The programme landed in our inboxes in mid-December to a mixed reaction. The schedule was substantially different from previous years: the shows (with the exception of the welcoming show) would start a lot earlier, and two out of three ‘activities with the band’ would take place afterwards. The activities would be Cards Against Humanity and Family Feud - i.e. different kind of party games to what some fans had been hoping for: sack races, egg and spoon races and other such games of the type I’d endured at church group trips in my childhood*. As we already knew, there would only be one ‘craft’ type of activity, tie dye, with a notable change: all three Hanson would take part at the same time.
[*I believe these games, when forced upon an adult in the captive-like conditions of a youth camp or, equally, of all-inclusive vacation, openly contravene the Geneva Convention: Convention I: the Convention prohibits [...] assaults upon personal dignity.]
The news about the games sent shockwaves through the fan base: some hated the idea, some, immediately embraced it and began to prepare, hoping to be picked to play. As for me, I was so relieved by the absence of anything physical and/or potentially humiliating I wanted to break into song, Julie Andrews-style. This BTTI was showing all signs of being more adult-orientated than the previous two and for me, that could only be good news.
|The Hills Are Alive|
A NEW TAKE ON NORMALITY
There is something really peculiar about staying at a resort on the days immediately prior to BTTI, especially if you’re a returning guest. At your first BTTI you expect a hotel to be full of people from all walks of life, and you find it slightly unsettling when, gradually, fellow fans begin to arrive, and regular guests disappear, one by one, until none are left.
By your second BTTI, you find yourself walking around wondering what those other people are doing there: they’re not Hanson fans. They’re intruders. That’s when it clicks: you have become one of them. ‘Them’ being the hardcore returning islanders - people who return year after year without fail and who are by now a regular part of the event’s tapestry. It’s a gradual process: every year the threads are woven a little tighter around you, until, you too, are a recurring character. It dawns on you that BTTI is The Truman Show meets The Sims, with fans as the unknowing puppets whose strings are skillfully pulled by the canny alliance of your favourite band and a niche tour operator whose job is to make you dependant on their product.
|Isle of Sims|
By your third BTTI, you experience a persistent sense of déjà vu.
You travel for a ridiculous number of hours from your home country until you land on the island. Tired and with your limbs still crumpled from the long flight, you’re whisked away to the resort before you can quite comprehend what is happening. Waiting for you in the semi-familiar surroundings are your friends, who live in different continents from you. While you sign something you haven’t had time to read, a greeter hands you a cup of rum punch which you proceed to down, under the watchful eye of a bellboy with dollar signs in his eyes. Your cup hasn’t even hit the table again that dollar-sign bellboy is marching you and your luggage to your room. Two US Dollars later, you are finally alone in your room. You look around you. Through the fog of jet lag, you acknowledge the presence of someone else’s belongings in the room: they’re your roommate’s - one of the people who greeted you in the lobby only minutes earlier. Her home time zone is 8 hours behind yours and the last time you saw each other was over six months ago. Your brain computes the fact that for the next seven days you’ll be sharing a bed with someone who isn’t your husband. Only a few years ago, the mere thought of the above would have brought you out in cold sweats, but somehow this is now a completely reasonable prospect.
You shed some of the layers you’re wearing, the last reminder of the colder climate you’ve travelled from. You pick up your room card and head back out. By tomorrow, all of this will feel normal.
|Check Out Jet Lag on the HNET archives|
One of my everlasting memory from my first BTTI in Cancun 2015, was Zac’s second-hand embarrassment when he saw the monstrosity I had painted during our pottery session: a duck sporting the colours of the Brazilian flag.
|Monstrosity no. 1|
|Monstrosity no. 2|
You can really see that happen, right? No, neither can I. And so here I am again, subjecting myself to the yearly torture of pretending to do craft with Hanson: every year, as I watch others make beautiful artefacts which they will then show off to an admiring Hanson, I curse the moment I signed up for this and contemplate a subversive move, like Wednesday Addams at the Thanksgiving play. I imagine dumping a bucket of red paint, Carrie-style, on the head of the fan whose perfectly dyed shirt Isaac is currently admiring. I consider the possibility of locating and setting off the fire alarm - always the movies’ perfect get-out device - until I remember that I’m on a beach and other than a couple of fold-out tables, there’s nothing to burn down.
Grudgingly, I resign myself to the inevitable and attempt the task at hand. A woman in the entertainment team takes pity on me and takes over, explaining the process step by step. I feign interest but all the while I’m scanning the beach for Hanson sightings through my peripheral vision. Our session is the first of the week and nobody seems to have a clue as to what is going on. Hanson, who have appeared late only to then hide with behind a row of tables, are now surrounded by selfie hunters. Unlike last year, when every group had their own table, we are all moving alongside different ‘stations’ and therefore there’s no structure on how Hanson will interact with us or check on our ‘progress’.
I look at my t-shirt, skillfully dyed by my new Jamaican best friend: it looks perfect, other than for the ghastly colour combination my saviour has picked: turquoise and red. Later, when fully dry, the red will take an ugly shade of rusty brown, like dried up blood.
This is not going very well, I admit to myself; by now, my face feels hot and red despite my SPF 50 and wide brim hat. It occurs to me that maybe putting an alcohol-based makeup setting spray on my face earlier was a very bad idea which must have made my skin even more photo-sensitive than usual.
Taylor is surrounded. Even his aviator sunglasses can’t hide the look of deer trapped in headlights on his face. Zac, as usual, is followed around by women armed with cameras. And then there’s Isaac, dressed head to toe in black under the relentless sun. I don’t know if I should be happy or sad to notice that he has the most personal space around him.
What am I even doing here, I ask myself. This is not what being the fan of a band is about. Finally, my inner Cartman voice speaks: screw you guys, I'm going home.
*For the sake of accurate reporting, I need to point out that I did manage to ‘interact’ with Isaac and Zac briefly during the session; both encounters have however been omitted from my account for dramatic purposes.
With two out of three activities now taking place at night, we had a lot more free time during the day to enjoy the beach and the resort. On the downside, with the shows now starting earlier, anyone planning to camp out would need to get there in the early afternoon and stay put after the solo sets. It wasn’t my concern: I did a lot of sitting on the sand last year, and although that method had got me good spots for the shows, it had also meant that I’d missed out on everything else. As much as I like to get a good view of the stage, this year I felt that I’d spent too much money just to leave butt prints on the sand.
So what did I do with all that extra time this year? I have no idea: I still feel that I didn’t get anywhere near enough time in the water, or propping up a (swim-up) bar. I had an extremely expensive but totally worth it massage; my roommate emotionally blackmailed me into going to a ‘dolphin encounter’; I mixed with different groups of friends and met a lot of new people. But it all happened so quickly that now all I can remember is a sped-up blur, and don’t even ask me about the shows: I know I wrote a blog post about them but I am now wondering, was I even there?
|Time is a human construct, apparently|
The after shows at my previous two BTTIs have always been a bit of an anticlimax for me: shows ended close to midnight and there was always precious little to do both in Cancun and at the current resort. One of the most obvious design flaws at the Jewel is that the bar only has a handful of seats; if you want to relax somewhere and chat with your friends, there’s only the rather uninspiring lobby or a sunlounger on the beach in pitch darkness. So I was very glad to have the games to decompress after the high of a show, with the added bonus that the two pop-up bars on either side of the beach would be open for the duration of the events.
There are around 400 people at BTTI so I knew from the outset that the chances of being picked to go and ‘play’ on stage on either games night were slim. And sure enough, as they read out the numbers on our passes, mine didn’t come up (although once or twice it got annoyingly close). But then again, last year’s “Trivia with Isaac” offered even fewer chances, and so did his cocktail-making session back in 2015. At least this time more people got a chance - and some of them were my friends. You really can do worse than standing on a beach with a drink, watching your friends play games with Hanson, and personally I found both nights a massive improvement on previous years, when we’d all sit like well-behaved convent girls and politely clap at regular intervals.
Unless they happen to live on Mars, by now everyone in the fan base will know that Zac picked a great winning answer to ‘How did I lose my virginity?’ (‘my balls on your face’) [In fact, I am sure it’s probably someone’s ringtone by now]. It was a little disappointing, though, when the question came up, to hear some people yell ‘on my wedding night’. These ladies possibly forgot the fact that Zac had survived a Howard Stern show and he wasn’t going to be rattled by a group of rowdy fans. Or maybe they were just drunk. Still - the heckling was in really poor taste and for a brief moment I felt embarrassment for just being there.
Mercifully, Family Feud offered no cringeworthy moments: quite the opposite, in fact. The highlight of the whole night for me was when Isaac, after my roommate chastised him for not adhering to the game’s rules, said ‘I love her’ and from that moment on, referred to my friend as his girlfriend. It was her birthday, and she’s an Isaac girl. It was as if the stars and planets had aligned to make her birthday extra special (and earlier in the day, she’d got to kiss a dolphin named Zeus).
If I ever had one gripe with the overall BTTI experience, it’s always been its slight church summer camp-like feel: partly because of the predominantly female participants, partly due to the craft activities, but also because bars always shut ridiculously early at this kind of resort. This year I tried the ‘nightclub’ at the Jewel but it was so dark at first I couldn’t even see the bartender. He eventually emerged, wraith-like, pouring me a drink before disappearing back into the shadows again. It was so ridiculously bad that after ten minutes we all left and went to sit outside with our feet in the jacuzzi - something infinitely more rock’n’roll. But overall, BTTI 2017 had a better nightlife and a more adult vibe: okay, it wasn’t exactly Burning Man-style debauchery but at least it didn’t feel like you were encouraged to be in bed by midnight to attend 9:00 AM Mass.
Much has been said in previous years about Taylor’s ‘dance parties’ and, let’s face it, they’re never going to be real club nights: the crowd is made up pretty much entirely of women, and a large part of them are glued to the stage like barnacles on the hull of a ship, dreamingly gazing at Taylor’s beauty. The closest I’d experienced to a real club night was last year’s dance party at the Vanguard in Tulsa, and that was largely due to the venue and a particularly fast and friendly service at the bar.
There is something faintly ridiculous about an ‘afterparty’ being held in the buffet room of an all-inclusive resort. At dinner time, talented local performers bust their butts on the small stage to the diners’ almost complete indifference (that same week I watched a singer belt out a goosebump inducing cover of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ and nobody clapped). So it’s frankly bizarre to see Taylor Hanson doing his D.J. act, cans over his ears, only a few feet away from the omelette station. This year, however, I unlocked the secret of Afterparty Fun: just drink more. It should have been obvious but the queues for the bar have always been my downfall at BTTI. Not this year: a combination of asking for a quick-to-prepare drink (Appleton and Coke) and a dollar to the bartender meant that I never had to wait long for my drink.
Had I not been slightly under the influence, I doubt I would have thought 'screw it' as I pushed my way to the bar, where Isaac was talking to a gaggle of fans; and only thanks to good ole Dutch courage was I happy to barge into the conversation and, after complimenting my favourite Hanson for a great show, felt completely at ease with jabbing a finger at him and telling him “you’ve got to stop taking all my money!”
So don your party frock, get some drinks in you, find some fun people who dance like they don’t care and guess what? Even Taylor’s afterparty can be fun. And if you manage to get a laugh out Isaac Hanson in the process, that’s a bonus.
|Yes, I thought I was funny, too|
BTTI pictures day is a big day in the BTTI schedule. That photo is one of the unique selling points of the BTTI package: when else do you get a photo with just yourself and all three Hanson? Exactly.
So every year I put some reasonable effort into the photo. I pick a nice dress and try to look my best. But I’m not photogenic to say the least, and inevitably I end up hating the photos we’re finally sent, months later. This year, once again, I thought I was fully prepared for pictures. I had a dress, and a hairdresser appointment at my friend’s room: she had done my hair in Tulsa and I knew she could make a scarecrow look good. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, everything else. That was the morning when I completely forgot how to put makeup on, butchering my eyebrows first and ending up with two slugs drawn over my eyes. Then I screwed up my eyeshadow so badly that I looked as if I’d just been punched. It could have all turned into disaster had it not been for my friend. In the tone people use to talk someone out of jumping off a bridge, she told me to bring my makeup kit to her room and she would fix it, and do my hair afterwards. Some forty-five minutes later I finally emerged, completely transformed. I looked in the mirror and thought, is that me? My friend had to kick me out of her room to stop me from bowing with gratitude, and the next thing I knew, I was in line for pictures.
For some reason, the weather always conspires to make pictures day the hottest day of the week, and this year was no exception. Mercifully, they changed the location from last year and we were at least able to queue up in the shade, watching as everybody took their turn to pose with the guys. I’ve met the guys a few times before and I’m not exactly scared of talking to them; but it’s having my picture taken - and in front of so many people too - that makes me break into cold sweats. It’s a very contrived situation to say the least.
And then, once again for the second consecutive year, we were presented with the same problem: Isaac was the first one in line to greet us from where we were queuing: every Isaac girl’s nightmare, because it inevitably involves convoluted manoeuvres to be next to him in the picture. After a ninja-like feign in 2015, I totally bottled it in the following year and ended up next to Taylor and Zac. But this year, I was determined to get my money’s worth and pose next to my favourite brother. So I decided on the most transparent of tactics: to make a beeline for Taylor, despite the fact that he was last in the line-up, and work my way backwards. Did it work? Yes. But what I didn’t realise was that, in the heat of the moment, anxious to stick to my plan, I ran. Yes, I ran. It’s all on video: you can see Isaac kind of moving to shake my hand while I literally leg it and go to Taylor instead.
And there’s BTTI pictures, summed up: at the last minute, something will happen that will make me kick myself for the rest of the year. You had one job.
Ah well. There’s always 2018.
|This picture cost me about...no, never mind.|
BTTI 2017 SUMMED UP
- Walking on marshmallow at the Luminous Lagoon
- Kissing a dolphin called Zeus
- Hair & Makeup by Suze ™
- Dancing to a Bob Marley cover band with ‘Captain Crazy’ at Nine Miles
- Making Isaac laugh out loud at the bar
- All the shows
- The LED flower headbands
- A Jamaican lady telling me she appreciated my Rasta themed dress
- My friends, who are too many to be mentioned here.
- “Debriefing” with Kasey until 4:00 AM
- Getting some very good news I didn’t expect.
- Apparently running up to Kaitlin and telling her: "Kait, I'm gonna sell a kidney so I can come back!" and having no memory of this whatsoever.
On the Cutting Room Floor
- Running for my picture
- Tie dye
- A four-day long migraine that lasted until the first day of the event
- The stomach churning long drive to Nine Miles...and back
- Those two shots of neat gin ...blame Kaitlin
- Agreeing to be filmed without makeup on
- Real life