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The boat that rocked: Heavy metal on the high seas

By Eoghan Macguire, for CNN
updated 1:05 PM EST, Fri January 24, 2014
Just under 3,000 people will step aboard the Norwegian Pearl for "Shiprocked" on January 26. As they cruise between Miami and the Bahamas over the course of five days, guests will be treated to shows from 23 bands and performers. Just under 3,000 people will step aboard the Norwegian Pearl for "Shiprocked" on January 26. As they cruise between Miami and the Bahamas over the course of five days, guests will be treated to shows from 23 bands and performers.
The Norwegian Pearl
Rock the boat
Stardust Theater
A festival at sea
Top deck
Meet and greet
Room with a view
Wall of sound
  • "Shiprocked" is a heavy metal cruise that takes place in the middle of the Caribbean Sea
  • Popular bands perform to nearly 3,000 guests over a five-day Miami-Bahamas trip
  • Artists like Kid Rock and Damian Marley are setting up their own cruises
  • Cruise promoter is dreaming of signing the Rolling Stones for future trips

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(CNN) -- The tropical cruise was once the quintessential getaway of the elderly retiree -- a relaxing voyage through sun-soaked climes augmented by the soothing sounds of the open ocean.

Not any more.

Come Sunday evening, the vast expanse of the Caribbean Sea will echo to the altogether more riotous noise of "Shiprocked," a heavy metal festival aboard the giant Norwegian Pearl cruise ship.

Setting sail from the port of Miami, Florida, the floating concert will alight in Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas five days later. Pina coladas by the pool and tranquil ocean sunsets from the cabin balcony this raucous event is not.

Instead, just under 3,000 paying guests will be treated to drums, guitars and foot-stomping moshpits as the likes of Papa Roach, Five Finger Death Punch and In This Moment perform across a series of stages set up both above and below deck.

According to "Shiprocked" owner Alan Koenig the event will be "the ultimate hard rock festival at sea."

"We already sold out a few months in advance and are now super-excited about sailing," he added of an event that has almost tripled in size since it first set sail in 2009.

Korn perform at Shiprocked 2012 (Courtesy Chris Bradshaw).

On top of live performances from more than 23 bands, a range of comedians, dancers and entertainers will provide additional on-board attractions.

Guests are free to mingle with bands and performers in the vessel's many bars, restaurants and during daytime activities -- quizzes, Q&As and talent shows -- put on by the event organizers.

Sea of rock

This heady mix of sun, food, drink and metal is light-years away from the traditional music festival where fans sleep in campsites and catch truncated sets of their favorite bands as they perform to tens or even hundreds of thousands of people.

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Koenig believes the intimacy of concert cruises alongside the easy interaction they encourage between bands and audience are the main reasons the concept has proved popular.

Big name acts such as Kid Rock, Weezer and Damian Marley have all taken part in similar voyages or set up their own cruises in recent years. Mega-festivals like Coachella have also gotten in on the act with an indie-rock cruise in late 2012 headlined by UK legends Pulp.

Promoter and producer of the Monsters of Rock, Moody Blues and Celtic Thunder cruises, Larry Morland believes that artists and event organizers are beginning to realize there is a value to these maritime festivals beyond the novelty of performing at sea.

No wonder given tickets for "Shiprocked" are priced between $899 and $3,599, showing the events can be a lucrative endeavor as well as great exposure for bands and festival brands. They arguably also help attract a younger audience to cruise vacations.

"It really has developed in the last five or so years," Morland said. "They have gone from being simple productions to now having elaborate stages and video walls. It's kind of (become) a Vegas-type entertainment atmosphere on a ship.

"Fans are willing to pay a premium, and going on a cruise is a premium, for what it is basically a vacation with their favorite band." he added. "It's a very memorable experience for them."

The Spinnaker Lounge on the Norwegian Pearl (Courtesy Shiprocked)

Nostalgia sells

The expense, which generally equates to more than a land based festival given the extra cost of food, beverages and activities included in the ticket, ensures the majority of fans are aged 35 or upwards, inevitably influencing the type of bands booked for cruises.

Rather than contemporary chart acts, groups will likely be more established and have built up a committed following over a number of years.

Such loyalty reflects itself in the way fans and bands interact aboard the ship.

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Both Koenig and Morland recall witnessing big-name artists sit down for long chats with fans and in some cases perform impromptu collaborations or sing-a-longs.

According to Morgan Rose, drummer in the band Sevendust, who have performed at previous "Shiprocked" events and will do so again this year, giving something back to those who make their success possible is important.

"It's so cool as usually the bands who come aboard think this is different from anything else and a really good way to meet the people who support the music," he said. "You're out there for four or five days at a time and you get to become friends with these people."

Rose fondly recalls drinking the bar dry with fans at previous events and watching as other bands get up to unspeakable rock and roll mischief with their adoring public.

As the concert cruise concept becomes more popular, however, both Koenig and Morland see the need to continually improve what they offering music fans.

Morland speaks of rumors of a gigantic cruise ship being built with the sole purpose of hosting floating music festivals.

More likely in the short term though will be ever bigger bands performing on cruises.

"The sky's the limit," Morland said of who could potentially be attracted to play. "I can see us going after the (Rolling) Stones sooner or later.

"You could even fill up a couple of ships and have (warm up) events on board before sailing to a private island and having a full Stones show there. Some of the cruise companies already own a private Caribbean island or two.

"Can you imagine that," he asks excitedly before pausing briefly seemingly to consider the prospect of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and co. strutting their stuff on a far-off beach at sundown.

"That would be amazing."

See also: Cricketers play at sea

See also: Celebrity architects space age yacht

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