Sunday, 18 January 2015

Back To The Island Cancun 2015 - A First Timer's Account





DAY 1

The first day of the shows finally came and people began to gather by the pool area to watch the soundcheck, which was due to start at 6:00 PM. But of course, this band run on Hanson time and the guys didn’t turn up until after 7:00. 
It was a bit strange at first - the guys had to do the soundcheck with all their fans there, watching their every move.
But after a few minutes, they relaxed and soon began to jam together and play it up to the crowd. It was like a mini-show before the show. It was a slightly surreal experience for me - I’d only seen the band in Europe up until that point, and there they were, in Mexico, on a beach. And there I was, on that same beach, while some of my friends only a couple of feet away from me were watching the same thing from a jacuzzi. Yes, it was kind of weird.

Predictably, the actual concert started late - Hanson time striking twice in the same day, with the band arriving almost half an hour late. There were a lot of funny moments during the concert - we all loved the improvised song ‘I Have Sand In My Crevice’ which was…inspired by real events: as you can see from the quality of the photos, the wind was blowing sand everywhere! One of the lines said something like ‘if you wear contact lenses you should get Lasik’, to which a girl behind me said ‘I can’t afford it, I spent all the money to come here!’.

The sand got everywhere - all the photos I took from that night have a kind of blurry, grainy light. God knows how the guys managed to play - let alone sing - with that stuff flying into their face. We - at ground level - were at least somewhat sheltered by the fencing that had been built around the stage, but they would have had no such protection. 

The set list was a mix of old and new, with foot stomping Anthem tracks like ‘You Can’t Stop Us’ and ‘Fired Up’, as well as a lot of classics, with a predominant bias toward ‘This Time Around’. At one point the other musicians left the stage and Hanson played a few acoustic songs. There really was something for everybody, with songs from all albums.




DAY 2

Day 2 was activities day for the Red group -  Zac’s pottery painting session followed by mixology with Isaac. There was no break between his session and Isaac’s, and there were A LOT of people, so unsurprisingly the session ran over and as a result, Zac didn’t have time to go and talk to every table. As you can imagine, there were a lot of disappointed people out there. 

Later, I learned from a couple of friends that during the pottery session, a fan had followed Zac around the room and filmed him/photographed him non-stop for the duration of the event. As a Hanson fan, one is bound to encounter the strangest, most obsessive behaviour whenever the guys are around: I don’t know what it is about these guys that makes people lose any sense of decency and rationality. But what makes one think it’s acceptable to follow the guy around the room for the best part of two hours, and (allegedly) zooming in with the camera on his private parts right in front of him? I guess I’m still new to this - apparently this kind of behaviour isn’t completely unheard of when it comes to the fans of this band. 

Anyway - as for me and my friends, we were just hanging around by the bar when we saw that they were setting up for Isaac’s mixology session. It was in the main bar and various rows of chairs were set up in front of a table. We watched the first few minutes from the comfort of a couch at the back of the room and then left, as we had the same ‘activity’ planned for the following day anyway.

Zac’s solo show started late (surprise!) and didn’t last more than 30 or 45 minutes. He mostly played songs at the piano, including ‘Juliet’ - he said “I know we played it last night but this song is too much fun not to play it again’. “Fire on the Mountain” was the highlight of the set for me (an incredible performance of an equally incredible song), but overall I found that maybe a setlist with a more mixed selection of piano ballads and guitar songs would have been more suited to an open air setting: I love Zac’s piano ballads but I think they need a more intimate, enclosed setting. The sound of the piano somewhat got lost in the open air, and, combined to the fact that the show was taking place in broad daylight, the overall effect was less intimate that it could have been. 

The audience reception left a lot to be desired too - the Front Row Barnacles (FRB) thought it was a good idea to hold a selfie stick (may the inventor of such contraption rot in hell) in front of Zac’s piano for pretty much the duration of show. So not only they annoy the hell out of whoever is behind them, (it’s not enough to have front row - they have to spoil the view for others) but also they - without a doubt - annoyed Zac, who was playing his emotionally charged ballads with a stupid camera planted on a stick right up his face. I thought that was very disrespectful and felt a bit sorry for Zac who, as an artist, is trying to give his best on stage among amidst these distractions.

Never mind - because Old Man Badass was next. Everybody who was there agrees that Isaac was absolutely ON FIRE during his solo set. He interacted with the crowd a lot, cracked jokes, messed up lyrics, and got everybody to sing along with him. His set went on for at least an hour and was just awesome. He even sang in French (the earlier version of ’Someone’) and did a very good job at that too. Yes I’m biased but what can I say - hearing Isaac sing in French was just the coronation of an amazing moment - I had decided to go to BTTI mainly for that solo set - as an “Isaac girl” I knew that it would be my only chance of hear him sing more than one token song per show. And boy, was it worth it. 
I think it’s fair to say that, of all three brothers, Isaac is the one who can really pass for a solo artist when he’s on stage by himself. Maybe his songwriting wouldn’t be the same without his brothers, but he can hold his own on stage without giving the impression that something (or rather, someone) is missing. 

When it was time for the main show, my friends and I ended right at the back - after leaving our 5th row spots because we just couldn’t stand the tense atmosphere, including the ‘chair’ drama that had just unfolded in front of us: a fan feigned illness or disability and managed to get a the ‘security’ to bring her a chair. Now, I’ve been going to gigs since I was 13 and I have never - EVER - seen security hand over a chair to someone in the general admission stalls - right in the middle of a crowd. It was ridiculous and once again, it proves that some fansons will go to any length to be close to the stage. 

The main show was supposed to be the Christmas show but as Isaac had hinted during his set, there was a lot more in store. After playing a few Christmas songs, the guys announced that the rest of the show would be covers and Hanson songs - among others, the setlist included ‘In A Little While’ (U2), the Blues Brother classic ‘Gimme Some Lovin’ and AC/DC ‘Long Way to the Top’ - as well as sing along classics like ‘Every Word I Say’ and ‘Scream and Be Free’. During the chorus of SABF, and echoing the confetti rain that we had organised at the show in Milan in 2013, during the same song, we raised our ‘Tricolore’ - the Italian flag - as we jumped up and down. We’re pretty certain that Taylor saw us, as he turned his head and kind of nodded to our direction. We wanted to represent all the fans from Italy who couldn’t be there - mission accomplished!

The show was epic. What had initially seemed a really strange idea (the Christmas show) turned out to be a mix of Christmas songs, covers and a few of the band’s own most crowd-pleasing anthems. I can’t help feeling that Hanson read the threads on the HNET forums in the weeks prior to the event and realised that maybe a show made up entirely of Christmas songs wasn’t what fans wanted: so they subtly changed their plans, explaining that they didn’t realise that there weren’t enough Christmas songs in their repertoire for a whole show. I doubt that very much, as they didn’t even play two of the most recent ones - ‘My Favorite Christmas Sweater’ and ‘Hear Those Jingle Bells’. Their decision, however, was the right one and the result was a once-in-a-lifetime type of show that I certainly won’t forget.

At the end of the show, Taylor announced that the ‘surprise’ show that was planned for the Saturday had to be rescheduled to Friday due to the bad weather forecast: we would be taken to a nearby island (Isla de Mujeres) by boat - as we had all guessed by then anyway. I’d packed tons of travel sickness tablets in preparation for that trip so… I wasn’t too worried (but would there be enough lifejackets?)





DAY 3

It was Green Group activities day - followed by the Desert Island show in the evening. To accommodate the change in schedule, Taylor’s set had been moved to the Saturday.

I must admit that I didn’t find the pottery painting session particularly interesting - I’m utterly hopeless with anything artistic and everybody at my table seemed to be really good. There was no kind of presentation or ‘lesson’ - I had expected at least a demonstration of some sort. Instead, Zac arrived, jumped on stage, said a couple of words and then left us to our own devices. We had all picked a piece of pottery from the front table to paint, and paints and brushes had been prepared at each individual table. However, I was surprised to see that there wasn’t even much paint available - there weren’t even that many colours (no black, no white) and the resort entertainment staff kept floating around the tables to get paint for other tables. That was really poor planning on the resort’s side, considering that they run that kind of activity for their guests anyway. We paid a lot of money to be there, and the least the resort could do was provide enough paint for everybody.





There were a lot of people again in this session. We were right at the front, but that pesky Hanson brother decided to go around the room in the opposite direction, so by the time he had almost finished going around the room, the resort staff were trying to clear the tables and kick us out. We told them in no uncertain terms that until Zac had come to our table, we weren’t going anywhere. Once he finally made it to our group, Zac declared that my friend’s Nilene’s painted dog was one of the best works he’d seen all day. Well done Nile for representing Italy so well (and Brazil, too!). My work was horrendous and Zac looked lost for words when he saw it. Trying to say something positive, he pointed at the ‘BTTI 2015’ writing and said ‘that looks nice’, to which I replied (pointing at my friend), ‘yeah, she did it for me’. I can’t even paint plain lettering on a clay duck.




Mixology was more interesting for me, as I’m a cocktail geek and Isaac obviously enjoys a drink or two (I feel that that might be somewhat of an understatement). During the session he broke a glass and seemed to have cut his hand (although I couldn’t see any blood from where I was sitting) - but of course, he kept everybody amused. My friends wanted me to put my hand up and volunteer to ‘help’, but I didn’t feel very comfortable with the idea of standing there in front of 200+ fansons throwing eye daggers at the lucky volunteer. I did, however, raise my hand to answer some of the questions, but he didn’t pick me. 
It was hard to follow anyway - the sound was really bad and despite the fact that I’d tried to get the attention of the hotel’s entertainment guy a few times to fix it, he’d totally ignored me. Once again, I really don’t think the venue was right for this event and the staff really didn’t know how to deal with such a large group of people.

Overall, the BTTI activities are a bit take it or leave it - personally I felt a bit silly sitting there painting a clay duck in a room with 200 fans. I’d much rather hear the guys talk about their music, like they did at Tulsa MOE in 2014, but of course, BTTI is supposed to be a holiday event. It will be interesting to see what activities they come up with next year - hopefully they’ll pick something different and more interactive, although, with such large numbers attending, that will be a real challenge.



DESERT ISLAND SHOW

Friday evening was the ‘Desert Island’ show which was originally scheduled for Saturday but had to be changed because of the weather forecast. We were told to be ready by 8 PM when buses would come and take us to the ferry. Predictably, there was the usual scrum to get to the first buses and by the time we arrived to the ferry, the first ferry was already leaving. I saw the Front Row Barnacles pushing to get into the buses first and I heard from people who were in the first ferry that the same people behaved in a similar way to be the first to get off the ferry - running like a herd of spooked bison to get to the much coveted front of the stage. 

These people really missed out on the most amazing Hanson event you could ever imagine: when we got to the island it felt as if we had invited to a very exclusive event: all the palm trees were lit up with fairy lights and waiters in whites were lining up by the boardwalk offering Piña Coladas. I felt as if I the band had invited me to a party - we were treated like very special guests indeed. It almost looked like the setting for a wedding -  white covered tables, waiters walking around with trays full of canapés, which most people just ignored in the mad dash for the stage. Some things never change! But the stage was really big and even if I was at the back by the mixing desk I could get a really good view. 

The show was just incredible. I don’t know how many of the songs from the voting had actually made it into the final setlist because a lot of the ‘top 10’ didn’t get played. But if the vote results got ignored in the end, it was for good reasons because the setlist was just perfect for a party: Hanson chose really upbeat songs to which we could sing along in the most amazing setting.  

The ferry ride back was less eventful that the first journey - when people around us were dancing, drinking or throwing up overboard. We found a table at the aft end of the boat and dozed off. 

By the time we got back to the resort it was 3:00 AM and at that point, I was glad that the after party had been moved to the following day. We were all tired, windswept and (some) were a little queasy. But it had certainly been worth it.




DAY 4

Day 4 was kind of weird for me. Because of the schedule change, there was no final Hanson show that night - only the after party, which was kept on the final night but obviously moved to an indoor location (the resort ‘theatre’ - yes, inverted commas intended). With no main Hanson show other than Taylor’s solo set, I felt that the best part of the holiday was already over.

The M&G photos were scheduled from 1:00 PM and predictably, people began to queue early - which made little sense to me as the photo is guaranteed whether you’re at the front or the last person in line. We joined the queue roughly at the halfway point and it still took a long time to get to the front. People were watching the band’s every move - were they hugging? Shaking hands? Did they smile, did they hurry fans along? My friends and I all had met the guys before, but by the time our turn came, with all the collective hysteria around us, we were kind of nervous too. 

When it was my turn, however, I felt calm again (they’re just normal people after all) if a little awkward. Taylor offered a hug so I find myself hugging all 3 brothers. I’m not a very tactile person and even if Hanson are very attractive guys, they’re still complete strangers to me!  It was all a bit awkward but over very quickly. Taylor asked me if I was enjoying BTTI so far and from that we exchanged a few words about long flights and the fact that I’d travelled a long way to get there. Just like in my M&G from 2013, the guys are very easy to talk to and make you feel welcome - even if you’re the 345th person in the line. It must be hard work for them but they’re such professionals that you wouldn’t suspect that it’s ‘work’ - while you’re there, you’re part of a beautifully crafted illusion, perfectly executed to leave you with the everlasting impression that the band were nothing but thrilled to meet you. Yes, it’s an illusion, but I was very happy with it nonetheless.

After the photos, and after several Margaritas to help us with the inevitable release of adrenaline, all we had to do was kill time before Taylor’s solo.

Now - because of the ‘bad weather’ (which, rather annoyingly, didn’t actually materialise) - Taylor’s solo set had been moved to the indoor ‘theatre’ - the same venue where Zac’s pottery sessions had taken place. To call that room a theatre is a bit misleading: imagine a church hall, complete with a very low stage and red curtain at the back. A kind of ‘bar’ area at the back, minus the barman and the drinks completed the setting: yes, you got this right, there was NO BAR in the venue. In terms of atmosphere, it really wasn’t particularly inspiring. 

I expected Taylor’s show to be complete mayhem - as we all know, Taylor’s fans can be…*loyal* to the extreme. So I hadn’t even bothered taking my camera. But strangely, by the time we arrived, the theatre wasn’t even packed. I must admit that my memories from that set are a little sketchy - maybe because of the Margaritas I had consumed earlier, or maybe because the post-BTTI melancholy was beginning to set in. Taylor on his own at the piano isn’t quite the same as Taylor with the rest of the band, and although he looked marginally less uncomfortable than Zac did the day before, there was still something missing. So when he announced that Isaac was joining him for ‘Sometimes’, there was a roar of approval among the audience. They also played ‘Sunny Day’ together, after which, Isaac disappeared behind the curtain, only to reappear a few seconds later doing his ‘master of ceremony’ ‘thang’ to make us clap along to the song. It was very funny and proved once again that Isaac really knows how to stir up a crowd.

After Taylor’s set, the two guest acts followed. At that point I was so tired that I didn’t really enjoy them - I sat at the back with my friends and I’m sure at one point I fell asleep! It didn’t help that the venue was so uninspiring - it would have been a different story to sit on the beach and enjoy the shows by the moonlight. But the church hall with no bar was kind of depressing. Did I mention that there was no bar?

After Taylor’s set we were all kicked out because they had to set up for the after party. I had hoped that they’d open the bar for that but no such luck - by the time the party started (late, of course) it was clear that the bar remained closed and the only places to get a drink from were the beach bar (which was a fair distance away on the opposite site of the resort) and the bar in the karaoke venue, which was closer but had only one person working and by all accounts it was a nightmare to get a drink there anyway. 

As for the actual party, well, I’m not a fan of dance music (I’m too old - in my days I’d dance to indie and rock) so I couldn’t get into the ‘dancing’ vibe and decided to sit at the back instead. There was no sign of Zac and it was pretty clear by that point that he wasn’t going to show. 
What was interesting, however, was to see how Isaac (who had eventually arrived and was standing by the sound desk) was constantly being surrounded by fans asking for photos. The guy was trying to have a drink with the other band/crew guys and a dance but it wasn’t going to happen. From what I saw, he took photos with anyone who asked, and it was relentless. 
At one point (I think this happened twice) I saw him dance with a girl on a wheelchair - he was so sweet to her, he’d taken her hands and was dancing with her and around her, and at the end he gave her the sweetest hug. He must have made that girl so happy - that moment was one of the nicest things I’d seen happen in the entire holiday. What a truly lovely guy.
(Take that, Front Row Barnacles!)

After a while Isaac-watching, I went outside and soon I was chatting to a couple of friends. We all agreed that the party wasn’t quite doing it for us, but we felt that if we left, something amazing might happen without us. And lo and behold it did: we heard that something was going on in there so we went back into the theatre to find Isaac, Andrew, Dimitri and a woman we didn’t recognise - all dressed up in fancy dress, dancing and doing silly things on the stage with Taylor. It was really funny and a much needed injection of energy to the party - which, up until then, had been more of a ‘watch Taylor on stage’ kind of event, with people pressed against the stage gawping at him.

And then the inevitable happened and…the party ended. Taylor and Isaac said goodbye and left and BTTI was officially over.



SUMMING UP

THE GOOD

It’s easy to think that BTTI is just an overpriced holiday: I’ve heard plenty of people complain that they could stay at the same resort for half the price on a normal week. But the whole point is that BTTI is not a normal holiday: you get 3 incredible Hanson shows and 3 equally incredible (and unique) solo shows that, so far, haven’t taken place anywhere else. As someone who had, up until now, only seen the band play as a threesome during the last European tour, I can definitely say that the ‘full band’ experience is really something else - the chemistry between Hanson and their backing musicians - Dimitri and Andrew - is palpable, and the sound is bigger, bolder and punchier. The band also seem to be a lot more relaxed than at a regular show, and there was a lot more banter than at the concerts I’d been to. In other words - the concerts are totally worth it, especially if you’re used to the stripped-down European experience.

THE BAD 

Everybody seems to agree that the first two concerts didn’t really feel like ‘beach concerts’. Mexico’s beaches are state-owned, and in order to prevent random, non-fanclub people from watching the show and potentially cause trouble, the stage had been built on the resort-owned stretch of beach usually taken up by the volleyball court. The area had then been fenced off and ‘wrapped’ in a tropical print screen. This meant that once ‘inside’, you couldn’t see the sea but also, it felt as if there was very little space to spread out. I had a mental image of the stage in Jamaica (which I had seen in photos and videos) with a very chill vibe, but instead the set up in Cancun felt similar to that of a small festival, with a very narrow area in front of the stage, spreading out in lengthways. I think this contributed to the tension among the audience, as everybody packed up close to the stage just like at a normal venue.
In contrast, the Desert Island show felt so different - there was space! The experience was totally different as a result.

THE UGLY

I don’t know what it is about Hanson: they seem to simultaneously bring out the best and the worst in people. I saw obsessive behaviour at its very worst - the Front Row Barnacles scowling at other fans for gaining an inch of territory over them; girls filming with one hand while taking photos with the other; people crowding the guys for photo after photo whenever they dared show their face outside. 

THE TRULY WONDERFUL

But I also experienced the incredible magic that happens among fans of this band - the friendship, the support. A note under our bedroom door from our ‘neighbour’ saying how she’d enjoyed meeting us; a gift all the way from Argentina from a friend I’d met at a Hanson show in the UK in 2013; sharing a meal with people from all over the world on the first night. As I said to the old and new friends at that table, ‘at the risk of sounding sentimental, let me tell you: this is a moment we’ll never forget’.

And so who cares about the rest: once the jet lag has gone, and your suitcase has been unpacked and your clothes laundered; once you’ve emptied the last grain of sand from your bag and have lovingly stored away the BTTI memorabilia; once the hysteria has subsided, what remains is what deserves to remain - the beautiful memories, the friendships, the laughter shared in a Babel of languages under the moonlight in a far away tropical country. And of course, all those beautiful songs. 

1 comment:

  1. My friend went to get drinks across the way for us a couple times during the after party and told me that the bar in the theater had lost its liquor license so they couldnt open it. Horribly inconvenient to say the least!

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