"Did we mention that there’s also a pool?" Prog sets sail on Cruise To The Edge

Cruise To The Edge
(Image credit: Grace Hayhurst)

Five days of consecutive prog, across five stages, in the middle of the ocean - with an all-inclusive buffet. Now that’s Cruise To The Edge. 

It’s hard to describe the anticipation of being locked inside a floating festival venue for what can only be described as a ‘prog overdose’ among thousands of other fans of the genre who are just as nerdy as us. And you really can overdose with each band playing two sets on board to ensure as few possible clashes for the audience members. Did we mention that there’s also a pool?

This year’s lineup saw headliners Marillion, Steve Hackett, Flying Colours, and Riverside lead the way in an assortment of high-quality performances, with well over a dozen other bands playing too (Haken, Symphony X, Adrian Belew, The Flower Kings, Lifesigns, Klone, Baraka…), all taking to the Gulf Of Mexico on a journey to Cozumel and back again.

D'Virgilio Morse Jennings

(Image credit: Grace Hayhurst)

Cruise To The Edge may be one of the very few festivals on earth where every single band member and audience member has to go through passport and customs control just a couple of hours before the music starts to kick off. Nevertheless, it certainly adds to the experience but equally creates plenty of organisational chaos during the first day. Japanese proggers Baraka switch their set around with improvisational jazz-fuelled band Marbin, whilst Haken starts over an hour late due to equipment wandering around the various storage rooms around the vessel.

Maybe the most interesting piece of chaos however is Stickmen who were joined by Adam Holzman as Tony Levin couldn’t find his Chapman Stick. Holzman improvises an entire set along with Markus Reuter and Pat Mastelotto. An unexpected crossover that you really couldn’t predict - but was the first of many similar encounters and collaborations where artists from all bands would pop up during other people’s sets creating really special moments for the fans on board.

Although one non-surprising new lineup was Nick Beggs playing with Marillion, covering for Pete Trewavas who was sadly unable to make the cruise due to surgery. That didn’t stop the headline act from rocking out the Stardust stage with Steve Hogarth showcasing his flamboyancy, particularly through Care and Reprogram The Gene. Certainly a headline show to remember.

Lonely Robot

(Image credit: Grace Hayhurst)

Leading on from that, another highlight had to be the very same Steve Hogarth joining John Mitchell on stage with his Lonely Robot project at the Spinnaker Lounge. It’s hard to stay still for this one, particularly as the boat is rocking back and forth rather aggressively, but also because the performance itself felt special and personal on the most intimate stage on the boat.

Ray Hearne of Haken deserves a hot mention too for recreating some magic. In the 2014 Progressive Nation At Sea cruise, he notoriously jumped into the hot tub during an acoustic section of the band’s 20-minute epic Visions - and he re-creates that same journey once more for the 2024 cruise 10 years later.

Flying Colors reunites for this festival for their first shows since their 2019 tour - and heavily hint that these are their last performances for a long while too as Mike Portnoy’s schedule looks to become bricked up with his return to Dream Theater. Originally set to play on the 2020 cruise, which didn’t happen due to a certain pandemic, the band gives the audience a range of numbers from across their three records. It is certainly a performance full of emotion for band and fans alike, but we hope that this isn’t the last we see of this now much-loved supergroup.

Mike Portnoy

(Image credit: Grace Hayhurst)

Even though they weren’t headlining, we must land appreciation for Big Big Train. Leading up to the cruise they performed their first-ever shows in the USA, and with their first show on the boat in the seated venue the Stardust Theater, many fans are devastated as the queue to see them was quite frankly outrageous - although a testament to their ripening popularity in these now charted waters.

Accompanying them with a brass quartet, they take to the stage to rampacious applause playing with delight to a packed audience. We especially enjoy new vocalist Alberto Bravin skipping around the venue with a tambourine sweeping people onto their feet as the rest of the band members performed to an impeccable standard. Truly they were the talk of the town (boat) with their show at the Pool Stage the following day being the busiest of the whole cruise. There wasn’t anyone we ran into who didn’t have something positive to say about their show.

Walking around the prog ferry, it’s easy to stumble into things you didn’t plan for. Each night in the Atrium was an event called Late Night Live, effectively a live covers band playing prog songs with no rehearsal run by volunteer members of the cruise attendees. So even though artists like Yes, Porcupine Tree, Peter Gabriel, Asia, or Rush weren’t on the line-up, their music is still echoing through the decks.

Big Big Train

(Image credit: Grace Hayhurst)

One evening, this event begins with a surprise rendition of songs from Abbey Road conducted by Jimmy Keegan. Accompanying him on stage was Neal Morse, Alan Morse, Ross Jennings, Dave Bainbridge, Nick D'Virgilio, Matt Dorsey, and Kevin Krohn. An all-star lineup that could only happen on Cruise to the Edge, because when other would all of these artists be in the same room?

We could go on about all the unexpected collaborations like Tony Levin jumping to play King Crimson with Adrian Belew, or Charlie Griffiths and Mike Portnoy coming together to join Jordan Rudess and Joe Payne in a rendition of The Spirit Carries On, or that time we ran into Steve Hackett and his wife in the elevator - but as a reader, we are sure you get the idea.

Cruise To The Edge is quite possibly the most unique progressive rock festival on planet Earth, you cannot escape the prog. From fans and audience members alike, it is a special place. And we hope that it continues for many many years to come.

Steve Hackett

(Image credit: Grace Hayhurst)
Grace Hayhurst

Writer and photographer, as well as prog musician herself, Grace Hayhurst is a young rapscallion who found herself falling in love with the genre from early childhood. Having founded the Proghurst website as a means to share her love of music with the wider world, she is now regularly seen writing for Invicta Media, Sonic Perspectives, Prog Magazine, nose-diving in the photo pit, or performing her own music live on stage.