The year is 1989.
New Kids on the Block has four songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Sporting a neon scrunchie, black leggings and jelly shoes, 5-year-old Bree sings passionately into a random stick from her front yard while her neighbor plays the air guitar. They perform “I’ll Be Loving You Forever” to anyone who will listen, including Bree’s nana, her biggest fan.
Fast-forward 30 years.
New Kids on the Block’s Mixtape Tour, including artists Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, Salt-N-Pepa and Naughty By Nature, just made its way to Bakersfield.
As if no time had passed, devoted fans from all over Kern County converged at Rabobank Arena at the outset of summer donning custom “Vintage NKOTB Groupie” tees.
Thirty-five-year-old Breanne Hughes is all grown up now. She’s the director at My Gym, a children’s fitness facility, but still a New Kids fan at heart.
“Our seats were second row from the stage. It was so exciting being that close. Donnie was my first boy crush,” Hughes gushed.
Music festivals have exploded in recent years, with myriad throwback concerts trending internationally.
Even though many retro acts haven’t topped the charts in decades, concert headliners such as Vanilla Ice, Sir Mix-a-Lot and Bell Biv DeVoe are still selling out venues.
Many parents take their children to see their favorite group of all time, thus inspiring a new generation of fans.
Why do these comeback concerts strike such a sentimental chord with baby boomers, Generation X and beyond? The answer lies in music’s power to evoke nostalgia coupled with our psyche’s longing to revisit the past.
When I hear Duran Duran’s “The Reflex,” I’m instantly transported to my parents’ house where I’m swooning over bassist John Taylor on TV while stuffing pennies into the pockets of my Kangaroo sneakers.
Music stirs the soul and reminds us of who we used to be, who we wanted to become and, most important, who we truly are beneath the vestiges of time. It resonates on a visceral level and that emotional bond connects us to the artist as well as to each other.
For Hughes, New Kids on the Block means even more to her than the dolls she collected or the dreams she had of being a rock star. Their music takes her back to a very special time in her life with her late grandmother.
“It reminds me of my nana and it just puts a smile on my face,” she said.
It’s a concert experience and a blessing 30 years in the making and one her childhood self will be loving forever. ￼
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Nina Ha.