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.