Sea days. Some like to sleep in, some like the fact that you don’t have to be anywhere and can just relax, and then some like to use the extra hours on the water to see as much singing as they can. This year, the latter was me. My host group had a private concert at ten o’clock in the morning, and after that, I pretty much had my day planned by the hour!
The Private Concert
There are several artists on the cruise that will give a private concert for the people who registered with their group as a host. It’s one of my favorite parts of Singing at Sea and makes this cruise unique. Wednesday morning, my host partnered with another group and gave their private concert in the Viking Lounge. The Viking was a really neat area on the ship; from inside, you had a panoramic view of the pool deck and the Gulf as we sailed through the waters between the US and Mexico. Lots of comfy chairs were lined up in a half moon around the stage, and for an hour, you just felt like you were a part of big family gathering. The Whisnants and Mark Trammell Quartet sang a few songs from their Home For Christmas Tour program and then each group sang a few requests. Trevor Conkle played a piano solo and the group members shared stories. It was a nice relaxing way to start the day.
Lunch in the Minstrel Dining Room
After the concert, we headed to the Minstrel Dining Room for lunch. It’s kind of a tradition for my bunch to eat lunch in the dining room at least once on a sea day, and Royal Caribbean gives us a good reason. The food is delicious! We were seated at a table near the windows and as I looked out, I thought, “That looks likes mountains in the distance.” Thinking my mind was playing tricks on me (after all, we were out in the water!) I asked the waiter if there was land nearby and he answered yes. It was the island of Cuba! I knew we passed the island as we sailed to Mexico, but this was the first time the sky was clear enough to see it.
Bluegrass Jam Session
At 1:30 pm, Jeff Tolbert hosted a Bluegrass Jam Session in the Pacifica Theater. An admirer of all things acoustic, I made sure I was there in time to snatch a good seat. On stage, there were too many instruments to count, but I guarantee every professional musician on the ship was on that platform! The hour kicked off with “I’ll Fly Away,” a standard among “picking” tunes; all the musicians stood with a big grin on their face, happily playing their instruments. The Primitive Quartet played their song, “Falling Leaves,” and then Mike Riddle followed with “I Am A Pilgrim,” an up-beat arrangement for acoustic guitar. The next few songs were sung by the preachers onboard, and when Jeff Tolbert mentioned that, Pastor Joe Author emerged from the back of the stage and stepped up to a microphone. He had an acoustic guitar strapped over his shoulder and sang the old song, “Every Hour Of Every Day,” and then C.T. Townsend and his wife Becky came on stage and sang “When I Lay My Isaac Down.” Because they only had an hour to jam, the concert moved quickly from one artist to the next. Jeff Easter was called up to lead the band in “Amazing Grace” with his harmonica and played a duet with the fiddle player which earned a hearty applause from the crowd. He continued the program by singing an old song with the lyrics, “It was Jesus who made me this way.” I couldn’t help but think how appropriate it was that Mike Riddle followed that tune with a soft arrangement of “Jesus Loves Me” on the acoustic. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, Mark Bishop and his father, Kenny Bishop joined the musicians and talked about a song they did as the Bishops called, “Rank Strangers To Me.” The crowd loved it and so did I! The Bishops were one group I never had the privilege to see live, and to enjoy even a small glimpse of the former group was satisfying. Mark and Kenny stayed on stage and was joined by Karen Peck Gooch and Jeff Easter for another classic, “There Is Coming A Day,” and my, oh, my did the audience like that! An instrumental of “In The Garden” followed and began as a fiddle duet with Jeff Tolbert and a young man named Jason. By the end of the hymn, all the instruments had joined in. It was simply beautiful. As the jam session came to an end, the musicians performed two songs that are popular among Bluegrass fans – “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and “Glorybound Train.” When they closed with that last tune, I don’t think anyone was left in their seat!
The afternoon continued with more great singing, but to keep this post from being too long, I’ll just mention that I stayed in the Pacifica Theater to hear Jeff & Sheri Easter sing a few songs and then I walked to the back of the ship and heard Brian Free & Assurance and the Perry’s in the Colony Club. At that point of the day, it was time to get ready for dinner and I’m glad I didn’t skip out on it that evening because the food was really good! For a starter, I ordered the “Spanish Tapas Plate” which was sample of cold cut meats and cheese. On the main course, I must admit I broke my own rule and ordered the same thing I had last year, the “Sweet and Sour Vegetarian Soy Nuggets” – but what can I say? It was sooo good! It’s an Asian dish served with stir fried veggies and rice, it tasted delicious. (Highly recommend!) Ordering dessert was a little tricky because there were so many good choices. I settled on the “Lemon Tart” and wasn’t disappointed. And because it just happened to be Valentines Day the dessert came out with a little chocolate that said, “Happy Valentines.”
Jonathan Wilburn in the Colony Club
After dinner, we walked down to the Colony Club for a 30 minute concert with Jonathan Wilburn. Mark Bishop was the emcee for that theater and introduced Jonathan by reminiscing about the first time they met. “I guess we met Jonathan and his family in the 80’s, when we were all kind of green,” Mark said. “Back then, we weren’t thinking of having a career or anything like that, we just sang Gospel Music to get the gospel out. I love and appreciate this brother, right here!” Jonathan Wilburn came on stage and kicked off with “When He Calls I’ll Fly Away.” When the snappy tune ended, Jonathan exclaimed, “But until He does, we should be a joyful people!” He went on to encourage Believers to have a good attitude in life and be positive. “How could you go around with the Creator living inside and still walk around with your lip pushed out?” asked Jonathan. “When I was a kid, I heard the song, ‘Give The World A Smile Each Day.’ I thought it was the cheesiest song I ever heard, but sometimes, that’s all you have to give.” He then transitioned into singing his next song for his mom as a Valentine’s gift. “This is for all the moms on the boat,” he said. The song was none other than “Hello, Mama.” Afterwards, he sang “Heaven’s Jubilee,” “I’m Bound For That City” and closed with “The Old Rugged Cross Made The Difference.”
Mark Trammell Quartet in the Pacifica Theater
From Jonathan’s concert we walked from the back of the ship to the front so we could see the Mark Trammell Quartet in the Pacifica Theater at 9:30 pm. The quartet kicked off with Wedding Music, an old gospel song that fans never tire of hearing. “Don’t Stop Running” and “My Faith Still Holds” followed, then Mark quickly introduced the group. When he came to Trevor, he said, “You asked for him again…” and then Trevor played a solo, “The Redeemed Medley.” Afterwards, Mark talked about an old song they recorded on their current CD and how back in the day, the song stayed on the radio charts for 18 months. It featured Blake and was titled, “Learning To Lean.” When the last few notes of that ballad finished, there was a soft rumble as the final track began and MTQ sang their closing song, “The King Is Coming.”
Whisnants in the Centrum Stage
MTQ’s concert ended at 10:00 pm and we had a little time before the Whisnants started on the Centrum stage 10:10 pm. That’s one thing you can count on with Singing at Sea, some of the concerts are staggered (time wise) so you can go from one to the other without a rush. The Whisnants started their set in the Centrum with, “I’m Gonna Live Forever,” an easy listening tune that warmed the crowd up nicely. The next song was a request, and I smiled as “Even In The Valley” began. It’s one of my favorite Whisnant ballads! Up next was Jeff’s solo, “Grave Mistake,” then intros were made. (That evening, Trevor Conkle played piano for them.) After introductions, Austin and Ethan sang a quick tune together called, “Should Have Been There,” an upbeat song about the fiery furnace. As the set continued, they dedicated a song to Valentine’s Day, and it was a mix between a love song and gospel song – “I Delighted In The Lord.” Before their set ended, the Whisnants sang two songs that are staples for them that I enjoyed very much. The first was “Be Not Afraid” featuring Aaron and the last song was “All Is Well,” a beautiful ballad about God’s faithfulness.
Conclusion: You can see a lot of singing on a sea day! As you can see from how I planned out my Wednesday at sea, it ended up being full of great singing, picking and food! (You know I can’t get through a cruise post without talking about food! lol!) If you’ve never been on Singing At Sea and are contemplating signing up, I encourage you to go with a host group. Nearly all of the groups have a private concert for those who register with them and the time they set aside to do that is something special that will make your cruise even more memorable. I highly recommend it!