There was never a dull moment as nearly 2,000 enthusiastic Country Music fans and their favorite artists set sail on Holland America Line’s MS Oosterdam for the 2017 Country Music Cruise. Vince Gill, Tanya Tucker, Lee Greenwood, Charley Pride, the Oak Ridge Boys, Wade Hayes, Jimmy Fortune, Sylvia, Joe Stampley, Dailey & Vincent and more performed on the ship as well as participated in such fun activities as wine tasting, corn hole, a cooking demonstration, late night jams on the Lido deck, the Grand Ole Opry at sea, autograph sessions, an art auction, Country Faith seminars, late night performances by the Elvis Tribute artists and a Family Feud competition hosted by Moe Band and Johnny Lee.
“The greatest memory this year is that my daughter’s family, the Martin Family Circus, is on this entire cruise. To see my daughter, my son-in-law, Paul Martin and my four grand kids so well received on this cruise by the people that I’ve been singing to for years, and to see them loved like they are being loved and accepted is almost more than I can contain without just turning into a cry baby,” the Oak Ridge Boys’ Duane Allen says with a grin.
Unlike some cruises where the artists are reluctant to come out of their cabins unless it’s showtime, the Country Music Cruise feels like a big family reunion with artists hanging out at each other’s shows, gathering in the casino for a few hands of poker or chatting with fans on deck in the Caribbean sunshine. “I’ve been going to so many shows, I’ve really got to get some sleep,” Allen says after doing two Oak Ridge Boys shows on the main stage and then heading over to watch the Martin Family Circus in the Ocean Bar. “I have been getting up early and staying up late and the kids come to my room and we laugh and talk until we just nearly fall. We have adjoining rooms to my daughter’s family and so they come and hang out in my room. It’s just been great and I love the country music people. I don’t stay in my room. I get out among the people. I love to talk with them.”
Brenda Lee went a step further and gave out her cabin number, encouraging fans to come by and visit. “I wouldn’t be here without my fans and I don’t forget that, nor do I forget who opened the doors for me when I started,” says the legendary entertainer, who is a member of the Country Music, Rock & Roll and Rockabilly Halls of Fame.
So did folks take her up on her offer and come by her cabin for a visit? “Of course,” she says with a smile. “They’ve done everything but sleep with me.”
In addition to visiting with the fans, the performers really enjoyed the opportunity to hang out with each other. “The memory that I’m going to take home is my heroes that are on this cruise,” Lee says. “People think that we people in the industry see each other all the time and we don’t, so for me to get to go see the shows and get to talk and joke, it’s wonderful.”
“This is my first time on the Country Music Cruise and I’ve had a ball,” Moe Bandy said. “I’ve really enjoyed it. What a great cruise and we get to see all the other entertainers. It’s really been fun! I’ve enjoyed a bunch of shows. I saw Vince Gill and Johnny Lee. We’ve seen quite a few and I’ve done a lot of shows.”
Bandy and his longtime friend and duet partner Joe Stampley performed a “Good Ole Boys” reunion concert on the Lido deck as the ship set sail heading to Key West and then on to ports in Cozumel and Costa Maya. “My best memory was just being with all my friends and then the fans. It was unbelievable,” says Stampley. “It was great to see Tanya Tucker, Brenda Lee, Charley Pride. Me and Moe see each other quite a bit anyway, but gosh it was just great seeing all the people we grew up with.”
Wade Hayes has performed on all four Country Music Cruises and has already been booked for the 2018 journey. “My favorite memory personally was getting to play guitar for Charley Pride,” says Hayes. “That was a thrill. I’ve always been a fan of his. He’s an incredible singer and a very nice man. That was a highlight for me! I got to see Dailey & Vincent. They were fantastic! And I saw a little bit of Tanya Tucker’s show and she’s still singing great.”
“Well I’ve cried through about every performance,” says Jamie Dailey of Dailey & Vincent, who will become the newest members of the Grand Ole Opry in March. “I got teary eyed. The Oaks take me back to the ‘80’s growing up and loving the music. It brings back sweet memories and when Lee Greenwood sang it did the same thing. When Vince Gill sang, it did the same thing. Hearing ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’ by Brenda Lee, I sat down there and cried. It just brings back so many memories.”
The duo’s Darrin Vincent adds, “Seeing our heroes and being able to mingle and talk with them, especially following the Grand Ole Opry performance. All the stars were just hanging out back stage just like the Grand Ole Opry at home. Charley Pride was talking about getting started in 1966, talking about how hard it was for him to get started and breaking the color barrier. Hearing him talk about that we couldn’t breathe hardly. He talked about how all the other artists around him wanted him to make it and helped him. We were just like two kids just looking at him. We couldn’t get enough of him.”
In addition to all the camaraderie, the artists enjoyed visiting the different ports of call. “The beaches have been gorgeous,” says Jamie Martin. “This was my first cruise and we had never been on a real vacation. We got off the ship in Costa Maya and were standing there looking at the dolphins. We were like, ‘Can you believe it? We’re in Mexico right now!’ It has been incredible!”
Though many of the artists on board have hosted their own cruises or been a part of others, they say there’s truly something special about the Country Music Cruise and the way Star Vista Live brings everyone together.
“The whole ship is full of fans that love country music,” says Jimmy Fortune. “It’s not just one artist. They love everything. They love country music, so they love everybody. A lot of people discovered me on this cruise that hadn’t heard me before and then a lot of my fans discovered other people. This is like a family reunion in a way. Everybody is pulling for each other and helping each other and telling old stories on each other and stuff like that. Moe Bandy was down there the other night and he had me laughing so much that I almost died. I couldn’t hardly sing. If you want a cruise and something that’s going to be uplifting and heartfelt and make you laugh, you’ll go through all the emotions. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll dance. You’ll sing. I haven’t seen nothing but smiles, nothing but smiles on this whole cruise.”
The Country Music Cruise 2018 will set sail on the Nieuw Amsterdam Feb. 3-10, leaving out of Fort Lauderdale and heading to St. Maarten and St. Kitts. Alabama, Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers, Mickey Gilley, Lorrie Morgan, Bobby Bare, Jim Stafford, Johnny Lee, T. Graham Brown, Dailey & Vincent, Lacy J. Dalton, Asleep At The Wheel, Jeannie Seely, Wade Hayes, Chuck Mead and his Grassy Knoll Boys, comedian Jon Reep and the Elvis Tribute Artists are slated to perform next year as the Country Music Cruise celebrates its fifth anniversary. The cruise has sold out every year since it started. For more information, visit countrymusiccruise.com.