I might as well just get this out there now: I am a Hanson fan.
I know what you're thinking, but if you say one thing about MMMBop without ever having actually read the lyrics, then I don't want to hear it. I've loved Hanson since I was fourteen years old. I can't think of many things I've loved for thirteen years. There are some books and movies, sure, that I read or saw before I was fourteen and I still like. But liking a movie isn't the same as liking a band. You toss the DVD on every now and then, you quote it in applicable situations, you'll chat about it with other fans if it comes up.
But liking a band, especially when that band is Hanson, for thirteen years is a living thing. It requires perseverance and dedication. This is a band that routinely waits several years in between albums (case in point: Underneath came out in 2004, The Walk in 2007, and the latest, Shout it Out came out just this year.... I'm sensing a pattern, actually...). In between albums, it's a lot of hoping for a tour, getting special limited release CDs from their website, hoping for news about when the next album mightmightmight be getting a release date. Then when the tour comes it's hoping you can find another Hanson fan living under some other rock who can go with you so you don't have to go by yourself, deciding who might be willing to come with you if you buy their ticket for them, figuring out who you can bribe with pie to drive you to a concert when you don't have a car (Thanks, Jess!), and creating conspiracy theories about why Taylor Hanson seems to father babies more frequently than he births albums.
But they keep you hanging in there. Why? Because each album is possibly better than the last (except who can rank their favorite albums? They're all so different, those constantly evolving boys). And because few bands are so dedicated to their fans (Constant behind the scenes live streams and Q&As! Generous meet and greets! Contests! Frequent unreleased music off their website! Zac will paint you a personalized picture!).
And you hang in there because they're real. Katy Perry was a blonde Christian singer. Until it didn't work out. Then she was a brunette bombshell with a whipped cream bra because it sold better. And I'm supposed to believe you have any personal connection to your music. Sure, yeah. On the other hand, Hanson put out Middle of Nowhere, of MMMBop fame. Then This Time Around (you might know the second single, If Only). It didn't do particularly well. That was 2000. It would be 3 long years before an acoustic album and another year until a full-length studio album, Underneath. In between, Hanson fought their label. For anyone interested in what the current climate of major music labels is like now, I highly recommend their documentary, Strong Enough to Break, detailing their struggles with their label.
In short, their label, Mercury, got swallowed up by the merger of Island/Def Jam, a label that, as you might be able to tell by its name, wanted nothing to do with the blond pop rock boys from Oklahoma. But it would be too much to let them go. No, no. IDJ let them write, record, re-write, re-record, change producers, start from scratch, and start again for years. When it became evident that no record would ever come from this partnership, Hanson got a lawyer and began arranging to be let out of their contract. Even their lawyer was baffled by the constant unreturned calls, uncooperative label heads and sheer brick walls he met at every turn. He eventually told Hanson he'd never seen anything like this before, it was like the label just wanted to spite them by keeping them around but never releasing their music. Finally, they got out, went independent, released Underneath just as they wanted it and scored the number 1 album on Billboard's independent chart for their effort. And for 6 years, Hanson fans have kept them going with no major label backing.
Finally, Hanson are more than just their music. In between starting a label, starting (and starting and starting) their own families, the boys spent some time in sub-Saharan Africa. They gave their time to charities there, learning first-hand about what was needed. They wrote and developed their next album, The Walk. And they put their money where their feet were. Since The Walk debuted in 2007, Hanson have invited their fans to walk with them before each concert. For one barefoot mile, over rocks, hills, grass, and fields, Hanson and their fans have walked 36,000 miles. And for each person who joins them on the walk, Hanson donates money to various causes in Africa. Each walker chooses where his or her money will go: do you want Hanson to donate on your behalf to build schools, build a well for clean water, give HIV/AIDS meds to an expectant mother so you can prolong the life of her infant, give vital health meds for a variety of diseases, or donate shoes to those in need. Further, each walker can choose to match the donation or give any amount he or she chooses.
By coincidence (or because this is New England and they're everywhere) our walk wound up in a cemetery in the middle of nowhere, Cohasset. Isaac gave a particularly moving speech about one of the donation options, HIV/AIDS meds for an expectant mother. He told us how most children born to HIV positive mothers in Africa die by the age of four and how those HIV meds make that untimely death just a little less untimely. He told us how it wasn't on purpose that we wound up in a cemetery that Saturday, but that it was an unfortunate reminder of just how short our time on earth is, and how lucky we are that we can expect ours to be just a little bit longer than most. They told us how much it meant to them that their fans had kept them going for thirteen years, six of those independently, and how much it meant that we'd adopted their cause as our own, that even on a 90 degree day, we'd walk barefoot on scalding asphalt littered with stones and pebbles, that most of us didn't even try to talk to them that day, or get autographs, or photos, that it wasn't about meeting the band you love, it was about participating in something bigger.
I really wish I had recorded Isaac's speech, but I didn't think I could upload one super long video and didn't think fast enough to just do two shorter videos, but here's what Taylor had to say at least:
It makes me feel incredibly good to know that a band I've put so much time, effort, and money into supporting is in turn putting their time, effort, and money into something much bigger than all of us. If you want some more info, please click to learn how you can take the walk.
Oh and that concert?
(Video of Taylor's speech by me. A special thank you to Kyle Faticoni, who took all of the concert video and all of the still photos and who is a fantastic friend to see a concert with. And you may have noticed one picture is on there twice. Blame Blogger; it wouldn't let me delete it and I didn't want to throw my laptop against a wall so I just left it. You may also have noticed the concert photos and video are from many different angles. No, we did not mosey around the venue at random. The stage spins! Whooo!)