The 2020 ShipRocked Cruise set sail on February 1st New Orleans, making stops at Key West and Cozumel, Mexico, along the way, and returning to New Orleans on February 6th. The boat trip featured performances from Halestorm, Alter Bridge, Asking Alexandria, Living Colour, Beartooth, Hellyeah, Of Mice & Men, and many more. Our writer Liz Ramanand and photographer Amy Harris documented the 11th edition of the cruise, as seen in the diary and gallery below.
Pre-Party Gras Parade
What’s New Orleans without parades, especially during Mardi Gras month? ShipRocked 2020 had a parade around the French Quarter that took place the Friday evening (January 31st) before the cruise, complete with floats and bead throwing festivities. As the parade came to an end on Decatur Street, Hyro the Hero and other musicians delivered a performance of Anthrax and Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise”.
Fans gathered aboard the Carnival Valor for a vacation that would rock hard as we sailed away from Port of New Orleans. But first you have to get past the loathed (but necessary) muster drill. Unfortunately, our beloved cruise director Cookie (who is sassy and wonderful and makes the best announcements on the loud speaker) was not on the ship with us this year.
According to ShipRocked founder Alan Koenig, this year’s cruise was the largest with 3,300 people on board. As we sailed away from Port of New Orleans, the first set was delivered by Halestorm, who performed to a packed deck outside. The band showcased their 2018 album Vicious songs like “Do Not Disturb”, “Uncomfortable”, and the title track.
Like her chunky leather boots, Lzzy Hale’s voice could be smooth and sleek or tough and solid. She calmed souls with “White Dress”, “Dear Daughter”, and a powerful rendition of “I Will Always Love You”. Hale also spat venom during performances of “Love Bites”, “Freak Like Me”, and the set-ending “I Miss the Misery.” Her steadfast guitar playing matched that of fellow guitarist Joe Hottinger, while Arejay Hale looked like The Muppets‘ Animal behind the kit.
DED performed on the deck later in the evening with a high energy, fast-paced set. They unleashed tracks from their debut album Mis•an•thrope, including “FMFY”, “Anti-Everything”, and the angst-driven anthem “Hate Me”.
Over in The Theater, Sevendust guitarist Clint Lowery performed a set in support of his new solo album. While fans missed the entirety of ShipRocked staples Sevendust ion the boat this year, Lowery and guitarist John Connolly gave us a solid Sevendust fix. One of the most heartwarming tracks Lowery performed was “She’s Free”, a song filled with admiration dedicated to his daughter. He also performed a version of Sevendust’s “Xmas Day.”
Rock veterans Living Colour shined later that night in the theater. With the 30-year anniversary of Time’s Up, the band performed an energetic set that included “Elvis Is Dead” along with a little bit of “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley. A groovy reggae rendition of “Police & Thieves” by The Clash was also performed. The screams and falsettos by Corey Glover; spiraling guitar solos by Vernon Reid; other-worldly bass lines from Doug Wimbish; and a variety of drum patterns by Will Calhoun made for an unforgettable set. Anthems such as “Middle Man”, “Desperate People”, and “Cult of Personality” were also performed.
One moving moment in Living Colour’s set was watching all of the band members onstage chanting, “The walls between us all must fall”, while performing the song “Walls”. The legacy of Living Colour was celebrated by younger up-and-coming musicians such as Hyro the Hero and members of Ra in the crowd, as well as old and new-school ShipRocked fans on the boat.
ShipRockers partied late in the night but were ready for jam-packed day at sea.
After everyone gobbled up a delicious brunch in the fancy dining room, meet and greets with Living Colour, Ice Nine Kills, and Beartooth took place in the morning as super long lines for merch began to form Another round of meet in greets also took place in the afternoon and included Halestorm, Badflower, and Black Stone Cherry.
The music got going with Dead Posey, Aussie band Hands Like Houses, and Hyro the Hero, who all slayed the Deck Stage in the afternoon.
Also on the Deck (and all over the ship) was a Super Bowl watch party. And for fans who wanted an alternative to the Shakira-Jennifer Lopez halftime show, Ra rocked the Ivanhoe Theater during that time.
After the Super Bowl, Hellyeah made their triumphant return to ShipRocked and honored their late drummer Vinnie Paul with a heavy and intense performance. Even the workers who served guests at the Guy’s Burger Joint station were headbanging and moshing behind the counter.
Late-night revelers gathered in The Theater for Maria Brink’s Midnight Mass. The ambiance of red light, a starry background and stage filled with candles emitted spiritual and ethereal vibes. The In This Moment singer performed covers of Radiohead’s “Creep” and Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game” during the performance of stripped-down piano-driven songs. She ended the set with the In This Moment hit “Whore.”
Despite burning the midnight oil, ShipRockers were excited to catch some sun in the next morning in Key West Florida.
As we docked on the deep blue ocean in Key West, Florida, on a Monday morning, vacation mode kicked in. ShipRockers went to the Southern-most point of the United States, stopped off at attractions such as the Hemingway House to see the six-clawed cats, who lived better than most people do. Fans could also have a drink at First Flight, where the Tennessee Tea is strong.
With a full morning in the sun, ShipRockers returned to the boat for an all-star jam from The Stowaways, made up of members of different bands.
Highlights included members of Joyous Wolf performing some Southern Rock classics such as Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou”.
“Now let me show you what a woman can do,” said Uliana Preotu of Cilver as she performed Nirvana’s “Breed” and a cover of Godsmack’s “Voodoo”, which she dedicated to the women in the bathroom line who let her cut in front of them so she could make the set on time.
One of the best moments of the cruise happened when members of Black Label Society joined guitarist Andy Wood and Living Colour singer Corey Clover for a stellar performance of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child.” Glover’s raw and varied vocal range spoke to the blues roots that made Hendrix so influential. Each member glowed onstage but together it was nothing short of magical.
Speaking of magic, the tribute to Hendrix continued with a groovy and harmonious performance filled with Latin rhythms by vocalist Andy Vargas of Santana and Wuv of P.O.D. on drums.
The set-ending cover of Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” was solid and coincidental since it’s also a 1940 novel by Ernest Hemingway, as the Carnival Valor sailed away from Hemingway’s home in Key West.
New Orleans’ own Cane Hill brought their swagger to the Deck Stage. No one oozed bad-assery like Dead Sara did onstage with their grungy, soulful rock sound. Black Stone Cherry’s Southern soul and grit also rocked the Deck Stage later that evening as they performed notable tunes “Me and Mary Jane” and “Blind Man.”
Over in the Ivanhoe Theater, Of Mice & Men rocked the house, as Aaron Pauley has come into his own as a vocalist and performer. Fans headbanged to such songs as “Defy”, “Would You Still Be There?”, and “Bones Exposed”.
Onboard, there was a slew of non-musical activities such as the Drunk Spelling Bee. Apparently the protocol after dozens of shots is having security take the door knob off of the balcony door so the said drunken ShipRocker doesn’t fall overboard. Allegedly, one ShipRocker downed 46 shots of Fireball, and still placed second in the spelling bee.
Later in the theater, the energy would heighten with UK act Asking Alexandria. The band delivered a solid set which included tracks such as “Death of Me” and “Moving On”. Frontman Danny Worsnop had some fancy footwork as he whirled and jumped around the stage. Once the music stopped, he and guitarist Ben Bruce exchanged friendly banter and some dirty jokes onstage.
Alter Bridge headlined the Deck Stage for the night, kicking off with “Wouldn’t You Rather” from their latest album, Walk the Sky. Songs like “Waters Rising” and “Blackbird” stood out in the set as memorable moments. The soulfulness in Myles Kennedy’s voice is elevating, equalling the power of Mark Tremonti’s guitar riffs.
The Carnival Valor stopped in the second port of sunny and warm Cozumel, Mexico. While some ShipRockers went on excursions, others paid a little extra for a beach party at Playa Mia.
The event featured energetic performances by Joyous Wolf and Hyro the Hero on the beach. It also included unlimited food such as roast pork, rice and beans and other Mexican cuisine. There was also this year’s installment of the ridiculous competition that is Beach Wars, hosted by members of Beartooth.
Back on board, The Stowaways performed covers of songs by Queen, Pantera, Prince, Rush, Johnny Cash, and more. One standout performance was vocalist Chris Volz of Flaw, who sang a powerful version of Alice in Chains’ “Man in the Box”, dedicated to late singer Layne Staley. Another notable moment came from Hellyeah’s Chad Gray, who performed Metallica’s “Creeping Death.” The energy completely shifted and intensified when that kicked in.
The last song was a tribute to Chester Bennington and was a mashup of Linkin Park’s “Points of Authority” and “One Step Closer” with Jay-Z’s “99 Problems.” The fact that this was part of the setlist is an incredible representation of ShipRocked’s lineup, with many artists inspired by heavy genres of music and a mix of hip-hop. However, the performance was disorganized and even a bit confusing, leaving some fans in the audience bewildered.
Over at the Deck Stage, Ice Nine Kills then put on a show that was theatrical and horror-inspired. It was not for the faint of heart. Frontman Spencer Charnas changed outfits to represent Freddy Krueger, Jason, killer clowns, and more as the band performed tracks from their latest album The Silver Scream. The audible snippets of murder cases in between songs were eerie, as was a young woman who re-enacted scenes from flicks like Scream and The Exorcist onstage. Overall, Ice Nine Kills provided one of the most unique sets on ShipRocked.
To end the night, the crowd was split with Alter Bridge in The Theater and Beartooth on the Deck Stage. Beartooth burned the midnight oil as they performed a robust set including such songs as “Aggressive”, “Afterall”, and “Bad Listener”.
With a last full day at sea, the Carnival Valor was hauling ass back to New Orleans, which rocked some ShipRockers the wrong way. However, no amount of motion sickness would keep fans away from the meet and greets. In the morning, Asking Alexandria, Of Mice & Men, and Hyro the Hero met with fans. And in the afternoon, Alter Bridge, Hellyeah, and The Stowaways did the same.
The artist Q&A session is a staple in ShipRocked and it gives fans a chance to ask musicians their burning questions. The session included Mark Tremonti and Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge, Fear Factory’s Burton C. Bell, Fuel’s Phil Buckman, Halestorm members Lzzy Hale and Joe Hottinger, John Connolly of Sevendust, Asking Alexandria’s Danny Worsnop and Chad Gray of Hellyeah.
They spoke about musical influences, the first mixtapes they made, and their first jobs before music (turns out Lzzy Hale and Myles Kennedy both literally shoveled poop).
This was one of the best artist Q&A sessions ShipRocked has ever had and the stories from the musicians were memorable. However, it would have been nice if it was more representative of the diversity on the boat. There were plenty bands and musicians of different cultural backgrounds on board, and it was not reflected in the panel.
The cruise performances ended just as they began, with Halestorm on the Deck Stage. Under a fog-filled sky, the Carnival Valor was clearly on its way back to New Orleans and it was Mardi Gras night on the boat. The members of Halestorm dressed to impress for the festivities. In particular, drummer Arejay Hale donned flamingo pink shorts and bassist Josh Smith wore a long sleeved leopard shirt. Earlier in the week, Arejay Hale also killed time on the cruise by roaming around and signing everything fans pasted on doors.
During this final Deck Stage performance, Halestorm appropriately began with “Mayhem”. The band pulled out all the stops for this heavier set, including “Apocalyptic” and “I Like It Heavy”. There was also a consistent honking after every song, or two, from the ship — which could quickly have been turned into a drinking game.
The set was a testament to the Halestorm’s talent to perform anything they want. Lzzy Hale’s voice soothed our hearts with her rendition of Adele’s “Someone Like You”, and then she ripped our hearts out, chewed ’em up and spit them out in the Mississippi River with an intense cover of Skid Row’s “Slave to the Grind”.
As the honking of the Carnival Magic continued, everyone raised their drink (or ice cream cone) to Halestorm’s set ending “Here’s to Us.”
There’s a reason why “laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll)” is the New Orleans saying. The good times rocked and rolled this year on ShipRocked 2020.
Next year ShipRocked will be sailing January 18th through 23rd aboard the Carnival Magic from Miami, making stops to Half Moon Cay and the Dominican Republic. ShipRockers are counting down the days to next year’s cruise, with hopes Cookie will return on board.
All photos by Amy Harris (@thefirst3songs)