The bands that were booked last year weren't really my cup of tea, but then again, most people who can afford to shell out upwards of $600 to go see bands are probably middle-aged, middle-class folks who were watching the Gin Blossoms at Long Wong's back in the early '90s, before their careers took off and their paychecks bloomed.
But I was determined to hit up this year's nautical bacchanal, even if it meant sneaking in (with the organizer's permission) and sleeping on the floor in one of the band's cabins. Of the bands scheduled to perform, I had quite a few friends who would be on board, and I was really looking forward to a 72-hour deluge of debauchery with my homeboys, and maybe catching some music as well.
At the outset, it was looking good Richard Bush, the president of Rock N The Seas, had a decent lineup going, headlined by David Lowery's projects Cracker and Camper van Beethoven, both bands I sorta dug about half a lifetime ago. Also, right up until the official Web site, www.rockntheseas.com, announced that "There are no cabins left for the next cruise" (a week or so before the scheduled February 16 launch), Bush was advertising that the following bands would be up in that bitch: Gin Blossoms, the Tubes, Dead Hot Workshop, Sand Rubies, Authority Zero, the Pistoleros, Stephen Ashbrook, Greyhound Soul, Bob Log III, Strange Young Things, the Luminarios, Mojo Farmers, Ghetto Cowgirl, Tramps & Thieves, the Zen Lunatics, and the Zsa Zsas. I'd also heard that Chocolate Fountain and Los Guys had been invited.
Ambitious, to say the least. Unfortunately, though, bands began dropping out early on (despite their names not being removed from the Web site's list of performers). The first withdrawal I heard about was the Gin Blossoms, of whom Bush, when I finally caught him on the phone (he's notorious for not returning calls or e-mails), said that they just wanted too many comped cabins. Understandable enough. But then the other participants began dropping like sailors with scurvy.
The Tubes canceled, announcing on their e-mail list that "The Tubes regret to announce that they will not be performing on the Rock N The Seas cruise. In spite of repeated assurances from the promoter, the terms of the agreement have not been met, giving the band no choice but to cancel." Dead Hot Workshop then dropped out, though they said it was due to scheduling conflicts, and not a reflection on the promoter of Rock N The Seas.
Then more cancellations: Authority Zero, Ashbrook, Strange Young Things, Tramps & Thieves. According to Rob Kroehler, vocalist and guitarist for the Loveblisters, who did play the cruise, he remembers only the following bands being on board: his own band, Rosebud, Greyhound Soul and the Zsa Zsas (both from Tucson), the Mojo Farmers, Gelatinous Groove, and Lowery's bands, Cracker and Camper van Beethoven. (Bush hasn't returned repeated phone calls and e-mails to get the "official" take on what happened.)
Kroehler estimated the Rock N The Seas crowd (including bands) at around 90 people; again, I couldn't reach Bush to get an official number. The rest of the ship housed the usual weekenders and some drama tournament kids, according to Kroehler.
For the Loveblisters, the paucity of artists was a blessing; they had great turnouts at both of their shows and made some new friends. But Kroehler says he understands why so many bands dropped out. "[Bush is] kind of a big talker; he promises people stuff he doesn't know how to come through on," Kroehler says. "You can't promise bands money and all this stuff and not come through; it pisses people off. But then again, with local bands, you can't be that much of a prima donna, thinking 'I'm hot crap.'"
The Loveblisters played their shows for free, just taking the cruise as compensation.
"Rich is trying to do something good for the Phoenix music scene," Kroehler continues. "I feel ambivalent; I sympathize with Rich at the heart of it, he's trying to bring people together, et cetera, do something good."
Other artists, who would have liked to be playing on the ship, were less thrilled with Bush's ambition and his communication skills. Paul "PC" Cardone, who plays with both Chocolate Fountain and Los Guys, told me, "In the beginning, we were asked; then, when time started going by, we didn't hear anything. I cornered him at a bar, [and] he said, 'You're going. It's a done deal.' We never got a call back, and I never saw his face again."
Chocolate Fountain vocalist D.L. Harrison was similarly peeved. But after hearing about the bands dropping out, and about issues with finances, he became wary. "Everything looked like it was breaking apart: our friends saying they're not doing it, nobody can get ahold of the folks in charge," Harrison says. "Maybe it's a good idea we didn't go. Getting closer to it, the whole thing went awry. It just wasn't right. If they try to do it again, people are going to be really leery about it; that's my take on the whole thing."
That's my take on it, too it seems that this one got fucked up so badly that Rock N The Seas, as cool a concept as it is and as well as it went off last year, shot holes all through its own bow and is pretty much sunk when it comes to getting artists to participate in the future. It's sad, but it could have been avoided with a little candor from the organizers and availability to discuss the situation with the bands with whom they were trying to work.
And I can only imagine the frustration of the people who did blow hundreds of dollars on the cruise to find only a few bands on board, none of whom were the big names (excluding Cracker and Camper van Beethoven). As the saying goes, caveat emptor.