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 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!

Wintry Mix Tour: Austin, Dallas, New Orleans

December 6-11, 2019

Back in May, Hanson announced they were going to record two new albums this year, (for release in 2020 and 2021), and they hinted at the idea of debuting some of the new music this year. When all these one-off casino shows started popping up this summer and fall, with no new music in sight, I started to think the plan of previewing these new songs fell through.

But then, finally! In mid-September, Hanson announced a tour, aptly named The Wintry Mix Tour, that would include old favorites, Christmas songs, and NEW MUSIC! A quick look at the tour dates, and the decision of which stops I’d go to was easily made: I had never been to Austin, it fell on a weekend, I could catch a ride from there to Dallas and then down to New Orleans with a friend, and New Orleans has some of the best food in the world. I also knew I wanted to avoid anything in the north for fear that flights (or worse, shows) would be cancelled due to, well, actual wintry mixes.

The Travel

One of the perks of choosing Austin was that I got to catch up with a good friend who moved to Texas a couple years ago. We met for BBQ at Salt Lick, and the food was good, but our conversation was nourishing. She’s one of those friends where we can pick back up right where we left off a month ago. I’m already looking forward to my next trip to Austin for some more one-on-one Alison time.

After lunch, we went to see the state capitol building. As one should expect from Texas, it’s the biggest capitol in the country, including the nation’s capitol building. The grounds were beautiful, the temperature outside was perfect, and the views inside were dizzying. A break for caffeine was next on our list, with the plan to walk around South Congress for some shopping after. However, we had a so-tired-you-spit-your-coffee-out-laughing mishap, and ended up back in the hotel room to change clothes, and at that point decided to take the rest of the day slow.

If you follow me or any of my friends on social media, you might have seen that Yelena broke her wrist four hours before her flight to Austin. Thankfully the doctor gave her the go-ahead to continue the trip, but it’s a shame it didn’t happen early enough for her to buy a Zaccidents Happen sling for tour. Now that she was one-handed, she had to leave a few things back home since she wouldn’t be able to carry everything by herself through the airport. This meant we needed a quick run to WalMart while in Austin, and sure enough they were playing Hanson over the speakers.

We were really only in Dallas long enough to get in line and see the show, and we decided to show up right at show time in New Orleans so we could get some good cajun food. We went to The Gumbo Shop where I had a plate of shrimp creole, jambalaya, and my favorite, crawfish etouffee. We also, of course, had some post-show beignets from Cafe Du Mondte, and then I got a 2 hour nap before catching a 4am Uber to the airport, then it was back in Nashville and straight to work.

The Music

Sunday in Austin was the first show day, and I had successfully avoided spoilers. The first song up was “Finally, It’s Christmas”, which was a fitting start to a winter tour. The second song was a brand new one, “Don’t Ever Change” and I really hope this makes it to an album. It was catchy, but I couldn’t quite make out all the lyrics, but the ones I picked up on sound like this song will be quoted for years.

The fourth song in the set was one that in the past decade-ish has been reserved for encores, so there was some sort of Pavlovian “wait, are we already done?” response that was quite confusing. But the change-up was refreshing, and then we were back into some more Christmas tunes.

The acoustic set included new songs “Annalie”, reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia”, and “One”, a beautiful Zac piano ballad about sticking up for your partner and staying on the same side of the battle. (Or at least, that was my interpretation after one listen without being able to go back and digest the lyrics.) In Dallas and New Orleans, we had a different Zac solo called “Better Man”, which I enjoyed, but I think I liked “One” better. Only time will tell.

Without giving away the whole set list, or details of all the new songs, let me just say this: these shows were a blast, it was so great to have the mix of old, new, and Christmas, and the new songs have me anxiously awaiting Against The World and Black Mesa, and I’ll be really sad if none of these songs make the final cut.

The Memories

I’ve probably said this before, but while the music and the shows are what takes me on these trips, what I bring back with me is all the special little moments along the way that I’ll never forget. Whether laughing at the ridiculous drunk girl next to me, a conversation with the band about a song that got me through a tough time, or those post-show beignets with a side of serendipity, a part of the open road will always stay in my heart.