By JIM ABBOTT, Orlando Sentinel
First published in print: Thursday, October 9, 2008
By any standard, it was a formidable line of fans waiting for a show at the mammoth South By Southwest Music Conference this past March in Austin, Texas.
The object of their devotion was not some new indie-minded trend-setter, but Hanson.
Yes, the trio of Oklahoma-bred brothers who gave us “MMMBop” are cool again, basking in critical praise for their latest independently released album, “The Walk,” and courting a mix of old and new fans on the road.
Always a magnet for screaming girls, brothers Isaac, Taylor and Zac — now ages 27, 25 and 22, respectively — are looking out at a different niche in concert crowds: guys about their age, with their own bands.
“In the last five years, we have really resonated with younger guys starting bands now,” Taylor Hanson says in a phone interview. “I was blown away when we were at South By Southwest because some guy in the audience would say, ‘My band’s down the road at this club and I remember when I saw you play drums at this show.'”
At least one band vaguely reminiscent of Hanson — the Jonas Brothers — is sparking teen hysteria with the help of the Disney Channel promotional machine. Although he doesn’t see similarities in the music, Hanson isn’t without a twinge of deja vu.
“There’s a surreal quality to looking at that audience and the sudden awareness of that band by so many people,” he says. “From their perspective, I hope they are able to harness whatever is most authentic about what’s going on right now and make a career.”
For Hanson, the road to sustaining a career led them outside the major labels. On two independently released albums, “The Walk” and 2004’s “Underneath,” the brothers have been able to make their own decisions.
The new release has sparked a wave of activism. Stops on the “The Walk Around the World Tour” include one-mile barefoot pre-show walks by the band and its fans to fight poverty and AIDS in Africa. The location of each walk is disclosed three hours before it happens at Hanson.net.
So far, the band has walked roughly 6,000 miles toward its goal of 24,902, the circumference of the Earth. There also is a coffee table book and EP inspired by the project.
Fans also can organize their own walks at the band’s Web site. The band will donate $1 for each walk to buy shoes, support clean water, schools, medical research and health care. Hanson also teamed with California-based TOMS Shows to send 50,000 pairs of shoes to Africa.
The idea, Hanson says, is to use the independent avenues that have sustained the band’s music for a larger purpose.
“We’ve got so much access to one another today that didn’t exist even 5 years ago, and we need to use these ways we communicate as avenues to make a difference.”