Excellent music on Outlaw Country Cruise 3


I have a pretty eclectic taste in music. I listen to bands even hipsters haven’t heard of, I know this for a fact because pretty much nobody recognized any of the bands I was irritating people with by raving about over the past couple months leading up to my voyage on the Norwegian Pearl for the Outlaw Country Cruise 3, Jan. 21-26.

The Bottle Rockets and Jason and the Scorchers’ Warner Hodges play together. Photo by Richard Amery
Some of my favourite bands barely ever play Canada and are never played on modern radio but were playing the Outlaw Country Cruise 3 sponsored by the Outlaw country station on Sirius XM. While the station plays your usual diet of Merle Haggard, David Allan Coe, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, they also play a lot of up and coming “outlaw country ” musicians, Southern rock, punk rock and cow punk , roots rock , alt country and other music that just doesn’t fit in, so the bands on the bill reflected that diversity.

 Some people recognized Steve Earle and the Cuban influenced country band the Mavericks, who were the “headliners” on this bucket list cruise which was basically a gigantic music festival taking place on six stages on three different levels of a monster cruise ship sailing from New Orleans to Costa Maya, Mexico.
A couple people vaguely remembered the Bottle Rockets, Jason and the Scorchers and Blackberry Smoke because they heard them on my shows on CKXU 88.3 f.m.

Junior Brown playing the Outlaw country Crusie. Photo by Richard Amery But what made me feel pretty old is the younger people I talked to who didn’t recognize Texas born, New York based “hardcore troubadour”  Steve Earle, who played a special 30th anniversary concert of his album “Copperhead Road.”

And even though Steve was the headliner and playing numerous times (and for the most part completely different shows) during the week like most of the artists, I only caught bits and pieces of his shows including the Copperhead Road show, because they were competing with other bands I really want to see who rarely, if ever, tour Canada. And I know Steve would put on a great show because I’ve seen him play here. He was one of many Texas musicians playing on the ship. I got to sit in on a couple of Outlaw country broadcasts including Steve Earle swapping stories about dearly departed Guy Clark and Nashville in the early ’70s.

I also got to see an excellent workshop featuring Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Lucinda Williams swapping songs and telling stories, which was excellent and kept my attention off the floating city being blown back and forth by 50 knot (approximately 100 km/ hour) gale force winds, which while I may be used to them in Lethbridge, is a little disconcerting in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.

 Usually I’m in the front row, right next to the stage for almost every show that comes to Lethbridge, making pictures and taking notes in the endless quest to let people know that there is a whole world of great music just waiting for you discover beyond the Elizabeth Cook on the Outlaw Country Cruise. Photo by Richard Amerybanality of modern Top 40 radio, so it was weird to just be part of the masses just sitting back and watching the show.

Other than the Bottle Rockets, even I stayed at the back of the room, and barely took any pictures, not wanting to pack a telephoto lens (which were “not allowed” though some people brought them).

It was a weird unsettling feeling, but the trip of a lifetime — like I said bucket list.

 Every morning, they crew would deliver a schedule of cheerful welcome brochures and portable schedules of all the fun planned for the day which you could carry around on a lanyard along with your cabin key which you’d have to use to get drinks and of course get into your room,  to choose the shows you wanted to see and the pieces of shows you could catch if they were competing with each other.

Fortunately the stages weren’t that far apart, so it was easy to catch a little bit of everything.

 I signed up for the pre-party on the Cruise which featured two amazing shows.

  While my main attraction was New Orleans cowpunk icons Dash Rip Rock best known for their song “Let’s Go Smoke some Pot,” and the cowpunk (a country music blended with punk energy) legends Supersuckers, who bill themselves as the greatest rock and roll band in the world, I also discovered a talented newcomer Jesse Dayton, though he has been a Texas favourite for years and who was also helping Shooter Jennings performing on the Outlaw Country Cruise. Photo by Richard Amerythe Supersuckers “working on becoming the greatest country band in the world” with his bassist.

It was competing with The Ponderosa Stomp featuring an array of classic country pickers plus Augie Meyers who used to play with the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Texas Tornadoes who forged Mexican music with country music in the ’70s, play New Orleans harp legend Lazy Lester blowing amazing blues music.

 I love discovering new music and sharing it with people, it is, after all, my life’s work.
 I could easily see why Texans rave about Jesse Dayton, who easily blended rockabilly with traditional country music and a touch of punk nihilism. He played much of his new CD “ The Revealer,” including “Daddy was a Badass,” “Three Pecker Goat” and my favourite “ I’m At Home Getting Hammered  While She’s Out Getting Nailed.”

From the female perspective Sarah Gayle Meech reminded me a little of Terri Clark with a touch of classic Patsy Cline style country. Her fiddle player absolutely floored me as did Shooter Jennings’ fiddle player.
 Though I really enjoyed the Cuban infused country of the Mavericks who brought their horn section on board to open the cruise on the Monday, I was there for the cowpunk bands.

 Jason and The Scorchers pretty much invented the idea of cowpunk and directly or indirectly influenced a variety of cowpunk/ alt country bands like Son Volt, The Bottle Rockets and pretty much anybody else who tried to blend the two styles.
 The played several incendiary sets of completely different songs,  save for their cover of Bob Dylan’s  “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” which was part of all of them.

They were amazing especially considering  their first show on the boat was the first time they’d played together in three years according to frontman Jason Ringenberg, leaping around the stage like he had fire ants in his pants.

 Guitarist Warner Hodges who also plays with Dan Baird of the Georgia Satellites and Jason Ringenberg stepped on stage to jam with the Bottle Rockets on the big outdoor stage on the pool deck stage on floor 12 of the boat. That was a highlight for me and the Bottle Rockets, who admitted they started playing in part because of Jason and the Scorchers.

 The Bottle Rockets are the best straight ahead rock and roll band playing today and showed it. Frontman Brian Henneman toured with Son Volt in their early days as a helper and started writing songs during down time and formed the band after they got him a record deal. He writes about everyday people around his home town of Festus, Missouri, that could really break your heart, but the band also showed they could tear things up musically with the best of them, as well as just make you smile with songs like the simple, but beautiful “Dog,” which is a highlight off their new CD “South Broadway Athletic Club.”

 The other band I really wanted to see was southern rock band Blackberry Smoke, who I just missed seeing on their tour with Govt. Mule two years ago.

 They were one of many acts trying out new material from upcoming albums (they release “Find a Light” in April.). I was hoping to hear “Holding all the Roses,” the title track off their Cd from a couple years ago, but didn’t hear it, though they played quite few from their  latest CD “Like an Arrow.”

 They sounded like a touring with Govt Mule has rubbed off on them as much of their shows  turned into long experimental jam sessions.
 Another of my favourites, Elizabeth Cook, who is a DJ on Outlaw Country and a fine songwriter in her own right, showed off her furry coat as well as new band and new songs, so that was a highlight as I’ve had a crush on her since I first heard her  show “Apron Strings” on the radio. She played a lot of her last album and new songs including “Side Guy,” which I hope will become a hit for her when she releases it.

She was also a highlight as she sat down for a live broadcast of her interviewing Lucinda Williams about her long career, album by album.

 Another non musical highlight was a live reading of a new episode of The Cartoon network Late night swim cartoon the Squidbillies, which is a hilariously twisted cartoon about a family of land-bound redneck squids. Unknown Hinson voices the dirtbag patriarch Early a while Elizabeth Cook voices Tammy, so they joined the creators on stage for the ready in front of a backdrop of  scenes from the upcoming episode. They brought on Steve Earle, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Lucinda Williams and Mojo Nixon to voice the cartoon versions of themselves as well.

 Shooter Jennings, who was in Lethbridge a couple years ago with his dad Waylon Jennings’s band “Waymore’s Outlaws,” had his own band on the boat, which included an amazing fiddle player named Audrey. He was also in the mood to play new music, taking a further step away from country, though he did play “Outlaw You.”

The Bottle Rockets and Jason and the Scorchers play together. Photo by Richard Amery
The new music was more detuned alternative rock and was pretty amazing.
 Another new to me (as he has been performing since at least 1999) discovery was Unknown Hinson, who combined tongue in cheek politically incorrect country music with some solid rockabilly chops. He’ll be up in Canada opening for the Reverend Horton Heat in March.
 Yet another act I always wanted to see,  though he has been playing for years was country singer Junior Brown, who performed twangy country music with a double necked guitar and steel guitar, which was very impressive to watch, especially detuning the low E mid song to get those gut busting low notes he excels at mid song.

 The Mastersons, who opened for Steve Earle and were part of his band for his last  Lethbridge show were also on board as part of Earle’s band as well as playing new music for their own shows. They sang gorgeous harmonies as usual.

The main show I wanted to see was Ray Wylie Hubbard, who is best known for the song “Redneck Mother,” from the early ’70s, spent 40 years addicted to drugs and alcohol before sobering up and learning how to properly fingerpick and write really amazing spiritually themed, stream of consciousness thought provoking country / blues songs. He held a guitar workshop with his son Lucas, which was hilarious. I got to ask him how to play my favourite song “Stolen Horses,” but he couldn’t remember how to play it other than to say he thought it was in open D. But it was a kick just to be able to ask the question and get him to autograph his autobiography.

Jason and the Scorchers playing the Outlaw Country Cruise. photo by Richard Amery
Another highlight was a loud, raucous show by the over-enthusiastic, boisterous  Mojo Nixon, who was losing his voice almost as soon as the cruise started. He technically has retired from performing, but came out of retirement for a set. He has written a variety of underground politically incorrect hits like “ Debbie Gibson is Pregnant With my two headed love Child,”“Elvis is Everywhere” and a lot of other hilarious songs you can‘t print the titles of in a family newspaper. So it was a hoot to be able to experience that.

Winding down the cruise, modern  country star Jack Ingram was second guessing his success a little and was slumming for his one show on the cruise, observing, “be careful what you wish for. When you’re stuck outside a club behind the red rope, the people inside the red rope might not necessarily be the people you want to hang out with,” he quipped before playing an array of stripped down hits like “ I’m Drinking Through it,” interspersed with stories and jokes about his dad and wife, before noting he was glad to be there after begging to be part of the cruise and noting he was going to the Grammys after the cruise.

— by Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor