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.
The Newbie Progger Wife