Jamrock Reggae Cruise

by Angela Marlett
in Features
Damian Marley onstage. Photo by Evan Wollenberg
Damian Marley onstage. Photo by Evan Wollenberg

Cruise Production, 3G and Jonas Provide Audio for a High-Seas Adventure

For the fourth year in a row, Cruise Production teamed up with 3G Productions and Jonas Productions for the Welcome to Jamrock Cruise, a five day reggae festival on the high seas. More than 4,000 fans packed the sold-out Independence of the Seas to enjoy performances by such reggae luminaries as Damian and Stephen Marley, Luciano, Freddie McGregor, Cocoa Tea and Tarrus Riley. In all, more than 40 artists and DJs kept the party (and the audio crew) going nonstop with live performances, DJ sets and a reggae sound clash DJ battle. The cruise set sail from Fort Lauderdale on November 13 with stops in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

main stage

‡‡         Getting Your Sea Legs

Unlike road tours, live music on cruise ships brings a unique set of challenges. And Cruise Production is uniquely suited to address them. Cruise Production founder Tim Cabral explained, “We’re the only company built and designed with the experience of nearly 400 cruises, so that sets us apart. A lot of it is about the relationships I’ve built with incredible business partners and people over the years. We’re a provider that can span many different programs, many different genres. We’re extremely flexible.”

Flexibility is a key strength when dealing with a production as large as the Jamrock cruise. From the moment the ship leaves port, music on board is nonstop with seven different venues ranging from the outdoor main stage to the indoor theater to various lounges. Each night features a full-production concert with five live acts and DJ sets both before and after.

Luciano on stage. Photo by Evan Wollenberg

“When you show up at a festival, you don’t have to deal with customs or how you get things in the venue or how to get power where you need it. It’s the same things you’re doing and almost to the same scale and scope, but with more obstacles to deal with. People think that when you’re going on a cruise ship, they picture just a lounge and a small setup with backline. They don’t realize that you’re actually doing full production with everything you would use at a regular show, and somehow we have to get seven trucks worth on the ship,” explained Jesse Launder, crew chief and gear coordinator, Cruise Production.

Among the biggest hurdles facing a production of this magnitude is the basic logistics of load in and set up, with the added cruise ship twist. Before any road case is loaded, all gear and crew are cleared by customs, down to the last serial number. As assistant production manager Kyle Connors of Cruise Production explained, this requires a balance of precise planning and flexibility.

The audio crew, from left, included Neil Rosenstock, FOH Engineer, 3G Productions; Scott Southern, Monitor Engineer, 3G Productions (in back); Troy Arabia, Audio Engineer, 3G Productions (in front); Bill Blackstone, System Engineer, 3G Productions; Johnny Lesak, Patch, 3G Productions; and stagehand Eric Vilaire.

“We need the flexibility from our vendors because we need customs to check these things, we need these lists months in advance, cruise lines need to inspect our stage plans, to make sure everything is up to code,” he said. “So there’s a lot of advance planning, and we need that flexibility from everyone to make that happen. We visit these ships all year round to start planning. For Jamrock, it’s a year-long process. There’s a lot of logistics leading up to it, and once we’re on, we’re running around like crazy.”

“On a cruise ship, everything has to be preplanned. Where I store one road case on the ship matters totally. If it’s not secured or it’s in an area where it’s not supposed to be, it could cause a chain reaction that makes the rest of the sailing very difficult for us,” Connors continued. “There are a lot of safety factors to consider. The ship is always moving, and the road cases are on wheels. The load-in and load-out are a hard thing for us because we have to deal with customs and they check us pretty heavily, they open every case, they look at everything. Everything is a challenge, but what makes our crew great is that over the years, we’ve gotten really good at what we’re doing, and it’s not such a worry for us anymore.”

Reggae legends past and future: Jazzy T, Freddie McGregor, Cocoa Tea, Damian Marley and Foota Hype. Photo by Radiant Sun Photography

This planning and flexibility paid off, according to Bill Blackstone, FOH system tech, 3G Productions. “This cruise was a lot more organized because they cleared customs outdoors after the gear came off the truck and everything was organized how we want it and then we sent what we wanted on. The staging has it worst because the pools have to be drained and covered before they can start load in. It’s a pretty big ordeal for a load in. It’s the hardest load in I’ve ever done,” said Blackstone.

Staging was craned onboard while the remainder of the gear made its way through the ship’s maze of narrow hallways and small elevators. “I’ve been on other ships where we’ve had to carry consoles up the stairs because they wouldn’t fit in the elevators. At least with this one, the decks went on with a crane,” said Blackstone.

The main stage

Once onboard, the crew has just four hours to set up stages and get gear up and running before the ship departs and the festivities commence, leaving no room for error. Once the ship departs, there’s no calling back to the shop for missing parts. It’s one of the reasons Cruise Production chooses top of the line vendors who supply top-of-the-line gear. “Even out here, you want to send old stuff, but you can’t, because you still have riders you have to fulfill. Same with backline. With Jonas Productions, who handles all our backline, all of their gear is always top-notch — everything is always switched out and fixed. Nobody ever sends the bottom-of-the-barrel stuff out just because we’re on a cruise ship. Right now here’s a new [DiGiCo] SD10 sitting out on the pool deck. Vendors are willing to make the sacrifice for their gear to have a good show,” said Launder.

The monitor crew included Johnny Lesak, Kelsi Halverson, Greg Blakeslee and Scott Southern, all from 3G Productions.

‡‡         Reliable Gear

The sound setup made exclusive use of d&b audiotechnik speaker systems, including two d&b Q1 line arrays on the poolside main stage and two stacks of d&b M4 loudspeakers on the theater main stage. Consoles included two DiGiCo SD10s, two Midas PRO2s and an Avid Profile, with Shure wireless mic and IEM systems for both main stages.

In addition to reliability, 3G Productions chooses gear that will provide the audio quality that artists demand and fans expect. “I love d&b. It’s arguably the best PA you can ask for. It’s punishing with the sound. That’s really what people want. They want to feel the bass, and they want that crystal-clear clarity for everything else,” explained Troy Arabia, systems engineer, 3G Productions. “In the day and age of technology that we live in, it’s nice to use the best things. These are the Ferraris and Bentleys of the audio industry. It’s very easy to have $250,000 worth of gear in a single rack. When I see someone mistreat a piece of gear I say to them, ‘Hey, that’s a Ferrari,’ and I’ll point at it, and they’ll go, ‘Oh yeah, maybe I shouldn’t sit my drink on that fancy thing.’ It’s great to work with this level of gear. I know that a lot of other production companies don’t do charters with d&b and Midas and DiGiCo. d&b has made my life easier. It works great, it sounds great, and it’s reliable. You don’t get the reliability out of the cheaper gear. You learn very quickly in the industry that you don’t always want to go with the lowest bid.”

BusySignal photo by Evan Wollenberg

Aside from the logistical challenges of load in, power on cruise ships is a recurring technical issue. “Power is a pain in the a**,” said Connors. “We end up using a transformer that the cruise line supplies. It’s a 440V line that they run and we step it down to 208V. That gives us what we need to run the regular concert power. The problem is that anywhere that we would just plug into the wall, the ship has a muting system so if there’s an actual emergency, anything that has sound shuts off so everyone can hear the announcement. This allows us to be off of that because if everything was just shutting off all the time, it could blow some of the expensive things that 3G has out there. So we have another system that allows it to mute but it doesn’t drop the power out and blow the equipment. So we have a workaround that’s compliant with what the ship and the Coast Guard needs. In some of the smaller rooms we don’t have those giant lines to run transformers to, so it’s not as much of an issue. It’s usually just DJ stuff. We’re not putting a $700,000 system into those smaller rooms.”

d&b audiotechnik was chosen for audio quality and reliability. Speakers are ground stacked as a high wind safeguard.

“The hardest thing is getting power right because you’re on a floating power station. Finding power and getting it to work is the biggest challenge,” added Neil Rosenstock, FOH engineer, 3G Productions.

Power issues became apparent when a random power surge interrupted headliner Damian Marley’s closing performance on the final night, sending crew members scrambling. Luckily, years of experience paid off and thousands of eager fans were treated to a rousing send off.

Another constant hurdle was the Caribbean’s rainy season. Just as the poolside main stage was completed, gear up and running, and the first live act was onstage, the skies opened up, bringing everything to a halt. The entire production was forced to regroup and move the night’s performances to the smaller indoor theater.

“Years ago, we never had a backup system,” said Arabia. “I’ve always been a fan of reggae shows outside. I feel they work better outside. Of course, we want to do every show out here on the pool deck. For a few years, we didn’t have a backup system that we could go to if we got rained out. Now that we do have that system, it makes it a little bit crazier. Because we have the ability to switch the programming when things happen, we sacrifice sleep. It’s all about making sure everyone has a great experience and being able to do it again.”

Neal Rosenstock, FOH engineer, 3G Productions

And while the change of venue was a headache to the production crew, it also impacted the ship’s operations with bars, waitstaff and security being repositioned on short notice. Connors explains, “It’s a different dynamic, because we’re dictating a lot of what goes on. Everything on the ship is dictated on what decisions are made in this room when it comes to the rain and where all the people are going. We’re looking at everything from weather reports to how quickly can we set up in certain lounges based on what act needs to go on. The cruise director makes the announcements based on what we’re doing; all of the tech team is going to the various lounges and prepping and we’re using some of the ship’s staging and lighting. So not only is it running this company, it’s also running this ship. It still ends up being like a concert venue, but this is a much deeper dynamic in how far it goes down and how many people are involved, based on what we’re doing. It’s a crazy thing, when you think about it.”

Bill Blackstone, System Engineer, 3G Productions

‡‡         Contingency Planning

“You have to have flexibility with time and venues,” added Launder. “That’s why we don’t have something booked in one of the rooms — that’s our contingency plan to be able to move stuff from the pool deck into the main room. You have to look at scheduling, and you have to leave yourself open with certain blocks in case things do have to change, you have time and a place to make those shifts. Just because we have the flexibility doesn’t mean that it always works. You have to get management and the artists to agree as well. For flexibility to work, everyone needs to compromise. Flexibility ends up being a challenge for us because you’re going to have to move things around and there’s always more work involved. Luckily we have guys who are smart enough to put things in certain places so you don’t have to be moving everything and do your scheduling do that if you have bands that are sharing backline, you put those bands on the schedule in the same room. You can be a lot more efficient that way.”

When the rain subsided and the music moved back outdoors, the wind was still a factor. The ship’s forward motion, combined with a moderate headwind, can create gusts over 40 m.p.h. on deck. “Wind is a huge factor
...If we’re outside at a festival and we have a pop-up tent and it starts to rain or the wind is 20 miles an hour, it’s not that bad. On a cruise ship, if we start to get 20 miles per hour winds, you’re already doing 17, 18 knots, so you’re getting 40 miles per hour winds. So wind is always a problem on cruise ships as well,” said Arabia. The wind factor, along with rigging weight restrictions and the ship’s motion, also dictates that all speakers be groundstacked.

Kyle Connors, Assistant Production Manager, Cruise Productions

The unique challenges of a cruise ship require tremendous flexibility from everyone involved. “It becomes your job to be an audio engineer because on a ship, it doesn’t matter how it’s spec’d or how many site surveys have been done, when we’re actually seeing what’s there and dealing with passengers walking through that area or anything else that might happen in that area, you truly have to engineer it, even beyond the site survey,” said Arabia. “Even if you personally went and looked at the ship six months ago, you get to the ship and things have changed. We’re always trying to figure out the best way to do it so that it’s the best sound. With ships, there’s always so many things. There are emergency drills,” Arabia continued. “We have to literally swab the deck — the whole deck is going to be covered in three inches of water, so gear has got to move. There’s all sorts of weird little things that you’re not used to dealing with on land. We’re used to it now because we’ve being doing it for a long time. There’s a lot of things that you don’t even think about when you come on to a ship.”

Despite all the challenges, there’s a camaraderie among the assembled crew that makes it all worthwhile. Cabral made a point of praising the crew. “I could not do what I do without the people I have to work with,” he said. “That’s a very important thing, I want people to feel that they don’t work for me but that we all work together for a client. …I count myself very blessed in that every day I get to do what I love to do and with the people I’m surrounded with, we’re all in the business together, we all enjoy it so we all have that very blessed feeling of loving what you do.”

And time spent sailing the Caribbean is rarely time wasted. Connors sums it up, “It is fun. Being out on the Caribbean rather than stuck on a tour bus is not a bad thing. It really comes down to the people that you’re with. If we weren’t getting along and enjoying what we’re doing, everything else would be miserable. It is a good gig, but it stays good because of our crew, the vendors we work with, and our partners from Damian [Marley’s] side. We all love this gig, this cruise especially.”

Tim Cabral, Production Manager, Cruise Production

Tim Cabral and Cruise Production: Seafaring Specialists

The unique challenges of staging concerts on cruise ships require a unique background and knowledge. And with 27 years of experience, Tim Cabral is uniquely suited for the job.

The premier company handling music-focused charter cruises, Cabral launched Cruise Production on April Fool’s Day, 2012 after rising through the ranks to become manager of special projects at Carnival Cruise Lines. With two decades of experience and connections, he was uniquely suited for the challenge. “My biggest claim to fame is that I’ve been a part of nearly 375 charter cruises, both music themed and corporate, between all my years at Carnival and all my years at Cruise Production,” he said. “Next year, we’ll hit our 100 cruise mark as Cruise Production, which puts us as the largest single production company that specializes in this.”

In the five years since its inception, Cruise productions has expanded rapidly, growing from four cruises the first year to 27 cruises this year. This expansion has been fueled by the growth in music-focused charter cruises. “As far as growth, there’s no limit. We’re all in a position in our lives where we’re all very blessed to be at this point where it’s growing exponentially. We’re expanding at a rate of 25% a year, and we’re growing along with the industry. We do about 30% of the market for music-themed cruises, which we’re very proud of.”

Cabral is quick to point out that his rapid growth is made possible by the dedication and hard work of his hand-picked crew. ”We’re very blessed to have a very talented and incredibly diverse team from all over… We have a roster of 70 extremely talented people who are all specialized in their field. And everybody gets along. We do pride ourselves on how diverse we are. Everything is based on our talent and our ability to get along, to play well with others,” he said.

Maintaining a stellar crew is at the heart of the company’s continued success. “Talent is important, but I’m also big on hiring someone’s who eager, driven, wants to learn because they could learn a lot in a short amount of time. We hire based on recommendations from other people and also by meeting people from other cruises,” he said. ”You have the extremely talented people who know every aspect of everything and you also want them to get along with everybody. But more importantly, to have the heart to pass it forward, to share the knowledge, don’t push people away when they want to learn a new console.”

In addition to the Welcome to Jamrock Reggae Cruise, Cruise Production is responsible for a variety of genres ranging from the Shiprocked heavy metal cruise to the Malt Shop Memories oldies cruise to a New Kids on the Block cruise. Regardless of the genre, Cabral sees the importance of charter music cruises in expanding the overall cruise market. “I have a very simple philosophy. If you took away the music aspect of it and looked at it as a charter business, … if you take someone who loves what they do, put them in a group with other people who love the same thing on a ship, it’s just magic. As soon as people walk onboard, they have something in common,” he explained. “These cruises introduce people who may never have cruised before. There’s a lot of first-time cruisers on the charter cruises. Whereas other programs see 70 to 85% return guests, it depends on how heavy the fan base is, how successfully the program is run… But people get it, they buy it again, they invite their friends, they spread the word, and before you know it, you’ve filled up a 3,000 passenger ship. It’s trying to find the big fan who has the five to seven days of vacation time.”

From a business standpoint, this expanding market is a win-win for all involved. “The cruises allow me to expand. As other companies expand, I get to expand. People ask, ‘Is there an endpoint to how big you think you will get?’ My original goal was just to do three a year, but once I saw the potential for all the folks who work with me, that this was affecting me financially, but more so, it was affecting them financially, everybody got to gain from that. Every small business owner will tell you that it’s not always the case that the more projects you get, the money you get at the end of the day. A lot of times, it’s the opposite. Once I got past that point, I was seeing the financial growth.  Last year alone, it was three quarters of a million dollars in payroll alone that we added to the economy of not just south Florida, but also Georgia, California, New York. In our small, small way, we’ve spent a million plus in rental, helping those companies’ payroll and those companies grow. That’s been one of the biggest blessings in this, to do what I love and to help other people do what they enjoy and financially gain from it and to add this new influx of business.”

Launching Cruise Production was the natural progression of a career spent in cruise ship production. “I grew up in a small town outside Boston, and I had been DJ’ing weddings, plowing driveways and always working since I was 12. I was very driven. I went to the New England School of Communications in Bangor, Maine. I wanted to be a radio DJ or a radio talk show host, things like that. Two weeks before I went off to college, my parents took my sister and I on a three-day cruise. Once I got on the cruise, saw what it was all about, saw that there was somebody working as a DJ in the nightclub, which was something I could do, I was hooked right away. So I spent the entire year in college studying and learning different things, but also calling them every week. Two weeks after I graduated, I left for the ships and have never gone back,” he said. “I went into the ships in the summer of 1990, worked in the nightclubs for a year and a half, and I switched to the technical theater side back when ships were run by one technician. I had good electrical and mechanical experience, and at that point, I learned a lot about the ships and the way the ships were engineered, so I moved over to the technical theater side and became the one technician who did that for 18 months. I moved from ship to ship, training and doing quality control on the other vessels. As I moved shoreside for Carnival Cruises, the charter cruise business was in its early stages. I was there at the ground level, in the technical position to assist these charter companies who were starting.”

Jesse Launder and Dana Stone with Cruise Production

Jamrock Reggae Cruise Production Partners

Cruise Production

  • Headquarters: Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • Year founded: 2012
  • First cruise: Blake Shelton, 2012
  • Notable cruises: New Kids on the Block, Soul Train, Welcome to Jamrock (Reggae), Malt Shop Memories, Shiprocked (heavy metal), Flower Power
  • Employees: approx.70
  • Cruises in 2017: 27
  • Owner: Tim Cabral
  • Website: www.cruiseproduction.com

3G Productions

  • Offices: Miami, Los Angeles, Las Vegas
  • Founded: 2004
  • Founders: Eli Stearns and Jay Curiel
  • Annual revenue: $3 million
  • Employees: 65
  • Recent expansion: Bought Beachsound in 2017, opened Enclave production studio space in Las Vegas in 2017
  • Notable projects: Electric Daisy Carnival, ESPY Awards, iHeart Radio Festival, Calibash Festival, Route 91 Festival, Ultra Music Festival
  • Website: www.3glp.com

Jonas Productions

  • Offices: Indianapolis, Las Vegas
  • Founded: 1987
  • Founder: Ted Jonas
  • Notable tours: Jimmy Buffett, Aerosmith, Boyz II Men, New Orleans Jazz Festival, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Harry Connick, Jr., The O’Jays, and Brian McKnight
  • Website: www.jonasproductions.com

Jamrock Reggae Cruise Gear and Crew

Crew

  • Event Organizer: Cruise Production
  • Sound Co: 3G Productions
  • Backline: Jonas Productions
  • Production Manager: Tim Cabral/Cruise Production
  • Assistant Production Manager: Kyle Connors/Cruise Production
  • FOH Engineer: Neil Rosenstock/3G Productions
  • MON Engineer: Scott Southern/3G Productions
  • Monitor Crew: Kelsi Halverson, Johnny Lesak, Greg Blakeslee/3G Productions
  • System Engineers: Troy Arabia, Bill Blackstone/3G Productions
  • Crew Chief/Gear Coordinator: Jesse Launder/Cruise Production
  • Gear Guru: Michael Nash/Cruise Production
  • Backline: Damian “Slice” Simmons, Bradley Johnson, Don Thomas Baker, Willie Walker, Donald Musselman/Jonas Productions
  • Additional Audio Crew: Andrew King, Shawn Mahler, Joshua Mason, Jared Gilmore/3G Productions

Gear

Poolside Main Stage

  • 1       DiGiCo SD10 console
  • 1       DiGiCo SD Rack
  • 1       Midas PRO2 console
  • 1       Midas DL251
  • 1       Avid Venue Profile console
  • 2       d&b audiotechnik Q1 line arrays
  • 8       d&b J12 Loudspeakers
  • 2       d&b B2 Subs
  • 3       d&b J-Infra Subs
  • 9       d&b J-Subs
  • 2       d&b Q-Subs
  • 2       d&b Q10 line array speakers
  • 14     d&b M2 loudspeakers
  • 2       d&b M4 loudspeakers
  • 18     d&b D80 amps
  • 2       d&b E12 monitors
  • 4       Shure PSM 1000 8 channel IEMs
  • 1       Shure RF RACK J5 8 channels
  • 4       Shure UR4D+ dual wireless receivers
  • 7       Shure UR2 / SM58 wireless mics

Theater Main Stage:

  • 1       DiGiCo SD10 console
  • 1       Midas PRO2 console
  • 1       Midas DL251
  • 8       d&b audiotechnik J12 loudspeakers
  • 4       d&b J12 loudspeaker
  • 4       d&b V8 loudspeakers
  • 16     d&b M4 loudspeakers
  • 2       d&b J-Infra Subs
  • 6       d&b J-Subs
  • 4       d&b V Subs
  • 2       d&b Q-Subs
  • 8       d&b D12 amps
  • 6       d&b D80 amps
  • 8       T10 loudspeakers
  • 2       Shure PSM 1000 4-channel IEMs
  • 4       Shure UR4D dual wireless receivers
  • 8       Shure UR2 / SM58 wireless mics