Written by Dave Clements

southern rock-243I am clueless as to how to begin to write a music review about a five day music cruise featuring a dozen bands of the Southern Rock genre. Those five days (beginning January 20th) featured many amazing performances during this 2000 mile trip from Tampa to Jamaica to Grand Cayman and back.  I’m inspired to just take my cue from these fine musicians and do what they did throughout the cruise…jump right in!

I knew I was onto something good from the get go. I travelled with my beautiful wife and our dear friends, Rock and Jackie who joined us from their home in Grasonville, MD and love live music as much as we do.  We are all, along with other genres, southern rockers at heart.  When we heard there was going to be a cruise headlined by Lynyrd Skynyrd, with The Outlaws, Marshall Tucker Band, 38 Special, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Wet Willie and Molly Hatchett (plus more that I will get to soon) we all said ‘sign me up’!  This was indeed an adventure worth pursuing.  None of us cruise on a regular basis however with all of that being offered we couldn’t resist.

Here is a general overview of the goings on. There were several locations onboard where stages were set up; most were inside, with one on the pool deck, nearly all accessible to everyone that wanted to participate.  There was one exception that I will explain momentarily.

First let me share that the production company that handled lights and sound was outstanding. Not one time during the course of the trip did I feel like I was being shortchanged on either the volume or quality of the sound.  I can’t think of anything that would have been worse on a music cruise than bad sound.  Fortunately that was never even close to an issue.

southern rock-168Every day we received a new schedule that the cruise producer StarVista LIVE provided outlining that day’s music and associated events. If you were so inclined you could go listen to something southern rock related from mid-morning until well after midnight daily.  There were band shows, there were jam sessions, there were Q&A sessions, there were autograph sessions, workshops and on and on that could keep you immersed southern rock vibe non-stop, day after day… and it was all really good stuff!

It was Southern Rock Heaven on the very warm turquoise Caribbean Sea.  And even though The Allman Brothers are no more, they were there in spirit and song every day. The cruise featured a tribute band that played the music of The Allman Brothers Band.  They were called Live at the Fillmore, came from Philly, and they rocked. These guys all seemed to be in an especially good mood as their Eagles beat the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game during our time at sea.

Also adding to the feel of The Allman Brothers ‘presence’ was one of their founding members Mr. Jai Johanny ‘Jaimoe’ Johanson.  His new band is simply Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band and they were as good as any band I have ever heard.  Featured in this band was one of the coolest dudes on earth Junior Mac.  This guy played a mean guitar, had terrific vocals and was as smooth as it gets when it comes to putting out a groove with NO SMOKE NOR MIRRORS, just great music.

If you ever want go see a very special musical event featuring five awesome musicians go see these guys, period. (And before this review is over I will have more recommendations for your consideration.)

Back to the musical event I mentioned earlier as the exception to being open to all: The cruise was sold out, I think over 1700 people from around the world on this Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship the Brilliance Of The Sea.  The main theatre only holds about half the guests, therefore there was an early evening ‘main show’ and a late evening ‘main show, both full sets each night featuring one of the headliners.

Rock, Jackie, my wife Cathi and I did the ‘early’ show each night. Afterwards we went on to enjoy a glass of wine/cocktail or two or three and dinner while sharing our points of view on the performance.  With a few twists, turns, and different observations we all generally formed similar opinions about each show.

southern rock-34The Outlaws were our first night headliner. They were so far beyond any words I own in my vocabulary.  It was in fact this band that I most wanted to see on the cruise.  I had never seen them and they were high on my bucket list along with their “Freebird song” Green Grass & High Tides.  I might have actually jumped ship and floated out to sea into the dark of the night had they not played it!  AND not only did they play it, they nailed it hard as they did everything they played during their hour plus set. These guys are extremely talented and definitely another must see.  When you go hold on tight when their two lead guitarists Chris Anderson and Steve Grisham start doing their thing.  Henry Paul on lead vocals was just what I’d hoped for.  He and his band mates made the entire trip so worthwhile.  They were the cake, everything else we saw was icing.  And there was plenty of tasty icing.

The Outlaws, besides being great musicians were all really nice guys, including Henry Jr who I had a chance to chat with. Please, please, please  contact your favorite Texas venue and ask them to book these guys.  We need them to come play for us here in the Lone Star State!

Note to Cruise Executive Producer Mike Jason: These guys should have been used more during the cruise, period/paragraph.  And Mike, if you or your Associates read this in my humble opinion you should pass on booking Molly Hatchett next time.  Call me if you need an explanation as I don’t want to put it in this review.  I don’t want to take anything away from our great musical journey.

I knew we’d be treated to some great musical performances. The bonus was getting to meet so many of these fine artists, see some new bands that were unfamiliar, and learn about their various paths in music and life.

The cruise host/director Jason Venner did a terrific job. His interview questions during the Q & A sessions and other event produced really meaningful and enjoyable dialogue.

southern rock-194As a big Marshall Tucker Band fan I’d next like to share that Doug Gray and his band mates brought their A Game to the ship when they came on board in Jamaica.  These guys are always really good yet this night, our next to last, they were extra special. They are fun both on and off the stage and easy to approach.  It’s nice to see and feel the love they have for their fans. Thanks guys, you all are class acts including Tour Manager, Dave.

The most visible artist on the cruise was Jimmy Hall, front man for Wet Willie. This guy was everywhere, every day, always jumping in to support others on stage. Whether it was to introduce someone, play his sax, his harmonica, jam, clap or interact with the fans he was there.  And he did it in a respectful, genuine and unassuming way.  If you aren’t familiar with this talent you need to be, soon. I had heard of Wet Willie, but can’t say I was very familiar with their music.  I glad I am now.  They are the real deal and worthy of your consideration. As an aside Jimmy toured recently with Jeff Beck as lead vocalist!

38 Special headlined on one of the nights at sea. I had never seen them before and wasn’t overly familiar with their songs either. Then they took the stage and began playing hit after hit. I realized I knew more of their music than I remembered.  The whole performance was high energy and very tight. It was clear to me why they have been around since 1974.  No doubt they will continue to be around for some time to come.

southern rock-150THE headliner for the entire cruise was Lynyrd Skynyrd. What do you say about these guys? They are great, they have great songs and their energy on stage in downright explosive. You can’t stand still when you’re listening to them!  Tricky to drink our cold beer while grooving to the beat, especially when in port in Jamaica.  They are coming to town in May to The Woodlands, a must see.

Hope you’re not thinking I’ve killed it at this point. I still want to mention Atlanta Rhythm Section, Louisiana’s LeRoux, Black Stone Cherry, Johnny Neel and for sure Preacher Stone.  All these artists are worthy of your entertainment dollars.  You should especially keep a close eye on those Preacher Stone guys…they are young and the real deal. They are out of Charlotte, NC and if you want to get a glimpse of what I’m talking about go to YouTube and watch them play Kashmir.

With that I’ll wrap this up by reminding you there is no time to kill, go watch some live music soon, jump right in!