Day One

I awoke early and got a workout in at the hotel. Working out helps with my energy level and I figured I would need the energy today. After checking out of the hotel, I shared an uber with a friend I had met at a prior MorseFest along with his roommate.

Once to the terminal, things initially moved quickly. We checked our bags at the drop off point and then followed the rest of the herd through the various checkpoints. Once in the terminal, there was a bit of a wait for those of us that were a. not artists and b. not VIP’s. But, it gave me a chance to take it all in and people watch all the various other cruisers. Many in Cruise to the Edge t-shirts or other various prog shirts.

Once I was checked in, I received an initial schedule for Tuesday and Wednesday, my lanyard and on board key card / credit card. We then boarded the ship and were greeting with a glass of champagne. While checking out the ship, we were informed that the cabins were ready. So, I went ahead and dropped my backpack off in the cabin. It was small but just fine since I planned on spending little time there.

Next up was a visit to the Wind Jammer buffet on the 11th level. The food was ok, but welcome after several hours with no food. I met up with my cabinmate and we followed through with the obligatory pre-cruise drill.

Mike Portnoy

Now that all of the formalities were out of the way, it was time for the first big concert, Mike Portnoy’s 50th Birthday Bash. Mike was very secretive about who would be in attendance. Though, at least part of it was given away by the sightings of Pete Trevawas and Steve Morse. I saw Pete in the buffet. Having never seen him in person, he is quite small in stature. But, seemed very nice and hospitable to all the cruisers that approached him.

As 4:20pm neared, everyone congregated to the pool stage. The stage ran parallel to the port side of the ship. Thus, several people stood on the next level behind the stage and several on the starboard side facing the stage. I found a spot on the right side of the stage about 4 or 5 people back.

They were still sound checking some and it was clear that Neal Morse would be joining Mike. Not a big surprise since the Neal Morse Band was on the cruise and Mike and Neal are in several other bands.

After an introduction and group photo with the cruise host, Jon Kirkman, Mike took the stage and announced the first act of the sail away show. In celebration of his birthday, Mike announced he would like to play music from some of his prog bands. First up was Flying Colors. The entire band including Steve Morse, Casey, and Dave came to the stage. This was a nice surprise. I had expected to hear some Flying Colors material from Mike, but not via the entire band who I had never seen live. They launched into several songs from their two albums. The highlight for me was The Infinite Fire from the first album. What a great way to kick off the show.

The band sounded great and seemed to be having a great time. They played for about 30 minutes and then Steve, Casey and Dave took a bow and left the stage. Next up was Transatlantic. I am a big fan of Flying Colors. However, Transatlantic are basically legendary to me. The combination of Neal, Mike, Pete and Roine is just really special. With Neal already on the stage, Mike announced Pete and then indicated Roine could not join them as he was on the tour. However, his role was covered by Ted Leonard of Spock’s Beard and Enchant. As Ted is one of my favorite vocalists, this was a nice fill in.

Transatlantic then launched into one of their many epics, Into the Blue, the lead off track from Kaliedoscope. For the first of many times during the week, I was reminded of why I travelled down to Tampa alone, without my family for the week. Was hard to believe I was getting to hear Transatlantic which has never toured in the Southeast of the United States. During the mid section, Daniel Gildenlow of Pain of Salvation came out and sang his cameo from the album. After playing We All Need Some Light, the band closed it out with arguably their best epic, Stranger In Your Soul. Musically and lyrically this is one of my favorite songs ever. Not just from Transatlantic, but by anyone.

As Transatlantic finished, Mike indicated he would be back to close out the cruise on Friday evening as well. What an amazing set of music. What a great start to the week.

As the crowd dispersed from the pool stage, I checked the schedule for the evening. Pain of Salvation was on the pool stage at 8. I had a little time to grab a pullover for the evening and once again visit the buffet. I was a little surreal to be surrounded by so many artists and fans. I spoke with Bill Hubauer in the buffet along with the guys from Pain of Salvation. I sat at a table with a couple members of the UK based, IO Earth including their new singer, Rosanna Lefevre. Having seen her publicity shots with the band on Facebook, she is just incredibly beautiful. That being said, we spoke of dogs (we both have a Westie) and Harry Potter. They were as interested in life in the US as I was of the UK.

Pain of Salvation

As I came out of the buffet, Pain of Salvation was finishing up their sound checks by running through a few songs. I had seen Pain of Salvation once before in a small club in Atlanta a year or so ago. However, I was interested to hear some tracks from their new album, The Passing Light of Day. The album focuses on front man Daniel Gildenlow’s time in the hospital dealing with a life threatening bout with flesh eating bacteria. Not the happiest of subjects, but an intense and introspective collection of music nonetheless.

At 8 sharp, they began their set with a song from the new album. Was great to hear these guys in a very different venue. The pool stage of a cruise boat headed to Mexico as opposed to a small club in Atlanta. Pain of Salvation was certainly one of the most dynamic bands on the ship. Their second song, Reasons, saw the band flying all over the stage and rousing the crowd in attendance. As expected the crowd was younger than the typical Yes fans.

As I would tell Daniel later, one of the things I love about Pain of Salvation is that you never know what you are going to get. Mistakes will be made, technical difficulties will occur, but it’s always fascinating to watch. At one point guitarist Ragnar Zolberg falls to the stage and just stays down for a few minutes. Highlights in the set included Beyond the Pale from Remedy Lane and Ashes from The Perfect Element. Though the newer tracks including Meaningless, Reasons and the emotional finish, the title track from their latest, were equally as impressive.

After about 75 minutes, their set concluded and it was off to the Pacifica Theater to catch Haken. Unfortunately, another one of my favorites, District 97 was playing at the same time and Dave Kerzner overlapped by 30 minutes with them as well. But, having never seen Haken, one of my favorite bands, I was not going to miss this show. Plus, it was the first time to see a show this week in a seated venue.

Haken

There was a line to enter the theater plus a small delay while they performed a sound check but all was good as I got to catch up with a couple of new friends I met from Australia. I thought I was crazy attending the cruise from Atlanta. These guys raised the bar by flying over from Melbourne, about 25 hours of flying one way! We had met the week before at the Neal Morse Band show in Atlanta which they added as part of their trip.

Finally, the Haken show was ready to begin. We filed into the venue and just found a seat. I had a great seat on the right of the stage on the aisle. The Pacifica Theater was the same venue being used by Yes, Kansas, and Steve Hackett. It was nice to actually be able to sit down for a bit.

Haken opened with Initiate from their new album Affinity. They played several songs from Affinity including the epic, The Architect. They also played several from my favorite of their albums, The Mountain including their Queen / Gentle Giant song, Cockroach King. They sounded amazing. I am sure the indoor venue helped, but they sounded tight and amazing. The show was recorded (as were all shows). I wonder if they may release this as a live blu-ray / dvd. Just a perfect venue with a packed audience and expansive stage for the performance. They ended with Celestial Elixir from the Aquarius album. Just a fantastic set. The 8 string guitars made the set sound so heavy. I was thankful for my Dubs ear protection. I had indicated to my cabinmate prior to the performance that I would likely leave early and head up to see Dave Kerzner early. He told me up front that was not going to happen. I would be there to the end and he was exactly right. I was glued to my seat to the very end.

Dave Kerzner

Once Haken was finished, I raced back up to the pool stage. The time was about midnight. I caught the final song from Dave Kerzner’s first set. He then launched into an all star tribute to some prog based artists who had recently passed away including John Wetton and Greg Lake. NDV from The Fringe and Spocks Beard sang a track as well as Leslie Hunt and Durga McBroom (Pink Floyd / Dave Kerzner Band). I was not very familiar with much of the music but still appreciated music being played. By the time the last note was played it was almost 1:30am. I reflected on what all I had witnessed in just the first day. Flying Colors, Transatlantic, Pain of Salvation, Haken, Dave Kerzner. Amazing (I will use that word a lot during the next few days).