During Sister Hazel’s final performance on The Rock Boat XIV, lead singer Ken Block told us that it is very hard for anyone in the outside world who has never been on The Rock Boat to understand what goes on here. Conversely, he said, it is very difficult for those of us who have been on The Rock Boat to describe it to those who have not. And with that, I’ll attempt to tell you what I experienced.
The Rock Boat XIV (That’s “Rock Boat #14” which will be simply called TRB XIV from here on out) was actually my third Rock Boat experience. My first two were on TRB X and TRB XI in 2010 and 2011. During the second night of this Rock Boat, I said to one of my friends, “I can’t believe I missed this the last two years. What was I thinking? What is wrong with me? This is too much fun. I’m never going to miss this again.”
Almost everyone who knows me knows I love live music. Music moves the soul. And experiencing original live music with other people who enjoy it as much as you do, there’s just something thrilling about that concert experience. And while there are plenty of concerts to go around, TRB is way more than simply a series of concerts on a boat.
It all starts when you are boarding TRB. And everyone is dressed in whatever theme outfit that Sixthman (the company that runs TRB) has told us is the theme for the day. This year, the “boarding day” theme was your favorite sports team. This was a great icebreaker. Generally, people could see where each other were from, what team allegiances they had, and that immediately created bonds or friendly competition.
After you check-in with the Norwegian cruise line, get your room key and all that, you board the boat. Upon walking on the boat, a Sixthman staff member is there to give you a “high-five.” That high-five seems like such a small thing from the outside world, but your senses immediately kick-in that this is going to be one kick-ass time.
There are other theme nights on the boat. This year we had a “St. Patty’s Day” theme where everyone wears green; a “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” night theme, where people wore shirts from their favorite classic rock bands or even dressed up as their favorite rock star (I loved seeing four ladies dress up as the guys from KISS); and then there was the “Color Wars” spirit night theme where you wore the color of the “tribe” you were assigned in.
TRB XIV had its own theme for the whole four days. It was the “Camp Rock Boat” theme. Depending on what deck you were on, you were assigned one of four colors: Red, Blue, Orange, or Green and given an accompanying color wristband. Throughout the cruise, there were different games and contests to participate in – from flip cup tournaments to door decorating contests, which are part of every Rock Boat. This year your tribe got points when you did something awesome or won a contest.
On normal cruises, you don’t walk down your hallway and see it all decorated. People go pretty wild about their door decorations on TRB. I was pretty simple and just printed out pictures of all the “Rock by the Sea” artist alums that were playing on this Rock Boat. But some other people went pretty crazy with theirs.
The Rock Boat is all about expressing who you are, making new friends, partying pretty hard, and just enjoying everything that’s going on around you. Considering how much alcohol is consumed on TRB, it’s amazing that I’ve never seen (or heard of) a single fight on the TRB. Ken Block made that same observation while on stage.
He also said that for the past four nights, this boat has felt like “the Center of the Universe.” It absolutely is. I mean, I don’t even pay attention to anything else going on off the boat.
Oh, and did I mention the bands? Sister Hazel. Collective Soul. Tonic. Ed Kowalcyk from LIVE, Reel Big Fish and Edwin McCain, to name some of the headliners. Rock by the Sea favorites Melodime, Amy Gerhartz, and Radio Birds won a ton of new fans with their stellar performances. Rock Boat fan favorites Alternate Routes, Will Hoge, Stephen Kellogg, Gaelic Storm and Red Wanting Blue thrilled us all. And for me, I came home with some “new to me” favorite bands including Honor by August and The Roosevelts. I also really enjoyed my first listens to The Gallery, Scars on 45, The Dunwells, and JD Eicher. And there were many more. The schedule is also ridiculous. All the bands play about three times each during the four days, but there are multiple shows going on at the same time in different venues all over the boat, so you have to make decisions and some times those are tough.
I counted up that I personally saw over 40 performances. A few bands I saw twice. And a few more I saw three times. My boys from Melodime played The Rock Boat pre-party at The Stage in Miami on the night before we departed. So, with three performances on the boat, I got to see them four out of five nights. And they were so damn good.
As far as music goes, TRB gives you the opportunity to see some headliners up close, see some of your favorite bands perform again and again, and gives you the opportunity to listen to artists you may have never even heard of or given yourself the time to do so. You come away with new music every time and pumped up about the fact you just saw a legendary band like Collective Soul and hung out with them at the bar afterwards.
All the bands are on vacation too. So, this gives you the opportunity to vacation with your favorite bands, and do things like throw a hundred beach balls around in the air during their concerts, listen to them do covers of Rolling Stones songs, and join them at 3am in the Headphone (aka Silent) Disco club or with the cover band. Or eat with them and all of your new friends in the Garden Café. It’s fun to see that members of your favorite band get off stage and join you in the crowd for a performance by some of their favorite bands in the next room.
There’s just something about this Rock Boat. As much as I’ve tried to explain it here, I feel like I should just erase all these words because they don’t even come close to doing justice to the epic adventure we Rock Boat veterans have come to love every year. This was my third Rock Boat, and as I said above, it not only won’t be my last, but I will do my part to make sure I never miss it again. ROCK BOAT!