Stormwatch! Prog goes on Cruise To The Edge.

On the third Cruise To The Edge, it wasn’t just the weather rocking the boat – over 20 bands set sail for a nautical festival of prog, and to pay tribute to Yes legend Chris Squire. All aboard for our full report!

Cruise To The Edge, the Yes-headlined festival on a boat, now in its third year, sails out of Miami on November 15 with a cloud hanging over it – both literally and figuratively. Over the course of four days, amid endless wind and rain, this celebration of the music of Yes and prog in general morphs into a celebration of the band’s bassist – the late, great Chris Squire – whom we lost earlier this year. Yes, with the addition of the multi-talented Billy Sherwood on bass, lead the festivities.

Joining the group are fellow icons Marillion, along with more than 20 bands from all prog eras: early classic artists like Caravan and Martin Barre, modern prog groups including Enchant and Spock’s Beard, and newer acts such as Lifesigns, Airbag and IO Earth. In short, there’s something for everyone.

If you’ve ever been on a traditional cruise, the major challenge during those days aboard often lies in how much to eat at the buffet line. However, navigating a schedule of bands playing from noon to past midnight, across multiple stages, presents a challenge of a different kind. Even with each band playing twice, it’s impossible to see them all. That’s made apparent even as cruisers are boarding the ship while Messenger play their soothing psychedelic rock in the main atrium.

Casey McPherson passes his prog test with flying colours.

Casey McPherson passes his prog test with flying colours. (Image credit: Igor Vidyashev)

In another part of the ship, Moon Safari’s high-pitched vocal harmonies soar as their set gives way to the first big show of the cruise: The Neal Morse Band playing at the pool deck as the sun goes down. The threat of rain hovers over every show, but Morse and the band are able to go on and thrill a packed audience with their signature prog epics, kicking off with The Call. The highlight of the set has to be the 30-minute Alive Again, which sees each band member move from one instrument to another, showcasing their skill at each juncture. Mike Portnoy thrills on the bass, while guitarist Eric Gillette wows with a drum solo. While the band manage to stay dry, Sweden’s Änglagård aren’t so lucky, getting rained off after one song.

The headline act for the first two nights is, of course, Yes. Their show in the Stardust Theater (the main theatre) kicks off with a beautiful tribute to Chris Squire, a lone spotlight on his bass. Steve Howe and the group run through a set that draws from some well-known classics like Siberian Khatru and Owner Of A Lonely Heart, as well as some songs the band haven’t performed in years, such as White Car, Tempus Fugit and America. By the time they close with Starship Trooper, not one fan remains seated.

Going down a storm: Änglagård playing on the pool deck before the rain came.

Going down a storm: Änglagård playing on the pool deck before the rain came. (Image credit: Igor Vidyashev)

Not only are the performances impressive, but it’s also interesting to see bands watching and supporting each other. It’s not unusual to see Haken taking up a row to catch Thank You Scientist, or Spock’s Beard checking out instrumental trio Barracuda Triangle as they wait to take the stage. Spock’s Beard follow Barracuda Triangle on the first night for the final show of the evening, running through a set that mostly comprises songs from their last two albums with Ted Leonard as vocalist.

The weather continues to disappoint as the ship docks in Key West on the second day, but the performances more than make up for it. Enchant are the band forced to reschedule today, but their afternoon set in the atrium is stellar as they play tracks from their breakthrough debut album. Later on, Dave Kerzner and his band perform songs from the Sound Of Contact man’s solo album New World, opening with the epic Stranded.

The buzz has been building around Haken since their breakthrough performances on last year’s Prog Nation At Sea Cruise, so it’s no surprise to see a line stretching all the way down the ship to get into their show. The British band bring a fresh approach to prog metal and nearly blow the roof off with an explosive set culled from their album The Mountain, before closing with the 23-minute epic Visions. This set is certainly one of the most talked-about on the cruise. Haken perform a stunning second set by the pool on the final night with a completely different setlist, closing with their other epic, Crystallised.

It wouldn’t be a music cruise without some of the artists joining each other on stage. Steve Rothery’s band are joined by the guitarist’s Marillion bandmate Steve Hogarth for a couple of songs, including Easter. Flying Colors frontman Casey McPherson is also joined during one set by his bandmate Neal Morse for a stripped-down version of Kayla, and again during a second set by both Morse and Mike Portnoy for a couple of songs from the band’s second album.

Italian stallions: PFM roll back the years.

Italian stallions: PFM roll back the years. (Image credit: Igor Vidyashev)

Casey, a self-described newbie to the prog scene, is welcomed with open arms by the audience, and he’s also joined onstage by Neal Morse guitarist Eric Gillette and The Flower Kings’ Jonas Reinhold and Felix Lehrmann for a few songs. The chemistry onstage is undeniable, so don’t be surprised if you see these guys working with each other in the future!

The intense swaying of the ship due to the vast storm covering the ocean means we have to divert to Nassau rather than the intended Great Stirrup Cay. However, that does eventually result in some sun, and allows Änglagård to complete their set by the pool, which is where the day’s best performances occur. Italian prog legends PFM delight an audience that have mostly never seen them live before, playing notable songs from the 70s and representing classic Italian prog as strongly as one could hope for in 2015. Spock’s Beard play their second gig as the sun is setting. The packed audience includes Neal Morse, watching from the second floor. Their closer, Waiting For Me, is a goosebump-inducing moment. Ted Leonard, now singing in his fourth gig in three days between Enchant and Spock’s Beard, is as strong as ever.

Anathema soon follow, playing the first of their two shows, which they describe as a greatest hits set. The group open with the award-winning Anathema before entering into Untouchable Part 1 and Part 2. As usual, Lee Douglas’ vocals are stunning and flawless. Their second set on the final night is entirely different as they play almost the entire Distant Satellites album, including The Lost Song parts one to three in order. It really is one of the most special moments on board.

Spock’s Beard man Ryo Okumoto knows the key(s) to a good pool party…

Spock’s Beard man Ryo Okumoto knows the key(s) to a good pool party… (Image credit: Igor Vidyashev)

Marillion are in the Stardust Theater for two shows on the final two nights. Each set boasts different tracks, and both are equally captivating. Frontman Steve Hogarth is his dramatic self on stage, with vocals executed to perfection. The first night’s encore, The Invisible Man, is as memorable a moment as there is on the cruise.

For those fans desiring more 70s classic prog, both Caravan and Nektar play back-to-back in the Spinnaker Lounge. Jolly entertain with a more metal sound that features incredible visual effects in the main atrium. Three Friends treat fans to the music of Gentle Giant, but without Gary Green, who has been ill. However, the most anticipated show is Saga, who play an inspired set to a legion of fans excited to see the band they grew up with.

The fourth day is spent at sea, and anticipation is setting in for the All-Star Tribute To Chris Squire, led by Mike Portnoy and friends. Before that, however, there’s still tons of music – and food – to consume. Yes and Marillion each hold Q&A sessions in the morning – in fact, there’s a chance to see a Q&A session or attend a meet-and-greet with all of the performers, allowing the paying punter the chance to get up close and personal with their heroes. There’s also the merch stand and the Roger Dean Gallery for even more prog indulgence.

Ocean clouds can’t stop Marillion’s masterclass.

Ocean clouds can’t stop Marillion’s masterclass. (Image credit: Igor Vidyashev)

Newcomers to the scene Thank You Scientist have the first set of the day and bring down the house with their eclectic mix of prog, metal and funk, which includes horns, a violinist, a virtuoso in guitarist Tom Monda and one of the more entertaining frontmen on the ship in Sal Marrano. Their jazzy instrumental track Suspicious Waveforms receives a standing ovation.

South American group Bad Dreams play two sets: one of new music and one of the Genesis covers for which they’re known. The attraction all the musicians on the ship want to see, though, is Allan Holdsworth and his trio – consisting of Virgil Donati and Jimmy Haslip – and they deliver a masterclass in jaw-dropping performances.

Ultimately, it seems like the entire ship has gathered on the pool deck for what’s to prove the highlight of the cruise, the All-Star Tribute To Chris Squire. The show is led by Mike Portnoy, who put the line-up and setlist together. The backing group is The Neal Morse Band, who show how adept they are, having learnt the material so quickly. Portnoy informs the crowd that the set is going to consist of songs outside the more well-known 70s era of Yes. They then open with Yes’ cover of Every Little Thing, before bringing out Casey McPherson for No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed.

Mike Portnoy and friends salute the crowd after the Chris Squire All-Star tribute set.

Mike Portnoy and friends salute the crowd after the Chris Squire All-Star tribute set. (Image credit: Igor Vidyashev)

For the 70s portion, the group play side one of Squire’s Fish Out Of Water album, with Steve Hogarth and Pete Trewavas joining in, and Jonas Reingold and Spock’s Beard’s Ryo Okumoto also get involved for Silently Falling. The 80s part begins with Cinema from 90125, followed by a B-side, Make It Easy, where Ted Leonard takes the reins. City Of Love rocks, featuring Spock’s Beard bassist Dave Meros and Haken’s Ross Jennings on vocals.

The four featured bass players all join in for The Fish Medley, which is truly special, but perhaps the highlight of the night is the performance of Changes, with Leonard and Jennings on vocals. The power and energy both bring to the track, along with Portnoy and the band, is something that will be remembered for a long time from those lucky enough to bear witness.

All of the musicians join in at the end for a jam session of Does It Really Happen? Even if this is the only band anyone caught over the four days, it would have been enough.

The night concludes, as most have done, at the After Hours Electric Prog Jam, where many fans and musicians hang out late into the night. Fans worked out the songs to be played before the cruise even sailed and now they get to perform them with the likes of Geoff Downes, Randy George, Jon Davison and many more. You might walk by and hear Tempus Fugit with Geoff Downes on keyboards and a fan from South Africa on drums who goes by the name Prog Nick. There’s no Smells Like Teen Spirit here – these people know how to play and take on the most challenging songs possible.

Cruise control: Allan Holdsworth

Cruise control: Allan Holdsworth (Image credit: Igor Vidyashev)

As the ship sails home, the stark differences between Cruise To The Edge and any other cruise become even clearer. There’s no bingo or newlywed game. Gone are the steel drums usually played by the pool or on the speakers as you walk through the halls. Piping into your ears from the moment you exit your room is any form of prog, from Yes to Genesis and anything in-between. Walking by the pool on your way to the Garden Café for breakfast, you might hear Rush’s 2112. But this alone isn’t what makes an event like this unique. Those who have been on this cruise before are reunited with familiar faces and friends, while also making new acquaintances.

Spending time among a community of like-minded fans from all over the world is what makes this a special experience for all involved. Yes and Chris Squire’s music have brought people together and the future of prog is in very good hands.

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