Too Much, The Magic Boat
After forty years or so, the concert experience gets a little old even though some of the people who have playing through the ages still can put on a pretty good show. Even so, too many of us have lost interest in the endless hassles of scoring good seats, waiting on long lines and fighting the crowds. In the past we’d be herded through the turnstiles and start mooing, these days the crowds aren’t worth it. Most nights, you’d rather stay home and watch a concert video than drive downtown to see the band play live, especially if you’ve seen them pay a few times before.
SITTING ON THE DECK OF THE BOAT
Which is why music cruises, like the fifth annual Cayamo Cruise which ended on Sunday, represents the future of concert going, for people who are too old to deal with these indignities and still young enough to enjoy the music.
There are some perceptual obstacles. Those of us who fight the idea of getting old and falling into age stereotypes still hang on to a generalization of our own; that ocean cruises are excruciating events full of bad food and whining geezers. But Cayamo, as well as several events hosted by Sixthman and other companies, is not your grandmother’s cruise. You might not go on a cruise anymore than you would go to Las Vegas or Branson, MO, but as soon as you embark the excuses disappear. People go from “I can’t believe you dragged me here” to “can we book next year?” in seconds flat.
There are 30-or-so artists, ranging from those of the highest visibility to people you have never heard of, performing in a variety of venues throughout the week. This less resembles a traditional cruise than the multistage festival except that waiting for a band while sunning yourself on deck is way better than waiting outside until the gates open.
The stats: The sold out ship was carrying 2,383 passengers and 1,078 crew, with 938 of the guests onboard for the first time. There were a lot of repeaters, 544 in their second year, 389 in their third, 201 in their fourth and 145 who have attended all five times.
The most interesting numbers won’t ever be compiled, like how many people who haven’t seen each other for 40 years meet up, how many friendships begin there and how many lives intersect. I enjoyed some remarkable coincidences, meeting people who knew old friends of mine that I’d not seen in years. And I even met someone who was at the same Red Sox-Mariners game that I attended in 2006 (although he had better seats).
And since everyone on the boat is there for the same reason, it’s easy to talk to anyone. You could meet someone from New Mexico and ask them if they knew an old friend and you didn’t feel stupid for asking–maybe because in enough cases they had met who you were talking about. You need to adjust going home, where you aren’t supposed to talk to strangers.
On Thursday night Buddy Miller took the stage with a rousing “Worry Too Much,” which pretty much short circuited everything. After the music his humility is the second best part, after backing up everyone from Emmylou Harris to Robert Plant, he didn’t quite believe that we were there to listen to his ownself. Words can’t do it justice, so the best I can do here is to dub it as incendiary gospel rock.
<BUDDY MILLER BAND: BRADY BLADE, BUDDY, REGINA McCRARY AND GREG LEISZ
Thompson also reached the stratosphere with a late night trio performance, which he characterized as “a folk rock power trio, somewhere between Cream and the Kingston Trio,” riffing a version of “Sunshine of Your Love” which borrows lyrics from “Tom Dooley” (at a previous performance he made the same joke, substituting the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Peter, Paul and Mary).
During this set he pretty much set the guitar on fire, appending familiar songs with long solos that spoke with volume. Comparing one musician to another is always a cop-out, but Richard and Jimi definitely overlapped. I saw Hendrix once and it took months to recover, Thompson is the only time since that I’ve seen a guitarist with such fluidity and imagination.
On the way out of the show I ran into Nancy Covey (Mrs. Thompson) who wryly said something like “that wasn’t too bad.”
“That was hot,” said I, saying the first word that popped into my head. But she had seen it before.
“Just doing his job,” she said.
It was no surprise that these guys blew me away, I’ve been a Buddy fan since forever and a Thompson worshipper for 25 years before that. But while you may need a headliner to justify the cost and convenience of a cruise, the new discoveries are what makes the trip special.
RICHARD THOMPSON, BUDDY MILLER>
Thanks here to Shawn Mullins. I’d never heard him (so shoot me), but his warm enthusiasm made my unfamiliarity irrelevant. During “Lullaby” the Sixthman crew joined him onstage, dressed in white bathrobes. Everyone who saw this wanted to hug someone, cry or both.
Enter the Haggis was another find. These guys are having too much fun turning everyone they meet first into a fan and then a friend. It turns out the cruise was only the first step in fan interaction, the band is sponsoring an excursion where the fans get to ride around Ireland on a bus with the band.
Overall the cafeteria food was pretty good, although there were times where we filled a plate with what appeared to be appetizing food and threw it away before taking a second bite. This happened with the music too, where we left the table three times. One was Greg Brown, who just seemed abrasive.
Loudon Wainwright III opened with a song about fan obsession and dedicated it “to the guy who I just met in the elevator,” a comment that seemed snarky and mean, especially since the satire didn’t come across. And if we wanted to see endless tongue flicking we would have taken the KISS cruise instead.
Lucinda Williams was never my favorite, and her show did nothing to change this. Her vocals were muddled, the band was too loud and she had no stage presence. She gave a more compelling performance later that night in an elevator, rambling about the cruise, her insomniac husband and that she didn’t want to leave the boat. She was pretty looped, but unlike her show you could figure out what she was saying.
<MR. AND MRS. KEVIN MOORE OF NASHVILLE, TN, SAY THEY’D LOVE TO RETURN
I can hear the Lucinda brigade call for blood, but there are no accountants for taste. I came to hear Richard and Buddy and the rest was just frosting. While watching the aforementioned transcendent Thompson performance I saw people covering their ears and walking out. They may have been Lucinda’s fans looking to open their minds, or maybe they’d had enough that day.
No matter, there was room on the boat for everyone-even those who didn’t glom onto a particular artist. Many of the repeaters didn’t really care who was on the bill, they trusted Sixthman’s choices. As a first timer I’d never give anyone that much power, especially when thousands of dollars are involved. Next year I will be a bit more relaxed, lacking a compelling headliner I’ll gamble there will be enough new things to make it worthwhile.
People used to love going to the Catskills, where they could catch vintage entertainers on their way down or new folks on their way up. Cruising is the new Catskills, with improvements: The food is better, the music more vital, clothes more comfortable and everything is in living color.