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Music and Cruising: A Match Made For Boomers

Music and Cruising: A Match Made For Boomers

By Dave Price  

It’s almost a certainty that in 1959 when Frankie Ford sang the line from his Top-20 hit “won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise” he couldn’t have imagined that in the 21st Century those words would apply to the new, floating, multi-day music festivals now offered by several major cruise lines.

In fact, as Baby Boomers reach retirement ages, nostalgic music-themed cruises are one of the fastest growing segments of the cruise business.

There are now cruises devoted to single artists (Elvis Presley, Kiss, Lynard Skynard), genres (heavy metal, blues, southern rock), decades (50s, 60s, 70s), and themes (rock legends, Where the Action Is)

And the numbers are impressive.

Take Atlanta-based Sixthman Live Loud concerts, a partner of Norwegian Cruise Line, for example. The company reports that it’s completed 99 at-sea festivals, taken 220,040 music fans on its cruises, and have offered performances by 971 different artists during its 16-year tenure.

Although I had been vaguely aware of such cruises, my wife and I, who had been crusing for years, actually experienced our first music cruise last year.

Similar to many Baby Boomer couples, music has played a huge part in our lives since our teenage years in the 1960s.

We were 12 when we both witnessed the Beatles initial American appearance on the Sunday night Ed Sullivan Show and followed that up with regular visits to the famed Steel Pier in Atlantic City and later clubs, arenas, and outdoor festivals to check out all our musical favorites live.

Our ties to the music of our youth were deeper than some other couples since I have been playing keyboards in what in 1966 were then called garage bands (for the garages, basements, and living rooms where most of us rehearsed) and are now labeled classic rock groups.

Although we both have an abiding passion for music, our tastes are quite different.

Judy is Motown, The Rascals, Chicago, James Taylor, and Hall and Oates. I’m obviously garage rock, the British Invasion, Warren Zevon, Tom Petty, and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

However, we both list the Allman Brothers as one of our favorites.

So when I discovered that Gregg Allman was headlining the Rock Legends IV Cruise last January and that cruise would be sailing on the date of Judy’s 65th birthday, we immediately booked passage on the Royal Caribbean ship.

So for five days we sailed the Caribbean with 2,700 other rock music fans while listening to the live music of Peter Frampton, America, Grand Funk, John Kay and Steppenwolf, the Marshall Tucker Band and such upcoming artists as Devon Allman and Dana Fuchs.

But, of course, the main attraction for us was Gregg Allman.

We were able to see three shows with Gregg and his band playing reworked horn versions of Allman Brothers classics. In fact, we got to spend some time with Allman at a meet and greet on Judy’s birthday and then watch him perform stage-side on the ship’s top deck later that night.

But the cruise, while exceeding all of our expectations, actually turned out to have as big effect on our lives as the first live glimpse of the Fab Faux in 1964.

As I talked with both fans and performers about two days into the cruise, I realized that I was in the middle of a huge generational story.

The music of our Baby Boom youth was now entering its seventh decade. It hadn’t faded away as some transient fad as many had predicted. The survivors of the Woodstock generation, now older, grayer, and heavier, were still enjoying the music from their youth.

Now, however, we were sleeping in luxurious cabins instead of muddy fields. Prescribed drugs for elder ailments replaced the dealer-bought dime bags and cheap wine. And though we might be more apt to talk about our replaced hips than being hip, one thing hadn’t changed – we were still devoted to the music we grew up with. In fact, one song, one artist, one concert, could still prompt dozens of magical memories, memories now deepened by all the ensuing decades we had lived.

What I was witnessing on this cruise with the Baby Boomers fans and their musicians was as old as I was, but it was something new at the same time.

On the ship, I decided to forego the educational consulting I had been doing for four years and instead, as a former journalist, embark on a new freelance writing career with three of my major subjects being the Baby Boom generation, classic rock, and the continuing nexus between the two. In fact, if all goes well, I plan to release my first book on that subject in 2018 or early 2019.

Actually, if you are reading this article in its initial appearance, Judy and I are on our second music-themed cruise, this one entitled The Flower Power Cruise. The line-up is a dream one for me: It includes:

Eric Burdon and the Animals
The Zombies
The Yardbirds
The Spencer Davis Group
Vanilla Fudge
Rare Earth

Judy also has a host of sure-to-be favorites as well including:

The Fifth Dimension
The Family Stone
Three Dog Night
The Lovin’ Spoonful

When we get back, I plan to write a series of I-Was-There-And-Now-You-Can-Vicariously-Be-Too articles for Booming Encore.

Well, that’s my plan. Unless of course the great Eric Burdon asks me to play keyboards in his new Animals. I mean I already know virtually every song in Burdon’s live repertoire. And I’m sure the band doesn’t rehearse in a garage, so that would be a definite step up.

Okay, I know, It probably won’t happen. But life is full of strange happenings.

I mean who would have thought that the music of the 60s and the 70s would still be going strong as its initial listeners and performers entered their 60s, 70s, and beyond.

Yeah, I know it’s only rock and roll. But we still like it.

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Dave Price is a former journalist and educator who now leads a freelance writing/speaking and consulting practice in Washington, DC. During his time as a journalist, Dave wrote for the Bridgeton Evening New, The Press of Atlantic City and the Philadelphia Bulletin. Dave’s career also included spending 20 years as a high school English teacher, an instructional coach and program designer for Johns Hopkins University, an adjunct professor of communications at Rowan University along with being a Washington DC educational consultant for inner-city schools. Dave has been married for 43 years and his greatest joy in his life is spending time with his two grandchildren. Dave now focuses his writing on his interests in the Baby Boomer generation, classic rock music, issues on aging, and grandparenting.