By Ken Paulson
Train’s Sail Across the Sun cruise runs on two parallel tracks.
On one, it’s a floating music festival featuring Train, the Wailers and emerging acts like Striking Matches.
On the other, it’s a fanfest for those who love Train, which means three crowd-pleasing concerts by the band, Q&A and photo sessions, podcasts, wine tastings with the band’s Jimmy Stafford, and even “Trainaoke.”
Surprisingly, it all works.
Not as music intensive as some other Sixthman music crusie offerings, the five-day cruise supplements the music with cooking demonstrations and comedy. They could use a few more musicians; by the fourth day you’ve seen some acts three times.
Calling Train the headliner of the cruise is an understatement, Lead singer Pat Monahan is the ringmaster, visible throughout, and even hosting the karaoke contest.
This kept the Train fans very happy, and they returned the goodwill when Monahan’s voice gave out before the band’s final show.
“My voice is broken,” Monahan said, explaining that other artists on the boat and even a Trainaoke finalist or two would fill in for him. Monahan gamely stayed on stage, exhorting the crowd and keeping the show moving. It was Train’s greatest hits (and Journey and Led Zeppelin covers) sung by both some talented and some overmatched vocalists, but the audience wasn’t fazed, standing and cheering until the end.
Other highlights from the cruise:
– We saw Ian Axel and Chad Vaccarino of A Great Big World pick up their Grammy in Los Angeles just four days before the cruise and it appeared the euphoria hadn’t worn off. Their shows were joyous, reflective and often funny, with three sets spread throughout the ship, including an acoustic set the final night.
– Andy Grammer and Ingrid Michaelsen both drew big and enthusiastic crowds for their consistently smart and engaging pop performances.
– Striking Matches’s new album Nothing but the Silence is due in March and their energetic performances on board showcased their always-strong material. Sarah Zimmerman and Justin Davis are best known for writing songs featured on the Nashville TV show; it’s good to see them record on their own.
– John Driskell Hopkins, a founding member of the Zac Brown Band and co-writer of the band’s hit “Toes,” writes and sings highly melodic and accessible country and folk. His sets drew heavily from his fine 2012 release Daylight, including “She Don’t Love Me Today,” a funny and inspired song about the realities of marriage.
– We first saw Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers on a Cayamo cruise about five years ago, and his solo performances this year were engaging and intimate, even when he played on the pool deck.
– The Wailers shouldn’t bother playing on land. Their set – laden with Bob Marley classics – is ideally suited for a cruise. There’s a younger generation of singers fronting the band, but the legacy remains intact.
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