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Behind the scenes on the Megacruise: how to keep seafaring metalheads happy

Testament on the Megacruise
Testament on the Megacruise
(Image credit: Mike Savoia)

Each year, Larry Morand's On The Blue promotes several prominent music cruises that set sail from America, including the '80s rock-themed Monsters of Rock Cruise, the prog-focused Cruise To The Edge and the classic rock-centered On The Blue Cruise

This year, Morand joined forces with Megadeth to curate the inaugural Megacruise, which featured the likes of Lamb of God, Anthrax, Testament and Overkill. While docked in San Diego en route to Ensenada, Mexico, Morand discussed the origins of Megacruise and the challenges of holding the event without its headliner. 

How did Megacruise come about, and why did you decide to set sail from the West Coast?

We've done Monsters of Rock out of the West Coast [in 2015]. It's a really rabid music cruise base in Los Angeles, because it's driveable – Vegas, Phoenix, San Francisco. When we did Monsters here, it was proof that it's [feasible]. At that time, I was out touring with Rob Zombie. He said, 'You know, I got asked to do a cruise, like, a year ago.' I said, 'Yeah, that was me.' 

We talked about it a little bit more, and we started to put together a Rob Zombie cruise. At the time, Rob was super-involved in movies, super-involved in lots of things. Timing-wise, it just was bouncing around. 

At that time, an agent we do a lot of work with said, 'Hey, I just picked up Megadeth. They were going to do this other cruise, and it didn't happen, but they'd really like to do one.' I said, 'Would they like to host one?' That's really where it shifted to Megadeth as a host. At that point, [we had] a bunch of different calls and meetings. It really flourished, and we started to build a marquee around it.

Who selected the performers?

I basically curated a list for them, and then Dave [Mustaine]  picked through it. He wanted to be really hands-on. You've got to look at how many years Megadeth has been a band. I thought it would be great to have something that shows the legacy of who they are. He totally agreed, so as we went through it, it was painstaking. 

It's funny what was curated and what was a bit of work. Obviously, there's things you're not going to know about that we didn't do because Dave's not here, but there were a few other little tricks we had up our sleeve that maybe we'll be able to do in the future. 

Suicidal Tendencies

Suicidal Tendencies (Image credit: Mike Savoia)

When did you find out about Dave's cancer diagnosis, and how soon did you inform those who had bought tickets? 

Right away. It was within a week of speaking to him to [when] it went public. At that point, we had the discussion with them and had to let them know that rain or shine, that cruise is sailing. The ship will come into that port, and it will go out. It's inevitable. They understood that. 

We had another cruise before that with Def Leppard where Joe [Elliott] had shown up and was injured. He tried to drag himself [through it], like, 'I'm going to do this.' What Def Leppard's always had the ability to do is to stop recording – 'We'll come back to it' – [or,] 'We're going to postpone the tour.' They learned you can't do that with the ship. It's done a year in advance. You're chartered. 

We were explaining it to [Megadeth], and they got it. Honestly, it was just time management. We want him to recover and take all the time [he needs], but if it's going to be a matter of going through treatment – and at the end of treatment, T-cells and everything that's required with that – is it going to be a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down? We wanted to get [an announcement] out, and that's when the Lamb of God idea came up. 

We went through some vetting with that and thought that would, in a way, be a fail-safe. We're a company that likes to over-deliver, so we had to take that into account that Dave might not be able to make this and make sure that everybody has a good time. 

Let's talk logistics. How in the hell do you get two dozen bands, their crews and their equipment onto a cruise ship? 

Experience. From our first cruise in our early days with a different brand to this, it's night-and-day difference. We get thrown [curveballs], and that's when the experience comes in. Last year's Cruise to the Edge, our ship got held. We were in Tampa, and they held us because of a fog bank. They were almost to the point of canceling the cruise. 

We got the ship eight hours late, but [the next] afternoon, we were back on track and back on a regular schedule. All the stages were going and we were [back] at it. To me, that's the experience. [Between] artist staff and production staff, you're looking at 100, 150 people if you want to do it and you want it to run like clockwork. I know some other cruises have volunteers. 

I think the problem with that is, they're just volunteers. If they want to screw off, they're gone, or they're drunk. [Our] people are all touring professionals, or they're cruise professionals. They may be a little corporate, but I've gotten them to finally let their hair down and enjoy.

Do you ever worry that having a boat full of drunk metalheads could turn into a disaster?

My [staff] kept hitting me up [about Megacruise] – 'I'm really worried about this cruise. They're on Facebook saying, “Can't wait to get on that ship and fuck it all up!” I'm like, 'That's just enthusiasm.' (Now, my colleagues are) like, 'Wow, these people are really nice.' 

I'm like, 'Of course they are.' Sometimes, it's just people blowing off steam and being enthusiastic. On some, you know the audience – you've got to know what is the weak link in the armour. 

For Monsters [of Rock], where you have people that are still of the fuck-shit-up age and have the ability to go buy a beer or 20, you keep their feet moving. That schedule – it's bombastic. They need a vacation after it. If you wear them out, it doesn't give them a chance [to cause problems]. Because of all that, they become a community and they take care of each other. I'm hoping in every way possible, that's what [Megacruise] is. 

You can already tell that it's that kind of an audience – they love the bands, and they have their own flag to wave. On [satellite radio DJ] Eddie [Trunk]'s show a few weeks ago, somebody called in and said, 'I was on board both Motorboats. There's a whole group of us going on Megacruise, and we were so happy then when Lemmy passed, somebody picked up the brand and ran with it.' They really appreciate it.

Death Angel

Death Angel (Image credit: Mike Savoia)

If passengers get out of hand, is there something like a detention cell below deck?

There is. It's pretty common through the whole cruise business – the security, you really don't see. For the most part, they're usually former Israeli Special Forces. They have a brig, and they'll take you there, but you don't want to go to the brig. They'll usually say, 'Look – I'm taking your cruise card [a combination of a room key and a credit card]. You're going to go to your room. We're going to put you in your room, but I'm keeping your cruise card. You'll meet me here tomorrow morning at noon at the front desk, and I'll give it back to you if I've had no more complaints. If I see you out, you're going to the brig.' 

[Some people] think that's really funny – like, 'That's a pirate. I'm in the brig.' The problem with it is, when they march you off the ship, you don't get handed to [American law enforcement] – you get handed to international [authorities]. You go Interpol. It's a big deal. We've exited people in foreign ports, and you don't want to see that, because usually, you're led off by people with machine guns. That isn't a good sign.

Ever have any issues with travellers getting sick en masse?

A lot of times, we do back-to-back-to-back [cruises]. We used to have a season that would go from Monsters [of Rock] to the Moody Blues [cruise] to Cruise To The Edge. If you're sick, stay home. You're in a petri dish here. There are people like, 'Yeah, I've got the flu, but I've got to go on the cruise.' They show up, and it's like, they tell someone, and they tell someone, and they tell two friends. I usually don't hang out at any of the shows because we've got a lot going on, and a few people showed up on one of them with a flu. 

I can pin it back to Richie Kotzen's show in one of the small lounges the first time we had him on, and I was shaking a lot of people's hands and probably didn't go back and washy-washy [the perpetual greeting that cruise buffet attendants give when offering passengers hand sanitiser]. The next cruise, by the time we got to the ship, I felt [terrible]. By that night, I was shivering. When I finally got conscious and online and I'm looking at our Facebook, it was like, 'What a great time, but now I'm dead.' You don't hear about it most of the time until after. 

Doro

Doro (Image credit: Mike Savoia)

You're about to hold the tenth Monsters of Rock cruise. What's the biggest lesson you've learned over the years? 

Truthfully, I think it's getting beyond agents to talk to the artists [directly]. We give them choices. There's things that could have been so much smoother had we had [direct contact].I'm not looking to say, 'Hey, we'll cut a deal directly.' It's not about [that]. We'll deal with the agent; we'll deal with the manager. 

But like [Megacruise], I've got John 5, who really is not a seagoing person, but he really wants to try this, so I said, 'Why don't we do this? We're in port today. Why don't you come on, do all your stuff today and get off? That way, you can walk around the ship.'

You've done the same for Paul Gilbert of Mr. Big.

The band wants to be on Monsters every year. They're like, 'We'll put him in a life preserver and throw him on.' But you don't want that, because something like this, you can walk around and see, 'Wow, there's tons of open air. I don't feel confined.' You don't feel anything. I really get a kick out of people like this morning – I saw posts like, 'I woke up, opened my window and there's downtown San Diego.' They didn't even know they'd started the boat. 

How are you able to keep Monsters going strong when there are only so many '80s bands to go around?

It's funny – I'll get, 'What's H.e.a.t doing on it?' I go, 'They stopped making these bands after 1989, guys.' You start finding new veins, so we're going over to Scandinavia and bringing Eclipse and H.e.a.t, amazing bands that have never toured here. Finding bands like Heavy Pettin', who haven't toured over here since the '80s, or Rose Tattoo, or guys like Jeff Scott Soto who are creating [modern] melodic rock. 

One perk of hosting cruises as opposed to holding a festival on American soil is that the international artists you invite to perform don't need work visas.

That's how we get bands like The Quireboys, H.e.a.t, Hardcore Superstar and Loudness. It's an easier way of getting bands over here that don't have to buy a visa. You're hoping that that will lead to more things for the band over here. We give them the festival letter [saying] that it's basically just a transfer. Everything is happening in international waters. 

Every now and then, I get a call from a Border Patrol officer. [Quireboys vocalist] Spike was coming in. They [said his legal name and] were like, 'Do you know this gentleman?' I'm like, 'No.' He was ready to clamp them all down, and then I heard another name in the background and was like, 'That's The Quireboys.' I said, 'Look at the gentleman and call him Spike, and see if he responds to you.' He goes, 'Spike,' and then he turns. I only knew him by his stage name. [The Border Patrol officer] didn't have that.

When we last spoke, you mentioned the possibility of holding an overseas Monsters of Rock cruise. Is that still in the cards? 

Europe, we keep trying to get over there. I talk to people in China and Japan. Sony Music really wants to do it, but the drag of it is that they want to do K-pop, and I don't really want to do that. I don't really care for it. I'd probably make a lot of money, but the whole thing of, 'Press play and some guys are going to dance around the stage' just doesn't appeal to me.

Monsters of Rock 2020 – which will feature performances by the likes of Tesla, Krokus, Extreme and Winger en route to Cozumel and Belize – will set sail from Ft. Lauderdale on Feb. 8.
More information: monstersofrockcruise.com 

The 2020 edition of Cruise To The Edge – on which progressive rock artists such as Marillion, Saga, Anathema, Flying Colors and King's X will perform en route to Belize and Honduras – will depart from Miami on March 27.
More information: cruisetotheedge.com

The On The Blue Cruise – which features the likes of Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues), Art Garfunkel, Alan Parsons and Glenn Hughes -- departs Miami on April 1 en route to The Bahamas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the island of St. Maarten.
More information: onthebluecruise.com