Popular music cruise finds a niche in nostalgia with performances by Jefferson Starship, The Cowsills, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston, The Yardbirds and more
Suffice it to say that the Flower Power Cruise is an exercise in nostalgia. If the name alone doesn’t give it away, then the constant references to tye-dye, peace signs, recollections of Woodstock, and, of course, music of a bygone era when passengers, most well into their 60s and 70s, thrived on those sounds and turned it into the soundtrack of their lives.
Granted, the latter phrase has become something of a cliche for those whose musical memories date back to the ‘60s while wrapped up in the bands that defined that particular period in rock’s ongoing trajectory. The featured artists on the Flower Power Cruise represented all of it well — among them, the current incarnation of the Beach Boys helmed by Bruce Johnston and Mike Love, Tommy James and the Shondells, the Box Tops, The Cyrkle, The Cowsills, Chuck Negron (formerly of Three Dog Night), the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Ides of March, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Starship, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, and the Yardbirds, among the many. Granted, the majority of these outfits were fronted by only a couple of the original members, but none of that seemed to matter to the audiences that crowded the ship’s pool deck, the Celebrity Theater or the Constellation Lounge, all in an effort to dance to the oldies or simply get close to the artists they once admired from afar.
Other entertainment served the experience just as well. Host Peter Asher proved remarkably amiable as he recounted his career with Peter and Gordon, his experience as head of A&R with Apple Records, his management of James Taylor and Linda Rondstadt, and his eventual rise in West Coast show business circles where he remains active even today. Cheech and Chong revived the stoner sensibilities that accompanied hippiedom and happenstance, offering a lighthearted look back from their own zany perspective.
In addition, a host of tribute bands filled in the gaps of those artists who were out of sight but not out of mind. Tribute bands dominated several slots in the proceedings, providing music by the Beatles, the Byrds, the Who, the Mamas and the Papas, and assorted others. Even a couple of the bands that received top billing — Blood, Sweat and Tears and the Family Stone in particular — were cover bands of sorts, given the fact that the original leadership was no longer involved.
Stops in San Juan and St. Maarten notwithstanding, the music naturally dominated the experience overall. Nearly all the artists were received warmly, evidence of the audience’s appreciation.
The Beach Boys, who performed two sets on a single night after boarding the boat in St. Maarten and departing the next day in San Juan. Although Love and Johnston are currently the sole representatives of the group’s original incarnations, the newer recruits did the majority of the heavy lifting, tasked with singing high harmonies and recreating the arrangements and instrumentation. Although the absence of Brian Wilson remains a cause of controversy, the songs are the star of the show and with a roll call of hits spanning the past 58 years, there’s no shortage of tunes to tap into.
Tommy James and the Shondells offered only a one-off appearance, in this case dockside in San Juan. James appeared in fine form, celebrating the fact that his book, Me, the Mob and the Music is due to be turned into a major motion picture, ala The Jersey Boys. James dutifully replayed his ample stock of hits and even waded into the crowd, although he was forced to end his show prematurely after suffering the effects of heat exhaustion. Fortunately, the effect was only temporary, but it likely accounted for the fact that his set lasted only an hour and fifteen minutes from beginning to end.
The Yardbirds were the undeniable champs as far as sheer musicality was concerned, and here again, their succession of hits ignited the audience’s enthusiasm, if for no other reason than the fact that they were performed with both acumen and exuberance. Highlights included “Over, Under, Sideways, Down,” Mister, You’re a Better Man Than I,” “Train Kept a ‘Rollin’,” and naturally, perennial favorite, “For Your Love.” Drummer Jim McCarty remains the only member of the outfit that spawned the careers of Beck, Page and Clapton, but the band’s current incarnation — McCarty, guitarist Godfrey Townsend, bassist Kenny Aaronson, singer/percussionist/harp player Myke Scavone, and guitarist/singer John Idan. — delivered the goods with credence and conviction.
Peter Asher’s concert milked the most from the music and memories. His reflections about Paul McCartney, the early days of Apple and the work he did on behalf of his early charges Taylor and Rondstadt were the very essence of classic rock and roll lore. Happily too, Asher’s still in fine form and his singing and playing have clearly stood the test of time. The crowd confirmed that through their obvious adulation.
Cheech and Chong proved to be a mixed bag, and while their storytelling sessions were enlightening and entertaining, the stoner schtick produced mixed results. A skit about a stick-up was somewhat disturbing and Chong’s references to avoiding the draft and escaping to Canada didn’t win favor with any of the veterans in the audience. They didn’t do their “Dave’s not here” routine, possibly due to the fact that a couple had performed it as part of a talent competition earlier in the day, but their skit about being pulled over by the police and having to ingest all their drugs provided enough laughs to make up for the missteps.
Jefferson Starship and Big Brother and the Holding Company effectively conveyed the legacy of San Francisco’s Summer of Love, and with Cathy Richardson replicating Grace Slick’s role in the former and Darby Gould undertaking the unenviable task of replicating the vocals of Janis Joplin in the latter, both bands came across surprisingly well. The two outfits are linked not only by shared histories, but also by the fact that Richardson and Gould have tenure in both bands. Due credit also has to be accorded to David Freiberg, the sole original member of the latter day Jefferson Airplane and its original spin-off as prompted by Paul Kantner and Grace Slick. At age 80, he’s seems as energized as ever.
The Cowsills have suffered any number of family tragedies over the course of their career, not the least of which was the loss of two of their siblings in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Nevertheless, the current incarnation featuring Susan, Bob and Paul Cowsill affirmed the fact that the family’s remarkable harmonies still remain intact. Ironically, John Cowsill plays drums with the Beach Boys, and on the night that band’s performance, he made his way to the pool stage and joined his sister and two brothers onstage. The shared enthusiasm was obvious and unbounded.
As for the others, Gary Puckett proved that he remains in remarkable voice, his compelling croon occasionally bringing to mind Tom Jones in both command and charisma. Some fans still question the Lovin’ Spoonful on the possibility of reuniting with John Sebastian, but it’s clear that with former. drummer Joe Butler singing at the fore, they’re still capable of carrying the legacy all on their own. The Cyrkle’s lack of early chart toppers didn’t deter them — “Red Rubber Ball” and “Turn Down Day” were the sole songs that placed them on the top of the charts — and indeed, exuberance and exhilaration made their pair of performances both credible and compelling.
With the 2019 edition of the Flower Power Cruise tucked into the history books, fans are already anticipating next year’s line-up featuring Peter Noone, the Hollies, the Zombies, the Turtles, Arlo Guthrie, the Buckinghams, Vanilla Fudge, Rare Earth and many more. Indeed, the combination of music and memories is no longer confined to the past.
VIDEO: Flower Power Cruise Final Jam