Written by Dave Clements
Let’s start back at the beginning. About a year ago I received an email from StarVista Live about this ‘70s Rock & Romance Cruise sailing out of Miami in February 2020. It featured a dozen bands or more that were going to entertain my wife and me, plus the 1800 passengers that would be sailing with us for 7 days in the Caribbean.
We called our music loving friends, Rock and Jak, in Grasonville, MD and asked if they would join us and to our total delight they said ‘Dave, we are all in!’ I’ll proceed with the review and come back to our friends Rock and Jak.
We embarked on Saturday, Feb. 15th. You could definitely feel the excitement and anticipation of what was to come, day and night, over the next week.
I had my own moments of hurry and get this thing started in the weeks leading up to the cruise. This was mainly because I had waited multiple decades to see the band that caused me to sign up for the cruise in the first place…Pablo Cruise.
As our departure date got closer and closer I concluded that there was a high probability of disappointment. After 40 plus years of anticipation they just couldn’t be as good as I hoped, right? Wrong, totally. We got to see them the first night and were they terrific. They were absolutely everything I had hoped for plus so much more. The ‘so much more’ was getting to meet and chat with each of the band members, and get some autographs. I definitely felt like the wait was worth it even while wishing I’d had multiple doses of them and their music over the past four decades. I hope they tour more in the future and come back to our Texas venues soon.
Moving on chronologically, we also got to enjoy Jefferson Starship early in the cruise and what a treat they were! Three things I would share: First, respectfully, Grace who?? Second, their 81 yr. old former member of Quicksilver Messenger Service David Freiberg was outstanding and boy can he belt out a song! And third, the song off their new record they played during the show was really special. It was for darn sure worth buying especially if the entire album is even close to being as good as this song.
Next, the first evening of the cruise we also got to hear John Ford Coley for the first time ever. I found him to be as much country as rock maybe just because he is ALL Tennessee (including his ball cap) and made me wish I had seen him back in the days of England Dan & John Ford Coley. That will now never be as we lost Dan Seals back in 2009.
We were next treated not once, not twice, but three times over the course of the week to rock icon John Lodge of the Moody Blues. Although he didn’t have his old band mates Justin Hayward and Ray Thomas, he did have his 10,000 Light Years Band who in their own right were all incredible musicians. Add John Lodge on bass guitar and you had a very special musical experience to the third power.
Randy Bachman is someone I hadn’t seen since 1969 in Charlottesville, VA at UVA. And I’d be lying if I said I remembered any details about that Guess Who concert beyond that it was sold out and American Woman was the highlight of the evening. Fast forward to this week and I will tell you that Randy Backman was a key ingredient in this Seafest…simply amazing! I was so impressed I made a point to attend every ship event and offering that he was a part of. I could not get enough! He did two ‘main stage’ performances and although he had the same set list for both shows I hung on every word and note both times. For 90 minutes (each) he went through his musical journey chronologically from pre-Guess Who when he connected with Neil Young north of the border in his home land of Canada, to the rich and varied Guess Who years, and right into Bachman Turner Overdrive (better known as BTO). What was so fascinating to this reviewer was that he lead each song with the ‘story’ behind the song and then he played it, and then on to the next. I loved this presentation although I overheard a few fellow cruisers say that they thought he talked too much. Obviously, I saw it differently. The fact that he prefaced each song and each era giving us insight into the creative process and the inspiration made them way more meaningful to me…and I think the majority in attendance agreed. I know you can’t please all the people all the time…all I can say is he sure pleased me TWICE & TOTALLY. ….thanks Randy, you are the man!
Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell, better known as America were part of the lineup this week and I’m sure glad they were. Besides being immensely talented and putting on a special performance, they were very nice and approachable. They engaged with the patrons, so willing to sign and even converse some. This is a band that has been doing their ‘music thing’ for almost 50 years and for them to still actually like each other is impressive. It was obvious they enjoyed each other’s company and continue to play their songs in a heartfelt way that comes out it their performance. Thank you both Dewey and Gerry. God Bless America and America!
Approximately half way through our voyage and hard to believe there was so much more music to come!
Cheap Trick got on the ship in San Juan, Puerto Rico (our first port) and (I’m happy to report) got off the ship in Puerto Rico before it set sail. Their performance was okay at best for me. For about half those in attendance, however, it was evidently less than acceptable as they began exiting the theatre while the show was still underway. I heard reports that those at center stage thought it was way too loud. Our seats were stage left and a level up so sound was at a borderline volume. We stayed, but if we had exited too I would have shed no tears. This opinion is definitely influenced by the band’s behavior in their ‘pre-show’ interview session. I will rant…I mean write about this later in this review.
Our next show was longtime, now ex-Eagle member Don Felder. He was an interesting character. He was clearly a fan favorite on the cruise and I totally get why. His incredible music catalog trumps any other performer on the ship! Being armed was Hotel California as your finale going in, then playing songs like The Long Run, Tequila Sunrise, One of These Nights, and on and on is a guaranteed win with the audience. Having said all that, I thought the show itself was pretty average. This is likely because I have such an allegiance to the more recent Eagles up until Glenn Frey’s untimely death. It’s just hard to warm up to Don Felder. And can you be a Don Henley fan AND a Don Felder fan knowing the often reported conflict between the two? I also wasn’t happy when Felder turned the mic over to his bass player for a song. While he did say to the audience ‘I promised you a special treat’ before the song, he failed to introduce him by name! Jeff Coffey, former member of Chicago, is a tremendously talented guy with a great voice. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a few times, and he’s a friendly, gracious guy.
Don Felder not properly introducing him I thought was tacky and frankly pissed me off. Trying not to let this color my remarks, I still thought Felder’s performance lacked the emotion other musicians on this cruise displayed. I am glad he was part of the line up just expected more of a spark.
While being glad Don Felder was on the ticket, I was ecstatic that Jason Scheff and Todd Rundgren were onboard. I had little or no firsthand experience with either. I’ll never be able to say that again!
Jason Scheff was the lead singer for Chicago right after Peter Cetera left the band. He held that position for almost 30 yrs. until some family issues took priority in his life. He has just started touring again with Todd Rundgren, Micky Dolenz, and other fellow musicians. He is also a talented bass player (like his dad who played bass in Elvis Presley’s band!) If Jason brings his band to Texas I will be there with camera and pen in hand! If his awesome bandmates Chris Rodriguez on lead guitar and kick ass drummer Steve are with him, that would be icing on the cake!
Todd Rundgren was beyond amazing. His vocals were strong and incredibly versatile, and he was charismatic and over the top animated on stage and a consummate show man in all ways. He was definitely the ‘dark horse’ of the entire cruise. I feel like I must have been living under a rock to have been so in the dark on all things Todd Rundgren for many decades. Like many, I was familiar was the radio hit ‘Hello, It’s me’ and a few other recognizable hits around the same time.
I also think I saw him at The Woodlands Pavilion as part of Ringo Starr’s All Star Band concert but did not take note at the time. This guy is SO bright, quick, quirky. He enjoys his cocktails on stage and has no qualms referring to his scribbled notes. He delightfully irreverent and hilarious when ‘deconstructing’ song lyrics. It makes me want to deconstruct him, his process, and what makes him tick. He certainly ‘beats to a different drum’. He has a dedicated following and we met some of them, loyal members of the Todd Squad. Todd Rundgren, please come to Texas and gather more members to the ‘squad’!
Iconic Edgar Winter , who I don’t think gets all the credit he deserves was with us as well and I’m blown away that we were able to experience him twice during the second half of the cruise, each time on the Pool Deck and each time I stood in amazement that he was performing before my eyes. The man is a legend in the world of rock and he surrounds himself fabulously talented musicians. It is beyond my ability to construct words in a way to properly describe his guitar player or his bass player and drummer. Thank you Sir Edgar for being part of the week end for those of you reading this I’d strongly urge you to go see him (and of course sign up for one or more of the Star Vista Cruises.
These are just ‘main performers’ and highlights folks! We were also treated to Ambrosia’s beautiful tunes, Peter Beckett’s Player, Stephen Bishop and one of my favorites iconic Rita Coolidge. Also, a multitude of tribute bands that gave us Beatles, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Bee Gees, ABBA and, my favorite, Queen Nation, who will make you believe you are experiencing the real thing.
Now page two of the story. As terrific and entertaining as the music was all week long it was only part of the story. There were several other aspects of this ‘floating music festival on the high seas’ that were well worth writing about!
How about the high seas wedding of the lead singer of Ambrosia Joe Puerto and his absolutely glowing, lovely bride Shannon (a longtime Ambrosia fan!). I was at first suspicious that this would be presented like a publicity stunt but, oh no, this was the real deal. As we watched it all unfold on the ship’s pool deck we were blown away by the sincerity of the ceremony and the newlyweds. And besides being ‘invited’ to the wedding (as were all the cruise patrons) I got to photograph it and my gift to the newlyweds is a disc of my images from their special event. (Btw, I have included a couple of the shots I took of the bride and groom with this review) Did I mention that Stephen Bishop and John Ford Coley performed during the ceremony? Rather than speak vows, the couple sang to each other. The most touching moment was when Shannon sang to Joe for the first time ever (something he’d tried to coax her to do in the past with no success!). All the best Joe and Shannon and we look forward to seeing you down the road!
And then there were the numerous ‘Q&A ‘ Sessions that were held with most all the artists. Not only do you get to see their performance on stage, you get to learn more about these performers. They touched on subjects such as their roots in the music business, some of their idols at the beginning, the impact their parents and others had on their careers in music and what music they enjoyed listening to. The cruise’s two hosts Jason and Joe, who alternated Q&A events both did a nice job in guiding the discussions and were obviously well prepared to bring out some interesting stuff. They weren’t quite Dan Rather’s Big Interview…but they were professional and good quality shows.
Among these interviews was a Q&A with Cheap Trick, a band I use to like. Yes, the Cheap Trick that was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you, our readers, what turned out to be the only negative all week. It occurred about midway through the cruise. This band has had tremendous fan support over a very long period of time and was a big portion of fans being on this cruise. It appeared, however, that Cheap Trick had collectively and individually a bad case of amnesia and forgot about their fans and just how responsible they were and are to the bands’ success. This Jason-lead interview in the main theatre was well attended. It was scheduled a few hours before the first of two shows. Basically they, in total, sat there on stage on their arrogant assess and pretty much refused to answer any of Jason’s well thought out questions. Hardly a word was spoken by any of them and those that were said we rude, sarcastic, in poor taste and disrespectful to Jason, his wife, and really all that were in attendance at this session…my wife Cathi and I included. I thought Jason did everything a reasonable interviewer could do to engage them but to no avail. The positive thing I can say is Jason was so professional that he didn’t ‘get into a pissing contest with a skunk, or in this case skunks. And Cheap Trick, if you see this I would suggest you owe your host and his wife an apology. And another one to your fans onboard the cruise. I can assure you that after witnessing that I’m now an ex-fan unless I hear or see any kind of awareness or remorse. There are choices out there on how I spend my ‘entertainment dollars’ and no more will go your way. I hope StarVista feels the same way. Thank you for listening to my little tirade. If we don’t speak out and set expectations on how we want to be treated who will??
Now back to the abundant positives before closing: the service, the food, the facilities, the personnel, the cabin service were all top drawer and very much appreciated by us and our fellow cruisers. AND…
What was appreciated as much if not more was how nice all of the artists/bands were when they were just passengers among us as well. I think all but one agreed to sit for autographs for extended periods of time. All returned our ‘hellos’ or nods as we passed them on the ship. All seemed genuinely happy to be part of this music festival and that permeated the environment and the vibe helping everyone have the ‘time of their life’.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest that you give serious consideration to attending one of their boat music festivals as it would be a fun step for you to take to keep ‘live music alive’.
Until next time…dwc
PS Early in this review I mentioned that Cathi and I invited our ‘all in’ friends Rock and Jak on the cruise. Just a few months after that Jak was diagnosed with a blood/bone cancer called multiple myeloma. This kept her and her husband Rock from joining us on the cruise. She continues this courageous fight for her life and, thank God, she is winning. Please keep her in your prayers. For now, we can only say that this review is dedicated to the two of them…and these seven days would have been ‘near perfect’ if they could have been by our sides.