By Breanna Murphy; photos by Melissa Simonian on May 11, 2011
Cruises—the ace in your grandparents’ Thanksgiving conversation material or site of bizarro workplace team-building vacays—are traditionally not for the under-30 set. That’s not to overlook the time, though, when frat brother Steve drunkenly missed the Beta flight to Cabo for Spring Break and had to secure “other” means to get to the party. The point being: Although cruises are actually a ton of fun—trapped at sea on a gigantic floating hotel with nothing but booze, free food and sun—there hasn’t really been a reason for any young music obsessive to board ship.
For three days in February, however, the boat was literally rocked when the punks took over the Carnival Imagination for the inaugural Bruise Cruise. The brilliant creation of our captains, Michelle Cable (of Panache Booking) and Jonas Stein (of Turbo Fruits), the Bruise Cruise set sail from the Port of Miami on a southeast course to the tropics of Nassau, Bahamas. Based upon Stein’s experience with other musical cruises (“Specifically Vince Neil’s Mötley Cruise… I thought music cruises would be a really cool idea if there were bands playing that I actually liked,” says Stein), he and Cable curated a sold-out, three-day, sea-faring adventure worthy of comparison to any music festival on shore, with Black Lips, Vivian Girls, The Strange Boys, Surfer Blood, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Turbo Fruits, Quintron and Miss Pussycat, and Jacuzzi Boys all aboard, in addition to a cruising cast that included resident DJ Mr. Jonathan Toubin (of New York Night Train’s Soul Dance and Clap Off) and Cruise Director Ian Svenonius (of the defunct The Make-Up and presently Chain & The Gang). “Everyone we asked to play said yes,” says Cable of the lineup. “I think everyone has always kind of wanted to go on something like this, but never really had the opportunity. You get to see a show and go on a vacation.”
It all sounded wonderful and weird enough, but first we had to get there.
After a red-eye across the country from Los Angeles to Florida, a dawn terminal shuttle, a bleary-eyed breakfast at a Ft. Lauderdale Chili’s, and an early bus down to Miami, we shuffled aboard around noon with bags in tow. The adventure began on the Lido pool deck, locked out of our staterooms (protocol for the changing of the cruise guard), leaving nothing much to do but sit…and drink. Umbrella-donned, pineapple-rum creations were almost immediately delivered in pink curvy tumblers as other Bruisers and band members came aboard. The poolside filled with drumheads, guitar cases and bespectacled, tattooed Brooklynites, the distinction between normal cruisers and alternative Bruisers becoming easier to point out than Jimmy Buffett at a McCarren Park Pool show.
Eventually stateroom-settled with Bruiser credentials (tell-tale pink wristbands) and swag, the first concert began just as the ship pulled out of port. The Xanadu Lounge, a 350-capacity Boogie Nights-esque venue towards the aft of the ship, played host for most of the shows of the weekend. Prince of Distortion Ty Segall—sorry, Nathan Williams—officially kicked off the cruise with the first set of the festival, the boat swaying ever so slightly and celebration in full swing. Our West Coast compatriots from San Francisco, Thee Oh Sees, thundered afterwards, igniting the potential for the weekend’s expectations. Addressing encouraging cheers from the crowd and an impromptu encore of “Meat Step Lively,” lead singer John Dwyer motioned to the crowd in an unmistakable mime over the din: “Let’s get out of here, grab a drink and hit the pool.”
The next morning, docked in Nassau and disembarked the ship, the bright morning sunlight was warm enough to convince us we hadn’t died and gone to some idyllic, punk Purgatory. The Caribbean is still tied to its colonial roots, and Nassau positively revels in it—the portside architecture of houses and government buildings are remnants of former British rule, although with a flamboyant, colorful twist: bright, beautiful and audacious shades of yellow, blue and pink. Weaving our pedestrian selves through downtown—amidst small, zippy cars and small, tourist-driven electric scooters on small, winding streets (wrong side of the road!)—led us to Junkanoo Beach. Huts on the sand nestled in between King palm trees and stray coconuts provided blended refreshments and jerk chicken hot off the grill. Coming from California beaches, where the sands are rockier, waves dirtier and rougher, and shores all-around more crowded, Junkanoo was none of these things. Like the pages of National Geographic, the water is translucent and the sands as white and soft as you could imagine. Numbed by rum and the sun, our shore excursion was brief, but Surfer Blood was up in the Xanadu (“Take It Easy” has never translated so well), and preparations for that night’s on-shore show-spectacular needed to be made.
Señor Frog’s, the tourist favorite and site of your older sister’s most salacious Senior Trip stories, is right on the port waters in Nassau. Entering as a foreigner, the atmosphere is best described as a tropical acid trip through Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. With a lot of tequila. LMFAO’s unmistakable, mostly-annoying Lil Jon anthem “Shots” blared as we entered and procured the infamous “Yard glass” of margaritas, our fellow patrons a mixture of Bruise Cruisers, families (?!) and freewheelin’ vacationers of all sorts. Turbo Fruits, Strange Boys and Vivian Girls (the latter bookending their set with an appropriate twist on Titanic’s “My Heart Will Go On”) wound the night together, building toward the pinnacle Black Lips show. “I hope no one gets date-raped,” Jared Swilley called out to the amiable, ecstatically unruly crowd during the set. “Because I heard that happens here.” Post-“Bad Kids” anthems, Jonathan Toubin led a Soul Dance and Clap Off, and the night dissolved away to hesitant late-night steps back to the ship.
Our last day at sea included Miss Pussycat’s Puppets and Pancakes show in the morning, a top-deck ultimate-relaxation near the ship’s water slide, encore shows of Thee Oh Sees, Surfer Blood, and Turbo Fruits before an open bar cocktail hour, and our last supper. Cruise dinners are strangely one of the more proper dining experiences one might encounter: courses are served between cocktails and appetizers, dress can be formal, and seating is assigned. Bruisers mixed with members of the press, VIPs, and bands themselves, so our final dinner included shrimp cocktails, red wine and an extended, spur-of-the-moment rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” with Cassie Ramone and Fiona Campbell of Vivian Girls—just as we arrived back in U.S. waters. The realization that we’d all soon be back home and that this fantastic, mind-meld of a trip would be over was beginning to resound. All that was left was to sadly pack, hop into the hot tub one more time, grab one last drink and head to the intimate farewell planned by Joe Bradley of Black Lips, who played classical piano in a rented tux well into the wee morning hours in a smoky, hidden-away cruise bar.
It wasn’t quite a vacation, it wasn’t quite a music festival, it wasn’t quite summer camp—but it was something of an amalgamation of the best parts of all these things. “It was an adrenaline rush like I’ve never experienced,” says Cable. “Everyone bonded. It was like rock-and-roll camp. People who didn’t know each other interacted with one another and everyone developed three-day cruise personalities.”
As we disembarked in Miami, reunited with our civilian landlubber identities, more than one person looked longingly back at Lido deck, wishing and hoping to get right back on the boat and do it all over again. So until the next time (please let there be a next time), we’ll have the blurry memories, and as the Bahamian motto goes: Forward, upward, onward together. F