That One Time I Moshed My Face Off In The Caribbean, Better Known As Motörhead’s MotörBoat
Metal. Rock and Roll. Booze. Mosh pits. Sex.
It would be easy to briefly sum up Motörhead’s MotörBoat cruise with those words, but this four day musical cruise of sonic fury in the Caribbean ended up being so much more.
From the outside, the Norwegian Sky looked like your typical cruise ship. Not that I would know, because this was my first time on a cruise, regular or metal-thrashing themed. But I knew it wouldn’t be typical even before stepping foot onto the ship. From scoping the check-in line at the Port of Miami on Monday, September 28th, an estimated 99.999% of the incoming passengers were wearing all black and metal band shirts. The other 0.001% was my Consequence of Sound group, consisting of Sami, CoS video director, and Alec, video producer and photographer. We stood out like flamingos in a field of black bears.
After traveling all morning from Chicago to Miami, there was no time to rest when I dropped my bags off in my room, as Exodus kicked the festivities off on the deck’s stage. It was from then onward that the white and wood decks of the Sky were covered in black and bare skin nonstop for the next four days. There was no shortage of jovial drunkenness throughout the entire ship and its four stages. Old friends who had met on last year’s first MotörBoat were reunited and reveled in memories from the year prior, while planning on new ways to blow those old times out of the water. Some people came alone, knowing the metal community would welcome them with open arms. There were countless numbers who traveled from abroad, including a rough looking but kind British fellow who shared his Budweiser’s with me while we head-banged to some late night Motor Sister. About 1,500 metal heads joined for the collective Caribbean mosh fest, so everyone’s common interests were already settled, making it a breeze to get along with anyone and everyone I came across.
If there is a better lineup for a legacy heavy metal gathering assembled together, then call me silly for making this assertion, but MotörBoat was stacked. For real though, take a step back and wrap your head around the top billing stuck on one ship for four days:
Slayer, Motörhead, Anthrax, Suicidal Tendencies
Hatebreed, Exodus, Corrosion of Conformity
I rest my case.
Hatebreed brought their signature party metalcore to the Stardust Theatre, loosening up the 1,200 capacity main stage room for four nights of balls to the walls musical acts. When most people think of metal, they assume it’s all about death, destruction, violence, and 666. While people are right to assume that, they would be proven otherwise if they witnessed the positivity and genuine happiness being furiously belted out by Hatebreed and proceeding acts. Jamey Jasta triumphantly jumped around the stage screaming his heart out and turned the theatre into a frenzy sight. With a smile stretching from ear to ear all set, Jasta and his crew knew they had a highlight performance of day one.
While the headliners were the main reason Motörboaters paid a pretty penny for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, there were plenty of small acts waiting to become your favorite new bands if you ran into them at the right time and place. One such act was The Dead Deads, a five piece all-girl (and all-star) heavy rock group hailing from Nashville. Rocking the small Dazzles Lounge with thick black X’s across their eyes, the badass gals created a furious wall of noise that got the small crowd enthusiastically head banging, including yours truly. These cool cats would play two more shows throughout the rest of the cruise, and they certainly turned into big fan favorites by their show on the last day. Brian Posehn brought his honest, cutthroat humor to Dazzles later the first night, giving cruise-goers a healthy dose of comedy while resting their feet in-between seeing musical acts. Though the comedy lineup quantifiably paled in comparison to the music performances, Posehn proved that future MotörBoat excursions could benefit from an expanded array of comedic entertainment.
Slayer. Or as nine out of ten Motörboaters would gleefully exclaim in deep bellowing screams, “F*CKIN’ SLAYER!” I swear the Sky near exploded during Slayer’s first of two headlining shows, as the mosh pit turned into a feeding frenzy of pushing, shoving, crowd surfing, and broken noses. The only reason I know this for sure is because I was taking photos and video right next to the mosh pit, not learning of the existence of the photo pit until the following day. Granted, I snapped some great moments from my spot near the moshing, but most of the time I was guarding my camera gear like it was my imaginary newborn child. All of this is not a negative testament to Slayer’s set. In fact, the chaos made it one of my most memorable and fantastic concert experiences to date. Slayer orchestrated their authentic heavy metal with flawless technical precision and had the crowd begging for more during their hour plus set. I knew of Slayer’s greatness in passing, but this show turned this skinny white dude into a new fan.
Day two had us docked near Great Stirrup Cay, a private island owned and operated by Norwegian for the soul purpose of letting cruise-goers bask in the Caribbean sun, swim in the warm crystal blue saltwater, and continue making drunken memories through endless buckets of beer and strawberry daiquiris (Shout-out to Norwegian for making those fruit slushies nice and strong.). Even in the hot sunburn-inducing rays, most people chose to keep on their all-black outfits, showing how much they didn’t give a crap about looking the stereotypical “tropical vacation” part. “Beach war” games with stumbling wasted folks added to the hilarity and good vibes shared by all having a relaxing, but still metal day in this tropical paradise.
After turning into a lobster with a solid farmer’s tan, I made my way to Stardust to check out Suicidal Tendencies. I’ll admit, I had never heard of these guys before I made plans to attend this cruise. This Pepsi-loving group has been around for longer than I’ve been alive, and even before I was a thought (They formed in 1981, I was born in 1991.) So yeah. Gimme a break. Suicidal is the type of group where you start to judge the book by its cover by their rough and tough looks. Those assumptions flew right out the window when frontman Mike Muir flew out onto the stage and started frantically pacing the stage from left to right faster than Usain Bolt. Mike and the rest of the crew’s positivity quickly infected the crowd and proceeded to create some of the happiest mosh pits I’ve seen outside of Irish math rock group And So I Watch You From Afar. Given their endless supply of energy, I wouldn’t be surprised if they kept up this act for the next few decades.
Slayer ended up playing a near identical set for their second night, so I snapped some pictures from the photo pit (no more mosh pits for me on MotörBoat, thank you very much) and headed out to catch Crobot. I wouldn’t be lying if I said I checked them out because their name was funky and bands with funky names are sometimes cool. Simply calling Crobot “cool” is a very rude understatement. Take Alter Bridge, mix in a heavy dose of psychedelic rock, add a charismatic and talented frontman, and behold, you’ve got Crobot. High energy, heavy grooves, and some goofy stage theatrics immediately sucked me in until the last second of their set. Between these mighty fine rockers and The Dead Deads, I found two new favorite bands by chance and luck.
After a late night of meeting new friends and drunk talks until 3:30am at the ship’s cute little casino, the Port of Nassau, Bahamas awaited us on Wednesday. Cheap rum and local Kalik beer kept our Consequence of Sound squad from going insane in that tourist trap of a town during our brief day of wandering. I wish I had more time in Nassau, because I’m sure it’s a beautiful island, but such is the cruise life.
Time blurred together, we shot a bunch of fan interviews back on the ship, and before I knew it, it was time for Motörhead. Rewind time to the day prior, and having observed Motörhead’s meet and greet, I was worried if Lemmy’s current health would be a roadblock for his performances. But if there’s a sign of a true rock legend, it’s a 69 year old man confidently, if slowly, making his way on stage to shred and belt out hit after hit with a commanding demeanor that takes decades to perfect, and Lemmy was that legend on Wednesday night. The three-piece English heavy rock band put on a masterclass of straight up rock n’ roll for the next hour, and showed young punks like myself the reason their status in music history will be hard to top. Seeing them perform twice in two days will certainly be a lifelong memory I will treasure for years to come.
As an added bonus, the rest of the night was dedicated to partying at the ship’s badass live band karaoke at Dazzles. Contrary to popular belief and past bad karaoke experiences, this karaoke had wannabe rock stars actually belting out solid covers ranging from Rage Against The Machine to The Rolling Stones. Those who stuck around into the wee hours of the night saw some wonderful surprise performances, including Exodus frontman Steve Souza steamrolling through an AC/DC cover, as well as a furious cover of Motörhead’s Ace of Spades that had Butcher Babies front woman Heidi Shepherd and Stone Sour drummer Roy Mayorga commanding the stumbling but raging crowd.
By the time Thursday morning rolled around, I myself rolled around in bed feeling physically and mentally drained. The first three days had been an epic yet crazy roller coaster, but this wasn’t a flaky three day and “get off our ship see you later lame punk” cruise. Two cans of Monster gracefully chugged during morning meet and greets, and I was ready to power through the final day of insanity (Thanks Monster for the free energy liquid!). Early afternoon festivities included a strangely amusing, but ultimately slightly unsettling motor boating contest. Picture middle aged dudes motor boating middle aged women. Or maybe don’t. You’re better off not imagining that scenario, but at this point you’re probably thinking about it and you can’t get the visual out of your head. Whoops! At least that “contest” was followed up by a hilarious belly flop contest, which saw devil chickens and a duo in blow up sumo wrestler costumes attempting to deliver the perfect flop. A shirtless dude with an impressive backflip into a belly flop, and a jovial guy with a prosthetic leg who was known across the ship as Fat Jimmy were the eventual champions, walking off with free beer to add to their drunken escapades.
The last of the headlining acts I had yet to see all cruise were Anthrax. Having been indifferent for 80s thrash metal, I wouldn’t have gone to see them if I wasn’t working photo. Non-photo Jonathan would have been pretty disappointed if that had happened, as Anthrax put on an upbeat display of furious showmanship for the next hour. Performing with the gusto of a young contemporary metal frontman, Joey Belladonna confidently commanded the theatre and had the audience begging for more. Scott Ian and the rest of the crew delivered shred after shred, showing why Anthrax are kings of thrash metal.
With all of the main stage performances wrapped up after Motörhead’s second show, the party moved up to the deck, where the band was presented with a gigantic cake celebrating their 40th anniversary. Lemmy and company were in high spirits, with gleaming smiles visible from the far end of the pools. From there, the final night turned into a wonderful blur of jovial conversations, meeting more new friends at the last minute, and super late hangouts watching more karaoke and bonding closer with newfound lifelong friends. I could tell a new unofficial family was formed by everyone on the ship, and we all dreaded the inevitable morning, when reality came to slap us across the face and kick us off the ship, with Miami’s Friday morning sun kissing our very tan (or very red) skin.
This experience transcended beyond any regular festival experience. Outside of any music-themed cruise excursion, you won’t find such positive and joyful camaraderie at your big old Lollapalooza and Coachella. The shared love for metal broke any initial barriers towards friendship, and never did I come across a time where anyone was judged, whether it be for being a man, woman, child, able bodied, physically limited, mentally disabled, American, foreign, or anything in-between. In fact, everyone was celebrated for their unique personalities. In one of the few moments I had some alone time on the last day, I chilled on the back deck of the ship and observed all of the wonderful and genuinely happy energy being shared, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of euphoric contentment. A new family had formed during the duration of MotörBoat, one where if any of us ran into each other in the future, it would be as if we came across a long lost best friend ready to give the most earnest bear hug. I felt at home, at peace. Too bad this home only lasted for four days, once a year. Thankfully, with the existence of social media, connections with new friends can be kept until the next MotörBoat rolls around. This cruise was about more than the epic performances. It was about the family and love newly created by the power and natural attraction of music.
Until next time, MotörBoaters. Now it’s back to hibernating for the next week as I assimilate myself back into normal American culture.