Flogging Molly sails the Atlantic with their favorite bands and a crew of lovable drunken pirates
On any cruise ship that leaves any port, there is a mandatory lifeboat drill. Each passenger has to be accounted for to satisfy safety regulations. That goes for even the Salty Dog Cruise, the raucous three-day floating punk rock throwdown that sails from Miami to the Bahamas on St. Patrick’s Day, hosted by Celtic rockers Flogging Molly.
The drill itself is simple enough. But keep in mind that this is no simple cruise. And these are no normal passengers.
I have never been on a cruise in my life. My own travels avoided areas where sunburned sheep are led into the streets to “experience” a foreign port. My mind could only conjure up images of lethargic tourists in Crocs lounging to a lame band beating Bob Marley’s “Legend” to a slow death or a drunken house wife trying to sing Adele karaoke. No thanks.
But this was a far different voyage. And corralling this crowd, who had been drinking for five hours and was already half-mutinous while still tied off, would be no simple task.
The ship’s stewards—tall, distinguished Norse men in pressed white sailing suits— began to cajole the masses. They herded mohawks and green fedoras, pin-up girls and skinheads, chubby weirdos in Speedos, and miles of tattooed limbs, all while maintaining a smile. Once assembled, the spikebelted mob broke out in soccer chants and squirt gun fights, calmly quelled by the stewards until 2,000 people simultaneously learned how to put on a life vest.
Somehow we got through the drill. When the leather jackets, pirate wenches, checkered Vans, and half of Boston were all back on the pool deck, the cruise director welcomed everyone to the Sail Away Party. Then, as Norwegian Cruise Line’s Sky cruised past the southern point of Key Biscayne, Frank Turner commandeered the mic.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the English punk folk singer declared, “We are on a fucking boat!” The assembled misfits raised their glasses with a roar like the sea.
Flogging Molly, the Celtic rock band formed by Dave King in LA 20 years ago, first took to the high seas in 2015, then decided to up the ante this year, bolstering the passage with influences from across the scope of independent music.
There simply aren’t too many opportunities in life to be skanking along to Fishbone when trombone player Flyin’ Jay decides to surf across the crowd to be tossed into the pool, missing the coping by inches. And he doesn’t surface right away because, at 4’11, everything is the deep end to Jay, and he admittedly doesn’t know how to swim.
So you dance your way down two levels of a ship, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean…hey, is that Steve Caballero? You’re swept through a room filled with the lovely sound of Celtic music into a venue where Rancid is tearing into their set. And you push up to the front and find yourself singing along next to Frank Turner. “Hey! I wanna riot!”
Flogging Molly had loaded the boat with their favorite acts, from traditional Irish folk like the Tossers, third-wave ska legends The Slackers, original skate rockers The Faction and radical punks Authority Zero, to roots reggae artist Christopher Ellis and Boston’s working class boot boys, the Street Dogs. Amazing performances happened everywhere, like when Shinehead joined The Slackers on stage for Punk Rock Karaoke.
“My favorite was just a random show I played in a jacuzzi,” a tiedyed- tank-top-clad Frank Turner told me.
Also playing was Larry and His Flask, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, 1916, The Donots, Beans On Toast, the Bunny Gang, Andy Thomas’ Dust Heart, and stowaways Mickey Rickshaw, who snuck onboard a year earlier and won enough hearts to get an official slot.
It was late morning and the ship was offloading the Doc Martens, scally caps, retro bikinis and dreadlocks onto tenders ferrying to the shores of Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas, where a stage awaited on the beach. Punks and pirates floated in a protected cove while Fishbone brought the heaviest blend of soul, ska, funk and reggae under the tropical sun.
As Flogging Molly prepared to rip into their whiskey-fueled set, Fishbone bassist Norwood Fisher put his finger on the pulse of it all.
“This is like The Love Boat without the cheesy parts,” he marveled. “I was first exposed to punk in, like, the 1970s at a house show on my grandmother’s block in a Crip neighborhood of West Los Angeles, and then seeing the Clash on tour. But I never imagined that punk rock would end up on a cruise ship. This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Punk is still gnarly. It’s still got teeth. It’s just a little older now. If we hadn’t grown up a little, there would be blood in the pool and missing teeth in the hot tub. And there are these great interactions between the artists and the people who come out to see the bands.”
But any seaworthy adventure is all about your shipmates, and the crew on this voyage spoke volumes. They were sailors from all over the US, Europe and Australia, and those smug Canadians with their red-and-white flags sewn on vests between Operation Ivy and Real McKenzies patches.
“I’ve been into Irish and punk music my whole life. I’m seeing Flogging Molly, the Street Dogs and The Tossers, and the alcohol is included!” raved Kristen Kelly of San Clemente, CA, wading in the cerulean sea. “Our ship pulled up in Nassau, Bahamas, yesterday, right next to a Disney Cruise. Everyone on that Disney boat was watching a bunch of Irish, tattooed motherfuckers walk off our ship. It just means so much to be on a boat with people who love the music as much as I do.”
Watching Flogging Molly from the sandy beach, Scott Jablonski, of North Carolina said (barely) that he had lost his voice two days ago, “I can barely talk. This is just one big, crazy family, and crazy things keep happenin-” Just as he said that, a chicken bone literally fell from the sky and landed at his feet. “See!” he laughed.
And since there were a few seamen (insert hot tub joke here) and mermaids who might not remember the trip thanks to free whiskey, Flogging Molly provided the ultimate souvenir. Rick Janus, aka Aggro of Lowbrow Art Productions in Orlando, and Rob Hostetter, of San Diego’s Lifetime Tattoo were onboard doing tattoos to commemorate this crossing. Their inky cannons never stopped firing.
“To be in a position where we can have Fishbone, Frank and Rancid wanting to join us on a ship, that’s just an affirmation of what we’re doing,” said Molly bassist Nathen Maxwell, who was also fronting The Bunny Gang, his revolution reggae band.
“I mean, Rancid… they do what they want to do. For them to give us the nod of approval, what more can we ask for?”
Maxwell was standing beneath a swaying palm, wearing some fantastic traditional ink work and a mariner’s cap, as we discussed how these drunken rudeboys and girls were treating their shipmates so well.
“It’s a great feeling to know that you’re helping people have tons of fun through punk rock and St. Patrick’s Day. And maybe when people get off this ship, they’re going to spread that into their rest of their world.”
It’s very possible that the high point of this sea-bound sojourn was Flogging Molly’s prime time Saturday evening set on the pool deck. Maxwell, drummer Mike Alonso, fiddler Bridget Regan, guitarist Dennis Casey, accordionist Matt Hensley, banjo strummer Bob Schmidt, and frontman King had been on a whirlwind around St. Patrick’s Day. They ripped into “What’s Left of the Flag,” “Tobacco Island,” and of course, “Salty Dog.”
A cruise ship, rock ‘n’ roll or not, makes for a damn fine music venue. The scene of 2,000 people was wild, the entire mezzanine shouting along. On the port side of the deck, folks step-danced to “Requiem for a Dying Song.” On the starboard, they did drunken jigs, while the die-hard swashbucklers pressed up against the stage, fists in the air, slamming under a rain of Guinness.
And on this great expanse of sea, you realize something. Yes, there’s a man in a starched white hat with a distinguished Norwegian accent who has us set on a course for a tiny dot amid the Lucayan Archipalego. But at this moment, Dave King is the captain of this ship.
…And if this ship takes on a rogue wave, despite that lifeboat drill, we’re all fooooked.
Flogging Molly sails the Atlantic with their favorite bands and a crew of lovable drunken pirates On any cruise ship that leaves any port, there is a mandatory lifeboat drill. Each passenger has to be […]