The lights go down, the cameras come out and a steady chorus of “Hanson! Hanson!” begins. The scene suddenly resembles something out of 1997, the year the three Hanson brothers debuted with their infamous teen hit, “MMMBop.” But there are a few noticeable differences. The crowd is older, the venue is smaller and the flowing blond hair the band members possessed during their adolescent years is nowhere to be seen.
The brothers are currently on the second leg of their Walk Around the World tour, which began last fall and brought its inspiring message to the Variety Playhouse on Monday night.
The Walk Around the World is not just another concert tour of former teenyboppers. The band is bringing something different to the scene this time around.
“We’re just trying to find something better or something new, just some different ways to show our fans examples of different things that they can do that are tangible and real,” drummer Zac Hanson said in an interview with the Wheel.
This tour is as much about the band’s collaboration with the TOMS Shoes company as it is about its new album, The Walk, which came out last year. TOMS is known for its activism in Africa: For every pair of shoes bought by a customer, one pair of shoes in donated to a child in Africa. The Hanson brothers started working with TOMS after a trip to Africa while recording their latest record.
Since the collaboration began, Hanson has helped TOMS donate more than 50,000 pairs of shoes. The band takes its project even further on the current tour.
The brothers ask fans to meet them in front of the venue the afternoon before every concert to participate in a one-mile walk — barefoot. The band donates one dollar for every participant to one of its five causes. Hanson’s goal is to walk 24,902 miles, which equals the circumference of the world. Besides walking before shows, the band also gives its fans a chance to make their own difference. Takethewalk.net allows people to register and host their own one-mile walks. These walks count toward the band’s goal. To date, Hanson and their fans have walked 5,781 miles.
In Atlanta, more than 200 fans showed up at the Rialto Theatre to walk with the band. One concertgoer, a 23-year-old woman who traveled from Houston, gushed, “They have such a good message. This is the third walk I’ve been on and every time it’s so cool and inspiring.”
Zac Hanson echoed her excitement. “It’s about everybody taking a simple action — walking out, walking barefoot, showing up early. It’s about influencing the people around you by your own actions and your own choices,” he said. “What we’re saying with this whole leg of the tour is the walk around the world. Adding the ‘around the world’ is about trying to empower fans.”
The brothers bring this sense of purpose into their newest album as they aim to steadily progress away from their pop roots.
“When we go to make a record, we don’t think about what Hanson sounds like,” Hanson said. “We just go in to make a record that we feel like is a great record. We make music that we’re passionate about and feel inspired by. In the end, we know that our fans evolve and we evolve. We make new music that we feel puts the most passion on a tape and that is really representing who we are right now.”
Although The Walk debuted to decent reviews, the real test comes from the fans.
“I think our fans are the same people that grew up with us. They’re in a different place in their life, but they still come to shows,” Hanson said.
The brothers hope their fans have evolved with them and their music, but when they played a few new songs Monday night, the crowd suddenly got quiet and a little bored. On the other hand, when the group finally gave in and played its most famous hit from more than a decade ago, the room filled with the energy of fans who had been wanting to reminisce about their years listening to the Middle of Nowhere cassette.
Even though the crowds still chant for their old songs, the brothers played their new songs with a certain fervor worthy of appreciation, showing that they can still take on a concert hall, even as they attempt to take on the world.