Nancy Covey on Board
AT SEA, February 7, 2011— Nancy Covey thinks that Sixthman's Cayamo Cruise, now in progress, represents the future of excursion travel for those of a certain age.
"Doing cruises was a brilliant idea," she said. "It provides a way for fans to meet the artists."
Covey should know, as it has been nearly 30 years since her company, Festival Tours, began offering musical excursion tours to England centered around Celtic musical roots in general and the Fairport Convention legacy in particular.
Covey wasn't familiar with Fairport's music or the band itself but that soon changed. She got to know the band and its former members, specifically guitarist Richard Thompson. She continued doing the excursions, in which Thompson participated.
"I was doing the tours because it gave me an excuse to see my boyfriend, and later because it allowed me to spend more time with my husband," she said.
Thompson and Covey married in 1985, and like many modern couples continued to grow their respective businesses.
The Fairport tours got things started for Covey, but this has expanded to include Louisiana and the Cajun country, Spain, Southern Europe, Sardinia & Corsica--or anywhere that interesting indigenous music may occur.
"We go to Northern England and learn a tune and go through the area where it originated," she said. "We listen to the song and drive up a hill where it was actually written. This is really cool, especially for us because we come from a country that is really young. It's nice to go to a country where a lot of the music is more traditional."
More than 75 percent of those on the Fairport tour are returnees, but Covey likes to recruit the newbies.
"There are people who say they hate tours, they won't do tours, and I want to get them to come along," she said. "People are looking for an excuse to travel, it's not enough to just trace your family roots. They come along because of the music but they end up doing all the sightseeing ."
Cayamo is sold out this year, with 2,383 passengers dropping a few grand to hang out with their faves. For many of us a headliner is needed to motivate the purchase, and many people here said Thompson was the one.
But one artist doesn't make a cruise worthwhile, according to Covey: "It's more interesting if everyone on board isn't a fan of just one person, it makes it more diverse."
Festival Tours are hardly as posh as Cayamo as they tool around the countryside in a bus, although in recent years travelers haven't been forced to stay in dormitories. They still travel in buses, and the small groups are more intimate than the on the big boats.
Unlike the Cayamo crew the Festival Tours patrons aren't so concerned about headliners.
"I hear about who is really good in any region and take people to hear them," she said. "And they trust my judgement."
"The tours are very personal," said Colleen Wilson, a longtime friend. "Nancy knows what people like, what they want to do and where to find it."