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!

Live and Electric Revisited: A Socially Distanced Concert Series

Tulsa, Oklahoma

October 8 – 11, 2020

Eight months ago, I thought that by now this blog would be full of posts about Hanson’s new album, Against The World, and the subsequent world tour by the same name. Just like everyone else this year, Hanson’s plans were effected by a global pandemic. There were a lot of new directions they could have gone, but the one they settled on was to put the new album on the back-burner, wait until it’s safe to go on a world tour and release the album then.

In the meantime, they’ve kept us all occupied in many ways: in the early spring Isaac hosted solo “Quaranstreams” on Instagram from his home, Taylor hosted a few “Home Jams” with some of his other musician friends, they added two extra tracks to this year’s fan club EP, they did a complete overhaul on their website, and they started a fan club podcast in which members, picked at random, had the chance to interview the band on a given topic. I got the chance to be one of those interviewers, and my topic was “Good Days”, both in reference to the song on the newest EP and the broader, general idea of good days. I never thought interviewing my favorite band via Zoom would be a thing, but it was so much fun, and the guys had a natural way of helping it all seem somewhat normal.

As we all adjusted to a new way of living in 2020, I assumed Hanson would eventually do some sort of official live stream concert with all three members, as opposed to just Taylor or Isaac doing their own things on Instagram. I did not, however, expect a live audience to be involved. So imagine my surprise when they announced they would be doing four live stream concert series from Cain’s Ballroom with a limited, socially distanced, in-person audience!

Deciding to attend any sort of in-person, non-virtual event these days takes a lot of consideration. I had to think through what risks I was willing to take, how those risks would effect other people in my life, what precautions would be set in place at the event, and what extra precautions I would need to take myself in order to feel safe. The event announcement said there would be 45 tables, placed 8 feet apart, with 4 chairs per table. I quickly did the math, which comes to a max total of 180 fans (10% of the 1,800 capacity venue) in the room, plus the band, their crew, the band’s family, and venue staff. The tables were sold whole; I had to buy all 4 seats at the table, and then it was up to me to control who I felt comfortable sharing the other 3 seats with. The announcement also stated that masks would be required while not seated at the tables, bathrooms would be at 50% capacity, hand sanitizing stations would be available around the venue, and social distancing would be enforced at bar and merchandise lines.

After talking amongst my friends, we all agreed we would feel comfortable attending while taking our own extra precautions. We kept our masks on for the entire duration of the shows, we kept our tables to the same people we were sharing a hotel room with (plus one local Tulsa friend), and took our temperatures before each show. I ended up splitting a hotel room with two friends: one slept on the pull-out couch, the other and I shared a king size bed with extra pillows placed between our heads. We also opted to rent a car for the weekend to avoid taking shuttles and Ubers. Two days before our trip I got a precautionary COVID test and got my negative results 24 hours before leaving for Tulsa. We brought Clorox wipes and sanitized everything in our hotel room, plus our table and chairs at the shows, just as I sanitized everything in and around my seat on my flights. After the first show, I realized how much my voice was not used to be used for two hours straight. So, on Saturday, I decided not to sing along at all during the two shows, which I also realized doubled as a safety precaution I was taking for everyone else. You better believe I was still lip-synching behind my mask, though. Five days after returning to Nashville, I got another precautionary COVID test, again with negative results.

Before the first show on Friday night, my friends and I had the chance to visit the Philbrook Museum of Art. They currently have an exhibit featuring Native women artists. There were a lot of really beautiful, moving pieces, and this is coming from someone who really isn’t that into visual art. We also spent some time walking around the botanical gardens even thought it was ridiculously hot outside. Then we drove up the street and visited Ida Red, which has become a tradition for me when in Tulsa. I stocked up on Zotz candy, a few fun sodas, and bought a 1990s collage puzzle which, of course, includes a small image of Hanson.

After recently splitting from their record label and going independent, the old label saw the success of Hanson’s first independent album, Underneath, and decided to release a “best of” album. Hanson heard they were planning to do this, so in turn, they released their own, and released it first. Thus, 2005’s “The Best of Hanson: Live & Electric”, a recording from Hanson’s Underneath Tour show in Melbourne, Australia. When Hanson announced that the theme for the October streaming series would be Live & Electric: Revisited to honor the 15th anniversary of the album, I was underwhelmed. Hanson has released a lot of material over the past 23 years, and with a lot of material comes a lot of anniversaries, so there has been quite the fair share of anniversary shows recently. But, given the lack of any event in the year 2020, I was still excited to be able to see something.

I have to say though, after the first show on Friday night, I was pleasantly surprised, and the two shows on Saturday were even better. Throughout the course of the three concerts, not one song was performed that was released after 2005, and there were a total of 39 unique songs performed, which is far fewer repeated songs than an average group of shows on a normal tour. (Friday Setlist, Saturday Setlist 1, Saturday Setlist 2.) This meant leaving out a lot more recent favorites that have been, in my opinion, over-played as of late, and pulling out some album deep cuts that have become more elusive in Hanson’s recent set lists. We were also surprised with a brand new cover of The Isley Brother’s “It’s Your Thing”, which proved to be a perfect fit for these brothers, too.

I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d feel at that first show on Friday night after such a long (for me) time since my last show – 249 days. Part of me thought maybe I’d end up with happy tears, and I was kind of surprised when that didn’t happen. It felt so good to be there though. Hanson concerts have always felt like a second home to me, even if I’m in a brand new city. (Not a new city this time, more on that below.) There’s something about these shows where for those 2 hours, I have no worries… and it turns out that’s true even if there’s a pandemic literally all around me. My church started back up in person last month (social distanced and masks required). After that first Sunday back, a friend asked me if it was weird. I told her it was definitely not a normal church experience, but when there’s been a year of nothing being normal, weird doesn’t really hold much meaning or effect anymore, and I’d say that holds true for this set of concerts as well. The least-normal part of the show was, for once, not wanting to get closer to the stage, or not wanting to squeeze in and dance between some of my friends.

Overall, I’m glad I went despite the risks that came with it. I had a great time with my friends visiting a city we all love (which at this point feels like a home away from home), and experiencing the energy of live music after an eight-month drought was good for my soul. Some added benefits of the socially distanced set-up for the shows meant there was actually room to dance (I was able to actually salsa to “Can’t Stop” for the first time ever), I never once felt claustrophobic, and when there are three two-hour long concerts back-to-back in the span of 28 hours, it is essential to have a chair to sit in during the slow songs. TL;DR: “You’re all so civilized… it’s freaking me out.” – Taylor Hanson.

Back To The Island 2020

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…

The Events

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).

The Music

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.

Anderson, IN

November 15-16, 2019

When I heard Hanson was going to be playing a show in Anderson, Indiana, my immediate reaction was “What the heck? That’s where I went to college! It’s a… nothing town!” I’m talking we would drive through the corn fields and get lost on purpose because there was nothing else to do type of town. I still don’t understand why their schedule took them there, but I was excited for the excuse to go back and be nostalgic.

We got into town Friday afternoon and I forced my friends to have lunch at a hole-in-the-wall diner called The Lemon Drop. It has about 4½ booths, a handful of barstools, and a little train that goes around the ceiling. I always loved their toasted cheeseburger, but I have to admit it didn’t taste quite as great this time around (yeah, Hanson pun intended). Maybe that’s the difference of having a bank account with more than one zero to the left of the decimal.

We spent a little time in the casino before the show (because, honestly, what else were we to do?) and I decided to go ahead and gamble a bit. I bet a total of $11 and ended with $0.03… now that’s how I remember life in Anderson. (You know… the whole broke college kid thing… mom, dad, I promise I didn’t gamble in college. They didn’t even have a casino back then.)

The concert was held in a room that is typically used to view horse races, so this was one of the stranger places I’ve seen Hanson perform (and yet somehow also my second time seeing them on a horse track this year). Here’s hoping that in 2020 we go back to some normal concert venues. The concert itself was high-energy, and no matter how many times I do this, I will never get over how nothing else in the world feels quite like being in the crowd with my friends, dancing away to our favorite songs. Zac is still not quite ready to be back on drums following his motorcycle accident, and toward the end of the show he walked right by my row playing his heart out on the cowbell. I’m ready for him to be healed and back on drums, but he makes for a great frontman and I’m curious to see if this has any impact on future Hanson shows and songs… will we end up seeing more Taylor on drums because of this? Who knows.

After the show, we went to grab some late-night dinner and drinks and, well, apparently Isaac and Taylor (and Dash & crew) had the same idea. I suppose when there’s no backstage and only one restaurant that’s open late, it ends up not being much of a coincidence. There were a couple other fans there as well, and we were all playing it cool… until MMMBop started playing over the TouchTunes jukebox. I have to admit, I immediately started judging the other fans. But, I owe them an apology as we later found out it was the restaurant manager that decided to play it. I guess when you’re in a small enough town, even a celebrity you never liked and barely remember is exciting enough to not know how to be chill. We weren’t going to ask them for photos, but as they were leaving, the staff started asking for pictures, and then so did the other fans, so we decided to go ahead as they didn’t seem to mind. So, here’s a special thanks to Isaac Tangent Man and Taylor Don Music for putting up with the ridiculousness that was Friday night.

Saturday morning, I had only one destination in mind: Deluxe Donuts. This was one of my go-to places back in college, and I knew even before leaving Nashville that this was one of the places where I had to go back. We just grabbed a couple donuts to go, and then I gave Katie and Katie (you read that right) a driving tour of campus. Five minutes later when that was done, I took them to the next (bigger) town over, Muncie. I was first introduced to Thai food in Muncie and they still have my favorite cashew nut chicken.

We then went back to campus, because the other Number One Place To Revisit on my list was Mocha Joe’s, the campus coffee shop. But, college students are lazy on the weekends, so it didn’t open until 1pm, so we had to wait until after lunch. I grabbed an (overly sweet, too-many-flavors combined) latte called I’m Dating Jesus (like… seriously) and wandered through the student center. It’s gotten quite the overhaul since I graduated in 2006, so at least now I know what I’ve been paying for all these years.

The absolute most meaningful place to me in all of Anderson, Indiana is a house I lived in for two months in the summer of 2005. In order to keep this blog a little shorter and not rehash it all, I’ll just direct you to my Instagram post here, if you’re curious enough to read about it. Anderson was always a pretty run-down town: a handful of chain restaurants and hotels near the interstate, a couple thousand college students (if that), faculty, and lower class factory workers. Going back for the first time since the Great Recession, it’s sad to see just how much worse it has gotten. I can dish out jokes about there being nothing to do there, but my heart will always go out to the people who live there and how they helped shape my early adulthood.

I’ll end this post with one more Anderson factoid: musician Jon McLaughlin grew up in Anderson, attended AU the same time I did, and now also lives in Nashville. If you’ve been following my blog, you may recall that I saw him play a show during my last night in Hawaii back in September, so now these random Hanson one-off shows have come full circle. It also feels appropriate to end with a college collage.

Minneapolis, MN

AKA: The One That Was F***ing Weird

Back on the Middle of Everywhere tour, I decided last minute to make the haul from the Grand Rapids, MI show to the next one in Minneapolis. One of my good Hanson friends lives there, and I knew other friends would be going, too. I ended up getting in town just long enough to go to the show, so I’ve been itching to go back and actually see the twin cities and properly cross Minnesota off my list of states I’ve visited. So when Hanson announced they were playing at Mystic Lake, I knew it was time to go back.

Just as I was leaving work on Thursday, Yelena told me she had a surprise: she got hooked up with front row tickets! We already had decent seats in the tiered back section, but I never expected this! I flew up after work and Yelena took me straight to Matt’s Bar for their famous Jucy Lucy: a burger with a cheese-stuffed patty, which turned out to be an absolutely delicious start to the trip.

On Friday, she took me out to the Sculpture Garden for the obligatory Cherry & Spoon photo, and then over to the Guthrie Theater which had great views of the city through some blue and yellow windows. After a trip to St. Paul for some fancy coffee at Cafe Astoria, we went back to Yelena’s to get ready for the show.

I always say Hanson concerts are weird, because you never know what might happen. Whether a tractor driving down the beach in the middle of the night, a child eat french fries in the front row, or Hanson’s offspring dressed as elves playing guitar tech for the night, crazy stuff just happens at these things.

So, here’s where things start to get weird this time. The dating app Hinge has a prompt you can put on your profile that says “Try to guess this about me…” and Yelena filled hers out with “which band have I seen live almost 100 times?” That morning, a guy commented on it and eerily said “as long as it’s not Hanson, we’re good.” So of course they started chatting, and it turns out he had been working at their concert at the Basilica Block Party in Minneapolis this summer and had a bad experience with a fan who was there. (Plot twist: Yelena volunteers with BBP and had worked there with this guy a few years back!) 

After chatting with him for awhile, she told him she had an extra ticket to the show (thanks to our new front row spots) and that he should come… and he did! While they didn’t sit together for the show, the other girls and I ended up semi-“chaperoning” them on some sort of first date post-show at the casino food court. You really can’t make this stuff up.

People always ask me why I travel to see “the same concert” over and over, and I always tell them it’s never the same show. This is true, however, the one-off shows like these when they aren’t technically touring tend to all have a very similar set list. I have no problem with this, as it makes for its own sense of excitement for the familiar the same way other people travel to the same beach or family cabin every summer.  But this time they surprised us all by pulling out a song from their first album that doesn’t get played live much anymore, appropriately titled “Weird”. But this turned into a new version of the song when Taylor decided to drop the F-Bomb at the end: after all, “we all get a little bit f***ing weird sometimes”. So there are weird things number two and three.

If you aren’t a fan, or haven’t been keeping up with recent Hanson news, a few weeks back Zac had a motorcycle accident and broke three ribs, his collar bone, and his scapula. Banned from drumming, he’s been at the last few shows with his arm in a sling and his trusty cowbell. Just before this show, he was doctor-approved to be out of the sling, however he’s still not ready to drum, so we had one last chance to catch him up front and center instead of at the back of the stage behind his drum set. A unique experience for Zac and fans alike makes for weird thing number four.

Usually at a Hanson concert, the first few rows of fans are full of the high-energy “die-hards”. But this time, some of the people who own the land and some casino employees had tickets in the seats around us… people who may have never see Hanson before and probably barely remember who they even are. With several people sitting during the show while we were dancing up front, and a row of chairs behind us instead of fans trying to squeeze in, I present to you weird thing number five. This almost felt more like a private show for the cluster of friends around me. There was also a section of carpet between the stage and our seats, but security wouldn’t let us off the tile part of the floor, (apparently the carpet is hot lava after all), so we had to stand back a couple feet away from the stage. Weird Thing #6.

If you’ve ever been to a concert in your life, you know it’s pretty common for bands and artists to “end the show” and the come back out for an encore. Hanson encores typically consist of one or two of their more rock songs, but for some reason this time they ended on a ballad (weird thing #7), and a rare one at that (weird thing #8): “Song To Sing”. Isaac was in his feels that night and introduced the song by saying something along the lines of how music brings us all together and there will always be a “song to sing” for whatever life throws our way. This song actually has an extra verse that did not make the recorded version, but rather was only printed inside the back cover of the This Time Around album. As rare as hearing this song live has become, getting to hear this extra verse live is even more rare, but they chose to sing it this time (weird thing #9). This might be one of my favorite Hanson verses of all time:

“Don’t wander through this glassy surface expecting to find more than me, ‘cause what am I without a purpose but a lone mirage to see?”

Saturday morning we said goodbye to our friends who had to head back to Wisconsin, and Yelena and I went back to her place to sleep off what had turned into a very long night. We then met up with our friend Lindsey for dinner (pho) and then drinks at a cidery called Sociable. I’m not huge on beers, but I do love ciders. I couldn’t make a decision (no one who knows me should be surprised by this) so I ended up with a flight and it turns out I made the right choice.

Lindsey and her husband work at a youth ice center in town and had early shifts on Sunday morning. They graciously offered for us to meet them down there for some rides on the Zamboni. #WhenInMinnesota, I guess. We had talked about doing this for a couple months and I had been telling everyone I was more exited about the Zamboni than I was Hanson, and it did not disappoint! Then, as punishment (jk) for making me take her to the butterfly wing mural in Nashville, I made Yelena take me to the Mall of America. 

This summer, I was diagnosed with an inner-ear disorder called Ménière’s Disease, which causes episodes of tinnitus and hearing loss in one ear, dizziness, and vertigo. Between my head cold, the crazy patterns of the casino ceilings and floors, and the lights from the concert, I had been feeling off the whole weekend and even the Zamboni left me feeling a little dizzy. So I decided to play it safe and opted out of the amusement rides in the mall. But, I still wanted to go because it felt like the obligatory thing to say I did in Minneapolis. 

As we walked by a set of doors, I noticed it had started snowing. The exact words that came out of my mouth were, “It’s snowing! Why are we inside?” and I ran out the doors like a small child. I’d like to thank the city of Minneapolis for ending my trip with such a magical experience.

Just like those few flakes of snow, sometimes the most special memories on these trips are the small moments that won’t mean much of anything to anyone who wasn’t there, whether that’s a sincere thank you when you least expect it, or the “nights up late by the fireplace”. After all, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and maybe that applies to casinos in Minnesota, too.

I see you seeing me seeing you…