Twenty-one years had passed since “MMMBop” was a No. 1 hit — but a few dozen of their devoted fans stalked out front-row seats hours in advance for a Hanson concert at Walt Disney World.
“I’ve loved them since I was like 9,” said Tiffany Rae, of Nassau County, who planned a week-long vacation to see Hanson. “I’m 30 now.”
Her seat was next to a high school science teacher who skipped her planning period to be there.
The concerts, a series called Eat to the Beat during the Food and Wine Festival, are helping revive attendance at Epcot, some Disney followers say.
Hollywood Studios debuted its Toy Story Land in June, and there’s a buzz about Star Wars land next year. Animal Kingdom attendance has surged with crowds visiting the World of Avatar expansion. Magic Kingdom is still Magic Kingdom, the most popular park in the world.
But what about Epcot?
A makeover for 36-year-old Epcot is coming in 2019 and beyond with plans for a new fireworks show, gondola rides into the park and an indoor roller coaster based on “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies.
Until then, the festivals and concerts give locals a reason to visit, said Jeremy Stein, who co-hosts the Main Street Magic and The Dis Dudes podcasts.
“It’s kind of keeping Epcot alive,” Stein said.
Eat to the Beat, the concert series at Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, began in 2002. Starship, famous for “We Built this City on Rock & Roll,” is the longest running act, playing 15 of those years, according to Disney
The music has become so popular that Disney expanded the concerts at Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival from four days a week to seven in 2019, said David Baldree, a Disney show producer.
For the first time at this year’s Food and Wine Festival, contemporary Christian acts were booked, and 98 Degrees — a popular boy band from the late 1990s in the next tier after *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys — also performed at the concert series.
“We want to hit as many musical genres as we can,” Baldree said.
What makes the concerts work, Stein said, is that Disney draws many well-known musicians with hits that date back. But the lyrics stick in people’s brains, never forgotten.
“It’s part of that nostalgia, and that’s what Disney is so good at,” Stein said.
Back before Mandy Gimenez was an adult, before all the responsibilities of looking at sonograms for her job at an OB-GYN or raising her own family, she was just a teenager going through a phase. She popped in a CD from the band Sugar Ray in her car, and freedom was hers.
Now age 35, Gimenez planned her trip to Epcot during her Disney vacation around Sugar Ray in late September.
Even though he is now 50, Sugar Ray lead singer Mark McGrath moved with the frenzied energy of a much younger man on stage. He took selfies with the crowd and poked fun at the band’s heyday when he was known for his frosty-tipped hair.
“Welcome to the ‘90s!” McGrath exclaimed. “I wish some of us never left!”
Gimenez sang along with every lyric, her hand raised in the air.
“I felt like I was a teenager again and having the best time,” said Gimenez, who lives in Connecticut.
Her 5-year-old daughter, Alexa, looked bored at what was her first concert but the catchy choruses stuck in her head afterward.