January 30 – February 4, 2020
This year’s Back To The Island event wasn’t my first, but because it’s the first one where I’ve had this blog, I figured I’d start with a quick run-down of my two previous years. My mom and I had been talking for years about going to Ireland someday, so when BTTI was first announced I knew I wanted to cross that island off my list before re-visiting Jamaica (I had been on a mission trip in college back in ’04). I finally made it to Ireland in 2016, and then I spent 2017 making the payments to attend BTTI ’18.
At the time, I knew better than to say that ’18 would be my only BTTI, but financially I didn’t think I could commit to every year. So, I told myself that I’d be an every-other-year attendee. But then BTTI ’18 was The Year Of The Rain… all day, every day, except for the last day there. I sat in something in the greenhouse that caused a rash which got infected, and that’s when I knew I needed a do-over sooner than later. A surprisingly large tax refund waiting for me when I got home meant I was quickly signing up for BTTI ’19.
If there is one thing I love in this world just as much as (if not more than) Hanson, it’s being in and near the water: lake, pool, ocean, doesn’t matter; I’m a half-mermaid (the inside half, not the top half). So when you combine a week of being at the beautiful Caribbean Sea, my favorite band, and some of my closest friends, I couldn’t ask for a better vacation. There was even a moment last year on the last night when I saw Zac walking through the resort and I wondered why he was there… because while having so much fun with everything else, I had completely forgotten we still had one more Hanson show. So, here I am, an every-year attendee and not the every-other-year I thought I’d be, as long as am I’m still financially able.
And so, onto 2020…
This year, Hanson took out any and all daytime activities with the band other than photos, where previously we had tie dye, a Q&A session, a trip to Dunn’s River Falls, etc. I honestly wasn’t upset about this, because like I said before, I love spending time in the water, and the day time activities cut into that time. This year we had activities after the shows: Smash Brothers with Zac, Team Trivia with Isaac, and Island Prom with Taylor.
Last year, Zac brought out the Nintendo games as an unofficial event, and I hopped in line and played a couple rounds of Mario Kart against him and a couple other fans. I’m guessing he chose Smash Brothers instead this year because it meant more fans at a time could play which meant more chances to play for everyone. I sat this one out this year because I know nothing about the game, and because I had already had the chance to play last year. This worked in my favor because I ran into Isaac and was able to put in a request for his solo show (more on that later).
What was advertised as Team Trivia turned out to be Family Feud, which honestly I preferred as trivia is not my strong suit. My team never got called up though, but I do like that we signed up in teams this year over waiting for Isaac to call up random numbers like he did in 2018 (especially when half the numbers weren’t even present). I’ll be honest here, watching Isaac host Family Feud was getting difficult as it was the 3rd night in a row of being up past 2am, but Other Brother Mac saved the day when he showed up in character as German professor Ichland Vonhammerstein. Isaac might have my favorite voice in the Hanson family, and while I mean it when I say I could listen to him read a phone book, that doesn’t mean I want to do it at 2:00 in the morning.
Taylor has been DJ-ing dance parties at BTTI, Hanson Day, and various tour stops for several years now, so this year’s party at BTTI was nothing out of the ordinary. However, it was advertised as “Prom Night Dance Party” which we all quickly shortened to Island Prom. There were never any details announced along with it, so there was a lot of chatter as to whether or not we should actually bring real prom dresses. I didn’t want to take time finding a thrift shop dress or take up the packing room, so I just wore a casual dress I had packed as a potential photo outfit. But Taylor showed up in all white with a suit jacket, and a fan even gave him a Prom King sash with a pineapple corsage. 100+ points to whatever Hogwarts house that fan belongs to.
Other than the occasional ’90s slow jam, there wasn’t much else that made this dance party stand out from the others, except when Taylor decided to play “Lonely Boy” off their pre-fame album Boomerang from 1992. I still don’t understand that decision, but I’m not mad about it. I ended up spending a good portion of the night talking to Isaac and Mac between two palm trees, and had the chance to ask Zac a quick follow-up question from his solo set (more on that later, too).
Back To The Island consists of three full Hanson shows, a solo show from each brother, and a concert featuring two guests artists. This year’s guests were Joshua + The Holy Rollers (with frontman Other Brother Mac) and MILCK. I already knew I liked JTHR from their show at Hop Jam 2019 and from opening on the Wintry Mix tour, but I had never heard of MILCK until this announcement. I looked her up on Spotify and fell in love. It’s rare for me to like a female artist (to be honest, I think a lot of women try too hard), but she absolutely blew me away. Both guests did a fantastic job during their sets, but the highlight was when MILCK brought Hanson back out to be her backup vocalists for her song “A Little Peace”.
This was the first year (at least, the first one I attended) where Hanson did not ask us to vote on themes before the event, and I’m glad we didn’t. It was nice going into things not knowing what they’d play. But, then they came out on night one and told us they were going to play most of the songs from the Middle of Everywhere Greatest Hits album. To be honest, I was a little disappointed because these are the songs they typically play, and on the island we all expect things to be out of the ordinary with more rare songs. But, they absolutely killed the performance, and it was great to hear songs like “Give a Little” and “Great Divide” which had been put on the back burner lately.
The second full-band show was something Hanson has never done before: a night of ballads only (save for a few upbeat encore songs). I wasn’t sure how to feel about this, but it ended up being a unique set, and I’m glad I got to experience it. I spent this show sitting in a chair in the back looking up at the stars, and it was a night I’ll never forget. They played “More Than Anything” with a full band for the first time ever, and I will never be upset about hearing “Breaktown” live. (Hopefully this means it will continue to have a home in set lists outside of String Theory). The highlight of the night, I think for everyone, was Hanson’s perfect cover of “Change in My Life”. I’m always impressed by the band’s harmonies, but I think this time I was more impressed by the fact that the crowd stayed quiet so we could actually hear the harmonies.
Between the Middle of Everywhere Tour, random one-off shows with similar sets, String Theory, and themed sets at past Hanson Days and BTTIs, the last show at this year’s BTTI was the first time in years that I literally had absolutely no idea what songs they would play. The set list was pretty much all over the place, and I think they may have thrown in a heavy dose of songs from This Time Around in preparation for the 20th anniversary acoustic show in Tulsa later this year. They played a lot of my favorite songs to rock out to, with the highlights being “Somebody That Wants To Love You”, “Tearing It Down”, and “The Ugly Truth”.
The solo shows are, in my opinion, what makes BTTI stand out from any other Hanson event, as this is the only place where these happen. Zac went first this year and he pulled out quite a few new songs. They were all played on The Wintry Mix Tour, so they weren’t brand new, but still that means I had only heard each of them a few times. The thing about the solo shows is they tend to give a little more insight to the songs meanings than they do at a regular show. Zac explained that “One” was inspired by the band not giving up when they fight, but rather still seeing the beauty in what they’re doing. He also explained that “Annalie” isn’t about a girl, but about what the name Annalie means: a bounty of God’s grace. I hope this makes the final cut for Against The World so I can do a deep dive on the lyrics now that we know the meaning.
As a side note, when Zac was talking about the meaning of names, a girl in the crowd yelled out that naming kids sucks, and Zac joked that he had two pieces of advice for that. He said one would come later, but the second was “don’t have kids”. I tried asking him during Island Prom what his other piece of advice was (although I don’t anticipate naming a child any time soon), and all he said was “that will be revealed soon”. Whatever that means, only time will tell.
Isaac’s solo set was my favorite this year. I ran into him during Nintendo with Zac and requested “Grace Unknown”. His response was “ooh,” (Not quite ET-ooh), I’ll have to think on that.” The day of his solo show, I was in the pool when he walked by on the way to their backstage area. He asked the general area if there were any requests, and once again I yelled out “Grace Unknown”. Mac was following behind him, and while he may have just been there to hang out with his brother, I think maybe he was there to practice keys for the song because of my request the night before. During his set, Isaac said there was more than one request for it, and later during Island Prom I told him I was both someones, but apparently there were more than just the two requests for it. The other highlights of Isaac’s set were “I Don’t Know”, which he hadn’t played in twenty years, a flawless cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine”, and a brand new song that he had never even played outside of his house before called “Your Eyes”.
We had photos with the band before Taylor’s solo show, and it wasn’t until last minute that I knew what I wanted to say to them this year. It was something I had been hesitant to say for some time because it always seemed borderline too personal, but I feel they’ve been more outspoken about it lately so I decided to go for it. I know others will disagree with me here, but I told them I appreciate that they’re not afraid to allude to their faith in their music, and told them those are the songs that speak to me the most.
Maybe it was just coincidence, but I can’t help but wonder if that influenced some of Taylor’s set list choices. He opened with “Every Word I Say”, the one song (well, prior to “Worth The Wait”) that, in the past, they have blatantly said was about God, although this time he said the song has “a lot of different meanings” and that you can “take away whichever one you want”. And then, mid-way through the set (between “When You’re Gone” and “Be My Own”, both of which have subtle religious nods), he said:
“Music is awesome isn’t it? I just don’t think you can believe… sorry anybody that doesn’t believe there’s a god, but if there’s not a god, I don’t know what that is (gesturing to the ocean) or I don’t know what this is (gesturing to the crowd and stage)… songs or music, I don’t mean my songs, just…the idea that we can be as screwed up and as mean and as stupid as we are and we still get music is phenomenal to me. It’s like a parent that just keeps giving you money when they shouldn’t. I keep wasting it, but Dad loves us.”
I know Hanson at times has gotten a lot of flack from fans about their music being too religious at times, but as Taylor said during my photo, “you can’t hide who you are”, and love it or hate it, the band wouldn’t be the same if they were trying to be something other than themselves. I guess you could say that with “three chords and the truth, we can make a song. We don’t need much, ’cause we’re here tonight. It could be the best of times.” Here’s to making more of the best of times at the next stop along this musical ride.