I have been playing music for twenty years, and in that time have accumulated experiences, both good and bad, that I know would have never happened if I weren't a musician. I have played shows in Europe, Alaska and Mexico, but none of those prepared me for the experience I had aboard the Flogging Molly Salty Dog Cruise.
A few months back, my friend Nathen Maxwell, the bassist for Flogging Molly, frontman for Bunny Gang and current Colorado resident, asked me to perform as my solo project, Andy Thomas' Dust Heart, on the Salty Dog Cruise. Now in its second year, the cruise features more than twenty bands from all over the world, including massive names like Frank Turner, Rancid and of course, Flogging Molly, and takes place on the Norweigan Sky Cruise ship that boasts a 2,000-person capacity. The cruise sold out months before we left port.
As soon as my bandmates, Jen GaNun and Tyler Breuer, and I got to the port in Miami, we were in another world. Lines of punks streamed toward the entrance of Port Authority, and these were clearly not your ordinary cruise-goers; although most of them were wearing flowered shirts and bathing suits, there were also colorful tattoos peeking out from the pedestrian clothing. Unsure of our "stature," we waited in the long lines before someone found out we were musicians and whisked us by the main line and into “priority access.” Unfortunately, the woman leading us through security didn’t recognize the other musicians and tried to cut in line ahead of the likes of The Slackers. We waited in line and looked over to see members of Rancid, one of my favorite bands of all time, waiting for their turn in line. As one of the smallest bands on the boat, we whispered to each other about whether we should say something to them. We eventually justified it probably wasn’t the right time. Later, on the boat, we took advantage of meeting and speaking with Tim Armstrong, who did not disappoint.
As we were escorted onto the actual boat, we were joined by members of Flogging Molly, who, the night before, had played a live performance on Jimmy Kimmel, and taken a helicopter and a private jet from California to Miami. We walked by the “general boarding” line and people cheered. It wasn’t for us, but it felt good anyway.
That first night, we watched poolside performances from Skinny Lister and Fishbone, and theater shows from Bunny Gang, Frank Turner and Rancid. For Rancid, we got up the courage to use our artist credentials to watch the band from the side of the stage where we shouted along lyrics next to skateboard legend Steve Caballero. We sang and drank well into the night.
The next day, we docked in Nassau, Bahamas and became typical tourists for the day and did our best to avoid the massive money-suck that is the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort. After re-boarding, we did our best to sneak in a quick nap before our 7 p.m. set. The Outrigger, where we were slated to play, was a small bar at the front of the ship where not many people usually hung out. As we sound-checked, we looked around and saw a pretty empty room. Justifying to ourselves it wouldn’t be the first time we played to nobody, and that this was more about the experience than it was playing to capacity crowds, we began to play, and, luckily about thirty people walked into the room and listened attentively. After our set, we were surprised to discover that many of them were there specifically to see us. People were aware of my current music and of my old band Tin Horn Prayer’s as well. It wasn’t the massive audience we saw Rancid play for, but for us, it was special.
We rode the post-show high while watching Flogging Molly perform poolside to what seemed to be most of the people on the boat. Behind us, Tim Armstrong from Rancid was watching as well and, this time, we decided to approach him. He was warm, generous, outgoing and said that he would come see us play the next night. Even though he didn’t, it seemed that he had every intention to.
The next day’s stop was at Great Stirrup Cay, a private island where Fishbone and Flogging Molly played for the passengers. It was here, for the first time, with our boat resting in the distance, that we got a feel for how massive of an undertaking this event was. The boat’s sound crew had to move equipment by boat as early as 7 a.m. to prepare for the day and then had to have it back and ready to go by the time the boat left again at 5 p.m. The ship’s passengers, us included, drank free beer and floated in the water without a care in the world.
Back on the boat, we watched Authority Zero and Rancid again, then headed to our show that night at the Outrigger. Apparently our previous performance had resonated with the last crowd as many of them were there again. The crowd also included a throng of new people and this time stood right up next to the stage, were less reserved and sang along to many of my lyrics. After the show, I was interviewed by a German film crew who was shooting a documentary about the cruise. I told them how humbled I was to be on the cruise. I was not lying.
Later, we skanked and danced to DJs by the poolside as it began to rain on the open waters back to Miami. The experience was complete.
Music can take you a lot of crazy places, and I wouldn't trade these experiences for the world. This will be one I will never forget and a tough one to replicate...until we get asked back next year, of course (wink, wink, Flogging Molly).