Cruise to the Edge 2018: a Review from a NON-Progger
Ok, let’s get one thing straight right away: I like Billy Joel.
That’s my music. And Bruce Springsteen, ELO, Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Linda Ronstadt, Chris Rea. More “modern” artists may include Robbie Williams, Jason Mraz, Sarah McLachlan.
Do I have your attention? It gets even better: I’m a yogi hippie sort of girl. I teach yoga, meditation, and positive thinking to kids via a giant dog character. (Wuf Shanti–look it up on Google and join us on social media). Shanti means peace.
I married Roie, of the Prog Report, so yes, prog music plays continuously on a loop in my house…but I have become exceptionally good at tuning it out. I didn’t know any of the bands, songs, or artists before the cruise…and I didn’t care to know. I support my husband in his career, but I didn’t fully understand the genre. For years, I thought Prog was really long heavy metal songs.
I’m not going to lie. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy this trip. He dragged me on this ship kicking and screaming (figuratively, not literally, of course). Every year for the past 4 years, Roie has gone by himself (which was more than fine with me…it’s not like it was an 80’s music cruise–now that I would have wanted to go on!).
This year the trip was on our birthdays (thanks Larry!), so Roie insisted I go, and I finally caved…begrudgingly. I knew I’d be bored out of my mind, and he would be working the entire time, so I went to go buy some books to take with me.
I tell you all of this about me so that you can understand who this review is coming from–if you haven’t figured it out by now, the title says it all–definitely NOT a Progger.
And so now you can read my review…
The first thing I noticed before we even boarded the ship was the community. Everyone seemed to know each other, and be genuinely happy to see each other. I quickly began to understand that this was way more than a music cruise, way more than a working cruise, it was more like a reunion cruise…. a FAMILY reunion.
I was being introduced to people from South Africa, London, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Australia, you name it, they were there, from all over the world. Each and every person, including the band members, greeted me with a huge smile, a hearty handshake, or even a huge hug, as if they have known me for years, and I wasn’t a total stranger intruding upon their time together.
[I was still skeptical that I would have a good time and prepared to curl up alone with my books in a quiet spot on the ship (would there even be a quiet spot on the ship?!), but this first impression was tugging at the back of my mind. Remember, I’m a yogi, so this warmth and camaraderie made an impact on me, for sure.]
Roie asked me to join him at the first few performances the first day, so I put on my big girl pants and a smile on my face, and went to go listen to music that I knew I would not like. Who in their right mind would voluntarily listen to 25 minute songs?!
Steve Hackett was the first performance I attended, and as I stood in the back of the room, I began to realize that Prog was not heavy metal, but a mix of styles, eclectic and experimental, purposeful and poignant at the same time. There were some aspects of jazz, tinged with classical, combined with rock. It was melodic, and most important (to someone like me) it told a story.
Guess what happened: My toes started tapping, my hips started swaying (not from the rocking of the boat but from the music). I found myself enjoying it! Really and truly enjoying the music. In fact, the box of ear plugs I purchased with the intention of blocking out the music remained unopened the entire trip in the cabin. And I actually wanted to go listen to more of the bands, and learn what other magical mystery music I would find on this tour (pun intended).
Next up was Neal Morse, Sons of Apollo, Casey McPherson, and Thank You Scientist. Are you kidding me?! All I can say is Wow. The music called to me. Yes, I heard the music playing in the house or on the car radio for years (but as I said, I was very good at tuning it out), and yes, I’ve read my husband’s book (but predominantly just to make sure commas were in the right places or words were spelled correctly, certainly not because I had an appreciation for the music). So it was like I was hearing all of this music for the first time…
And I loved it. No joke. A big surprise to me, and probably anyone that knows me, because let’s face it, this is not Billy Joel.
Neal Morse is a master storyteller, which is important to someone like me. Every song was beyond wonderful. His new song “Manchester” is going to be stuck in my head on a loop for a very long time because that song is amazing. “Selfie in the Square” is also incredible. He dedicated the song to his wife, which I thought was just so lovely. I didn’t get to meet her this trip, but he made me feel like I know her, and isn’t that exactly what music is supposed to do? (Speaking of wives, by the way, when Roie was introducing Neal in the big Theater, I have to say that this wife was so filled with pride at that moment. It was the first time I was really present to see Roie in his element, doing what he does, and it was awesome.) [As an aside, if you have not already heard his new song “What If It Was Your Child”, you need to listen asap. It is a poignant, heartbreaking song that deeply affected me.].
Sons of Apollo, the new prog supergroup, were exciting to watch, and Jeff Scott Soto was powerfully devastating when he sang Queen’s “Save Me” and shared with the audience that it was dedicated to his brother who had passed away that very day. The very definition of “the show must go on.” I’m beyond positive that his brother was watching with pride and his presence smiling upon all of us as the music played. This was also the first time I saw Mike Portnoy, and I am not going to pretend to have a full appreciation for the drums, but I must say that it was a very impressive performance.
Casey McPherson has soul, and it shines through his music. Plastic Sea (again, the story behind the song) is a phenomenal song, and his cello player, Tony, was right by his side, keeping up note for note, adding to the ambiance, and taking the audience along for the ride (not the boat ride, the musical one). A journey to behold, to be sure. The fact that Casey is a real life hero doesn’t hurt either…rescuing people after Hurricane Irma!
Thank You Scientist not only make great music (a 7 piece band?!) but they are also a bunch of funny guys. During the Q&A session which Roie also moderated, they were making the audience laugh. Tom Monda, the founding member of the band, gets extra props because he remembered my birthday as we were disembarking the ship.
I learned so much during those Q&As because they really let you know who the people are behind the music, and I found them to be fascinating. The bands told us about their writing processes, their struggles and triumphs, stories behind the songs, and answered questions from the audience. It was very interesting, for someone like me, who was first discovering the music, as well as for the people that have been fans for years.
It was the Q&As that actually allowed me to appreciate some of the harder music performances from bands like Haken (great show at the pool stage!), Eric Gillette (what a voice!), and Enchant (good music and a super nice group of guys!). I’m honestly not sure I would have gone to listen to them if it hadn’t been for the Q&As….well, and Roie making me. To be real, I’m still not a fan of the heavier Prog music, but at least I can appreciate it more now.
Cruise to the Edge is a Prog Music Cruise, but it is really so much more than that. Larry Morand and his team put on a fabulous 5 day event, and if you haven’t gone, you really should check it out. We now know (courtesy of me) that you don’t have to be a Prog fan to enjoy the cruise. I promise you what you think is prog is not actually prog. Larry works extra hard to make sure that it is a truly exceptional experience (even if he does continue to hold the cruise on our birthdays…I mean, come on Larry, there are 51 other weeks in the year for you to choose from!).
The Late Night Live jam sessions put together by Rob Rutz were simply inspiring. The way it works is that passengers on the boat (we’ll call them amateurs, although they don’t sound like amateurs) get together prior to the cruise to form bands and play covers of all the great prog songs. Since all the proggers live spread out across the world, much of the practice is via Skype, and the ship is the first time they actually get to play together. I met some of these jammers who devote countless hours to Late Night Live like Prog Nick and Scott Medina, who have become Roie’s close friends over the years. They are great musicians and super nice and I consider them friends now too. They sound amazing, like professionals, and Rob leads the show with perfection.
Roie was invited to appear on the Eddie Trunk’s Trunk Nation show on Sirius XM Radio alongside Mike Portnoy and Bumblefoot, and that was definitely a highlight for me. When you have 3 icons in the industry discussing your husband’s book, Essential Modern Progressive Rock Albums, and they are saying how “awesome” and “well done” the book is, it is really a very heartwarming moment for a wife to behold. Eddie Trunk called Roie his “Prog Coach” which was neat too. That book was a lot of long nights and weekends, and almost 2 years of our lives. He worked so hard on it to make it the best that it could be, and to hear these great musicians and DJ praising it was very exciting and special.
Another thing that warmed my heart was every time the bands would have surprise guests appear as part of their sets. It spoke volumes. It showed me that there are no egos, the bands all support each other, play together, and enjoy being with each other. You can tell, there are real friendships here. Neal had Mike, Casey, and Eric join him, and they all reciprocated in kind. It was wonderful to see the camaraderie.
Even Mike, when he was on Eddie Trunk, mentioned Petrucci and said the message for the New Year is “Give peace a chance, let’s all get along.” He went on to say that they “still love each other, and they are just two old friends being friends again.” Even I know who Dream Theater is (I wouldn’t know their songs, but I have tripped over their CDs in my house on numerous occasions). Kudos to both of them for finding their way back and reconnecting. [No rumors please.] That kind of sentiment is awesome for someone like me to hear (have I mentioned I’m a yogi?).
For people who like to come on cruises for traditional reasons, there is, of course, a casino (although I will admit that I did not go in once), a shopping area, a gym (yes, they have yoga classes!), a basketball court, a pool with a slide, a running track, a quiet solarium to read (I never did finish those books I bought…guess I wasn’t bored), a coffee shop, and a spa (I did sneak away for an hour to get a massage). Karaoke was fun too (bring a jacket–it gets cold!).
There are specialty restaurants you can eat at for special occasions if you make a reservation such as Chops, the Steak House, and Giovanni’s, for Italian. The food at both was really good, and the Chocolate Cake was simply divine. Seriously, I don’t kid around about chocolate. It was Amazing! We went to both because we were celebrating a lot of birthdays.
The only thing the boat did not have was, believe it or not, birthday cards! I needed an extra one for my friend, walked all over the ship, asked every person I could find, and there was not a card to be found. Seems kind of dumb to me, considering that most people go on cruises to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. The cruise line could probably make a whole boatload of money (pun intended) if they sold cards. So, me being me, I made one. I’m all about old fashioned cards. Hint (should you ever need to know for the future): Go to Guest Services and ask them for the card that they give out to passengers for birthdays, cross out the “best wishes from the staff” sentence, turn it over, and write your own message. That’s as good as you are going to get, but it does the trick, and it’s better than nothing.
My absolute favorite part of the trip, by far, were the people I met. Thomas Waber, from InsideOut Music, is the supreme gentleman, hard working, loyal to his bands, and really really funny. His wife, Jessica, quickly became my BFF on the ship, and we had a great time laughing together. We are now friends for life, and I can’t wait to see them again. I also met Roie’s colleague Jeff Wagner and his wife Adrienne, who do a really great karaoke.
Another person we became great friends with was Andy Farrow, manager for Opeth and Sons of Apollo. He also puts on the Be Prog, My Friend festival and is absolutely one of the most hilarious people to hang out with. When I told him that I had no idea who Opeth was (other than the fact that I heard Roie mention on Eddie Trunk that Opeth’s ‘Blackwater Park’ was one of the top 5 modern Prog albums), he did not get offended in the least…as long as I promised to listen to them straight away. Always acting the manager. And so, being the good friend, and having a 4 hour car ride home after the cruise, I did take a listen.
The musicians and crew were likewise awesome to talk to. We met the incredible photographer Tammy Vega, as she hitched a ride with us to the port. I don’t usually let strangers hop into the car, but I figured since she was on her way to CTTE, she most likely wasn’t going to pull a knife out of her backpack. I was pleasantly surprised when it was a camera she pulled out, and we all got to take a birthday picture together (turns out she has the same birthday as Roie!). I also met accomplished photographer Joel Barrios and his wife Damaris, and the first time I met him, he was wearing a Prog Report shirt, which actually, come to think of it, a lot of people on the ship were wearing, including the band members. That was pretty cool to see too.
Other people I was introduced to include Bumblefoot and his wife Jennifer, who were beyond kind. She’s a veterinarian, which I think is wonderful, because I’m an animal lover (remember, Wuf Shanti, is a Yoga dog). The band Enchant are all really nice guys, and they hung out with us and our friend Jeremy who joined us on the trip, for the SuperBowl. Ed Platt, the bassist, joined us for the Live Jam sessions and joined in singing me Happy Birthday (so he gets extra points).
Mike Portnoy, who was at the next table at Chops, overheard that it was Jessica’s birthday, and came over to sing with us. We were also lucky enough to have Steve Hackett and his wife and manager, Jo, join us at Roie’s birthday dinner, a thrill for any prog fan and something that can only happen on a cruise like this. I hope neither Steve, Jo, nor Mike were offended that I didn’t have a clue who they were before that dinner. To me, they were just regular nice people that my husband dealt with in his work life. They were very kind people, and I enjoyed their company, but I wasn’t aware of Steve Hackett’s celebrity status on this ship.
However, it quickly became clear to me that we were dealing with someone super famous because as we left the restaurant, Steve couldn’t even walk 3 feet without being stopped for a picture or autograph. And the dear man stopped every single time with a smile on his face and made each and every one of those fans very happy. He did not hesitate to sign their CD or take a selfie or 20 selfies. Jo remarked that the fans are what it’s all about, and without them there would be no music (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t remember her exact words, but the sentiment was that the fans matter to them and they appreciate them to no end). Having said that, we were never going to make it to the elevator unless we surrounded Steve on all sides to get him there, so that’s exactly what we did. It was the first time I ever felt like an entourage.
I could go on and on, but this is supposed to be a review, not a novel. Suffice to say, the 5 days went by way too fast, I had a great time, I met wonderful new people who will be friends for life, and I am so looking forward to returning for next year’s Cruise to the Edge for our family reunion. I absolutely loved it, and I urge anyone to go, even if you have a preconceived notion of what you think Prog is, and even if you think you won’t enjoy the cruise, you’ll be wrong, and you’ll have the time of your life. You will come away with lots of great new friends, and a new appreciation of the music.
Thank you to Steve Hackett, Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse, Casey McPherson, Larry Morand, Rob Rutz, Thomas Waber, Andy Farrow, Eddie Trunk, all the other fabulous musicians, and of course, the best MC on the planet, my awesome hubby, Roie, for bringing the Prog Report to life for me, and making me a convert.
Ask my husband, and he will tell you that I am almost never wrong, however, in this case, I am willing to admit that I was wrong…and happy that I was.
Looking forward to the next time we all meet again. Cheers.
Pretty much anything Marillion does sets off a flurry of excitement amongst their dedicated fan base; that said, expectations and spirits were especially elevated on the night of Saturday, February 10 as the band were set to play their first show in Atlanta since 1990. By the time that doors opened at the Variety Playhouse in the über-hip Little Five Points neighbourhood, the line to enter was several hundred people deep and snaking around the parking lot behind the venue. Unsurprisingly, but wonderfully gratifyingly, Marillion met their audience’s enthusiasm and raised them a nigh-perfect, transcendent performance.
The venue filled quickly with eager, chattering fans—nearly one in three of whom were clad in Marillion shirts spanning the band’s career. The affection and anticipation were palpable even before the opening notes of “El Dorado,” but the emotional performance and tight integration of lighting and projection films garnered the band their first standing ovation a mere 15 minutes into the concert. Indeed, after Pete Trewavas’ particularly ambidextrous, funky bass workout on “You’re Gone,” the audience was excited to the point of being a bit noisy and calling out song requests, prompting a huge smile and loving admonishment to “shut up and listen for fuck’s sake” from lead singer Steve Hogarth as the band played “White Paper,” another extended moody piece from 2016’s FEAR album.
Throughout the concert, the sound was superb, with every instrument clear in the mix across all frequencies and no distortion (apart from the occasional slight bit of overdrive on Hogarth’s mic). Steve Rothery’s many guitar solos took full advantage of this crystalline mix as he demonstrated absolute mastery of soaring emotional leads and rarely-matched nuance on the higher end of the fretboard. This was especially apparent on “Season’s End” and the encore performance of “Sugar Mice,” yet another instigator of extended outpourings of audience appreciation. Perhaps the apex of this enthusiasm came in the middle of the first set, as fan-favorite and early single “Kayleigh” segued seamlessly into the keyboard intro of “The Leavers.” While some amongst the band’s hardcore fanbase debate the merits of FEAR as an album, those gathered in Atlanta were thoroughly in the palm of Marillion’s hand throughout the epic performance, and the band received their second and most energetic standing ovation for this piece. Hogarth seemed genuinely taken aback at the forcefulness of the crowd’s affectionate reception.
Anyone who has seen Marillion before will be well-acquainted with their accomplished musicianship and impeccable showmanship; anyone who hasn’t should check out some videos online then immediately buy a ticket to the nearest show (there won’t be a better time to break out those frequent flyer miles!). From Ian Mosley’s powerhouse drumming on “King” and Mark Kelly’s incredible proggy synth solo on “This Strange Engine,” to the aforementioned ubiquitous Rothery guitar leads and Trewavas’ indefatigable rocking out on the bass (as well as his under-lauded backing vocal contributions), to Hogarth’s incomparable vocal control flowing from whispered intensities through mumbled proverbs and into explosive howlings on “The Great Escape” and “The Invisible Man”—every member of Marillion is a virtuoso who knows how to serve the song with subtlety when appropriate and take a moment in the spotlight to wow their audience. Furthermore, the whole band seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves, and their emotional rapport with their fans was apparent. Hogarth was especially playful, as shown in this exchange at the end of the first set:
Hogarth: “We’re going to leave you with this song…”
Crowd, emphatically: “No! No! No!”
Hogarth, coyly: “…possibly…”
Musically, emotionally, and technically, the concert was a singularly impressive experience, worthy of all the superlatives this reviewer can throw its way. Still, with such an accomplished and extensive repertoire, Marillion will never be a band who can just trot out an obvious and universally agreed upon greatest hits/legacy set, so there will always be opportunity for some to wish that this or that favorite song had been played. Even so, Saturday night in Atlanta featured a nicely curated selection of tracks from across the band’s eras, and h noted that they would be changing things up from night to night for the fans attending multiple shows. The live experience dispels any mysteries surrounding the obsessive love that fans have for the band, and Marillion gives back that love in spades. Get in on the love during the few remaining shows on this US tour, and look into the special fan weekend coming up in Montreal in 2019.
El Dorado You’re Gone White Paper Season’s End Kayleigh The Leavers The Great Escape King
Venue: River City Casino, St. Louis, MO – Feb 16th, 2018
Words and Pics by: Jon Fiala
Dennis DeYoung, formerly of the power group Styx, brought his 40th Anniversary of the Grand Illusion to the River City Casino in St Louis Friday, February 16 to a sold out crowd of music lovers whose average age was easily in the 50s.
The setlist was perfect for those wanting to hear classic 70s and 80s Styx as Dennis and his outstanding band played only that, and nothing from any solo albums. St Louis holds a soft spot for Dennis as radio station KSHE, the longest continuous running (50+ years) radio with a rock format was promoting Styx from the very beginning.
Styx’ seventh album, The Grand Illusion, was released on 7/7/77 and is arguably the band’s best album. Growing up in the 70s, that album was a mainstay at parties, and still has its share of plays on classic rock radio.
The first set was the Grand Illusion played in its entirety with no talking spots in between, just as if you’d play it from your CD. Hearing Dennis’ voice on The Grand Illusion, Come Sail Away, Castle Walls, and the Grand Finale was simply outstanding. Unlike many other vocalists from the 1970s, Dennis can still hit everything that he did back on those classic albums.
Dennis’ band can easily hold tight with the classic Styx lineup as they brought to life the familiar Styx sound. Guitarist/vocalist August Zadra did a fantastic job on the Tommy Shaw songs Foolin’ Yourself, Superstars, and Man in the Wilderness while his cohort, Jimmy Leahey did JY’s Miss America some justice.
The rest of Dennis’ band was equally spectacular with Craig Carter on 5-string bass (hitting that low string occasionally brought new life to those songs), John Blasucci took on a lot of the keyboard role that Dennis had played for many years, freeing Dennis up to be center stage. Michael Morales brought his impressive drumming resume to join up with Dennis a couple of years ago. Dennis’ wife of 48 years, Suzanne, was right behind Dennis as a backup singer.
It was an odd feeling that Come Sail Away was only the fourth song of the evening, which most people know is generally Dennis’ closer. However, the first set was simply tremendous. It was very enjoyable to hear my childhood come to life in front of my eyes.
After a 20 minute intermission, Dennis brought even more classic Styx songs out and the crowd got to again to relive songs from the 70s and early 80s. The song that started Styx on their rise, Lady, began the second set, followed by 1975’s Lorelei. A tasty organ solo led into Blue Collar Man. The last album by the classic Styx lineup, 1983’s Kilroy Was Here, had everyone enjoying the whimsical Mr. Roboto as everyone sang along to that very familiar Dennis song. Dennis reminisced writing the #1 hit Babe as being a simple birthday present for his wife, but was thankfully talked into adding to 1979s Cornerstone album. Probably the highlight of the evening was Dennis’ ode to America with Suite Madame Blue, complete with the short instrumental intro Prelude 12. They definitely can rock with the best of them. The evening closed with 1978’s Renegade and finally brought to a close with 1981’s The Best of Times, before reprising the final portion of Come Sail Away again.
Sure, a band could play their most recent album, but with the repertoire that Dennis has in his back pocket, combined with the musicianship of the band that he has put together, it was a great night of just hearing some vintage music by one of the greatest voices in rock and roll. For a simple guy from Chicago, celebrating his 71st birthday this month, Feb 18th, he’s done very well.
Neal Morse released his latest solo album, LIFE & TIMES, today on Radiant Records via Metal Blade Records/SONY on all digital outlets, including Radiant Records’ website, as well as CD and vinyl.
The Stephen Yake/Christian Rios-directed third video from the already critically acclaimed album, “JoAnna,” premiered exclusively on BigTakeover.com. The song is one of 12 slice-of-life portraits composed by MORSE, which focuses on his son dealing with the loss of a relationship. “’JoAnna’ is a very special song to me,” explains NEAL MORSE. “It’s one of those rare times when everything spontaneously comes together…the string arrangement, the pedal steel guitar, the drums and bass so tastefully done. It’s one of the best tracks I’ve ever recorded in my opinion. So excited this album is coming out at this time!”
Morse also released a new song recently as a response to the terrible shooting in Parkland, FL. The song called “What if it was your child?” asks every parent to consider what might happen if nothing is done to stop the awful tragedies that have affected US cities in recent years.
Once again the prog rock world descended upon Tampa, FL in Feb. This time for the 5th Cruise to the Edge, the progressive rock festival on the ocean headlined by Yes, the band for which the cruise is named. Co-headliners Marillion and Steve Hackett returned to the ship, having performed in previous years, providing a wealth of prog royalty to the stages. With bands like Saga playing their final shows since announcing their retirement and the new supergroup Sons of Apollo, debuting as a live act upon the ship, the festivities were sure to please any form of progressive rock fan. Returning as well were cruise regulars Neal Morse, Haken, IO Earth, Dave Kerzner, and Moon Safari, along with a few newcomers in Eric Gillette, and Knifeworld. And this is just a few of the artists that performed. All in all, there were more than 25 performers making this one of the fullest trips yet and creating quite a dilemma for the schedule makers as well as the concert goers.
The ship sailed out of Tampa on Saturday, Feb 3rd on the Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas and was scheduled to make two stops in Belize and Costa Maya, Mexico. The addition of a 5th night, previous cruises were 4, offered a bit more breathing room and created anticipation that it would be easier to see more of the bands. As it turns out, a full 2 weeks still might not be enough. There is just too much to see and do. It’s a good problem perhaps, but decisions had to be made, even for someone reviewing the cruise. So we all try to see as much as we could. This began immediately upon the sail away when Glass Hammer kicked of the festivities up on the pool stage, the usual meeting place to begin. The band sounded great and were joined by former member and current Yes lead singer Jon Davison for a few songs including their epic “If the Stars.” Meanwhile, Steve Hackett was performing his first of two shows in the main theater, the Pacifica Theater. Depending on what color assignment you had for the theater shows, determined whether or not you were seeing Glass Hammer by the pool. Hackett’s band was in stellar form opening with a few solo numbers like “Please don’t touch” and “Every day.” One of the highlights certainly had to be the addition of the song he wrote with Steve Howe when they were in the band GTR, “When the heart rules the mind.” The song sounded current and fit right in with the rest of the set. Later, Hackett concluded his show with Genesis classics “Supper’s Ready,” “The Musical Box,” and “Dance on a Volcano.” Already the bar was set too high. After a brilliantly melodic set from Moon Safari, it was off to see a bit of Haken who were treating fans to performances of full albums. On this first show of two on the ship they performed their classic sophomore album Visions. The epic title track had the audience in a trance until the final note.
The most anticipated show of the evening was the very first live show by Sons of Apollo, the new supergroup featuring the unappointed mayor of prog cruises, Mike Portnoy, along with Derek Sherinian, Bumblefoot, Billy Sheehan, and Jeff Scott Soto. The group released their debut album Psychotic Symphony back in Oct 2017, but had yet to play together. The group ran through songs from the album including the epics “God of the Sun,” “Labyrinth,” and “Opus Maximus.” Despite a few kinks, which would be expected for a first performance, the band sounded great and sound the potential of what was yet to come. The show also had a somber moment as lead singer Jeff Scott Soto announced to the audience that he had just learned that his brother had died while he was on the ship. Showing what a fine performer he is, Soto was able to push through and deliver an emotional performance. He did a perfect take on the middle section of the Queen song “The Prophet Song,” and then sang a heartfelt tribute to his brother with another Queen classic, “Save Me.” It was a beautiful moment and one appreciated by all in attendance. The band closed the set with the Dream Theater song “Lines in the Sand” which was fitting for this group as Sherinian and Portnoy were both in that band when this song was first recorded. It was a fine first set and set the stage for their even more anticipated second show later in the cruise.
The second day, a day at sea, began early with competing Q&A sessions from Steve Hackett and Yes, both occurring at the same time. Other Q&A’s from Glass Hammer and Dave Kerzner, and an acoustic set from IO Earth rounded out the morning. Saga were a band many on the ship made time to see, as they had announced these would be some of the final shows before completing their final tour celebrating 40 years. Their pool stage show dominated the early afternoon. After a highly successful turn on last year’s cruise, Focus, were another band that were sure to excite as most went to see them right after Saga. This was followed by Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy which brought the nostalgia to an prog climax. Yes performed their first set in the main theater in the afternoon delivering a set mixed with fan favorites and mega-hits. Original keyboard player Tony Kaye joined the band for a few songs. The encore of the set included “Yours is No Disgrace,” “Roundabout,” and “Starship Trooper.” The Hall of Fame group continue to defy expectations and prove they are here to stay.
Another interesting performance was the late night theater show from Neal Morse. Known for his prog epics, having appeared on previous cruises with Transatlantic, Spock’s Beard, and the Neal Morse Band, no one was sure what to expect from his one-man acoustic show. Using a mix of keys, percussion, acoustic guitars and a sampling device known as a Looper, he quickly showed how one man can turn into a full band with the push of a button. He performed songs from his upcoming singer/songwriter album Life & Times, along with a few songs from previous albums. He commands the stage like very few prog rockers, holding the audience in the palm of his hand with every word, injecting a bit of humor at every turn. Of course, with so many of his fellow bandmates aboard the ship it was not a surprise when he introduced Casey McPherson, Mike Portnoy, and Eric Gillette for the Flying Colors song “The Storm,” and the Neal Morse Band song “Waterfall.” He then brought out one more surprise with Pete Trewavas came out to perform with the rest doing Transatlantic’s “We all need some light.” It turned into one of the more memorable shows on the ship. But that was not all for the night as Dave Kerzner and his incredible band turned in a powerful concert on the pool stage. Playing songs from this two solo albums, Kerzner showed why he has become a staple on these events. Steve Hackett joined him for a rousing rendition of Kerzner’s solo song “Stranded” from his album New World, on which Hackett played on the original recording. It is the joining of guests on each other’s sets that helps elevate these concerts to being so memorable. You don’t see this kind of stuff at regular shows.
Monday was a stop in Belize, so this allowed for some time to sleep in as no bands were performing until the late afternoon. Yes played their second set while singer/songwriter and vocalist for Flying Colors, Casey McPherson did his set in the atrium only joined by cello player, Tony. Playing mostly solo material, with a couple of FC songs thrown in, McPherson showed why he fits right in with the prog crowd as he captivated the audience with his soulful voice and invited them to create a vocal choir for the song “Peaceful Harbor.” Haken performed their second set on the pool stage, this time playing their breakthrough album The Mountain. For those that first knew the band from this album, this set was a true highlight. Singer Ross Jennings has become one of prog’s leading frontman, commanding the stage with ease while the incredible players in the band dazzle with their instruments. Marillion took the final slot of the evening in the main theater playing their album F.E.A.R. in its entirety. For fans of the band, any chance to see this band is appreciated and they again did not disappoint. Hogarth and Rothery delivered epic performances as one would expect.
Amid all the great performances were all the additional events to take in from the art displays of Carl Palmer and Roger Dean to the live broadcast of SiriusXM radio host Eddie Trunk, who made his second trip back to CTTE to broadcast the virtues of progressive rock to his loyal listeners. Each Sons of Apollo member made an appearance, as well as members of Yes, Marillion, and even Prog Report author Roie Avin, who also led a trivia session on the ship in support of the book Essential Modern Progressive Rock Albums. Perhaps the most engaging nightly event is the Late Night Live jam put on every year by host Rob Rutz. Dozens of incredible amateur musicians, coming from all over the world, played some of the most challenging prog songs ever cerated and pulled off some amazing performances. Throw in Brook Hansen at the piano bar singing prog classics, or a little Karaoke on the 13th deck for good measure and there is no shortage of additional entertainment on the ship.
Tuesday took the boat to Costa Maya, Mexico. Enchant returned to CTTE and played their first set on the pool stage for plenty of fans that chose to stay on the ship. Playing songs from their classic debut album, A Blueprint of the World, and other great songs from their vast catalog, the group sounded as tight as ever. Ted Leonard’s vocals continue to impress year after year. Great shows were scattered throughout the day from Lifesigns, Gong, and the second theater show by Marillion, this time featuring a mix of songs from thir enormous catalog. Thank you Scientist played their best set of the ship on the pool in the evening showcasing songs from their 2 albums. The band’s new members proved themselves capable of continuing the upward trajectory of this fine group. Meanwhile, in the center of the ship, Neal Morse Band guitarist Eric Gillette made his live debut with 3 members of Haken as his backing band. The guitarist played and sang songs from his prog metal release The Great Unknown to a full audience who had been waiting for this moment for years. The following day he would perform his second set at the pool and be joined by Mike Portnoy on drums for a couple of Dream Theater numbers, “The Root of All Evil,” and “The Dance of Eternity.” There was a lot to choose from the ret of the night with singer/songwriter sets from Casey McPherson followed by Neal Morse, IO Earth in the main theater providing their heavier brand of prog, to the second show from Sons of Apollo, who played a different set than the first night and sounded way more in synch, closing with their hit “Coming Home” to major applause. It was a long and very windy night.
The final day, Wednesday, provided a chance to catch up on a few acts that were missed over the first few days, like as well as a chance to relax from the overwhelming nature of the first 4 days.The day began with a beautiful tribute to John Wetton by the pool with friends and bandmates from Carl Palmer to Dave Kerzner talking and playing a few of John’s songs to the fans that adored his music so much. He was greatly missed on the ship. There was plenty more to see from Saga’s final appearance in the main theater to Adrian Belew Power Trio who mesmerize with their abilities to Lifesigns, who continue to be one of prog’s best kept secrets. Martin Barre, Baraka, Knifeworld, and Bad Dreams filled out another great day of prog. The night concluded with Steve Hackett’s final set followed by Dave Kerzner in the atrium rocking the ship with his solo material, even joined by Geoff Downes for a number.
Aside from the all the music, the main thing to notice is the interaction between the bands and fans, as both are so appreciative to each other. Performers like Mike Portnoy and Steve Hackett freely walk the ship knowing they will be asked to sign something or take a picture every 3 feet, but do so gladly every time. Although I imagine they would like to be left alone for a minute to eat dinner. Over the years, those that continue to return to the cruise, do so not only for the music, but because of the camaraderie with the other fans. These have become close friends and this trip like a family reunionm with many already booking the trip to next year’s sailaway, Feb 4th-9th.
Kudos to all involved form Larry, Gene, Taylor and the rest of the On The Blue team that put this show on together and to all the bands who continue to see this event’s value and provide the ultimate escape to their endlessly loyal fans. See you all next year!
Pics of Neal Morse, Steve Hackett, Sons of Apollo, Yes & Dave Kerzner by Joel Barrios