Photos by Jennifer Kantor
It’s 9:30 am Monday morning, and we’re at Logan Airport in Boston. We’ve checked our bags and cleared security for our flight down to Tampa. With my phone headphones in place and computer open by our boarding gate, I dial in to Yes drummer Alan White, per the suggested time and number provided.
The call goes straight to voicemail.
Fortunately, Jen and I are still on a sporty high, having endured the entirety of Super Bowl LI the night before and the unbelievable comeback of our hometown team, the New England Patriots. Pats fever permeates throughout the airport and it’s cohabitating nicely with my Cruise to the Edge excitement.
But now I’m nervous. What if I can’t connect with the incoming Rock and Roll Hall of Famer with enough time before JetBlue starts boarding our flight? Thanks to the quick actions of White’s wife, Gigi, we connect via his Tampa hotel phone and our interview is officially underway. I particularly love when White sneaks in a friendly jab after finding out I’m speaking to him from the airport (“Where are you – it sounds like a bowling alley?” he says with a chuckle).
In the span of 15 minutes, we’ve covered the following topics:
John Wetton: “John was a great friend. Our birthdays are a couple of days apart. We used to celebrate our birthdays together in the old days in London and John became a really great friend.”
Yes’ RRHoF induction: “The vibe is great from this side of the camera. I look forward to getting on with doing it. It’s well deserved. It’s been quite a long time.”
On Yes performing at their RRHoF induction and in what permutation: “We still got to work on that. I know we have a rehearsal space and time. Obviously, it’ll take a lot of organization for everybody to actually get there and perform, but we all know the songs so it’s a matter of just putting the pieces together.”
The significance of Yes’ underrated Drama album: “It was one of those albums that fell into place naturally. It was an absolutely pleasure to make because we broke some ground somewhere.”
The significance of Yes’ even more underrated Tales from Topographic Oceans album: “It’s a favorite amongst a lot of Yes fans, I believe. Each song is like a journey but when you tie them all together, it seems like more of a journey because they are related to each other.”
I ease back for the three-hour flight knowing the interview took place. In the final days before this point in time, we’ve been studying cruise protocol and awaiting details about band/artist events onboard, as well as any forthcoming interviews with said bands and artists.
As CTTE Producer Larry Morand told me last week, a lot of the reason the schedule isn’t given out ahead of time is because “believe it or not, it seems like in the last 10 days everything can switch.”
I asked Morand during our interview what CTTE first-timers (like us) can expect from the experience. He immediately responded with the following: “It’s very community-driven and very casual.”
“It’s almost like Brigadoon,” he added. “When the ship sails away it becomes just a different life and it becomes one big happy ship of artists and cruisers and when it comes back we come back to the real world but what happens out there always seems to be very magical. I never try to explain it. I try to let it unfold and happen. We set forth the times bands play but there’s a lot of other things that are unscripted and it’s what makes it very special.”
I did have one other question for Morand. With news that Canadian prog powerhouse Saga (one of my all-time favorite bands) plans to officially split up but play their final gig on CTTE 2018, was there any chance they could sail with us this time around?
“I wish we could,” he told me.
Ferg’s Live is about a 15-minute walk from our hotel. It’s also the site of this year’s pre-cruise party, featuring dynamic sets from Porcupine Tree sideman/musician John Wesley and Moody Blue John Lodge, with his new backing crew, the 10,000 Light Years Band.
Walking among the event attendees you get the sense you’re at a festival (who knew the prog promised land could be found across the street from Amalie Arena where the Tampa Bay Lightning play?). Hugs and handshakes are passed among apparent cruise friends. If this isn’t old home week; it’s definitely summer camp for many here.
Wesley takes the stage for an acoustic set, chock full of some great introspective originals – “The Desperation Angel,” “Firelight” and “Rome is Burning,” and some awesome covers – “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel and “Going to California” by Led Zeppelin.
“Sorry about the weather!” Wesley exclaimed at one point. When we left the house this morning it was 27 degrees. By the time of his set, it was 77. I’m not complaining.
After an hour of standing firm about six feet from the stage (to ensure we got some great photos), Lodge and crew get to work. Lodge looks great – trim, black V-neck T-shirt, literal blue suede shoes, purple satin jacket. We heard maybe a dozen Moodies classics (“Steppin’ in a Slide Zone,” “Peak Hour,” “Candle of Life”) and solo staples (“Get Me Out of Here”) and were never disappointed, even as the crowd of hundreds pressed forward to turn the casual ambiance of the sports bar into an elbow-room only experience worthy of the House of Blues.
Fortunately, Jen and I already snagged a worthy souvenir each – Lodge guitar picks thrown from the stage by guitarist Duffy King. I caught two in my hands; Jen caught one in her shirt. Rock ‘n’ roll!
By the end of Lodge’s encore of “Ride My See-Saw,” my ears were definitely ringing and my feet were definitely cramping. As of writing this, I’m hoping my sea legs will have the strength to actually get onboard the ship Tuesday. Yet I know the small taste of what I’ve just witnessed will surely have more healing power than any Advil I’ll take.
Ira will be posting daily from the Cruise to the Edge. Stay up to date with his floating, musical journey by checking back frequently!