The Rock Boat, the World’s Greatest Floating Music Festival. We jumped on this year’s Rock Boat 2020 ship and discovered a secret that blew our minds. The Rock Boat isn’t just a vacation, it’s a family reunion of people you choose. Before this adventure, we couldn’t understand the depths of founder Ken Block’s statement. “For those on the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand. For those on the inside looking out, it’s hard to explain.”
It’s so true. I’ve been trying to gather all of my thoughts about this experience for a couple of weeks since our sailing in January 2020 and it is tough to explain how and why this is so magical.
I’ve been trying to get on The Rock Boat for a few years now, since one of my favorite bands, Brandi Carlile, mentioned she was going to headline. I’d heard about it in passing, but getting tickets isn’t easy so I’d given up on it. But each year I’d look at the lineup and wish we were going. This year two of my favorite bands, Red Wanting Blue and Carbon Leaf, were both going to be on the ship, and it happens to be sailing over my birthday. I begged my husband to find a way to get tickets to the cruise and after getting on the waitlist and a few calls later, Michael surprised me with the trip.
Here’s the tricky part about getting tickets. New people, or Virgins as they are called, never get a cabin easily. There is a waitlist and you better be prepared on the day they open to get yourself on that waitlist because once you get on, you have priority presales days to grab your seat for the next ship. And trust me, once you get on and see what you’ve been missing you suddenly understand why people make this a yearly part of their lives.
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The Rock Boat, the brainchild of rock band Sister Hazel, is more than a floating music festival with over 30 great bands and unique musical collages. Unlike the many concerts I’ve gone to, where you stand or wait for hours to crowd up to see one or possibly two great bands play for an hour or so, The Rock Boat is 5 nights of shows that melt your face with awesomness. Even if you didn’t know the band before coming to the show, almost everyone finds a new band to love. This year, my new favorite bands were The Unlikely Candidates, Whiskey Treaty Roadshow and J.R Moore.
I wish I’d taken more photos, but I was utterly overwhelmed with the experience to even think about my phone. The Sixthman people, the event company that manages The Rock Boat and over a dozen other themed cruises each year, make every effort they can to create a fun, friendly, and unforgettable experience. Every year there is a new theme, this year it was space, and they decorate not only the cruise ship to match the theme, but also crazy fun party nights each evening on the boat.
Unlike other cruises we have been on, the focus of this ship isn’t the destinations you are sailing to, but the fun and friendships you are making ONBOARD! Yes, the ship docks at fun ports, but I was so tired from having so much fun every night that I was more than happy to nap on the beach or just stay on the ship and grab a quiet lunch and relax in the sun.
I feel like I need to go into training for next year. Many of the shows don’t start until WAAAY after my regular 10pm bedtime and I was so tired. I even shamefully fell asleep watching one of the shows and needed to stumble sleepily back to my cabin, wishing I had more steam to keep having fun.
As Virgins to this ship, my husband and I weren’t sure what to expect. We were just excited to see our favorite bands in a few back to back shows. Each band plays three shows and sometimes do collaboration sets and jam sessions. So that was enough to get us excited. But the magic of the Rock Boat actually begins before your sailing date if you are brave enough to join one of the Facebook groups for Alumni and fans of The Rock Boat.
Weeks before our sail, I started asking questions on the group boards and suddenly discovered that Virgins ( people new to the ship) weren’t shunned or treated poorly like other events. In fact, they are welcomed and celebrated. As an introvert, I was a little thrown off by suddenly having people actually want to get to know me AND inviting us to other events before the trip. Was it possible that I was actually making new friends? Crazy talk!
Once we arrived at the port, we were given our name tags that you wear for the whole trip with a big #1 boldly explaining that this was our first time. People then started coming up to us, introducing themselves and welcoming us to the “family” and unlike some blood- family events we’ve been to, they seemed happy to have us join them.
We met a group, Rich and Jaime and their friends ( now our new friends) at the port and throughout the trip, we not only had friends to hang out with, share dinners with, and collaborate waiting in lines.(That's us in the photo at the top)
But we also found real friendships with them and we share a love of the same music and we even realized we know some of the same people off the ship!
On The Rock Boat, religion and politics stay at home. No matter what was happening in the country when we left ( The Impeachment Trial) it didn’t come on board with us. On the Rock Boat, everyone is family and respect and decency is required.
But let’s talk about the bands for a moment. Before this, I wasn’t a huge Sister Hazel fan. I liked them okay, but I wouldn’t call myself a Hazelnut. After seeing the love and effort that everyone in Sister Hazel gives to make sure everyone is having a good time, even roaming around the ship talking to us and taking selfies. I became a fan of them, personally, and their music.
This is the only time I’ve ever been to an event where the musicians are having fun on vacation WITH the fans. From 2am poolside jam sessions with whoever was still up looking for fun, to beach volleyball and buffet runs, you and the musicians are there because of your love of music and each other. I loved watching Tall Heights and realizing that we were standing with the guys from Switchfoot, Sister Hazel, and other bands and all falling in love with this new band together. It was amazing.
My BEST birthday wish was to see Carbon Leaf and Red Wanting Blue sing together. Both bands fill me with so much joy. And on The Rock Boat it happened and not only THAT, both lead singers Barry and Scott wished ME a happy birthday. ME! Yes, I did cry. And when I saw them in the elevator, or the buffet line, I had to really pull myself together and try not to be a complete dork. Well… I tried.
The Rock Boat is when you will see the greatest covers, freshly written music played for the first time, and bands just enjoying playing music and having a good time.
This trip we focused on seeing our favorite bands as many times as they played, then we caught shows our friends suggested and WOW were we glad we did. Our friend Gianna got us to see Tall Heights and now I can’t wait to see them again live. But we also caught bigger shows we wouldn’t have thought about buying tickets for like Switchfoot who blew my mind and I need more of them in my life!
Besides making friends, listening to music, and having so much fun that I don’t want to stop thinking about all the happy feels…. The Rock Boat brings people together all year long. Every day since our trip, last month, we are still getting photos and sharing funny moments (Boat Brain is real!) and we are ready to share that experience again next year. The Rock Boaters are a community committed to bringing joy to the ship that carries them over until their next meet up. The Rock Boat security has it easy because people are too busy sharing the love and being happy to fight and they haven't had a single incident on The Rock Boat.
We are already signed up to go again next year. TRB XXI is planned for January 27 to February 1, 2021, sailing out of Miami to Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Grand Cayman. If you are interested, sign up for the pre-sale right now! Sister Hazel will always be there, along with headliner Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness and our Red Wanting Blue friends.
Going back to normal life after The Rock Boat isn’t easy. But I’m thankful to know that for the next 11 months, my new friends and I will be keeping the connections alive and excited to see each other at the port next January. Will you be there too?