The S.S. Coachella, the Goldenvoice-promoted music festival aboard Celebrity Cruise's Silhouette vessel, set sail from Ft. Lauderdale to the Bahamas Dec 16-19 with bands that included Pulp, Hot Chip, Yeasayer, Girl Talk, Cloud Nothings, Sleigh Bells and others. (Photo: Ryan Downey)
Chris Keating of the band Yeasayer perfectly captured the atmosphere aboard the SS Coachella during the first night of the cruise's maiden voyage when he asked the audience, "What's up, boat? Real talk: this is totally weird. But I'm having fun. In fact, this is awesome."
Jarvis Cocker echoed the Yeasayer frontman's sentiments during Pulp's performance, peppering his stage banter with phrases like "ahoy" and making note of how his band's light up logo kept swaying back and forth behind him. After a rousing "Common People" that saw the entire crowd singing along and several fans on-stage, the Britpop icon promised the audience he'd be around to hang with them on the boat. True to form, he was later spotted at the buffet and on the upper decks.
Of course, where else could he go? All of the bands, industry and fans are stuck together for up to a week, depending on whether they disembarked back in Florida Wednesday after the Bahamas run or are staying onboard through Jamaica. The inaugural Coachella-on-a-boat event set sail from Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday night.
Ahoy! Jarvis Cocker of Pulp (Photo: Ryan Downey)
Prices for the Bahamas' excursion for two-bed cabins l isted on the cruise's website ran from $900 - $2,000 plus $200 per person for gratuity, taxes and add-on fees -- hardly chump change for your average fan. The ship's capacity is listed at nearly 3,000. The event's sponsors included Heineken, Virgin America and Red Bull.
After a safety demo where members of Girl Talk, Warpaint, Hot Chip and all the rest listened to the same instructions about life jackets and boats as everyone else, folks were able to wander the many attractions on the 16 decks of Celebrity Cruise's Silhouette ship and get their sea legs Sunday afternoon before catching !!! in the Sky Lounge, Alf Alpha at Sunset Bar and Yeasayer and Pulp in the Silhouette Theatre.
Warpaint performing post-safety demonstration. (Photo: Ryan Downey)
Coachella organizers Goldenvoice took advantage of the contained environment by putting together cruise-type activities onboard that mixed artists with passengers. Guests mingled near bars, pools, hot tubs and viewing decks all over the ship.
The first full day at sea kicked off with a chance to have Monday morning cocktails with the ladies of Warpaint. Fans wanting nails as cool as Alexis Krauss from Sleigh Bells were invited to have their nails trimmed and buffed by Goldenvoice's Stacy Vee and decorated/painted by Alexis' favorite Brooklyn nail artist, Ria Lopez.
Goldenvoice's Rhea Roberts and PJ Acerno flanking Alexis Krauss from Sleigh Bells. (Photo: Ryan Downey)
"Ria and I are always coming up with nail art together," Krauss explained to Billboard.biz. " Bill Fold from Goldenvoice reached out and was like, 'So we want to do activities onboard with the artists and I was thinking this would be something you would be interested in doing.' And I was like, 'Absolutely.' It's a nice casual activity. It's low stress. It's worked out really well. Ria is in demand on here!"
Like many passengers, neither Krauss nor Lopez had been on a cruise before. "We've played Coachella twice and it's my favorite festival by far. It's always incredibly well organized and always a really wonderful time for everybody. When we found out the nature of the cruise - that it was going to be very relaxed and fans [hanging out] amongst bands - just the whole idea, we were absolutely for it."
Grimes leading a rousing round of bingo. (Photo: Ryan Downey)
Grimes, who played one of Sunday's late night sets, led a Monday afternoon round of Bingo on the lawn deck. Har Mar Superstar was recruited by Goldenvoice's PJ Acerno (who served as Activities Director) to host "Dear Diary," where passengers submitted embarrassing diary entries from their youth to be read out loud.
"I know so many people here that I couldn't resist getting on the boat," said Har Mar, who like most onboard had never been on a cruise. "I think people love cruising and when you hear about a music cruise, it makes sense to take a chance. Especially when Coachella is such an esteemed type of entity. The festival is always topnotch."
Celebrity Cruise's Stewart Turnbull confers with KCRW's Jason Bentley and Goldenvoice's Stacy Vee. (Photo: Ryan Downey)
Part of the Silhoutte's transformation into the SS Coachella included Vee becoming Cruise Director. Celebrity Cruise's Stewart Turnbull, who normally would have handled many of her de facto duties, had no problem turning over the reigns.
"I've done charters before. Every group of people that have taken the vessel for themselves have their own requirements; it's a first for there to be a DJ in the grand foyer, I think," he noted with a laugh. "Also the venues are really adjusted. Most of the furniture is gone and stored away in secret places. We have music in the Sky Observation Lounge, which is normally a 'sit-down-and-read-a-book' lounge. The demographic we have onboard probably won't play bridge in the card room."
KCRW host/DJ Jason Bentley, who performed several DJ sets during the trip, stood beside Vee during periodic videotaped messages available on closed circuit televisions in the passenger cabins and over the p.a. announcement system.
"I've been on one other cruise, the HARD Holy Ship!, which was another music/youth culture thing," Bentley told Billboard.biz. "It's interesting the way [music cruises like Holy Ship! and SS Coachella] capture a culture, a scene, and you have sort of a captive audience. The artists are here too and they're all mingling. It's an opportunity to hang out with some of your music idols."
Hanging out: PJ Acerno and Har Mar Superstar. (Photo: Ryan Downey)
Bentley was on the bill for the first two years of the festival. He said Coachella's success "validates that eclecticism is the new normal. We've had a fundamental shift, a breakdown of formatting, the record industry has changed so much; now we've realized that people love all kinds of music and they want access to all of that."
On the shuttle ride from a Ft. Lauderdale hotel to the port, Billboard.biz spoke with a passenger who hadn't heard music by a single band on the bill when she booked the trip. It was a stunning testament to the brand power and trust established by Coachella.
"It's the age of the curators. It's the age of the filters. They're more important now than ever because there are so many outlets, you're overwhelmed," Bentley observed. "Not everybody can be a full-time music obsessed trainspotter."
Boat Panel: Goldenvoice's Chad Holden, Bonnie Marquez ,Kevan Wilkins, Paul Tollett, Skip Page and Bill Fold and KCRW's Jason Bentley (Photo: Ryan Downey)
Around 6pm Bentley moderated a panel stuffed with full-time music obsessives. Desert Crew featured Goldenvoice's Paul Tollett, Bill Fold, Skip Page, Kevan Wilkins, Bonnie Marquiz and Chad Holden, who had an in-depth discussion about the festival's past, present and future, attended by Goldenvoice founder Gary Tovar, several Goldenvoice staffers like Donna Busch, Derek Schaefer and Orion "Wiley" Dailey and vocally supportive fans.
The crew said they receive enough ticket requests to support more than four weekends of Coachella, but they have no plans to expand beyond two. Holy grail headliners for them still include David Bowie, Talking Heads and The Smiths (Fold would personally love to have Iron Maiden, as well). Tollett, Fold and Paige were enthusiastic about newcomers Father John Misty, who performed earlier in the afternoon. Paige said the wristband technology that has replaced paper tickets in recent years should eventually be able to work to purchase merch and beer.
From left: Ryan Downey, Goldenvoice's Gary Tovar, Paul Tollett. (Photo: Ryan Downey)
Bentley asked how the impending sale of AEG may affect Goldenvoice. "Companies are bought and sold everyday on the stock market," said Paige. He expressed the team's belief in AEG's leadership, particularly Tim Leiweke. Tollett said AEG have been "great partners" and noted they supported Goldenvoice even at times when they weren't profitable for them. None of them seemed rattled about the sale.
What was less clear was the future of the SS Coachella itself. Everyone said they were having fun but expressed uncertainty about whether they'd embark on future voyages, or whether it would keep the Coachella name if it moves forward.
Over dinner, Tollett told Billboard.biz that Tovar's trip aboard the Weezer Cruise inspired the idea for the Coachella Cruise. "I told him he could pitch it to me one more time, but if I wasn't into it, he had to stop bringing it up," Tollett laughed. He eventually warmed to the idea and said he was having a great time onboard.
This Is Really Happening: James Murphy (right) at a fruits of the vine tasting. (Photo: Ryan Downey)
Speaking of dinner, James Murphy led a wine tasting event with his buddy and fellow oenophile Justin Chearno. "I wanted to do something with Justin," he explained to Billboard.biz as the tasting wrapped up in Cellar Masters. "I thought we were maybe going to have a wine bar and add some wines, our selections. It ended up being an 'event,' which was a little nerve-racking. But it's been fun."
The evening later saw performances from Tokimonsta, Black Lips, Sleigh Bells, DJ Rapture, Warpaint, Murphy, The Gaslamp Killer and Cloud Nothings, among others. The first of a series of midnight movie screenings curated by Girl Talk, which includes scuba-trip-gone-wrong low-budget indie horror flick "Open Water" and the Steven Segal classic "Under Siege," kicked off with the hilariously bad "Ghost Ship."
Sleigh Bells. (Photo: Ryan Downey)
Will Hubbard, who co-manages Sleigh Bells with Goldenvoice's Fold, was on-hand to watch a rousing evening performance from Hot Chip that included a Beach Boys cover.
Warpaint and Grimes both played again, with Girl Talk turning in a much talked about late night set as well. Early Wednesday morning several passenger running on 2 hours or less of sleep stepped off after the Bahamas run, with plenty more fans and bands staying on for repeat fun as the SS Coachella sailed on to Jamaica and back to Florida through Sunday.
Publicist Ashley Ayers (left) and Grimes dancer Lafayette Bless. (Photo: Ryan Downey)
Goldenvoice's David "Westy" West mans the Silhouette Theatre stage during Pulp's set on the SS Coachella. (Photo: Ryan Downey)
Merch on a boat (including the Z-Trip beachball). (Photo: Ryan Downey)
A moment of solitude. (Photo: Ryan Downey)