In 2007, when the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards played Captain Edward Teague in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, it was a notable instance of rock ’n’ roll storming the ocean wave. In the years since, this invasion of the briny has become rather more comprehensive. Rock cruises are now big business as fans flock to see their favourite bands perform at sea.
“Traditional music festivals have been around for decades now,” says Larry Morand of California-based music cruise promoter On The Blue, “but this is a whole different environment. Fans have a lot more opportunity to get close to the artist, and the backdrop changes every day as you sail to Mexico or a beautiful port in the Caribbean.
The marketing potential
“With our Monsters of Rock Cruise we’re now in our 10th season, and we’ve found that there’s a whole community that keeps coming back. Rock fans from South America, Japan, Europe and elsewhere have built up these real close friendships on board, and they meet up year after year.”
Together with his business partner, Mike London, Morand is the brains behind various rock cruises targeting different demographics. Their ongoing and previous ventures include Cruise to the Edge, a cruise for progressive rock fans headlined by giants of the genre Yes and Steve Hackett (and punning on the title of Yes’s 1972 album Close to the Edge), plus 2018’s Moody Blues Cruise, a luxury voyage headlined by the titular band and similarly esteemed ’60s act, the Zombies.
In October next year, moreover, Morand and London’s On The Blue will launch Megacruise, a festival at sea headlined by hugely successful metal acts Megadeath and Anthrax. The five-night sail aboard the Norwegian Jewel luxury cruise liner will make stops at Ensenada, Mexico and San Diego, California, and fans will have various opportunities to meet their musical heroes.
“Artist Photo Experiences”, “Intimate Morning Coffee Jams” and “Fan/Artist Sporting Competitions” are promised – as is the chance to meet Megadeath frontman Dave Mustaine. Like many rock stars, Mustaine has become wise to the tremendous marketing potential of the rock cruise.
With their relatively intimate on-board gigs and related events, rock cruises sound great fun on paper, but playing devil’s advocate, one can’t help wondering about the possible security or public order risks of a music festival at sea. Take up to 4,000 hard-rock fans, cast them adrift with celebrity musicians from up to 30 bands. What could possibly go wrong?
“Well, thankfully nothing bad has happened so far,” Morand says, laughing, “but I’m knocking on wood even as you say that. We had Steve Harris from Iron Maiden on board with us last year. Me and my assistant were watching him pretty closely, but it was all fine.
“You have to remember that the hard-rock community is real friendly and inclusive, so so everybody watches out for each other.”
These are famous musicians after all; individuals used to withdrawing from the public gaze when offstage.
“That’s a good point but it depends on the artist,” Morand says. “On some of the ships we actually have a private lock-down area that the bands can make use of but, honestly, most of them don’t. When fans are on a five-day cruise they know they will have lots of chances to interact with the artists, so they tend not to pester them in the way that they might do on land.
“Consequently, the bands are usually great, so they’ll be goofing off with the fans all day, or they’ll go kayaking or jet-skiing with them on these private islands we sometimes visit.”
“Some bands can be a little sceptical initially,” Morand says, “but our business has grown through word of mouth, band to band. The record-sales aspect of the music industry has been decimated, but cruises allow bands to reach their core, most loyal fans in a very direct way. Also, let’s face it, if you’re a British heavy metal band at home in January or February, the idea of going on a Caribbean cruise doesn’t suck.”
Morand’s background is in tour and live-event production management, and On The Blue’s use of high-spec sound systems and intelligent (ie, programmable) lighting rigs is another reason why acts from Def Leppard to Motley Crue to Journey have signed up for his company’s rock cruises.
“I’ve seen cruises where the stages are like marquees for somebody’s backyard party,” he says, “but we use only the most reputable and reliable companies.”
Guns N’ Roses’ Slash on why he has the best job in the world
Recalling the good times on heavy metal’s birthday
Pegasus frontman on writing songs the Swiss way
What though, of the demographics of the fans themselves? Presumably most of the people who go on rock cruises are hairy, heavily-tattooed guys? “Actually you’d be surprised,” Morand says.
“The audience on The Monsters of Rock Cruises tends to be about 60 per cent women, maybe because it includes some of the glittery, hair-metal bands from Los Angeles that women tend to like. That said, the Megacruise with Megadeath will probably be a little more male-dominated. Some things you just can’t change.”
Megadeath’s Megacruise sets sail from October 13 to 18 and is available to book now. For more information, visit www.megacruise.com