately though, I had to deduct quite a few points from this show after my friend told me she saw “Bridges of Stone” listed as a 3rd encore song, which they ended up not playing.

One of my favorite things about the main Hanson Day concert each year is that we get to hear that year’s EP played in full, along with quite a few of the back catalogue members’ songs. I was really bummed last year when we didn’t get to hear the songs off Continental Breakfast In Bed since Hanson Day was cancelled, so I was hoping they’d make it up to us this year. Zac did play “Good Days” (which he had also played at one of the shows this past fall), but that was it. I suppose that if they had done Crossroads and CBIB, it would have been a lot of new material to learn in addition to re-working the TTA songs, plus it would throw off the number of solos during the show. I was especially disappointed when Taylor sat down at his piano for what I thought was going to be “All I Know” and instead it was the-song-that-shall-not-be-named-because-it-makes-all-my-friends-cry-and-not-in-the-good-way. In fact, only 31% of the show was members’ only songs, compared to the 70% from the Hanson Day concerts in years past. (Shout [it] Out to Hansonstage for the stats.) Despite the setlist not meeting my expectations, it was still a really great concert. They played everything so well, it was high energy, and everything about it is why “we keep coming back (yeah we keep coming back).”

The Tulsa Life

Being in Tulsa this time felt so much different than any other Tulsa trip I’ve been on. The trips over this fall and winter were so quiet compared to the typical Hanson Day weeks, but this weekend felt like a weird mix of the two. There was an Ironman Triathlon on Sunday which brought in 2,500 participants plus all their friends and family who came to support them. It made the city feel just as busy as when there’s Mayfest, the Blue Dome fest, Hanson Day, and Hop Jam, but there was still only about 1/10th the typical number of Hanson fans. My friends and I spent most of the day Sunday standing at the corner of the finish line cheering people on. I’m not a sports person, but that day I learned that running is my favorite spectator sport. It was so much fun to watch the runners’ facial expressions change and their energy pick up as they heard people cheering for them and then rounded the corner and the finish line came into sight. A few of them got emotional, and so, in turn, did I.

These past few months of shows have been unique. Even though a lot of my friends have been to the same shows that I have, we were actively not mixing our smaller groups as a Covid precaution. However, I got to see more of them this time now that we’re all vaccinated. (Please, if you haven’t yet, get vaccinated. Science is real, it’s not a new technology, and it does not contain the coronavirus. The long-term effects of getting even a mild case of Covid are unknown, and there’s only one way we’ll ever get back to normal. *Steps off soap box*) It’s been nice to have down time and explore more of the city, but I’m looking forward to hopefully having a normal Hanson Day and Hop Jam in 2022.

Listener’s Choice: A Socially Distanced Concert Series

Tulsa, OK

January 7-10, 2021

Well, it’s January 2021, and even though I had signed up for my 4th annual trip to Jamaica, all I got was my 4th monthly trip to Oklahoma. Between our recent previous visits, the cold weather, and Covid cases on the rise, we didn’t do too much exploring around town on this trip. We bundled up to eat outside at a few places, went into a few shops in the Art District so I could buy a gift for a friend, and rode Lime scooters everywhere we went (including knee-first into the pavement). Call me crazy, and maybe this is my former Michigander talking, but I prefer 40° Tulsa over 80° Tulsa.

I’ll be honest, when Hanson announced that the theme for the January shows was going to be “Listener’s Choice”, with fans voting on the songs they wanted to hear, I was disappointed. When the voting started, I continued to be disappointed. A lot of the songs we were choosing from were songs that are played at almost every show. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how the shows played out, most of my votes won, and the back half of the set lists had some great surprises. I have to say this was my favorite of the three non-Christmas weekends. (Christmas is its own category and cannot be compared.)

While truly rare* songs were in short supply, there were plenty that I haven’t heard in a long time, and even the more common songs just sounded extra great this weekend. Song highlights include: “Blue Sky”, “Save Me”, “Smile”, “Stories”, “The Ugly Truth”, “Tonight”, “Nothing Like A Love Song”, and “Sunny Day”. There’s no denying that that’s a solid list of rares and semi-rares right there. Honorable mention goes out to “Look At You” which gets frequent enough play, but ages like a fine wine. Ironically my least favorite back in 1997, it’s now my favorite live song off Middle of Nowhere.

Here’s a list of the songs I voted for compared to the songs that won:

The real highlight of these show was the energy. My body was a bit sore after the October weekend, considering I’m pushing 40 and 3 shows in 24 hours is no joke, especially after so many months of sitting at home. But after these shows? With no slow acoustic middle to sit and take a break during, there’s no more accurate way to describe what I felt than “my body is tired and broken.” (Though I’m sure that scooter fall didn’t help.) I’ve since fully recovered and I’m sure come the first weekend in February, my body will wonder why it’s not jumping and dancing for 2-hour blocks at a time.

Whenever I end a string of shows (or attend a one-off), I try to take in that show as though it’s my last. If 2020 proved anything to be true, it’s that the unexpected can happen at any point in time, and I never want to take that potential last show for granted. Hanson Day 2021 is technically still on the books, though I’ll be surprised if it can happen without any alterations. There have been hints of more of these types of shows to come, and if we can achieve herd immunity then there’s hope for a real tour somewhere down the line. But, you never know, baby, you never know. In the meantime, reader, please keep wearing your masks (I promise it’s not an infringement on your rights), get tested if you have any suspicions you have or have been exposed to Covid, and when it’s your turn, please get vaccinated.

*One thing I have learned over the years is that the definition of “rare” varies from fan to fan, and I think from band member to band member as well. What’s more rare: a song you’ve only heard once a year every year for the past 5 years? Or a song you’ve heard 20 times, but not in the past 5 years?

The Christmas Ball: A Socially Distanced Concert Series

Tulsa, OK

December 3-6, 2020

So many song lyrics seem to hit differently in 2020, and now I can add “we’re going in circles, it’s Christmas again” to that list. I had a flight that was supposed to be Nashville – St. Louis – Tulsa. The flight from St. Louis to Tulsa is a short one, just over an hour. About 45 minutes into the flight, I felt the plane turn. I assumed we were about to land early, or that we were maybe in a holding pattern waiting to land; I didn’t think too much of it. But then a few minutes later, the captain made an announcement: there was a software issue with the airplane that made it illegal for us to land in Tulsa due to the weather, and so we were being diverted to the closest airport where we could land. I expected him to say that would be Oklahoma City or maybe Dallas, so imagine my surprise when he announced we were headed to Chicago!

The two friends I was sharing a hotel (and table) with had landed in Tulsa before I even took off from St. Louis, and they were waiting on me to pick up a rental car that was in my name. (We’ve been avoiding the use of ride share apps and hotel shuttles as a covid precaution.) So, after hearing we were headed to Chicago, I had three thoughts all at once: 1) Wait, CHICAGO?!?, 2) My friends need the rental car! Who knows when I’ll get to Tulsa now!, and 3) At least if I get stranded in Chicago, I have family I can stay with for free. I immediately paid the $8 for in-flight wifi to message my friends and let them know what was happening. The odd thing was, they said the weather in Tulsa was fine other than some cloud coverage. Our best guess is the broken software helps the pilots “see” through the clouds, and that Chicago must have been the closest airport without cloud coverage and with an extra airplane available for us.

My friends were able to pick up the rental car without me being there, and Southwest immediately put all of us passengers on a new plane in Chicago. We took off as soon as all the crew and baggage were swapped over, and I ended up getting to Tulsa just three hours later than intended. For something so major to go wrong, it all worked out as smoothly as it could have. Southwest also reimbursed me for the $8 wifi purchase, and my (free) checked bag made it through both the original and unexpected layovers. And yes, this is a shameless plug for my favorite airline. (But no, it’s not a sponsored post.)

Surprise trip to Chicago aside, I still got to Tulsa in time for the three of us to go see the Christmas lights at the Philbrook. They had a light show set to music, a socially distanced Santa, s’mores kits, spiked hot chocolate, and a little take and make craft. It was a fun night, and helped set the Christmas mood for the weekend. We wound through some neighborhoods looking at more Christmas lights on our way back to the hotel, and finally settled in with some take out sushi. With covid cases on the rise, and this being our third Tulsa trip in as many months, we didn’t do anything else outside of the concerts on this trip.

Long before Hanson announced there would be a contest for the “most festive”, I knew this was a great time to be a little extra. I’m obsessed with Christmas as it is, and with having a seasonally appropriate name, I knew I wanted some sort of holly decoration for our table. My friend Katie informed me that there is such a thing as bendable “neon” LED lights, and I bought a red and a green one which I managed to shape into holly. Our friend Yelena is Jewish, so her bringing an LED menorah was a no-brainer (and it got a shout out from both Taylor and Isaac). Katie made little stockings with our names and the names of friends who were watching at home, and we hung them up on the edge of the table. Finally, we found a little light up snowman who changed colors with a bop on the head (or, apparently, with the beat of Zac’s drums).

While we knew the theme was obviously going to mean Christmas songs, I was expecting these shows to be more like the shows on the Wintry Mix tour: both Christmas and regular Hanson songs. So, I was surprised to hear three set lists of just Christmas music. But, considering the amount of times I’ve heard Hanson’s Christmas songs compared to their normal set lists, I didn’t mind. Like I already said, I’m obsessed with Christmas and that includes all the music as well.

Right after announcing the theme as The Christmas Ball, I had sent Zac a PM on Hanson.net requesting three Christmas songs I had not yet ever heard live. He wrote back and said they hadn’t started rehearsal yet, but that they were all good suggestions. Considering they skipped all three for the majority of the Finally It’s Christmas tour and all of the Wintry Mix tour, I didn’t really think there was much chance to hear any of them. So, I was pleasantly surprised to hear one of them, “Happy Christmas”, as part of the encore that first night. The encore also included an impromptu Isaac solo of “Jingle Bells” while he stalled for Zac to come back out on stage.

With limited Christmas songs to choose from, the set list Saturday afternoon was very similar to the one from Friday night, although they did change up the order a little bit. And, in addition to “Happy Christmas”, I got to hear a second song I had PM’d Zac about: “My Favorite Christmas Sweater”. This song seems to be a fan favorite, and I am surprised that it hasn’t been played more often, and even more surprised that it took me 9 years to hear it live. (I even drove to Orlando back in 2011 just because there was a December show and I was hoping to hear it. But, they ended up not playing any Christmas songs that day.)

I opted to wear some punny narcissistic Christmas t-shirts to the first two shows (one reads “Hollyer Than Thou”, and the other “Happy Holly Days”), but for the last show my friends and I had decided that we needed to dress up fancy considering the theme was The Christmas Ball. So, I wore a red sequin floor-length formal dress and I don’t think I have ever been so excited to get dressed up, not even back in high school for prom night. Maybe the lack of reasons to dress up in 2020 contributed to it, but I think it helped make that final show feel even more special.

I have had Snowed In on repeat all season long for the past 23 Christmases, which means for 23 years, the song “At Christmas” has been one of my favorite Christmas songs. There’s a uniqueness that comes with following a band for so long where decades of nostalgia come flooding in while mingling with the present memory you’re currently making. Standing 10 feet away from Isaac as he sang “no matter who you are, how far you’ve come, this is where you belong” is something I know I’ll remember for the next 23 years and counting.

My absolute favorite moment of the whole weekend was when they played the 3rd song I had PM’d Zac about: “Silent Night Medley”. This was the last song off Snowed In and Finally It’s Christmas combined that I had still not heard live. After snapping a picture of the set list that was taped to the stage, it turns out it’s one they weren’t actually planning on performing. I’m not sure what inspired them to add it in last-minute, and they only ended up singing a short part of it, but I’m so glad it happened. With church services looking different this year (much like everything else), I realized in that moment that a Hanson concert might be my one opportunity to experience some form of corporate worship this Advent season. So, there I was, in the front row of a Hanson concert, brought to tears by being reminded that my God chose to put on flesh and bone in the form of a helpless infant, all so that He could then give up His life to rescue me. Me, a human who so desperately tries to not need Him, when He is all that I need.

No matter what you celebrate, my hope is that you find joy this holiday season in spite of all the chaos in the world. Happy Holidays, friends!

Perennial Live: A Socially Distanced Concert Series

Tulsa, Oklahoma

November 4-7, 2020

The day after Hanson’s October streaming concert series, Live and Electric Revisited, they announced the theme for their November series: Perennial Live, named for the double-album public release of some of songs that had previously been available only to fan club members.

While I have mixed feelings about the specific tracks chosen for Perennial, as a general rule some of my favorite Hanson songs are from the members EPs, so I’m always excited for the rare chance to hear them performed live. Typically this only happens at the annual Hanson Day and Back To The Island events, although they occasionally do pull out one or two of the songs at a normal show.

This was my 13th trip to Tulsa, OK. I went twice in college to visit a friend who was attending ORU, I went in 2009 for the recording of the Stand Up, Stand Up EP, and I’ve attended all but one of the official Hanson Day weekends that started in 2011. Each year at Hanson Day, my friends and I have our favorite places we like to visit – after all, we only get to go there once a year. So, being back after just a short 3.5 weeks, I didn’t feel the need to do to the same ole things this trip.

The first place we went on this trip was to the giant oil driller statue, which I hadn’t been to since I think 2012. Then we went and took pictures of the praying hands at ORU, and the last time I was there was in 2004. I guess this was lucky trip number 13 because this was my first visit to Tulsa with absolutely perfect weather. It was sunny with a high of 75 (Relient K, anyone?) and a slight breeze and no humidity. We eventually wandered down to the riverfront where I was finally brave enough to try riding an electric scooter for the first time ever. I was a bit wobbly at first, but now I’m obsessed. (But I don’t see myself riding one around Nashville anytime soon.) My friend and I ended up scooting all over the Arts District between our hotel and Cain’s for the shows.

I have to admit, something felt off during the first show on Thursday night. I know my friends and I were feeling anxious while awaiting results of the presidential election from Tuesday night, and we were refreshing the electoral college map between every song. Maybe the rest of the audience was just as anxious, maybe the band was anxious, or maybe something else was going on, but it didn’t have that energy I get from most Hanson shows. Despite the lack of energy, I absolutely loved the set list. My personal highlights were “Panic In The Streets” (highly underrated), “Down”, “So Lovely”, “Young and Dumb”, “Somebody That Wants To Love You”, and getting to hear the new single “Nothing Like A Love Song” which is physically impossible not to dance to.

Friday’s matinee show was the polar opposite energy wise. My friends and I lucked out and managed to get a front row center table for this show, so I thought maybe we were biased, but other people told me they felt it to, Hanson just absolutely brought it for this show. My highlights for this set list were hearing “Leave The Light On” for only the second time (first time with a full band), “No Rest For The Weary”, and “Coming Back For More”. But the moments that will stick out to me the most were the times I caught Zac laughing at my friends and I repeatedly messing up the “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin'” dance, and laughing at my ridiculous “Been There Before” dance moves, as evidenced below. Zac also got bonus points for playing “Good Days”. While it’s not my favorite song, we missed getting to hear Continental Breakfast (In Bed) live when Hanson Day got cancelled, so now this is the only song from the 7-track EP we’ve gotten to hear live (other than “Everyday” which had been performed several times prior to making the EP cut).

The setlist for the 3rd show was, to me, better than the first night but not as good as the matinee. There was one highlight from this set, and it was Isaac’s performance of “Grace Unknown”. I’ve only heard it performed two other times, one as recent as this year’s Back To The Island, and the emotion he brought to the performance was unparalleled. With the year we’ve all had in 2020, these lyrics hit a little different than they did back in early February, and have been a good reminder to me that maybe now, more than ever, we all need to give, and receive, a little more grace.

Reader: If you’re curious about the COVID-19 precautions that were taken for this trip, I covered them extensively in my Live And Electric Revisited blog.