Progressive Nation at Sea 2014: A Passenger’s Log

Anyone: “So where are you going again?”
Me: “A progressive rock cruise”
Anyone: “What’s progressive rock?”
Me: “Just a type of music I like”
Anyone: “Would I know any of the bands on the cruise?”
Me: “Do you know the band Yes?”
Anyone: “No”
Me: “Well, the lead singer of that band will be there”
Anyone: “O”

The idea of a cruise has never interested me and the Progressive Nation at Sea cruise was my first. I don’t relax well with nothing to do and prefer to stay busy on vacation. The idea of unlimited food, pools, beaches, casinos, alcohol and other amenities sounds nice as activities to do during down time from things I actually would go out and want to do myself. My first impression was that the cruise was a floating casino. Even without the actual (small) casino I’d feel this way. The carpets were colorful with wacky designs. Everything smelled like smoke, chlorine and other cleaning products. There was an emphasis on food and high-end shopping and a de-emphasis on knowing what time it was. It was littered with an international cavalry of staff and if I saw the same staffer twice I was otherwise unaware.

This wasn’t the first music festival on a Norwegian Cruise ship hosted by Sixthman. It seems they have one every week. However, this one felt special and unique even if it was 1 of 52 in 2014. The Sixthman staff were hired to host the event and play enthusiastic. They announced the band but their excitement was directed at the audience, not with the audience. This was not the case with the bands. Many had never played or even been on a cruise before. I know this because they told us. It was a first for them and their excitement was real, or at least I felt it to be. This feeling produced a stronger connection to the bands and therefore better and more memorable shows. When an artist plays Boston, for example, I have little doubt that they forget about that particular show in a few days. However, these prog bands will likely never forget this experience (you’re welcome, prog bands!). There was certainly a feeling that this was the first and possibly last time this will happen making it special. For Kid Rock it’s just another (5th) cruise.

I imagine the other cruises hosted by Sixthman have less of an emphasis on the music itself. The upcoming “Florida Georgia Line Cruise” will feature the “Florida Georgia Line” and a handful of other forgettable country acts that they haven’t picked yet. I’m sure this will be successful and sell out and people will have a grand time but there will be a strong emphasis on the party, and less on the music. People will want to hear the band play their huge hit “Cruise” and then drink a bucket of beer. If a fan goes to the bathroom during the 3:29 that they are playing “Cruise” they will miss the entire reason for the cruise. If a prog fan goes to the bathroom during PN14 they probably will just miss a keyboard solo. For this reason the Prog Cruise was likely unsuccessful and I heard rumors that this was the case. Music was the focus giving passengers little time to binge drink and buy expensive watches they didn’t want.

This cruise for me, and for many others, was all about the music. I did not fall in love with the idea of going on a cruise when it was over but I loved every second of the prog cruise. I would go again, and every year after if given the chance, but I have no plans to ever do a non-music cruise on my own. The rest of the article dives into the prog itself and is where I will lose most of the audience. You are free to move on.

I spent much of my college days listening to Spock’s Beard, Pain of Salvation, The Flower Kings, Transatlantic and many others while walking around campus with my non-skip Disc-man. I knew, somehow, that no one else on campus was listening to this music. Over the course of the next 10 years I’ve always aggressively looked for new prog. I’ve discovered Haken, Beardfish, Big Elf and The Deer Hunter. When I saw that all of these bands were on this bill I thought it was too good to be true, as if they just went through my music collection and created the cruise just for me.

Transatlantic

It’s hard to surpass the novelty of a supergroup and become an actual and respectable band. Transatlantic somehow made the transition. They were the only show on the boat as it began to move for the first time from Miami on day one of the cruise.

Like all bands they did their own soundcheck in front of an eager audience; a preview of what was to come in about 20 minutes. A 5th member of Transatlantic that I didn’t recognize belted out the first few lines of “Closet Chronicles” by Kansas and won over the audience. I didn’t know it yet, but it was Ted Leonard, the new face of Spock’s Beard.

The only person not to do his own soundcheck was Mike Portnoy, the unofficial face and diva of the cruise. No other drummer could get away with being slightly in front of the guitar player, but Mike could. Since I was 10 feet from him I could see his communication with his personal drum tech and it seemed angry. He even went as far as throwing a broken snare across the stage for someone else to pick up. I liked to imagine that the 2 are best of friends and later that night the tech would be laughing with Mike over a soft-server twist cone instead of sorting his M&Ms by color. Regardless of any diva-like acts, Mike does come across as likable. While an unbiased truth about his split with Dream Theater will likely never be revealed, my gut takes his side and that’s likely only due to his outgoing personality. Since he was the unofficial face of the cruise he was the most sought after partner for a picture. From what I saw he was always willing, even if he insisted the session last as little time as possible.

They played their entire new album, and in most cases that would be a selfish and unpopular move, but for Transatlantic it was perfect for their first of 2 sets. The epic first song “Into The Blue” closes with the line “That every dreamer’s dream…” and it begs a corresponding head node and smile. I succumbed and mouthed the lyrics with Neal Morse from 20 feet away. Neal and I locked stares and he said “awww-yeah” to me with his eyes. That’s what I’ll tell my grandchildren anyways. What made the set great overall was that the band just seemed like they were having fun and really wanted to be there. They were as excited as everyone else to be on a giant boat with prog royalty.

Their second set was the only second set that I saw to contain completely unique content. It closed the cruise ending any sense of chronology to this blog entry. This was probably the most exciting set of the entire trip. They started with a bit too much of Whirlwind before touching upon their first 2 albums. The real excitement started after midnight when the scheduled guest, Jon Anderson, joined the band for the Yes set. I expected that they may just do “And You And I” as it appeared on the bonus disc of the new Transatlantic album but they actually did 4 lengthy songs. “The Revealing Science of God” was the most surprising song, and while very complicated, Jon knew every prog hit on his tambourine and proved he could still sing this song in his sleep. What was also refreshing was his appreciation to Transatlantic for learning and performing these songs of his. He seemed very grounded for someone who would go on to sing the nonsensical lyric of “Dawn of our power we amuse redescending as fast as misused”. Jon was one of the only proggers that I did not see lounging around the boat over the course of the 4 days. They may have made him drive the boat.

The final surreal moment came at the very end when all available proggers took the stage for the conclusion of “Starship Troopers“. The Flower Kings bass player, Jonas Reingold, was standing not far behind me with his girlfriend or wife. He looked drunk, but I think it was just the excitement of seeing his bandmate play guitar next to his  prog idol. Jonas joined the musicians on stage and I could tell he wanted to rip the bass out of the hands of Pete Trewavas so he too could say he played with Jon Anderson. Like everyone else on the cruise, he was emotional and energetic, but otherwise well-behaved.

Jon Anderson Finale

Spock’s Beard

In looking at the schedule it seemed that Neal Morse was under-utilized. He was capping both sides of the event but his solo band was not being featured and there was no evidence he would play with his former band Spock’s Beard. When the event was announced someone asked Neal over Twitter what he would do outside of his Transatlantic role and he responded that he would only be spending time with his family. I had convinced myself that Neal would only be playing with Transatlantic as advertised.

Their first set on the pool stage changed my opinion of the band in general. I always thought of Spock’s Band as Neal’s band, and then Nick’s band. Seeing them without either member seemed like a glorified cover band. After seeing this first set I realized how important the original keyboardist, guitarist and bassist was and still is to the band. Just like Transatlantic, their excitement was hard to contain and came out in their performance. Alan Morse is every bit the flamboyant performer his brother is and I’ve always respected the sound of a rock guitar player who plays without picks.

Ted Leonard was a confident front man while still being humbled by the huge ship and the prog greatness all around him. The highlight was “Go The Way You Go” off their first album and “Walking on the Wind“. I hadn’t heard it in over a year but still knew all the lyrics. Upon exiting the stage at the end of the set Ted said “We are, and will continue to be, Spock’s Beard”. This gave me chills to think that one of my favorite bands was in good hands, as tacky as that seems as I type it. It helped elevate any disappointment I could of felt after Neal never took the mic as a special guest during the first set.

Their second set was in the Stardust Theatre and they opened the same way they did on the pool stage with “Something Very Strange” from their newest album. This confirmed to me that I’m about to see a similar, Neal-free, set. But 4 songs into the set Neal was called out. His brother, Alan, sarcastically announced it to be “the worst kept secret on the boat”. Evidently I missed the telling of secrets, likely held in the hot tubs.

Neal started with a not-too-proggy “June“, a short song that made a perfect sing-a-long. There’s a feel-good feeling that occurs when an entire audience is singing in unison to a song that everyone knows. This is common at folk shows and it’s safe to assume that everyone knows the lyrics to a Bob Dylan, Beatles or Pete Seeger song. There’s something extra special about the audience singing “June”, a song that I otherwise heard only in my headphones and sung only with myself. I was in a room with a thousand other people who only listened to “June” on their headphones and had no one else to share it with until now. We all shared a moment.

Preparing for June

The second, and final, song was the epic “The Light“. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an audience smile so hard for a constant 15 minutes and 33 seconds. We all left the theatre exhausted, knowing that the only people that could possibly share the excitement of what just happened were also in the Stardust Theatre that night. No one back home would care or know who Spock’s Beard ever was or is.

The Light

Pain of Salvation

Pain of Salvation was the band that seemed too good to be true, and in a way it was. They never seem to tour the US and I figured I’d never get to see them on US soil. A month before the cruise it was announced that Daniel Gildenlöw, PoS frontman, had an issue with flesh-eating bacteria and his presence on the cruise was uncertain. A week before the cruise it was certain he would not attend. However, Pain of Salvation would go on without him to my surprise. Pain of Salvation without Daniel Gildenlöw would be like Spock’s Beard without Neal Morse (that was unfair, I know), but I would give them a chance.

The first set in the Stardust Theatre was intimate and emotional. They joked that they had kicked Daniel out of the band but otherwise made no announcement or explanation for why their band leader was absent. It’s likely that everyone knew the story. Clay Withrow filled the missing spot but current bandmate Ragnar ZSolberg deserves the real credit. He stepped up and did 90% of the lead vocals and proved to be a strong front man. “Undertow” off of my favorite college album “Remedy Lane” was a highlight for me. It’s a slower song and Ragnar struggled with the words. However, the audience was quick to help out.

The second set was in the more awkward Spinnaker lounge. This venue was obviously meant for a low-key Jazz or vocal band, not a prog metal band. To start this set they played a 5 minute video that Daniel recorded to explain and apologize for his absence. Why they didn’t play this video before the first set I’m not sure, but maybe the video wasn’t yet ready. Clay Withrow took more leads this time but unfortunately they were not very strong. I’m sure he helped tremendously with his guitar playing but it was clear that Ragnar should have handled all of the vocals.

The Flower Kings

Along with Devin Townsend and King’s X, The Flower Kings was the the only band that I had seen before: once at Arlington’s Regent Theatre and once at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA. At one time I considered the Middle East show to be one of the greatest concerts I had ever been to.

Their first set seemed slightly uncomfortable. Roine Stolt tried to express his feelings but couldn’t think of the English word for it, but it was likely “uncomfortable”. He went on to say he’d never been on a boat before, at least not one bigger than a small fishing boat. He brought dramamine, but probably didn’t need it.

They played 3 songs, and for an hour long set that’s the best I’d expect from them. The first was their epic “Numbers” from their 2012 album followed by a quick tune from their latest album. They finished with a medley of their classic tunes that made Roine feel old when discussing their original release dates.

Their second set was more comfortable but was hurt by the Spinnaker lounge, unquestionably the lowest of the venue options for prog. The set list was nearly identical only swapping out Desolation Road for My Cosmic Lover.  While most bands played 2 sets the were always very similar. Many bands weren’t touring at the time and were likely rusty so it was forgivable. I also heard rumors that they were filming a movie of all the bands so they may have wanted to have multiple versions of the songs to chose from.

Portnoy Sheehan Macalpine Sherinian

Sometimes I just want to hear incredibly talented and technical musicians play as fast and complicated as humanly possible. This is that band. Their first performance at the Stardust Theatre was the perfect end to an otherwise long day standing up at the pool stage. Tony MacAlpine was not used to as many yawns responding to his sweeping shred, but it was approaching midnight.

Their second set at the pool stage on the final day was another highlight. Billed as PSMS with Friends it started the same way as their previous set did, but considering all the vocalists on the boat the audience anticipated the potential. Bumblefoot and Tony Harnell joined for Deep Purple’s “Burn” followed by Ted Leonard singing Dream Theater’s “Anna Lee” from the Sherinian era. Half of the people on stage were at one time forcefully removed from Dream Theater, and Dream Theater likely served as the first taste of progressive metal for all of the audience under 40 years old. Dream Theater was sacred. During Anna Lee the man next to me knew every single lyric and made sure my left ear heard every word in his European accent. He wasn’t a bad singer. Dug Pinnick’s presence on the boat made “Lines in the Sand” an inevitable must.

Bumblefoot ops for the fretted option

Enter Devin Townsend. This was the surprise that no one expected and no one could have predicted. He was given “Burning My Soul“, another Dream Theater classic from the Sherinian era. He kept character and either didn’t know the song, of faked his unpreparedness well. He Rex Harrison’d the verse as he read it from his iPad, then put on his death metal growl for the chorus. He poked fun at the progressive crowd and at one point said “No disrespect I just didn’t listen to the song”. I laughed throughout, as did Mike Portnoy and much of the audience, but looking back at it I’m not sure it was the best move. Everyone else learned their song, and if it was purely an act he could have tried to pay a bit more respect to the original song.

The one person who certainly wasn’t laughing was Derek Sherinian. As Devin left the stage he pointed to Sherinian and said something along the lines of “this guy doesn’t like me”. It didn’t feel at all like an act and Sherinian’s look of misery was not unique to Devin’s performance. I remember seeing Sherinian with Dream Theater in the late 90s and he seemed like a happy young guy in over his head a bit. I give him credit for bringing a bit of fun to Dream Theater’s set, teasing Pink Floyd, Elton John or Metallica in their live sets. I can’t imagine Dream Theater doing that today. The Derek Sherinian on the cruise looked more like a man joining a biker gang then someone heading to the bahamas. Dark sunglasses, a headband, a full leather jacket, jeans, a full beard and a frown. The only smile I saw from him was when Mike Portnoy tried to deflect credit from himself and give credit to Sherinian for coming up with the original idea for a prog cruise. I never saw Sherinian at the beach or pool like I did so many others. Maybe he was driving the ship with Jon Anderson.

Big Elf

Big Elf opened for Dream Theater in 2010 and befriended Mike Portnoy. It was his approval that made my buy the Cheat the Gallows albums a few years back. It’s not prog in the classic sense but it borrows a lot from 70s metal. Portnoy and the lead singer, Damon Fox, seemed like BFFs and at one time Fox screamed over to Portnoy to settle down a bit. That’s like telling Mariah Carey to stop singing so high. Only a BFF can talk like that. Big Elf is in a transitional phase and not currently on tour which made these shows seem extra special. Portnoy was a special guest and Damon’s 16-year-old son filled in impressively on the drums for one song per set. A proud mother filmed the entire thing on her iPhone while standing next to me at the pool stage. His son seemed like an obvious choice for a permanent replacement drummer.

Mike Portnoy borrows Damon’s hat

Devin Townsend

I was reminded of how much I liked Devin Townsend after his first set began in the pool stage which closed out day one. I had seen him a few times before but never as the main attraction and never with a live female vocalist. Devin is a showman and the first to tease Norwegian Cruise’s catch phrase “washy washy happy happy” on stage, before the joke became tired. He joked throughout that the audience hates him while fully knowing he’s loved by every one of them. Anneke Van Giersbergen provided some much needed cuteness to the otherwise male-heavy performances.

Weeks before the cruise I listened to Devin’s latest album “Epicloud” constantly. The end of the song “More!” ends with a killer riff and every time I heard it on my headphones or in my car I imagined the reaction of the audience as the riff was played. There would be synchronized head nodding in approval and I was lucky enough to see this head nodding twice. Devin’s set on the pool stage was the only time that I saw true moshing and was caught up in it with flip-flops on. It could have ended badly for my toenails and I sought protection on the upper deck for the second half of his first set.

Love Me / Hate Me

He referred to the audience as prog-rock nerds, which is true in the classical definition of the term only. The term nerd has evolved to mean an obsession or strong interest in an aspect of pop culture that at one time was more niche and anti-social. Self proclaimed nerds can be obsessed with Star Wars, Video Games, bowling, and the Internet in general. These now have mass appeal. Prog rock nerds cling to the old-school definition of “Nerd” spending “time on unpopular, obscure, or non-mainstream activities”.

Anathema

I didn’t know much about this band before the cruise and considered them a bit too mellow to be part of my regular daily playlist. They opened with the first tracks of the latest album, Untouchable part 1 and part 2. While entertaining on their own the main attraction was the audience participation. Everyone knew every lyric of these songs and I was on the outside. The crowd was largely Latin American with flags from Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil. An Argentinian football chant broke out during both Anathema sets, which I only note because one of the Anathema members pointed it out and properly identified it. There was a lot of jumping, which I joined at one point to be a part of it all. I had visions of the floor breaking which would have put us directly into the pool. I’m sure Norwegian Cruises prepared properly for South American synchronized jumping.

Eumeria

Eumeria was the only act that I previously had not heard of but that I watched from start to finish. This was really only due to the fact that I was so familiar with most of the other bands, and because they started at noon, their only competition was bingo. I liked what I heard and would consider buying a full length album from them. I liked them even more when they quickly announced that this was only their 2nd live gig. The singer sounded nervous at first but has the chops and hair to lead a successful symphonic prog metal band.

I’ve always said that an opening or otherwise new band should never play a full 45 minute set of new music. While I’m sure the band believes that the unique material is of the finest quality they will lose an audience that’s unfamiliar with any of the songs. What they should do is throw in a cover or 2 and that’s exactly what Eumeria did. About a third of the way through their set they covered Megadeth’s “Tornado of Souls”. It was a song that no one else on the cruise would do, but a song that would win over the crowd. It got me off my feet and excited for their next, original song.

Portnoy’s kid’s band, Next to None, also subscribed to my suggestion for covers. While I never saw their complete set I did walk in to see them covering Porcupine Tree’s “Shallow” and Dream Theater’s “Peruvian Skies”. Even Mike Portnoy’s kid’s band sticked to the Sherinian era of Dream Theater.

Tony Harnell & Bumblefoot

This duo had a late night set on the first night of the cruise when bed seemed like the logical option and only tempting conflict. I had never heard of Tony Harnell before but envisioned a late night of shredding and virtuosity. In reality the duo played a bar-style set of spontaneous covers and a few originals from Harnell’s 80s band TNT. A cute 20 year old girl in the crowd mouthed every lyric to the TNT tunes which I still have no explanation for. Maybe it was his daughter.

It ended up being the perfect late night gig incorporating some humor and requests into an interactive set. Bumblefoot had a surprisingly strong voice as he covered a few Guns ‘n’ Roses tunes (is it still a cover when you’re only part of the band 20 years after its prime? I say yes). A Nazareth-style cover of “Love Hurts” seemed appropriate as Tony looked as I imagined the Nazareth singer to look. The entire package that was Tony Harnell reminded me more of Peter Wolf as he was about 10 minutes late to the gig which forced Bumblefoot to do some solo noodling.

Haken

The winter of 2010-2011 was rough for snow in the Boston area. I shoveled every few days and did damage to my hip that I can still feel today. For a lot of this shoveling I was listening to Haken’s first album, “Aquarius”, and it will always take me back to those shoveling sessions. I recall that I found them on a list of top 10 new metal/prog artists of the year and they caught my attention. There was no way to predict I’d see them on a boat 3 years later.

Knowing them from their shoveling sessions only I was surprised by their popularity, and their stage presence and live sound as a whole.  What caught my eye was their matching Strandberg guitars. Since they had no head it was very difficult to count the amount of strings being used. Photographs later revealed the amount of strings to be 8.

A headless 8-string guitar

Beardfish

I really enjoyed the Beardfish album “Sleeping in Traffic” when it came out in 2007.  The quirky lyrics reminded me of the middle of “Supper’s Ready” by Genesis and I imagine Beardfish would consider that the highest of compliments. Their pool stage performance was hot, literally. I needed shade and walked in and out of the sun, dodging a sunburn.

There was a distraction during the Beardfish performance that kept eyes focused stage-right. A young woman, looking similar to the young red-head in the Wendy’s commercial, was dancing and mouthing most lyrics. To a prog fan finding  a prog-woman is beyond a wild fantasy, and this fantasy was being refreshed as this woman danced. Most people would keep this infatuation to themselves. However, one brave, lonely man without shame posted the following on the red-head’s Facebook page after she posted some pictures to the event page.

“you were the most beautiful woman i saw on the ship. you were dancing stage right one day, forget the band, but i just looked over and saw you dancing and it rocked my world. god bless the prog ladies, hallelujah!”

Not surprisingly, the audience was largely male. Many artists brought their families but lady proggers were a rarity. There were a few families onboard as well to try to help even out the sexes. A respectable compromise for the family vacation;  men get to prog out, women and children get to go to the bahamas and have unlimited soft serve.

The New Millennium Stage

I loved the idea of the New Millennium Stage, a stage that would feature a dozen up-and-coming bands that most people had probably not heard of. There were already over 20 bands as part of the standard line-up and this stage brought it to well over 30. The stage and line-up were announced a month before the cruise and I suspected that they were chosen to help fill up an undersold cruise ship. Each band had at least 4 members and brought along friends and family. That’s around 100 additional people to buy (or not buy) alcohol.

Before the cruise I checked out sound clips from each of the bands and purchased 2 albums: Vougan and Thank You Scientists. They were all interesting but often times weak vocals made me click away. A strong European accent combined with a untrained voice can be offputting and ruin even the most skilled and innovative instrumentation.

While in theory this stage sounded excellent I think in practice it was disappointing to the artists themselves who saw this as a chance to reach a new audience. No prog fan would chose to see an unknown band over their favorite established artist if there was a conflict, and the new artist stage always overlapped with something else. Since it was situated in the center of the boat people would constantly walk by but rarely stop for more than 30 seconds. It was not uncommon to see only 5 people watching these bands and they often sported the band’s t-shirt hinting that they were being watched by their girlfriends and family only.

I made an effort to see the 2 bands that interested me, if only for a song or 2. Vougan was disappointing to everyone who wasn’t sporting a Vougan t-shirt. On record the vocalist reminded me of King Diamond but live he sounded horse and uncomfortable. Typically a 5 piece band they were down a member when it was announced their keyboard player wouldn’t be making the voyage with no other explanation. There was an attempt to play along with a pre-recorded keyboard track but the 2 attempts I saw failed. The band quickly got out of sync with the recording and the keyboards were shut off via their MacBook. There were awkward moments where the band was clearly playing rhythm to a keyboard solo that didn’t exist. From the recording I purchased this band has potential but their performance at sea didn’t win them new fans.

There was something unique about Thank You Scientist. The vocals mimicked Coheed & Cambria, which can be off-putting, but I heard a little bit of Michael Jackson in his voice as well. I saw on violin, saxophone and trumpet on this cruise and they were all part of this band. They were clearly the stand-out artist on this stage and one that many people knew ahead of time. They were the only band to play on this stage on Friday night and the only band to draw a crowd of non-family and friends.

Destinations

The first excursion, Great Stirrup Cay, was billed as an “idyllic sun-drenched private island paradise”.  I envisioned the opening from the show “Lost”. There would be a beach untouched by man. Behind it miles of uncharted jungle. I’d be handed a machete and a canteen and we’d find gold if only the pirates didn’t catch up to us first. I knew better than this, I just didn’t really think much about it until we got to the island.

Of all the non-live music aspects of the cruise, this excursion was a highlight. Instead of uncharted jungles there were bars, a buffet and elaborate drinking games based on movies based on board games. There was nothing to do but drink, eat and sit on the beach which forced me to sit and swim without other distractions.

It was also on this beach that things became surreal. I watched as members of Anathema applied sunscreen to their British skin. Neal Morse chewed a hamburger behind me. Pete Trewavas sunbathed with his wife. Music blasted from one end of the beach, but instead of Jimmy Buffett I heard Spock’s Beard, Genesis, Rush and Megadeth. A song from the new Spock’s Beard album played as Ted Leonard sunbathed; a surreal moment for him as well I’m sure.

As I returned to the big boat again I was able to see and analyze the island we were just on. It was clear that man-made rocks and hills were created to block the tourists view of the other nearby islands and houses filled with rum and hot dogs. They went out of their way to make us feel as secluded as possible.

The second trip was to the Grand Bahama Island, which sounds exotic, but I awoke to a port of cargo and rusted ships. We were in Freeport. Upon exiting the boat we were greeted with rows of small shops of junk aimed at tourists. It was not unlike ones first steps over the border into Tijuana. We could buy Bahama t-shirts, keyrings, coconuts or handbags made of weaved leaves. I thought I was being clever when we immediately flagged a taxi to take us into town. It was here that we would surely see how the locals lived and I envisioned 8 year-olds with machetes in hand. Instead, we were dropped off in a larger tourist shopping center where we could buy Bahama t-shirts, keyrings, coconuts or handbags made of weaved leaves.

I did briefly talk to a local dressed like a clown who told me that for $1.25 we could take a taxi ride to the real shopping center and downtown of Freeport. I was full on jerk Chicken and Kalik beer and we didn’t want to miss the boat or be murdered. I ended up spending $30 on a hat and gift for my kid. They clearly knew what they’re doing.

Cowboys lounging by the Bahama’s Pizza Hut

Photography

All photographs on this site, including this article, are my own. (Should I first of asked you to sit down? Get back up if you’re okay). I take my SLR and a collection of lenses with me on every vacation. However, the cruise website said cameras with detachable lenses were not allowed so I did not bring it. This didn’t stop dozens of others from using SLRs throughout, but the lack of SLR allowed me to concentrate on the music, mostly.

I packed 2 point-and-shoot cameras, one for each pocket: an old (2010) Canon Powershot SX210 IS and the new Canon Powershot S120. I purchased the old SX210 for concerts where an SLR would not be allowed or inconvenient, because of the 14x zoom. The zoom was the only appealing feature of this otherwise useless camera. It was slow so it performed awful in low light and the continuous shutter allowed for one or 2 shots per second. This camera spent a lot of time in my pocket.

Mandatory sunset pic using the Canon S120 HDR feature

The S120 surprised me though. It only had a 4x zoom but these were relatively small and intimate shows. It wasn’t difficult to get up close. It could shoot around 10 shots per second and was surprisingly quick in low light. Even the HDR feature was more than a gimmick and was really useful for those bright beach shots. All photos featured here are from the S120. These days, all new point-and-shoots seem to advertise that they will replace your SLR. This one comes the closest.

Next Year?

Because of the focus on music, and not on alcohol and fine art purchases, this event may never happen again. It can’t be a smart commercial decision to simply give people what they want while not allowing time to gouge them on unwanted and unexpected purchases.

Any selfish suggestion that I would make would only hurt the bottom line further. It would have been nice to have music available all day, every day, even when at another island. The Millennium Stage would have done much better if it was held in the morning or early afternoon when no other acts served as competition. It was great to hear Rush while at the beach but the stage was clearly set up for a live band. The emphasis of this cruise was on modern prog so a classic prog cover band would have been perfect on this stage.

Would I make a yearly pilgrimage to this event if it became annual? Maybe. I’d love to venture out and see other prog and metal fests in Europe, but that’s a much more expensive ticket. If this event never happens again I’m glad I was a part of it. I’d have a t-shirt to prove my attendance if they didn’t sell out in the first day.

Anyone: “You were away last week? Go any place good?”
Me: “I went on a prog rock cruise”
Anyone: “O”