“THE LOUD BOAT”

A few days ago, I returned from an event that was the the first of it’s kind: a metal festival on board a cruise ship. Yes a cruise ship. I went into it kicking and screaming.

The event, dubbed ‘70,000 Tons Of Metal!’ sounded like a really bad idea at first. Why? Think about it: 40 metal bands, 2,000 fans, 24 hour bars and four days at sea. I was fraught with vsions of drunken brawls, mass vomiting, people thrown overboard and other unimaginable catastrophes. “This cannot be good.” I told friends.

Yet, shortly after the offer was made, my availability for the gig was somehow misinterpreted by my band as enthusiasm for it:

“We heard you really wanted to do it”
“But I didn’t!”
“Neither did we, but we heard you did, so we confirmed it.”
“You WHAT?!!”

My first thoughts: should this turn into “The Titanic” with everyone clamoring for not enough lifeboats, my extra-heavy solid body guitar would make a perfect weapon. Then I tried to look on the bright side: if I got out of this alive, I’d have a story comparable to Hunter S Thomson’s “Hells Angels,” where he documented the standoffs between the Angels, law enforcement authorities and rifle wielding townspeople. But as it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The bad news is I have no Hunter Thomson-worthy story to report. The good news is I lived. In fact, I more than lived: I had fun. So much, in fact, that I’m ready to sign on for the next one.

The ‘Majesty Of The Seas’ sailed from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico and back without a hitch. The promoters were very smart to partner with a reputable cruise line, Royal Caribbean Cruises. For some reason, I’d imagined all kinds of problems stemming from them hiring some second rate, ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ boat piloted by some rogue captain like Quint in ‘Jaws’ or Han Solo in ‘Star Wars.’ But RC, like Carnival and other major cruise lines, has a built in system for handling large numbers of people, in terms of lodging, food, and, very important, security. The ship’s crew seemed to know exactly what they were in for, black metal moshpits and all.

As on all their cruises, RC made sure each passenger was provided with a daily program listing the days events. While a typical cruise ‘day sheet’ lists the details for bingo, trivia, poolside games and other activities, ours was a little different: right there with the info on spa and fitness, salons, dining, casinos, etc.. were the set times for that day’s extreme metal bands. You could hit the spa and grab a quick facial before checking out the likes of Amon Amorth, Dark Tranquility and Sodom.

Surprising fact #1: It was a virtual UN, with 48 countries represented. US Citizens made up a small majority while the rest came from all over Eastern and Western Europe, The Middle East, Central and South America, Asia. Australia and all points in between. It was great to see so many Americans, some with precious little international experience, bonding with people of different languages and customs. International passengers, meanwhile, found out that not all Americans fit the negative stereotypes portrayed abroad. Metal as peacemaker- a cultural melting pot of friendly diplomacy and close international relations. Who knew?

Surprising fact #2: the gender of passengers was more than 40% female. The fact that there were many couples accounts for this, but there were many groups of females and single travelers.

Surprising fact #3: The majority of staff on the boat said this was the nicest crowd they’d ever experienced. Sure, some passengers were loud, uninhibited, and a bit wild but there were no major problems. Instead of the last drink being ordered at midnight, like on a typical cruise, the bars would get quiet around 5 or 6am. The crew by and large seemed to to find this preferable to the usual early to bed retirees, suburbanites and soccer moms. Furthermore, they said our crowd was brighter than they were used to. I saw what they meant when we docked at Cozumel and I went into town, getting stuck waiting behind a guy from a different cruise ship, a few years older than me, who looked like a typical American tourist. He seemed to be having problems with the ATM machine. He turned to me and said “Do you understand Mexican?” As I stepped forward to help him, I answered “Yes. And just so you know? It’s called ‘Spanish.'”

Surprising fact #4: Many friendships were created as a result of the cruise. Some, not wishing to fork out for a whole cabin to themselves, found roommates via the on-line forum. A pretty grad student from North Carolina roomed with two guys she’d never met-she’d made sure to lay down the law beforehand- there were to be no ‘boy-girl’ issues, she’s there to hang out, period. The three hit it off famously, became ‘cruise buddies’ and are planning to room together next year. There was also a girl from Boston who was inseparable from her friend, a Seattle resident. At first I thought they might be sisters, but it turns out they’d never met until the cruise. Like the others, they’d been matched as roommates and are planning to room together every year.

Surprising fact #5: The fans mingling with the bands posed no problems at all. I experienced no overzealous, intrusive behavior, other than one European guy in the gym who tried to photograph me as I got off the treadmill. At least he was respectful when I said something I rarely say when asked for a photo: NO. I made sure to make it up to him later when I wasn’t out of breath and pouring sweat. (What am I, Princess Diana?).

Less Surprising Fact: The bars and lounges took in more profits in alcohol sales than any other Royal Caribbean cruise on record- before the ship even left the dock! Needless to say, RC is eager to get more metalheads on their cruise ships.

When all was said and done, “70,000 Tons” turned out to be one of those very bold ideas that looked scary on paper but turned out to be a great idea, winning over most naysayers (like banning smoking in nightclubs). It brought together two worlds that seem to be completely disparate: luxury cruise ships and extreme metal. These worlds need each other- the cruise ship industry is hungry for new passengers, even ones wearing Cannibal Corpse T-shirts with the words Submerged In Boiling Flesh on the back, while, hardcore metal fans are ready for new experiences, such as the type of vacations that were once the exclusive territory of people like Kathie Lee Gifford.

Though it takes a minute to get used to the sight of so many black t-shirted, tattooed, pierced people in taking over the salons, health clubs, souvenir shops and other amenities of a cruise ship and tourist mecca like Cozumel, Mexico, it all makes sense, somehow. It causes one to recall the words of a great artist, Bob Dylan, who, though not a metal musician, had a lot in common with what metal would come to represent (and if you disagree with that, then I strongly suggest you check out Dylan’s ‘Masters Of War’ ). It was he who once said: The times they are a changin’. Indeed, they are.


47 Responses to “THE LOUD BOAT”

  1. Hi Alex,
    I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed yourself. I was tempted to sign up for this, but was a little wary, being a middle-aged woman whose husband would only attend, kicking and screaming. Sounds like something another metal-loving girlfriend and I might want to try next year . . . great music and friendships! Who's shows did you attend?
    🙂 DebF

    • It was a blast. Saw bits of a lot of bands, Death Angel, Exodus, Forbidden, Swashbuckle, Nevermore… There was also Uli J Roth, who offered some relief for anyone feeling 'metal fatigue.' He wore a bandana, did a lot of Hendrix, under the open sky during the day. It felt a lot like Jimi playing Woodstock.

      • Uli was great indeed! Though I still feel bad about falling asleep during his Workshop – must have been the fact that I was extremely tired (hence the coffee, Alex! Too much parties and gigs not to be missed…) and that I´m not a guitar player myself and not really fond of mathematics and colors in guitar playing… it was awesome seeing so many musicians coming to his gigs!
        I really hope next year will have the same feeling – I´m afraid this can´t be repeated, it was just too mind-blowing!
        Cheers from Germany,
        make sure to tour again with Rod and Gab! 🙂
        Ingrid

  2. You have such a kewl life! I am looking for your fan (home) movies on here, someone will post! You mean to tell me it was electric head bangers in your eye 24/7 and nothing on the acoustic side at all, that surely must be a feat in itself! How does a Cruise ship handle that amount of electricity I wonder. With all the bad press for cruise lines, it is such a relief to hear your version of the wild life. Now if it was just possible to do a Jazz n Rock Show …more humanitarian good will ahead! Ahoy!

    • That's a good idea. I have heard rumors that they may be looking into having smaller gigs as well, with acoustic and maybe even jazz. If that's the case, I know a certain trio that might be interested. Hmmm…

  3. Wow!!! I'm so jealous I missed that cruise! And after having read your extremely entertaining synopsis of the events, you have recruited another passenger for next years event. It seems that everyone who attended this cruise is in complete agreement of everything that you mentioned. Just the mention of this cruise brings a sense of euphoria to them!! ha ha!! And although it's been a couple weeks, it took almost that long for them to come back to the real world. 🙂

    • They should pay me commission for everyone that's going to sign up now (kidding). Seriously, I think now that it happened, was pulled off and was a success means the next one will be even bigger. To quote the movie Jaws: 'We're gonna need a bigger boat'

  4. As usual a very well written and entertaining post.
    When I first heard of this event I almost booked it but, as you also mentioned, I was afraid it would be a low cost cruise company so I quickly gave up on the idea.
    I'm glad you enjoyed as it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

      • Yes! Jon Lajoie is hilarious! He just released a brand new “MC Vagina” video. Good stuff. He is also on a great sitcom called “The League” on FX. Can't wait for the new album that Chuck has been talking about in interviews! Testament rocks! m/

    • I had seen your post on ET, I tracked you here to tell you they banned me from that site. ALEX SKOLNICK ROCKS. I LOVE THE TRIO!!!! Great music. Testament is the greatest. Anyways, I deleted my Disqus account too. It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time. I waste way too much time on it. I hate dealing with those __________ . If you wouldn't mid passing a message for them to burn in he___, for me that would be great, Thanks man. Maybe well meet at an Alex show if there's a future for people like us “junkies” 😉

  5. Nice post. first, congrats, because you replaced your opinion about several metallers together ! hahahaha… some says that first moment is more important for a rest of our lifes, in any situations ! we don´t forgot, that we also has young,crazy, drunken in some fun, in our “metal life” ! And I think that´s exactly this is that make fear, when we think in … 2000 as we !

    Metal fans dont have nation…it´s similar in any country: a t-shirt black with jeans, beer on hand. For who´s dont like a metal is more easy say that we are, all…crazy !?! lol – They have some reason! we are. But also have money to spend on cruise, and metal have fans with all ages: 15-60 or more. So i would like see the face of guys offering beer and not Chandon, for guys with 24 y. old and not for rich with 60 y. old! hahahahahah…

    “The times they are a changin”, yes, because people need live their lives by different forms, and a Metal Cruise is a show with 4 day of duration, not only 60 mintutes! All coment that I read on web about 70000 tons are positives!

    Say “thank you” for this guy that understand what you said wrong !

    😉

    • I was exaggerating my worry, but I admit there was some concern. Its really not just about metal fans, but any concert goers. There is always that fringe that is too drunk and causing problems, at concerts, sports games, nightclubs etc… But I think this event naturally weeded out the troublemakers- it takes effort to plan for the trip, buy the tix, pack, etc… anyone who went had to be responsible and financially secure on some level. Also, at a normal multi-day festival, the promoter is in charge of everything-food, security, lodging etc… If any of those things go wrong (and they sometimes do), there can be trouble that's hard to imagine on a boat. But this situation was great because the cruise line took care of all that and promoters only needed to deal w music.

      It's true about metal fans not having one nation, just similar dress and customs. Kind of like Gypsies.

  6. Awesome article – very well written. Thanks for sharing so much, Alex…! ~I'm even more bummed out that I had to miss it… Looking forward to the next one; I plan to be there if at all possible…!
    Metal Rules! 🙂

  7. I got some great pics from you at the karaoke and the concerts you did, is there a way I can send it to you?

    my email is wolf_tilo@hotmail.com

    If there is anything that you may want, just tell me

    greetings from Mexico, nice to hear nice words from you of our country and language

    Regards

    Mario Rodriguez

  8. Interesting observation. Very perceptive.

    My husband and I never had any interest in taking a cruise. There was just no appeal for us. Then we heard about the 70,000 Tons cruise. We were very skeptical about it at first but, the funny thing is, when we heard that Testament (one of my husband’s favorite bands) was part of the lineup and that you (one of his favorite guitarists) was playing (and that Sonata Arctica, one of my favorites, would be there as well) we decided to give it a try. Optimistically our hope was that it would be a blend of the great sound experience and friends’ meet up that is ProgPower USA (we splurged and stayed at the Four Seasons the couple times we were there) and the best of the mellow European festival that is Sweden Rock. Regardless we went into this thinking, good or bad, it would be a once in a lifetime experience.

    I also had some trepidation about Cozumel. It seemed such a contrived tourist stop. But not knowing if we’d ever have a chance to visit here again we opted to go see the Mayan ruins. I’d read that it had become very commercialized and was just packed with tourists. It was an interesting ride to Tulum. We passed by areas of such poverty the likes of which I’d never seen before as well as isolated luxury vacation properties. Interesting to see and contemplate the contrast. Our guide spoke proudly of his Mayan decent and his wish to share the history of his people with us. Hearing his stories and seeing the ruins of the town made me reflect on my perception of Mexico that has been altered and shaped by recent US media stories of immigration and drug wars. The pride of the wonderful local people we met and the thousands of years old civilization that they shared with us has given me a new perception of Mexico.

    All in all it was pretty amazing! Music was played, beers were shared, friendships were forged, and stereotypes broken. I am pleased that it was as great an experience for the artists as it was for the fans.

  9. What a unique setting to experience a shared course, on a boat filled with love for musical sound desire set upon a sea of open-mindedness and humanity while riding waves of metal steel and sound. Glad you survived unknown circumstances and had fun. Good to have others join the armada of musically themed cruising. Amazing how well organized and accommodating the ships operate for their beastly size. Something one needs to experience, I had my hesitation on one I took years ago, but as I ran track on an upper deck under vast sky and landless water plugged with music, was especially moved. Sail on sailor.

    • It was such a unique combination- metal, both material and musical mixed with ocean, sunshine and pina coladas. Not a typical association, but one that worked surprisingly well.

  10. OMG Alex! I'm definitely booking for next year! I too thought my friend Conny was “crazy” for going on this ship, but her words echoed yours in that it was the best crowd ever and no one was thrown overboard! Thanks for a well-written account of your trip! Looking forward for the new Testament record! Shirley Sharp

  11. Hi Alex! I'm glad you survived it. I lived through it okay, and made so many new great acquaintances. It was a very cool trip and fit in with the black clothed and tattooed crowd just fine. When I got off the boat and returned home I either I was really tired, or couldn't stop the world from moving. Oh well, at least I remember everything. Lol. Testament ROCKED!

    • Thanks, glad you enjoyed. A lot of people seemed to come away with many new friends and acquaintances. And yes, I think a lot of us felt that way, it seemed like we were still floating even when we were back on dry land.

  12. Wow! That looks like a blast.. and a perfect winter get away (especially for people surrounded by snow). I almost went on this cruise this year.. but ended up being one of those naysayers, I wasn't sure it was a good idea, plus I couldn't find anybody to room with that I'd like being with for four days. Next year? Totally planning on it.

    Really cool to hear that there were people from all over on the cruise, and more than 10 females lol.
    One of my favorite quotes about metalheads is from a friend of mine, who is the polar opposite of a metalhead,
    “Despite the stereotypes and different looks, metalheads are generally good, kind people.”

    • True, what your friend says. And yes, on top of the unique experience, live metal music, tropical drinks etc… it was a very good break from all those Winter storms.

  13. I seem to remember someone singing Bon Jovi at the top of his lungs in New Jersey on the GWAR bus (I believe frankie has the video) and the next night I think it was you turned the Testament front lounge into a disco. LOL. Good times!!!

  14. Thanks for writing this….reading this nearly 7 months after the cruise only cemented my fondness for the very special memories.  See ya next year if you go, I know our group is going again, and the year after that, and so on…

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