Flogging Molly Salty Dog Cruise

WP title NEW BThe Salty Dog Cruise is one big floating punk-rock concert. The only salads on the menu were the ones Eric Dressen served

Interviews and words by Sam Hitz   /   Photos By Joe HammEke

ONE MINUTE I’m wallowing at the local dive bar after being violently kicked out of an abandoned backyard pool, the next minute I’m on a luxury cruise liner with rock stars sipping a ramp-side martini and being showered in adulation. Skateboarding can be funny that way, which is what would bring us to the annual Flogging Molly Salty Dog Cruise. What I witnessed in the following four days was a league of saints (Matt Hensley and bandmates) guiding their massive flock of punk rock disciples across the waves aboard a floating cathedral. Unlimited booze, bands, skateboarding and good times were the communion among all and church was in full session 24 hours a day. I guess after being in the skateboard game, punk rock game, whatever your game is, for so long, everyone deserves the vacation of a lifetime and I believe that’s what Matt Hensley and Flogging Molly had in mind when they first set sail a few years back.

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IT WAS CRAZY. This cruise liner had a perfect venue matched to every band. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by dark mahogany, dim lighting and pool tables. I thought they were pumping in the scent of stale beer, but no, it was all real—all too real. When The Faction started playing and the pit started circling, it felt like I could have been at any dank West Coast club. Shit, there were even bouncers standing in front of band but I thought they could never really kick you out completely because that would technically be overboard.

Have you ever skated a ramp on a boat?
Steve Caballero: I have, but the boat was not moving. It was around 1988. I was on tour with the Bones Brigade—me, Adrian Demain and Lance Mountain. We were in Yokohama and there was a vert ramp on a boat and we did a demo on it.

Just anchored?

It was anchored at the dock and that’s where they wanted to do the demo.

Did you have to get over the fact that the ramp was on a boat?

Well, it wasn’t really moving so it really didn’t feel like it was on a boat. It was so cool ’cause there were so many Japanese kids there. After the demo me and Lance did stage dives off the ramp into a sea of Japanese guys. One guy took a photo of it. It was a pretty classic photo that’s actually in a book that just came out in Japan.

Has The Faction ever played a show on a boat before?

We actually have. This is our second Flogging Molly Salty Dog Cruise. We did it three years ago. So yeah, this is our second chance to come on this cruise and play. It’s so awesome; you forget you’re on a boat with all the bands and everything. I love this cruise.

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Avast, ye matey! Cab crunches on the high seas

Have you been on cruises before this?

Not really. I went on one other cruise with Steve Van Doren for his birthday and it was a really rocky one. I didn’t take the seasick medicine and I got sick because it was really wavy. It was such a gnarly storm that we didn’t even port so we were on the ocean for three days straight.

You were dodging the storm out?

Yeah, pretty much. There wasn’t really much to do but eat and eat and eat.

Did you have any trepidations after that experience when you were invited on this cruise the first time?

I was like, I think it’s gonna be cool. There’s a lot more things to do and bands that I’m really stoked to see and the fact that I would be busy playing on the cruise, too, I thought it would be pretty amazing and it was.

So this is basically a farewell tour, but on a boat. You guys have a couple more shows to play and that’s it, right?

Pretty much. We’re gonna throw in the towel. This was our third and fourth last show. We have one show coming in LA on February 7th and our very, very last show in our hometown of San Jose, which is February 22nd, 2020.

What bands did you see so far on the cruise that really got you stoked?

One of my favorite bands, Face to Face. I’ve always loved their music but their live show is just as amazing or even better than the records. I really have fallen in love with their acoustic album that I got last year and to find out they were gonna play an acoustic set, I was just so excited. I got to see them play live, plugged in, and then yesterday I got to see their acoustic set which was amazing. They’re gonna play once more today on the main stage, so Face to Face is the highlight for me.

I know Neil Blender and Lance Mountain dig Stiff Little Fingers. I remember the older guys at The Turf would rock them a lot too. To finally see them play was awesome.

When I heard they were on the tour I was super excited too ’cause I grew up listening to them in the ’80s. When they played a couple nights ago they were perfect. They sounded so great and as they were playing I shot a photo and sent it to Lance Mountain and said, “Hey, Lance! I’m thinking about yah.”

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It’s crazy. We’re in a good spot right now in life—from playin’ dingy clubs and gettin’ kicked out of backyards to hanging on luxury liners!

Well, you know, punk rockers do grow up and they do become responsible but it never leaves them as far as what they grew up with. Listening to these songs just kinda brings us back to our childhood and when you see a band that you grew up listening to you resort back to that time that was real special for you. So all these bands that have come out of the woodwork to play again, it’s really exciting for the older guys and also for them to introduce ’em to their kids as well.

We’re getting to the bottom of this now. If The Faction could cover one Face to Face song, what would it be?

Probably “Disconnected.” That’s probably one of my favorite songs. It’s just got a really good sing-along chorus to it and melody. Trevor is a great songwriter. He just knows how to capture the crowd and get them to sing along. That’s been a dream of mine, to have a band that people know the lyrics and can hum along to.

Hence, The Faction. Any last words to wrap it up?

Super stoked to be on this cruise and the fact that I got to skate today—I haven’t skated too much in five months ’cause I broke my femur, but I always wanted to come on this cruise and skate the ramp as well, so this was the first time. Hopefully next year I can come back as a skater and skate the demos.

Oh, and It was your birthday yesterday. You played on your birthday on a boat! Happy birthday, Cab!

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THERE ARE FEW bands in the world who are able to pull off a floating festival like this. Flogging Molly is one of those few. The amount of passion it takes to dream something like this up in the first place, let alone taking on the logistics of the whole thing, is borderline insane. Matt Hensley is a legend of both the skate and music worlds and he was kind enough to share some insight on the brain child that is the Salty Dog Cruise.

I don’t even know where to start. This voyage was epic. So this was the fifth Flogging Molly Salty Dog Cruise?
That’s correct.

How exactly did this all come about?

We’ve been a band for quite a while now, since 1996. We used to talk from the very beginning about literally getting a proper pirate ship and sailing around, kind of Sex Pistol’s style—like going to different ports and partying. We ended up looking into it and it costs a lot of money. You might as well hire a private yacht. One of our managers happened to be managing Damian Marley at the time and they do a thing called the Jamrock Reggae Cruise which goes to Jamaica. I’ve been on it and it’s absolutely genius if you like reggae and good times. So it was through our old manager where we started to pull the trigger ’cause he kind of was around this thing before.

I was going to ask where the inspiration came from and you just nailed it.

Well, you haven’t asked this, but this is how I feel about it—when we first talked about it we were talking about doing a pirate ship, like a punk rock pirate ship. Okay, I’m down for that. That sounds cool. But when you say, “I’m going with a cruise ship,” it doesn’t come off the same way. So the moment we started to do it, it was deeply important to me that it felt like it was real, even with the music you hear in the elevator. We spend days gettin’ that mix so that every ounce of the ship is ours and feels real. To me, if I’m winning, I’m making people feel as if the inmates are taking over the asylum.

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It’s true. All of a sudden I noticed “Born to Lose” over the loud speakers in the elevator and I thought that was surreal and enjoyed that. It hit me like, This is how it’s goin’ to be.

Then what you just said puts a smile on my face ’cause that’s what we meant to do—we’re trying to do something fuckin’ cool, something where people will have a good time. People keep coming back so I know we’re doing something right and it feels great, you know?

It should, dude. It’s huge! There were 3,500 people aboard! Does it keep getting bigger and bigger after every cruise where you have to find a bigger boat?

I think that was the biggest boat we’ve been on but, I mean, they’re all cruise ships. The first time we did this we were given the opportunity to get on one of the cruise ships to check out it out, get a vibe for what bands would play and everything else. We were doing our homework. So I took my manager up on that and when we stood in front of that ship I looked right at him and was like, “Dude, this is the ship? I mean, this is a fucking cruise ship. This is a multi-multi-million dollar thing and I think Flogging Molly is a great band but we’re not The Stones so how are we even involved with this shit?!” It was scary at first but we just kept going.

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It must have been nerve-racking when you first saw that boat, like, How are we going to fill this?

Of course it was a scary sensation but as soon as you’re on that ship there’s such a beautiful bit of camaraderie I find that is hard to explain unless you’re sitting there. I feel so at peace with everybody on that ship. We’re all like a weird, crazy family.

What's the Guinness beer story? Is it true the first time the cruise happened the passengers drank the entire stock of Guinness the first day?

This has been an ongoing situation in a funny way with Flogging Molly anyways. When we were just beginning, our manager would reach out to whatever clubs we were going to and be like, “You might want to up your Guinness keg count,” even if it wasn’t March. And of course people laugh at you like, Whatever, bro. So when this cruise happened we warned ’em, “This is going to be a serious drinking party,” and they just didn’t listen to that bit of advice and before we even left port, the first time out of Miami, we had drank the whole bloody boat out of its Guinness.

It was very tribal. I imagine there are plenty of repeat offenders.

There is a full crew of people who call themselves the Salty Dog Cruisers. Every time we do it I get gifted all kinds of guitar picks, special coins and patches. People have their own damn crew. It’s great. That shows to me how much ownership the fans of this band and this cruise have over the whole situation.

It was rad to see you at every ramp session. It felt like our little safe haven with our own personal bar.

I made sure of that, dude. I wanted to have it near the pool area. We did it one year where the ramp was next to the pool and it worked out really good because if you’re not a skateboarder that’s gonna grab your attention. It’s impossible not to. That being said, it was in a perfect spot this year. It was so fuckin’ cool—people just walking by and happening upon that whole sweet vibe is priceless.

Yeah, more of your DNA on the boat. Every time I randomly walked past some music on the ship it seemed like you were playing with that band. You were on the job at all times from dusk ’til dawn. I bet that has to get a little blurry for you after awhile.

Yeah. I mean, and not in a negative way. I just feel it’s my obligation. This is our band; this is our cruise. If people go, “Hey, you want to play this song?” You’re going to hear a yes from me. I will absolutely play with you. Then I have another band I play with so I try to make all their sets and I try to make all the skate demos except for one because I just couldn’t do it. I was on stage with Mariachi El Bronx.

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Would this work in Europe? Do you have any dream locations to embark from?

Trust me, yep. We have thought about a couple European runs, for sure. We also thought about leaving from Long Beach and going to Mexico. We don’t want to have a party that goes to the same location every year because people are spending hard-earned money. We’re trying hard to keep changing the route and seeing something new.

Any highlights from the bands this year you would like to mention?

I mean, honestly, all the bands are handpicked by us so I love ’em. Of course I love Stiff Little Fingers. We got to go on tour with Jake across the country and to have Stiff Little Fingers on the cruise, that’s pretty amazing. But I mean, all of the bands. I think it was great moment for Caballero turning 55 and the Faction was playing and everyone has got a Caballero t-shirt on. As a skateboarder, if you would’ve told me when I was 13 that that would happen, I would’ve probably told you you’re out of your mind. Having Hepcat play on the cruise was amazing. They are one of the best bands around, period. They don’t even play that much. I feel they come together when we do this cruise and it’s a pretty special time. No one does it better.

I’m stoked to get you on record, Matt. Again, thank you for the hospitality. It blew my mind. You’re a saint for putting this together.The way I seen people, it was obviously the highlight of their year.

Dude, thank you for being a part of it and I will leave you with this: the first time we did this I was like, This feels really good, and it kind of struck me as we left port that I was like, This really does feel like a punk rock pirate ship! And I double dare a real pirate vessel to get close to this thing—we will attack it!

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set you could here echoes of “Bro Hymn” in all corners of the vessel for the duration of the cruise. It definitely lingered. Byron McMackin, the drummer of the band, posted at the ramp for most of the sessions, dolling out brews and generally instigating the buzz and backstage shenanigans. Every evening escalated into the same blur and by the last night I found myself running in the opposite direction of him. It’s safe to say that dude can party! A week later, when we both sobered up, I called and asked him what he may have remembered from our voyage.

So you guys jumped on another tour right off the boat. You’re no amateurs, but you gotta be burnt.
Oh yeah, my whole team was feeling it, man. If we ever get asked back on that cruise we definitely will not go straight into a tour, because it felt like I was on tour for weeks after being on that boat.

Did you get at least a day to recover?

We jumped on a bus and drove to Tampa so we had one day off. Like I said, I was definitely feeling that boat, dude. A lot of late nights, a lot of cocktails, beers, a lot of good times.

Yeah, it was gettin’ blurry there towards the end.

I’ve been on some cruises before but nothing like that, just tearing it up so hard.

If you had to explain to someone why the Salty Dog Cruise is worth every penny, what would you tell them?

Well, I would say it’s a bunch of punk rockers on a boat with an endless bar tab! And skating and live music? What else do you need?!

You guys caught a bit of rain at the end of your set. That was a nice touch for the “Bro Hymn.”

My wife said that was probably the best one she’s ever seen. It was kind of just made for the moment—It was coming down!

Yeah, and she’s probably seen a lot.

Yeah, she has. We were soaking wet. I think any other band would have stopped and walked off, but we were feeling’ it. It came in hot but it kind of stirred the pot for us.

Was that your set where the dude dove into the hot tub from the stage?

Yeah. Turns out that was one of our friends, Daniel. That dude’s crazy!

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Was there even water in the hot tub?

No, there wasn’t. He split his head open. Fletcher was givin’ him a hug and he looked at his hands and they were covered in blood. He was like, “Holy shit, we got to get you to the medics.” I was like, Oh, he’s done. But I swear to God, 20 minutes later he was sitting outside with a beer in his hand—he just kept goin’. We had 23 people from South Bay go out on that boat. As soon as my friends found out we were doing it they all started booking it. We had a pretty strong South Bay presence there. Everyone said that they had the time of their lives.

You were coming over to the ramp sessions a bunch. It was like we had our own little clubhouse there and people could go check it out.

I thought it was super awesome and a great way to watch you guys tear it up. It was just awesome for me because there were some old school skaters who were pretty rad, like Dressen and Cab. My wife said I was geeking out on everybody, but I was having a good time.

Dave Duncan introduced me to you. How far back do you guys go?

Well, Duncan goes way back with Fletcher. Mike Smith is from our hometown. We all grew up skating and surfing. I’ve known him for a little over ten years. Duncan is a class act. I love that guy. He comes to a lot of our shows and normally I’m babysitting him. It’s funny because my wife just pawned me off on him. He’s like, I’ll take care of him! And he took me under his wing. That was the night we were skating down the hallways.

Speaking of Fletcher and Duncan, we all went out swimming with pigs. That’s an image I can’t get outta my head—them and Joe Hammeke swimming around with 500-pound pigs.

The sad thing is there’s no pictures allowed because that would be pretty funny.

I was hoping Joe was gonna sneak a photo but he was really excited about just gettin’ down with the pigs, so it is was it is. Would you go back on the next cruise?

We definitely would do it again. All my friends are talking about doing it every year. People traveled around the world for that. So the cool thing is there were no bad vibes. No one was judging anybody—you could just let it all hang out. I thought that was pretty rad because there was quite a variety of people and they felt like family.

It was pretty well behaved. I was expecting way more vomit.

You know they got to decontaminate that thing after that run!

Would you like to add any last words for the record?

Well, I definitely hope they keep the skating on there. I thought that was awesome. And I wanna thank Flogging Molly and Matt Hensley for having us and if anyone has a chance, get your ass on the Salty Dog Cruise.

WP bJeremy Wray floats one foot but holds the ship steady

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WP2 SLF newI WAS GIVING UP on the possibility of a Stiff Little Fingers interview as we were approaching the final night and they were nowhere to be found. I figured it was a boat and I was bound to bump into ’em at some point. Lo and behold, I was half lost in the belly of the ship when it coughed me out into the grand hall where Jake Burns was finishing the last two songs of an acoustic set. Yeah, I stalked him a bit but, he was cool enough to drop some words on me.

How funny is it when you’re singing “Tin Soldiers” and everybody’s frolicking in the pool below? It’s such a heavy song, I felt like the torpedoes were about to hit, you know? It’s such of a contradiction. Do you think punk rock earned this luxury of being where we’re at right now?
Well, people have gotten older and the original audience are now in their 50s and 60s and they’ve worked their entire lives and they got a bit of disposable income and if this is what they want to spend it on, who’s to stop ’em? But I do know what you mean about playing our songs in this sort of setting. It’s something that’s always have been a hurdle when we do festivals because festivals are all about standing about in a field, getting drunk and having a good time. And, you know, we come on—it’s sort of this doom, despair and despondency but the thing is that the songs are written about serious subjects but we always try and make ’em have a positive message on the end. Basically what we are trying to say is, yeah, this is happening, it’s pretty shitty but it doesn’t have to stay like that. You have the power to change it and that was the driving force behind the songs—to try and be positive as well.

And at the same time, there’s something about the chords that keep you up while you’re listening to the lyrics.
Well, that’s the idea.

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It’s a double-edged sword.
It is and It’s a thing that anybody who’s tried to write serious songs has probably had to struggle with. I’m not just talking about us. Even someone like Elton John who doesn’t write political songs, but actually said it best, “Some people come along and they read the meaning to the songs and they get what the songs are about and then there’s another bunch that just want to get their eardrum splattered and jump about.” And that’s the same with every band, you know?

Everyone can interpret it in their own way. Are there any bands you seen tonight or on the cruise that stoked you?
My wife’s a big Beans On Toast fan. To be honest, a lot of the bands that are playing I already seen ’em a bunch of times. Most of ’em are fuckin’ friends of ours. Pennywise did great, Against The Grain and obviously looking forward to seeing Flogging Molly. I just actually really enjoyed the whole vibe of the thing—it’s just walkin’ about meeting the people who have come on it. The great thing about this is everybody is in a close space. I mean, let’s be honest—for four days, but everybody seems to have come out to just have a good time and enjoy themselves and I really enjoyed it.

I appreciate the interview. Stoked you’re aboard. Cheers.

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Sam Hitz with a seasick layback

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from Pegboy will find you in the crowd and sing in your face until it melts off. If you dare cower from his delivery he’ll turn it up a notch until you break. He is one hell of a front man from the old school. When I had a chance to talk with him after their set about the surrealism of the flogging Molly Cruise, he was all meat and potatoes about it and shot from the hip. 

Yours was the punkest set I seen on the boat yet besides Stiff Little Fingers.
Yeah! That’s the OGs, baby!

Did you ever think Pegboy would ever play on a fuckin’ boat?
Nope. That’s the thing—it’s funny you ask that question. Tonight we ran into old skater buddies who I knew from the ’90s when we were sleeping on the floors of their houses and shit. No, and the answer is no. I could never have imagined back in those days that 28 years later we would be playing on a cruise. It’s surreal, totally surreal.

From dives to luxury liners!
Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s bittersweet, too. I mean, punk rock has gotten really mainstream and it went from, you know, this is our thing to this is everybody’s thing. It’s still cool, but I would have never imagined that it would happen like this.

There’s a damn skateboard ramp on the boat, too!
I know! Back in the day we would be thrown off of public streets for skateboarding. It’s crazy. You know they go hand in hand how skateboarding infiltrated the mainstream and punk rock followed right after—boom!

Eric Dressen is on this cruise. He told me, “I’ve been waiting 29 years to see Pegboy play.” Some of his favorite video parts have Pegboy’s music in ’em.
Yeah, I know. It’s awesome!
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And of course, Matt Hensley. He’s a saint.
A sweetheart. And that’s where we come from. Back in the day we were skaters, surfers, snowboarders—that was our crowd. Like you said, those guys were putting our shit in their videos. They thought we were doing them a favor but really they were doing us a favor by getting our music out there.

Did you know Matt when he moved to Chicago?
I know Matt in passing. I have a lot of friends who know Matt. Joe Haggerty has known Matt for years, so there’s a long history there and that’s kinda’ how we weaseled onto this cruise.

They have been doing this cruise for four years. It’s all new to me but he hand picks the bands.
Yeah, and he tends to stick with—I wouldn’t say old school, but the guys who were around when nothing was going on.

I think punk rock deserves a reward like this.
Definitely. I always thought it was the greatest music in the world. I always wanted the masses to hear it because it changed my life.

And as a farewell send-off to this feature, here's Pennywise rocking out in the rain. 

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