As the concert business continues as a strong source of income for artists (in 2012 touring remained a key factor for the top music earners in the United States), fans are faced with an overwhelming number of concert and festival choices. Enter the music cruise: the chance to see your favorite artists perform live while sailing the ocean, mingling with band members offstage and meeting fellow fans — a VIP experience that makes for a one-of-a-kind musical vacation.
Today there are plenty of cruises to choose from, including themed treks spanning genres from rock and metal to country and blues, including the Barge To Hell four-day jaunt from Miami to the Bahamas; and hosted events by the likes of Kid Rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Kiss, Vince Neil, Weezer, and Alabama, who will celebrate their 40th anniversary with the Alabama & Friends Festival at Sea in October.
In March The Recording Academy announced a multiyear partnership with Norwegian Cruise Line to feature a GRAMMY-themed entertainment venue onboard its newest ship, Norwegian Getaway, which is set to launch in January 2014. The GRAMMY Experience venue will feature artifacts curated by the GRAMMY Museum and nightly live performances by GRAMMY-winning and -nominated artists. In addition to the GRAMMY Experience venue, the first annual GRAMMY-themed festival at sea is expected to set sail in fall 2014. Setting sail from Miami, the five-day music festival will be the first music cruise to feature exclusively GRAMMY-winning and -nominated performers.
Former artist manager Alan Koenig launched the ShipRocked cruise in 2009 via his Nashville-based company Ask4 Entertainment after working with a client who had a cruise. In 2012 ShipRocked featured headliners Godsmack, Korn and Five Finger Death Punch, among others.
"My mantra on ShipRocked is that it is a cruise to celebrate great rock music, but [it's] not necessarily beholden to subgenre or generation," says Koenig, who has two other potential cruises in the works for 2014. "For the artist, it's a really great, paid, working vacation. The artists [who] have done it love it and want to do it again. We encourage all the bands to bring wives and kids if they have them. Maria [Brink] from In This Moment brought her mom and her [grandmother]."
A strong sense of community exists on many cruises and can inspire fellow fans to keep in touch at other events throughout the year. To that end, Koenig has organized a new ShipRocked Summer Camp, which will be held June 14–16 in Connecticut and will allow fans to have a land-based summer reunion with live music at a kids summer camp converted into a Club Med-type resort.
Sixthman, the pioneering company behind the Kiss Kruise, has been in the music cruise business since 2001, beginning with the long-running Rock Boat. Sixthman now averages 10 to 15 events per year, including specialty cruises such as Cayamo Cruise (featuring singer/songwriters) and Mountain Song at Sea (a bluegrass cruise). Cruises are big business for Sixthman, which reported hosting more than 100,000 fans on a cumulative 52 full-ship charters in 2012.
"Last spring, Norwegian Cruise Line approached us and were blown away by our level of customer service and ended up forming a strategic partnership with us, which is fantastic because all of our events are generally sailing on the same ship that has been outfitted for exactly what we do," said Ben Ferguson, public relations manager for Sixthman. "It allows us to give our guests a higher level of interactivity and service."
Foreigner bassist Jeff Pilson, who recently performed on the Rock Legends Cruise II and was a guest on Kiss Kruise II in 2012, notes the difference between music festivals and cruises.
"The difference with the festivals is that you're not living [at] the festival for three or four days," he says. "On a cruise, you're at the gig, with the audience, right in the thick of it, and you have to embrace it as such. If you do, it can be a great experience."
"It was just great to be around all the fans on this floating party cruise," adds Great White keyboardist/guitarist Michael Lardie, who performed on the Monsters of Rock Cruise earlier this year. "It's a great experience to get close to people and see that they're still there 25 or 30 years later. Everybody's upbeat and happy."
While performing for and hanging out with fans for a few days may be atypical for veteran artists, many have warmed up to it.
"I thought this is either going to be the greatest thing ever, or a nightmare," Kid Rock told The New York Times in 2012. "But it turned out to be one of the funnest times of my life."
Earlier this year, Kid Rock hosted his 4th Annual Chillin' the Most Cruise, featuring music, themed entertainment and onboard activities.
While the music cruise contingent seems to cater predominately to the 30–50 age range since younger adults do not typically have the same level of disposable income (many cruises start at approximately $600 to $700 for a basic room and package, excluding taxes, beverages and airfare), younger patrons are drawn to events such as 70,000 Tons Of Metal and the 311 Caribbean Cruise. Sixthman says their median cruise age range is 28–48 — their Kid Rock cruise is reportedly made up of Michigan residents age 50 and up, while the Kiss voyage draws in family crowds of all ages.
Billed as the world's biggest heavy metal cruise, 70000 Tons Of Metal drew 2,000 people for its third annual event.
"The fact that this first cruise sold out and expanded to now include the Barge to Hell cruise is a testament to how hungry metal fans have been for [a cruise] and how willing bands have been to participate," says Loana dP Valencia, publicist for heavy metal label Nuclear Blast.
"I don't think it's the kind of thing you can do with every artist," stresses Koenig. "I think if you're going to talk about a festival like I have, you have to put together a great lineup that appeals to the fans of those bands."
(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)