The coming months will find a few local favorites taking to the high seas. Concert cruises have become a big deal in recent years, one of the ultimate indulgences for hardcore music fans with some new-year money to blow. Since they’re always built around a particular musical style, you can usually count on a full slate of bands you’re interested in seeing.
No surprise that New Orleans artists have often been part of the mix—four years ago the old-school band Zebra even turned up on a prog/AOR cruise headlined by Yes. The most New Orleans–friendly cruise has traditionally been the Jam Cruise, now in its sixteenth year and this year including veterans Galactic and Dumpstaphunk, plus relative newcomers Naughty Professor and the Russ Liquid Test. Meanwhile Dash Rip Rock has signed onto the Outlaw Country Cruise, and Susan Cowsill is joining her musical family on the ’60s-themed Flower Power Cruise.
True to its theme, the Jam Cruise encourages a lot of jamming; musicians come on board knowing they’ll be doing a lot of impromptu throwing down with other bands. “That’s what we’re looking forward to most,” says drummer Sam Shahin of Naughty Professor, which is cruising for the first time this year. “You hear so much about those late-night jam rooms where all these different cats get an opportunity to play together and to learn from each other. I personally can’t wait to share a stage with the guys from Con Brio or Galactic—and to do it with people around who care so much about the music.” Naughty Professor are booked for two formal sets over the five days, but hope to be hitting the stages in other configurations as well.
Aside from the musical opportunities, playing the cruise is undeniably a good career move. “It’s kind of an insider’s South by Southwest,” Shahin says. “There’s a lot of people on board who just love the jam scene, but we also meet a lot of industry cats who put heavy emphasis on the jam cruise. It really feels to me like the jam family’s Mardi Gras—I can’t count the number of times I’ve had people tell me they just did the best one yet, and they say that five years in a row.” So learning to play drums at sea will be a small matter for Shahin—who says he’s never been on a cruise ship before, much less played drums on one. “I’m pretty intrigued to find out whether I get my sea legs or not.”
The Sirius-sponsored Outlaw Country Cruise is heading into its third year, with Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams as the perennial headliners—but this year’s inclusion of Dash Rip Rock, Jason & the Scorchers and the Supersuckers shows that they’re letting things get a little wilder. “We’re the thorn in the side of Americana,” says Dash leader Bill Davis. “I think this is the first time they’ve let in the red-headed stepchildren, and I’ve always dreamed there’d be a cruise where all these people could play.”
Davis has led a new Dash lineup for the past year, with bassist Chance Casteel and drummer Wade Hymel, both of whom can switch to guitars. “It’s a switch for me to finally get a chance to stretch out and experiment. We’re scheduled to play three shows through the cruise, and one of the caveats is that each has to be different. That means we get to dig really deep and find things in the Dash catalogue that are going to fit a certain setting.” Which means they may do a more countrified set and a wilder rock one. “Our first show is on the pool deck with the Supersuckers. They have walls of Marshall stacks, so we’ll fit in for sure. But I have so many friends on there’s bound to be a lot of interband jamming.”
Another big plus for Dash is that while many music cruises depart from Florida, the outlaw country one sails right from New Orleans. “Most bands have to fly in for it, we just get to park our cars and walk.”
OffBeat publisher Jan Ramsey recently took the Legendary R&B Cruise, which included Louisiana artists Cyril Neville, Chubby Carrier and Buddy Guy. “It was a revelation. It had none of the downsides: casual, everyone was into the music, the food was first-rate, and it was very comfortable.
“It’s literally a festival on a ship. As festival freaks of a certain age are aware, a music festival, while soul-satisfying music-wise, can be an extremely exhausting experience. The cruise was like going to a great music festival without the heat, without the schlepping from stage to stage, with no parking issues, fantastic sound, and great drinks and food. You don’t have to stand sardined in a crowd to hear and see great musicians. The musicians mingle with their fans during the cruise (it’s almost like having a backstage pass). Moreover, the musicians get a chance to relax, cruise, network with their peers, meet intense fans of their music, and actually even be exposed to new fans and possible future gigs. Very good vibes all around.”
The Cowsills have been doing oldies-themed cruises for a few years; the lineup for the Flower Power Cruise includes a handful of groups (the Turtles, Mark Lindsay, Herman’s Hermits) that they’ve shared bills with—both on the revival circuit and the first time around. “We get a lot of boomers because we’re rulers of that universe, but there are a lot of college kids as well—maybe they’re being dragged along by their parents, but they wind up willing participants,” Susan said.
The current Cowsills lineup—which includes brothers Bob and Paul, along with drummer Russ Broussard and bassist Mary Lasseigne, both from Susan’s musical world—usually adds in newer material when it’s their own show, but for the cruise they’ve got no problem going back in time. “It’s total déjà vu because we’re playing to thousands of people and it’s all about re-enacting those times. And it works because for all intents and purposes, I’m transported back there myself. We do ‘Hair’ and they’re all standing up and screaming, and I get confused about what era it is. So it’s not pretty fun—it’s enormous fun.”