Highlights of this year's On the Blue Cruise

Four years running, the On the Blue Cruise remains right on the mark
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By Lee Zimmerman
All photos were taking on “On The Blue Cruise” February 10-15, 2019 by Alisa B. Cherry

“The old man rhythm's gotten in my shoes

Know you're sittin' here and singing the blues

So be my guest you got nothing to loose

Won't you let me take you on a sea cruise”

Yeah, there were some, shall we say, older individuals taking part in the On the Blue Cruise, the fourth in a line of themed cruises geared towards fans of the Moody Blues. After all, Moody Blues fans are generally ardent admirers with 50 years of abject devotion behind them. So too, in any number of cases, the rhythm, as supplied by any number of classic rock icons — The Zombies, Todd Rundgren, Vanilla Fudge, Procol Harum, the Alan Parsons Project, Al Stewart, Wishbone Ash, Young Dubliners, Strawbs, Lighthouse, Rick Derringer, Poco, Dave Mason, Steve Hackett, et. al. — seemed to get into everybody’s shoes, artists and audience alike. But “sittin’ here and singing the blues?” While it may have been all about the Blues — those of the Moodies variety in fact — that downer description didn’t apply at all.

 Justin Hayward in the Royal Theater of Mariner of The Seas during On The Blue Cruise, February 14, 2019.

Justin Hayward in the Royal Theater of Mariner of The Seas during On The Blue Cruise, February 14, 2019.

Granted, there was some disappointment that Justin Hayward, the ship’s sole Moody man, made only a perfunctory appearance at the beginning of the cruise to welcome its guests, most of whom expected an opening performance to preview the two headline appearances he was scheduled to play later on. Many were placated by Randy Hansen’s rousing reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix in song and stance, a featured role Hansen’s played so prominently on many cruises before. However there were those who were a bit moody — or blue — that Hayward’s welcome was so fleeting, little more than a quick hello and obligatory photo op. Even so, by the time the cruise ended five days later, most agreed that they’d gladly do it again.

Of course, a music cruise involves more than just seeing shows. It allows for opportunities to actually mingle with the musicians, most of whom walk about the ship and dine in the same restaurants as all the other mere mortals onboard. Indeed, if there was temptation to interrupt an artist when he or she had a mouthful of custard pie, it was easily averted knowing that the formal interactions — organized me-with photo ops and an ongoing series of Q&As — could easily preclude that possibility.

 Steve Hackett in the Royal Theater of Mariner of The Seas during On The Blue Cruise, February 10, 2019.

Steve Hackett in the Royal Theater of Mariner of The Seas during On The Blue Cruise, February 10, 2019.

Of course, most folks sign up for the concerts and happily wait in line for the shipboard venues to open in order to secure the best seats. Those that wanted to be assured a seat could count on preassigned tickets for nightly headliner shows that were divvied up between “blue” and “red” ticket holders. Still, the chance to catch any artist who breathed life into the soundtrack of one’s youth was the real draw. And with a line-up like the one featured for On the Blue there was no shortage of great performances to make it all worthwhile.

Admittedly, much of the music was tied to nostalgia, a considerable quotient of which was due to the fact that nearly all the performers were still plying a shelf life that had extended four decades or more. Likewise, even actual artists that weren’t represented in real time still had surrogates to tout their tunes — as with Hansen subbing for Hendrix, The Orchestra offering homage to ELO, cover band Mellow Yellow catering to oldies enthusiasts, and keyboard player Brook Hansen’s lounge-like entertainment for those with a preference for prog.

Ultimately, On the Blue is best considered a floating festival, one where a cabin provides an easy retreat and food is plentiful practically any time of day or night.

 Colin Blunstone of The Zombies in the Royal Theater of Mariner of The Seas during On The Blue Cruise, February 12, 2019.

Colin Blunstone of The Zombies in the Royal Theater of Mariner of The Seas during On The Blue Cruise, February 12, 2019.

Ultimately though, it was the ability to get up close and personal with some much admired rockers that separates the On the Blue experience from any ordinary encounter. Last year, the Moodys celebrated the fact they were finally being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This year, it was The Zombies turn to tout those honors. That made hearing Todd Rundgren’s take on it all especially interesting. Rundgren had tallied a respectable amount of votes in the last round of voting, but failed to make the cut. It was clearly cause for dissatisfaction.

“Don’t bother voting for me next year,” he declared in his morning Q&A session. “I won’t show up.”

 Todd Rundgren on the Pool Deck of Mariner of The Seas during On The Blue Cruise, February 11, 2019.

Todd Rundgren on the Pool Deck of Mariner of The Seas during On The Blue Cruise, February 11, 2019.

Other artists offered inside observations of a different nature. Rick Derringer recounted the trajectory that took him and his early band the McCoys from their initial success with the hit “Hang on Sloppy” to jams with Jimi Hendrix and later, a supporting role as Johnny Winter’s backing band. Dave Mason talked about his troubled relationship with Traffic, a fact he also overlooks, given that he performs several Steve Winwood songs that were credited to Traffic and Blind Faith long after the two men had parted ways.

 Dave Mason in Studio B of Mariner of The Seas during On The Blue Cruise, February 10, 2019.

Dave Mason in Studio B of Mariner of The Seas during On The Blue Cruise, February 10, 2019.

Poco’s Rusty Young sat in the audience for the session with Procol Harum and noted that because their two bands were situated in close proximity in record store bins, some fans had taken to referring to his group as “Poco Harum.” Asked abut the origins of Procol’s classic A Salty Dogalbum, singer Gary Brooker interjected some jest of his own, declaring that it was a walk along the shore with sand in his shoes that provided the overall impetus.

Whether that was true or not is a matter of speculation. At any rate, Brooker’s rendition of “Whiter Shade of Pale” was so stirring it practically brought several people to tears.

In the end, the On the Blue Cruise provided proof that music is indeed an essential element in most people’s live. Likewise, the willingness to devote five days at sea to being in the company of some classy classic rockers all but assured that ageless embrace.

Bob voyage indeed.

For more information on the cruise go to www.facebook.com/OnTheBlueCruise