MAGNET’s Wes Orshoski got lost at sea with alt-country’s greatest castaways—and all he got were these fantastic photos and musical memories
Still recovering from a 2020 stroke, Lucinda Williams was without question the headliner of this year’s Outlaw Country Cruise, at least emotionally. The anticipation for her three appearances—and the undeniable love showered upon her every time she appeared onstage—was by far the biggest story of 2022’s cruise.
Coming in a close second may be the fact that Carlene Carter’s plane was hit multiple times by lightning en route to Miami. Or maybe Emmylou Harris’ at-dusk, top-deck reunion with members of her legendary Hot Band—Rodney Crowell and Albert Lee—filled with warm winds and Gram Parsons covers.
Be it during her full-album performance of her Essence album, during her own windy, top-deck, at-dusk, career-spanning set or during her appearance at a storytellers-type, song-swap set with Crowell, Harris and Steve Earle, each time Lucinda emerged, waved goodbye or even just communicated with the crowd, she was met with adulation.
A little unsteady on her feet, but nonetheless standing for the entirety of her own full-band performances, Williams hasn’t yet recovered the ability to play guitar. But it mattered not to her fellow passengers, who hung on her every word. “I hope this is all right, because this is what you get,” she joked during her career-spanning outdoor set. And it was more than all right. With the bulletproof backing of her band, Buick 6 (an excellent act in its own right), Williams is working her way back, and it’s a touching act to witness.
The vast majority of the Outlaw Cruisers are well into their fifth, sixth or seventh decade, and, as such, they’re aware of the preciousness of existence. Seeing Williams perform, fighting her way back, was a reminder of the fragility of life, how special it is to watch and hear her sing “Drunken Angel” or “Crescent City.” There was a momentum to each of her gigs. Cruisers weren’t gawking at her—they were loving her and letting her know they were completely with her.
During her own time in the sun on the pool deck, Carter revealed that the reason the Norwegian Pearl’s departure from Miami was delayed was because cruise organizers held the ship after her flight was hit repeatedly by lightning. With a laugh, she said she slept right through it.
No one worked harder, meanwhile, than Emmylou, who made at least five onstage appearances on this year’s cruise. The Hot Band reunion was the high point of the week for many on the boat.
From an all-star tribute to Crowell to an after-midnight guest-laden salute to Credence Clearwater Revival hosted by Mojo Nixon, the cruise offered a smartly curated schedule. Incredibly special were the live interview/performance recordings for SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country channel, like Nixon’s Q&A with the Beat Farmers and Earle’s chat with Crowell, Harris, Lee and music-biz legend Phil Kaufman (infamous for stealing Gram Parsons’ corpse from LAX and burning it in Joshua Tree, to honor his friend’s dying wish).
To be sure, these destination events, be they held on a beach or at sea, are incomparable. They’re sunshine-and-beach-infused, all-immersive experiences in which you find yourself sharing beers or eating breakfast with the artists and exploring villages in Mexico and Belize with likeminded fans. The Outlaw Cruise felt sort of like SXSW circa 20 years ago at sea, mixed with a weekend trip to Nashville.
The number of performances was insane, day and night shows and multiple chances to marvel at Danny B. Harvey owning his Telecaster or bask in the country-fried glory that is a Warner E. Hodges gig. Plus, opportunities to hear stories and learn about artists and experience completely rare and unique sets (like Hodges’ final-night friends jam) and the “guitar pulls” (round-robin story-and-song sets).
Just total music-nerd paradise.