This February, ShipRocked Festival Cruise will set sail on the high seas! With over 3,000 guests attending on the huge Norwegian Pearl cruise ship; this event is a must-attend for any hard-core rock music fan. The festivals owner, Alan Koenig, works with a team of professionals year-round to ensure fans get to experience one of the most unique events around. From its inception until now, the festival has changed and grown, but Alan and his team at ASK4 Entertainment are proud to be putting on an experience in which artists and fans can interact in an intimate environment.
This years ShipRocked will feature headliners like Limp Bizkit, Metal Allegiance, Black Label Society, Buckcherry, P.O.D. and Sevendust, among many others. There is also a pre-party that will feature the only performance by Chevelle, which will take place on the boat itself before it sets sail the next day. After boarding the Norwegian Pearl, guests spend four days and nights floating the high seas attending great shows, participating in awesome activities and theme nights, and eating and drinking to their hearts content. If that wasn’t cool enough, two of the days are spent beaching it in Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas!
One of the things that makes this event so special, says Alan, is the fact that people on the cruise begin to form tight knit relationships due to their close proximity and its laid back atmosphere. “It’s just way different than a [regular] festival. Festivals are great, you go with your friends and you stand in line and you push and you get drinks and go to the merch table and all that, but this is a whole different thing because you’re sharing a space together for 4 days. You’re dining together, you’re going to shows together; you’re (depending on who you’re with) sharing your room together. But the bonus is that you’re on a Caribbean vacation.”
“It’s not just some hotel or a field, or a camping tent… or whatever you want. It’s a much nicer experience just from the aesthetic, but again, the community aspect of it is different.” Alan also comments on how the smaller size of the festival brings about a more intimate experience. “On a cruise ship you only have 2500 – 3000 people at the most, whereas if you’re at a big festival there’s 30,000 people spread out all over the place. [At ShipRocked] you’re in one spot and it changes your perception of what a great shared experience can be.”
Artists on ShipRocked are contracted for their performance and a photo meet and greet, they are also encouraged to be open to the idea of an “interactive”. This is where the festival organizers will look for opportunities to put together an experience that’s outside of the meet and greet or show. “Sometime artists have hobbies or interests of their own so we build an event around that to just create a unique way for artists and guests to interact that’s not the typical sort of meet and greet,” said Alan.
While most participating artists are encouraged to interact with the fans in a fun and relaxed environment, they are by no means required to. Aboard the cruise, it’s not uncommon to see the artists hanging out and jamming out with fellow artists and fans. And while there is a special “Artist Oasis” lounge, Alan says they rarely use it.
“ShipRocked is a festival cruise so there are 24 bands, and there is not a lot of focus and pressure on one particular artist”, explains Alan. “What we’ve found with ShipRocked and the festival experience on a cruise is that it really relaxes everybody. The artists, depending on them and their own individual personality, typically just kind of hang out on their own. They don’t feel required to go sit at the bar and talk to people, but they end up doing it anyway.”
He continues, “At the end of the day you’re all on vacation together, you’re all dining near each other, and hanging out and watching shows. We found on the last ShipRocked we found as many artists hanging out in the audience watching performances as there were guests!”
Of course, there is always the flipside, and the curators of ShipRocked try to make sure that all attendees participate in a mutual respect with the artists. They try to educate everyone on the cruise that artists are people, too. Some enjoy being around large crowds and some people don’t. Depending on the artist and their unique individual personality, some of them are more comfortable in a social environment than others. For the most part, Alan says, most guests on the cruise are respectful… and it pays off!
Alan remembers hearing about a time in 2011 when Buckcherry was aboard the cruise. “Stevie was going to dinner with his wife, was walking down the hall, and saw a guy coming towards him fumbling with a camera and he knew he wanted to take a picture.” The rockers were running late for dinner, so they politely declined to take a photo and promised to catch up with the fan later on the ship. “To the guests credit, he was cool and said, ‘Yeah! No problem’. He put his camera away and they went on. Stevie saw the guy the next day just hanging out at a bar, sat down and had a 30 – 45 minute conversation with the guy. Took pictures and it made the guys trip!”
Artists tend to also enjoy the experience of not having to rush in and out of a festival. At a normal festival, “They show up, they do their show, they do their press, their meet and greet, and then they’re gone. So you don’t necessarily get an opportunity to hang out and watch the other bands perform. You don’t necessarily get a chance to hang out with your friends in other bands. We’ve found a lot of times bands really enjoy it because they get to spend quality time with friends in other bands who they sort of just see in passing at festivals.”
Exactly what does it take to put on a festival like this? A lot of hard work, Alan says, but it’s totally worth it in the end. While ASK4’s year-round staff is relatively small, it takes quite a number of hands on deck to pull off ShipRocked. “On ShipRocked we will actually bring a lot more [staff] out because we have a lot more going on. I might have 18 to 20 staff on board. Just staff-staff. Production staff is another 40 – 50 depending on how many stages and then security and so I mean, it’s a lot of people that actually work together to put it together when it’s happening. Leading up to it there’s the travel staff and office staff. There’s a travel side with 5 people, and then we have my actual staff.”
The genesis of ShipRocked and working in the cruise business actually has to do with something that Alan experienced while spending almost 14 years as an artist manager at Gold Mountain Entertainment. Alan won the opportunity to fly to London see a private Peter Gabriel concert, complete with VIP meet and greet. Along with him was an interesting assortment of around 100 people from all over the world. While he loved the concert and meet and greet, the best parts about this night, he said, was the lifelong friends he made through bonding over the music.
“The experience of being able to attend the private concert and do the meet and greet and all that was cool, cause I was a fan, but the most fun on the entire trip for me was just meeting all of these other people and being able to sort of commune with them at the event itself, but also in the hotel afterwards. I mean, we all stayed up until 6 o’clock in the morning talking about music and our lives and everything else. So it was really that sort of bonding community that happened during and after that event.” Alan says he is friends with some of these people to this very day.
Years later, when attending Vince Neil’s Motley Cruise Alan experienced this same feeling that had made him so happy those years before, “I immediately felt everything that I had felt in London. I was like THIS IS exactly what that was. Just a bunch of people who have common interests in music and a common interest in that particular artist and who aren’t that much dissimilar in terms of their demo (graphic), but all leading very different lives. It was just fun and interesting to be able to meet people from all over the country.” This is when ShipRocked and ASK4 were born.
It’s this smaller, intimate, family style atmosphere that keeps fans coming back. He says he wants to put on an event that, “results in that kind of a community. A shared experience. That is really what it is at the end of the day, a shared experience. You’re able to share it with others as it’s happening and that’s really the best part of it for me.”
Every year Alan hears amazing stories from artists, guests, or staff members that prove everyone is enjoying the really wonderful moments and experiences that happen throughout the course of the cruise. Alan’s favorite moment is the sail away. “I mean, everyone is on deck, we have our first show of the day, the boat pulls out, everyone is having a great time… it’s just the energy of that sail away performance and show and that whole experience is great. And plus it’s just the beginning of “okay, here we go!” All of our work for the year has lead to this and once the cruise gets going, after the first day, it’s smooth sailing. We encounter our issues, we work and there are things that we do [during the cruise], and we help everything run smoothly, but once the ship starts moving it’s sort of downhill from there!”
While he was a bit reluctant to divulge it, Alan shared that he is actually a “huge softie” when it comes to the proud and accomplished feeling he gets when he sets sail. “I love what I do. To be able to do what I do, I’m blessed and so there are moments usually on every cruise where I have to step away from the group. I get a little misty just out of that happiness and the excitement and joy of what I get to do.”
In the end, the best part for him is just getting to be a fan. “I grew up a fan, got into the music industry and got a little jaded; and felt like I lost a lot of my sort of fan feelings. It has been incredible to get to put together this kind of experience. We try to make it the best experience for the guest and artist. It’s been fun to have a lot of that fan feeling returned over the years.”
Written by FestPop Head of Communications Karli Jaenike Send Comments to: [email protected]