Band cruises keep soaking up crowds

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Kid Rock cruise
Kid Rock cruise Credit: SixthMan via Vimeo

If you wanted to catch Kid Rock in concert this month, that ship has sailed—all the way from Miami to the Bahamas, where his Chillin' the Most cruise promised a five-day trip "curated specifically for the badass rebels." It featured a lineup of bands belting out Southern rock and rap, with plenty of other events on the docket, like Bacon & Bingo hosted by country singer Colt Ford and a hip-hop dance class taught by Kid Rock's backup dancers, according to the schedule posted online.

Music cruises like this one are riding a wave of popularity as artists look to supplement dwindling recording income and book winter and spring concert dates before the summer festival season. Fans are willing to shell out thousands of dollars for tickets that offer concert-filled, sun-splashed vacations and the allure of hanging out with their music idols at the buffet or pool deck.

Aging rock and country stars have long used music cruises to make an extra buck by luring longtime loyal fans. Foreigner and Boz Scaggs are already slated to perform on the '70s Rock & Romance cruise to depart Fort Lauderdale, Florida, next March, for instance. But lately, younger fans are scooping up tickets to cruises spotlighting artists in their prime and covering modern genres like electronic dance music.

Music cruises "used to be something I would almost make fun of," says Eric Sheinkop, author of "Return of the Hustle: The Art of Marketing With Music" and an adviser to music industry startups. "It was older bands going after the nostalgic aspect of it. That's definitely been changing."

Cruises Credit: Shipsomnia

Former Live Nation executive Gary Richards, who moonlights as an EDM DJ known as Destructo, is organizing a cruise from Miami to the Bahamas called Friendship slated for December that sold out in less than 48 hours—and the lineup hasn't even been announced. The 3,000-person cruise is run by All My Friends, a concert and festival promotion company that Richards founded last year. He is known for starting another EDM cruise called Holy Ship! in 2012 that is still in operation. Friendship, which will include EDM, indie rock, rap, R&B and a burlesque show, drew demand from 25-to-35-year-olds after Richards began spreading the word while on tour earlier this year. At sea, "I can have people playing all the time, all over the place," Richards says. "The boat is set up for this kind of event. It just translates."

Another EDM cruise called Shipsomnia will set sail from the U.S. sometime this year after voyages in Asia and Europe for the past two years. The cruise, with tickets ranging from $1,000 to $6,000, is modeled after Tomorrowland, the landlocked Belgium-based EDM brand that stages elaborate, fairy-tale-like festivals. Last year, Shipsomnia ran a five-day cruise departing from Barcelona that included DJs filling six stages. The theme was "Tale of the Kraken." Music played from late morning until sunrise. "The music is just the icing on the cake," says Alessandra Maderni, Shipsomnia's co-founder and CEO. "It's more about the immersive production experience and the vacation experience."

Cruises Credit: Shipsomnia

Shipsomnia, which has not detailed its U.S. plans, wants to capitalize on the thriving youth travel market, which is valued at $320 billion, according to U.N. World Tourism Organization figures cited by Maderni. "It's stimulated by the millennial mindset that values experiences over things," she says.

But older generations are still powering a large portion of the music cruise industry. One of the biggest promoters is StarVista Live, whose cruises include '70s Rock & Romance and Malt Shop Memories, which features acts like Frankie Avalon and the Four Tops. StarVista is a sibling company of Time Life, known for its infomercials peddling music CD and DVD collections, under parent Direct Holdings Global.

Time Life still sells millions of CDs, but "as that business contracted and got more and more pressure, we started doing a lot more live entertainment," says Mike Jason, StarVista's senior VP for strategic partnerships, marketing and live entertainment. The cruises, which run an average of $5,000 per couple for a week, attract a loyal fan base driven by nostalgia and the lure of mingling with their favorite acts over dinner or at the bar. "It's as though it's a reunion. We get 50 percent to 60 percent of the people back every year," Jason says.

The Kid Rock cruise is run by Sixthman, a music cruise pioneer that started in 2001 by running a cruise for Sister Hazel. Today, Sixthman runs cruises featuring acts like Kiss, country star Brantley Gilbert and rock band Paramore. Artists not only get a nice payday, but also the chance to promote passion projects with die-hard fans.

"We try to tear down the walls between the fan and the band," says Sixthman Chief Marketing Officer and CEO Anthony Diaz. Kiss frontman Paul Stanley, for example, is an artist and a cook. So on the Kiss Kruise, he often holds painting expositions and cooking classes, Diaz says. The next cruise, which will be the band's eighth, is slated to depart Miami on Oct. 31. It's already sold out.

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