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 created 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