By Chep Hepworth
For 4 days on each of the last 4 years, 35/40 acts have piled onto a cruise liner to sail around the Gulf of Mexico and perform before 2500 fans on 6/7 stages. Each act usually performs 3 times in a combination of different venues that vary from the outdoor Pool Deck stage, the large Stardust Theatre, the more intimate Spinnaker Lounge and smaller club-like bar venues
The cruise is organised by SiriusXM satellite radio station and appears to be very much driven by Steve Earle and other regular DJs like Shooter Jennings, Elizabeth Cook and Paula Nelson. The line-up this year was phenomenal including regular headliners Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and Liz Cooke plus Drive By Truckers and most of Austin and Lubbock….Jesse Dayton, Rosie Flores, Heybale, Dale and Celine, Terry Allen and, best of all, The Flatlanders. There’s always a mix of rising stars like Nikki Lane and 6 month pregnant Margo Price and Bonnie Whitmore plus much revered old timers like Webb Wilder, Doug “The Ragin’ Cajun” Kershaw and the legend that is Bobby Bare.
The individual sets usually feature numerous guest artists ( eg Lucinda singing “Howlin’ at Midnight for the 1st time in 25 yrs with Jimmie Dale Gilmore) and the musicians spend as much time watching each other as they do playing. Matt Hubbard, Jesse Dayton, Warner Hodges Robbie Gjersoe and the Mastersons were everywhere. The highlights were outstanding shows by Drive By Truckers, Jerk (Joe Ely and Reckless Kelly) , Terry Allen and everything the Flatlanders did collectively and individually..Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s solo show finished with about a dozen people on stage for a great version of Chet Power’s “Get Together”. The most frequently heard song was “Borderless Love” which invariably attracted a standing ovation from most people and grumbling about it being a socialist cruise from some of the “Rednecks” on board!
The stand out show was the tribute to Bobby Bare with contributions from most of the acts on board and watched by the man himself. Particular highlights were Margo Price’s “Tequila, Sheila”, JD and Doug Kershaw’s “Marie Laveau”, The Flatlanders “500 Miles Away From Home” and Dale’s “That’s How I Got To Memphis”.
It’s not, pleasingly, a conventional cruise in that it doesn’t really go to a specific destination other than a token few hours in Mexico or the Bahamas. It’s all about the music which usually begins around 11 in the morning often by recording a SiriusXM show eg Mojo Dixon interviewing and listening to John Doe, Dan Baird, Warner H, Webb Wilder and Rosie Flores. The musical schedule then runs non-stop until 1-1.30 in the morning. By the time Homemade Sin and Dale W finished off the final night, the liver is pleading for a rest and physical exhaustion has set in!
The atmosphere on board is wonderful with no egos as musicians, their families and fans happily mix, chat and eat with each other. The exhausted smiles from people like Terry Allen, Robbie Gjersoe, Jimmie Dale and Warner H as you disembark make it clear that the musicians have enjoyed themselves as much as the punters.