Without Yes, Festival Floats On

Yes were not physically present on Cruise to the Edge 2022, having dropped out of the floating festival the year before. And some might have labeled that omission a vibe-ruiner: The band, whose 1972 LP inspired the event’s very name, has been a regular since the inaugural 2013 voyage.

But Yes did make a brief but notable cameo, at least in spirit: Deep into a dynamic theater set on May 6, the fest’s final night, prog-metal band Haken tipped their caps to the OGs, boosting their neon-tinted “1985” with “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” The theme of survival seemed clear throughout the five-day excursion, led on the marquee by Alan Parsons, Marillion and jazz-fusion guitarist Al Di Meola. Despite the numerous obstacles (no namesake headliner, late-in-the-game cancelations of several other bands, endless social media grumbling from fans, two previous cruise postponements, overall COVID-era anxiety), the ship sailed on.

Attendees did encounter plenty of logistical bummers and sour surprises on day one, after making it onboard Royal Caribbean’s enormous Mariner of the Seas (and, thankfully, providing a vaccination record and proof of a negative COVID test). Italian prog icons Le Orme were announced as a very last-minute cancelation, and technical challenges resulted in absurdly long show delays. (Transatlantic, featuring former Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, took the stage nearly two hours after their originally scheduled time.) Multiple bands soldiered on through personnel hurdles: Flower Kings leader Roine Stolt, battling vocal issues, had to reshape his set by leaning into instrumentals and more singing from guitarist Hasse Froberg; numerous other acts, including eternally underrated hard rockers Wishbone Ash and tribute gods the Zappa Band, utilized fill-in musicians to plug lineup holes.

That resiliency fueled some of the festival’s obvious highlights: Wishbone, after a trilogy celebrating the 50th anniversary of 1972’s Argus, ended their late-night pool-stage set with a gloriously spacey rendition of 10-minute epic “Phoenix”; meanwhile, Zappa Band — featuring numerous Frank Zappa alumni, including multi-instrumentalists Robert Martin and Mike Keneally, bassist Scott Thunes and singer and guitarist Ray White — recruited virtuoso fill-in drummer Marco Minnemann for joyous salutes to their former boss, showcasing Zappa’s proggier side on anthems like “Village of the Sun + Echidna’s Arf (Of You)” and “City of Tiny Lites.”

Keneally could have been the event’s sleeper all-star: Almost always beaming a childlike smile behind his white beard, he bounced from fluid electric guitar solos to daunting keyboard runs to soulful harmony vocals, often in the same song. And he brought that same “serve the song yet rip when applicable” mentality while accompanying King Crimson’s Jakko Jakszyk for a pair of gigs.

Despite depressingly scant attendance and a few understandable hiccups, Jakszyk’s dynamic Friday-night theater show — ranging from his semi-recent, cowritten Crimson songs (the furious “Meltdown”) to an array of recent solo material (the lightly jazzy prog-pop tune “It Would All Make Sense”) — felt like a headline show in disguise. (There was plenty of big-draw firepower onstage: Thunes and Martin were also part of the live band, which hadn’t played live before the cruise. “Welcome to the second and last date of our two-date tour,” Jakszyk told the crowd, adding, “[It’s] also our second rehearsal.”)

Perseverance was also crucial for former King Crimson member Adrian Belew, who lit up both the Studio B and pool stages, despite multiple loop-pedal glitches and ridiculously hot temperatures at the latter gig. The singer and guitarist, a rare songwriter who compellingly fuses prog and pop, showcased powerhouses from his solo catalog (the driving “Ampersand,” the belted “Young Lions”) while revisiting staples (“Frame by Frame,” “Three of a Perfect Pair”) from his Crimson years. (He also did it all while sporting the fest’s best threads: a floral shirt he wore onstage while touring with David Bowie in 1978-79.)

“Let’s move on to a band that some of you have written across your chest,” Belew said at Studio B, surveying the crowd’s Crimson attire. (A fan fired back: “Gentle Giant?” Belew, seconds before roaring into “Dinosaur”: “Not quite.”)

Hairy dudes in Larks Tongues in Aspic T-shirts will always need a safe place to geek out. And though the festival often felt doomed by outside forces, Cruise to the Edge more than delivered.

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