The final full day of the cruise found us docked in Nassau, Bahamas upon waking. With a temperature in the 60s it was unseasonably cold for the locals who were all bundled up and even wearing hats and gloves while complaining about the cold. Hailing from Minnesota though (where it was a frigid -4 degrees that day) I happily donned a pair of shorts and a short sleeved shirt and set out for a day of wandering down town Nassau and quick cab ride out to explore Paradise Island. Can you say tourist?
Upon returning to the ship we headed up to the Pool Deck to catch Black Pistol Fire. This duo consisting of Canadians Kevin McKeown on guitar and vocals with Eric Own on drums is now located in Austin, Texas. For just two people they put out a lot of sound and are a high-energy show with Kevin running around the stage and even jumping up on the drum set often while he is banging away on his guitar. These guys are not simply a Black Keys or White Stripes knockoff even though they are all in the same blues based rock category. They possess a unique sound all their own. First time I have ever heard this group so other than a little snippet of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” and Son House’s “Grinnin In Your Face,” which most people now associate with Gov’t Mule’s version. I didn’t recognize much, but I liked it.
After that, we headed up to catch Josh Smith and Kirk Fletcher in the Spinnaker Lounge. After the All-Star Jam the other evening, I could not wait to catch these guys again. They opened up with the instrumental “And What” off of Josh’s forthcoming release where Josh and Kirk took turns soloing back and forth. From there Josh led the way with his song “Badside” and then Kirk took over and led them through his “Ain’t No Way.” Kirk Fletcher then explained how the next guy they were bringing on stage was a huge influence on his playing when he was 19 and that if it wasn’t for him he wouldn’t be the player he was today. At that point, Robben Ford stepped on stage for one song. He stepped off and Kirk then sang the Sonny Landreth tune “Congo Square,” which Kirk has also recorded. At which point they brought Simo on stage and proceeded to rip through three more songs in a fashion similar to the previous night’s All-Star Jam.
Last night and of course, there was one more Bonamassa show to go see. Even with the relatively chilly temperature, the Pool Deck was packed for his last show of the trip. Joe opened the set just like his latest album with Hendrix’s “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” transitioning into “Oh Beautiful!” Joe had the crowd in the palm of his hand for the whole show. Joe played his material for a while including “Never Give All Your Heart,” “Hidden Charms,” and “Living on the Moon” until he started rotating guests starting with Robert Randolph for “Gave up Everything for You” and a funky version of “Look Over Yonder’s Wall.” Josh Smith then stepped up for two songs including the classic “Someday After A While.” He was replaced by Ronnie DeJesus from RCFP for “Love Ain’t a Love Song,” who was then swapped out for Bernie Marsden and eventually for Kirk Fletcher to close things out with “Sloe Gin” and “The Ballad of John Henry.”
We had to choose between catching Robben Ford or Joanne Shaw Taylor for the 10:30 shows that night and since we had not seen her whole show we chose to catch JST. With just a trio on stage, Joanne on her Gibson and with her smoky and soulful voice powered through a set that consisted of some of her best stuff like “Love is Just Another Word,” “Watch ‘Em Burn,” “Diamonds in the Dirt,” “Mud Honey,” and closing out with the title track off her latest album The Dirty Truth.
It was sad it had to to all come to end when we had to get off the boat Saturday morning. It was a unique experience. With the festival all confined to the cruise ship the majority of the time the chance to run into artists during the trip was very high. After all, how often are you going to ride in the elevator with Robben Ford, chat with Ryan McGarvey after his show, run into Bernie Marsden while walking the streets of Nassau, and just generally see all the artists as they spent their time off between sets enjoying everything the Norwegian Pearl had to offer. What an experience and I am honored to have had the opportunity to tell you all about it. Sometime in the middle of Joe’s last show he announced that they all had such a good time putting this on that they are going to repeat it next year. When we got back to our rooms, we found information on when the next one is. Mark your calendars now – February 15-19, 2016. Head over to www.Bluesaliveatsea.com to get on their mailing list for the next cruise. While you are at it check out www.keepingthebluesalive.org for more information on what this whole trip was about after all, supporting those with the “passion for music by funding programs and scholarships for students and teachers who possess the desire, but lack the resources or access to achieve their potential within the music industry.”
– Kevin O’Rourke