This post is part of #the100dayproject that encourages creatives to do an action every day for 100 days. I've chosen to write an article or blog post every day. Previous posts for this project can be found here.
I never thought I would write this sentence: I saw New Kids on the Block in concert.
But I can because I did. Eight-year-old Sarah’s dreams came true on May 21, 2017, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be and then some.
To know me is to know how shameless I am about my boy band love. NKOTB was the band that started it all. I can’t remember how I discovered them, but what I do remember is that I was hooked the moment I did.
However, my access to them was limited. We didn’t have a lot of extra spending cash growing up so I had to live vicariously through everyone else. I watched a recording of their ABC special, “Wildest Dreams” through my cousin who recorded it on a glitchy VHS tape. I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV growing up (my dad thought it was a bad influence), so I only saw the music videos at my grandma’s house or until the internet became a thing in high school. I did wake up early to watch their Saturday morning cartoons and I spent whatever quarters I could get my hands on to collect stickers of all five guys from those capsule vending machines (Donnie was the hold out).
This explains that when the Total Package tour was announced with Paula Abdul and BoyzIIMen, I immediately wrote down when tickets were on sale in my planner. It didn't take much to get my friend Lesley Villarreal on board. After all, we share a boy band playlist on Spotify (my contribution was Hanson, of course). When tickets did go on sale a day earlier than I anticipated, Lesley jumped online and grabbed two for us. It was a done deal.
I was going to see NKOTB.
It needs to be noted that tickets went on sale months before the actual concert (like it was still 2016), so this gave me time to amp myself for the show. A little too much time because it was all I talked about and I became overwhelmed by it all.
Lesley and I left for Austin the morning of the show. The seven-hour drive wasn’t too bad though (lots of NKOTB sing-alongs) and we made it to the city with time to load our stuff in our rental, change in our concert attire (bright colors all around) and get to the venue.
There were lines already forming when we arrived and of course the majority was female. Few of the males were clearly there because of their significant other. I saw one couple approached a security guard the moment they walked in the arena to find out where they could buy beer. The guy hauled ass when he was told it was on the second floor. I mean, I get it. I was feeling anxious from all the excitement I built up that Lesley's idea to pre-game with wine was the best idea of the night.
There were a lot of handmade t-shirts proclaiming their love for the guys. And there were shirts and buttons dug out of boxes of childhood memories.
I freaked out when we got to our seats. From the online seating chart, it looked like we were in a balcony of some sort, but we were pretty close to the main stage. Then there was a side stage directly next to us. Would the guys perform there? Whoa.
Starting the night was BoyzIIMen, the soundtrack of my pre-teen years. They came out strong with their first single “Motownphilly.” They danced across the stage and got the crowd going before they went into the ballads we all know and love them for. It brought me back to Valentine's Day dances and standing at the corner wishing a cute boy would ask me to dance. But it wasn't all all middle school nostalgia and awkwardness. They grabbed instruments at one point and covered some Lenny Kravitz and Bruno Mars songs and it was amazing. I wish they played longer though.
Lesley wanted a bathroom break before Paula Abdul came on. We rushed over and got back to our seats after her first song. Her set was also brief, but she went straight for the hits. She wasn't really singing but let's be honest, we were there for the dancing and she delivered.
But New Kids on the Block... They. were. amazing. It was exactly how I’d imagine watching their concert would have been in the 80s but without those oversized shoulder pads and rattails.
They started the show by rising from the stage just as they were rising back into my life. I reenacted Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” painting for at least three songs (without actually screaming) because I was speechless and could not register what was happening. They were singing and dancing right in front of me. It was unreal.
The Frank Erwin Center was filled with screams the entire night though. It was loud. I had to take a moment every now and then and realize those screams were coming from 30 to 40 year old women. At times, eight-year-old Sarah overtook my 30-something year old body and joined them.
The guys looked like they were enjoying every moment of it. Usually reunions reek of desperation, but I didn't get that vibe from them once. They called us out for "stop liking them” when they performed songs from '94, when their popularity declined (they released a song called "Dirty Dawg"). When they performed a Christmas song, Joey noticed no one was singing along and joked, “Don’t worry guys. We don’t know the lyrics either.” It looked like they thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the past. They knew their roles in our lives and played up to it.
During “The Right Stuff,” the guys grabbed their crotches to let us know exactly where we turned them on. They had a backstage cam during a costume change, playing it up by peeling their clothes off directly in front of the camera.
We all screamed and gasped like we were gonna get caught watching a Skinemax movie by our parents. Ladies, we’re inching our way to mid-life crisis and hot flashes. I’m sure we’ve all conducted our own research on how babies are made. But it seemed like because this band has this attachment to our youth, hearing “Step by Step” and “Hangin' Tough” can’t help but bring us back to the time when we had a weekly allowance and bed time instead of a salary and benefits.
During “Tonight,” the guys walked into the crowd and eventually made their way to the side stage. We were two seats from the railing and those seats were empty. So when Jordan walked on stage, Lesley pushed me to get closer. That's when I saw Joey walking below us. He was grabbing hands so Lesley and I stuck our hands out. When he grabbed my hand, I screamed in his face. Joey McIntyre touched my hand! And he wasn't even my favorite New Kid growing up. For some reason, I thought he was too young for me? I was eight.
The concert was a lovely reminder of how far I've come. The same eight-year-old who listened to NKOTB also grew up in a tiny house in East Austin. A house where my dad converted the closet into the bedroom I shared with my brothers. The East Austin before gentrification priced my parents out. I never thought I would see NKOTB in concert, because frankly, it never felt like my reality. That eight-year-old is happy she got to see New Kids on the Block in person.
I'll admit that I thought I outgrew them when I got older, even when they returned ten years ago. But never again NKOTB! Because of this amazing experience, I'll be loving you forever.