It all started with Ben Levin. The second sailing of Joe Bonamassa's Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea: Mediterranean cruise took place August 23 - 28, 2022 aboard the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Jade, and it was Levin who this year had the honor of being the first act to perform.
Levin entertained fans by playing a concert in the round in the ship's atrium, an intimate venue where the audience was up close to the pianist. Playing an impressive bit of boogie-woogie piano to get started, Levin also played "The Chicago Breakdown" from his first album, a catchy call-and-response tune called "Carry Out or Delivery" that takes its inspiration from the pandemic lockdown situation, and even a take on the often-covered late '60s hit "Sunny," originally by Bobby Hebb. Levin noted that the Hebb chestnut was one of his mother's favorite songs and that she was in the audience. Those who didn't see Levin's performance because they were still getting settled (the ship had not yet left port) had another chance as every act aboard played at least two shows.
The big show on the first day of the cruise was a full concert from the man of the hour, Joe Bonamassa. Bonamassa is currently one of the top blues rockers in the world and the hours leading up to his show were fraught with anticipation. And Joe did not disappoint. Taking the stage to a mighty roar from the crowd that had assembled in front of the festival's biggest venue located on the ship's pool deck, Bonamassa launched into "Dust Bowl" and kept rocking until his favorite set ender, "The Ballad of John Henry." Reeling off incendiary guitar licks throughout, Joe played traditional blues grooves and radio-ready blues rock, moaned the blues and issued life advice on cuts like "Just 'Cos You Can Don't Mean You Should." His set included "Lonely Boy," "Notches," "A Conversation with Alice," "Evil Mama," "Curtain Call" and a hot and haunting cover of the late Gary Moore's "Midnight Blues."
Some of the other acts performing on stages throughout the ship on sail-away day were Keb' Mo', Elles Bailey, Jackie Venson, the James Hunter Six, Blues Pills and in a late night show, the Cold Stares. The next morning the Jade was set to call at the Greek island of Mykonos so, in order to accommodate cruisers who went ashore, shows were not scheduled to take place until the afternoon. But what an afternoon and evening it was!
Walter Trout put on a phenomenal show on the pool deck stage where he played songs like the slow blues of "Waiting for the Dawn" from his latest release Ride, amazingly his 30th album. Some years ago Trout almost died from liver disease which also led to brain damage and in expressing how grateful he is to be alive Walter recounted the harrowing event for the crowd, including how he spent eight months in the hospital and needed a year to teach himself to play guitar again. Trout waxed humorous when pondering how he got the liver disease, "Well I was in Canned Heat..." Dipping into the dark material from his Brain Damage album, Walter played "I'm Almost Gone."
Keb' Mo' played the quite appropriate "Perpetual Blues Machine" during his set and fed the crowd some "Government Cheese," Samantha Fish electrified the crowd with the thundering cut "Bulletproof" and the advisory to a lover that is the twangy "Better Be Lonely" with its cheeky line "I wish I liked you better/But I don't," and Ana Popovic played to a packed house in the ship's Stardust Theater. After Popovic's show fans where heard marveling thoughts like, "I didn't know she could play like that!" The comments were typical of the many revelations cruisers had about the diverse bunch of artists on the Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea: Mediterranean cruise. We'll tell you about the second half of the cruise in Part 2 of our feature.
Secure your cabin for the third sailing of the Keeping the Blues Alive: Mediterranean cruise that sails Aug. 17-22, 2023 from Athens to Santorini, Greece and Dubrovnik, Croatia here.
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