This is a part of our full coverage of the 2018 80s Cruise. Read more about the floating music festival here.
It’s possible that no one enjoyed their time onboard as much as Tommy Heath, lead singer of Tommy Tutone. He was spotted all over the ship chatting up fans, standing for selfies, and knocking back the occasional drink. He was all smiles interacting with the audience during a poolside show where he played a mix of covers and original material, including the ubiquitous, “867-5309 (Jenny).”
The set out at the pool was a curious combination of songs. Tommy Tutone put out three albums in the 80s, but Heath performed a total of four tracks from those records. Like Rick Springfield, the songs he chose to cover were all from the 1960’s. He might have performed different songs during his other sets, but it was a challenge catching his performances. Overlapping schedules made it next to impossible to watch a full set from Heath, Thomas Dolby, or Katrina Leskanich.
Many passengers complained about missing events because of scheduling. As Minnesota businessman, David Drill, put it, “(There is) so much going on that you end up missing stuff that you really wanted to see.” Dolby, Leskanich, and Heath performed in the smaller venues at times that almost always conflicted with one or both of the main stage shows. Fans were left with the choice of missing part of their sets or missing them all together.
This was particularly frustrating considering ECP scheduled the two cover bands to perform each night without any conflicts. As much as fans loved Jessie’s Girl and Trial by Fire, it was an odd choice to have one or both of them perform every day while fans had to choose between the big-name acts. The maiden voyage of The 80s Cruise had few of these types of conflicts. In 2016, Modern English played the daytime t-shirt party, while Wang Chung played the pool on Neon Night. This year, ECP had Jessie’s Girl play both, leaving fewer slots for celebrity guests.
It was easy to see why ECP had scheduled the band to perform so often. Jessie’s Girl has been featured on the Cruise from the first sailing with some people listing them as the main reason for going year after year. More than a mere cover band, the group featured three different vocalists each trading off leads while going through more costume changes than the finale of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”.
Fronting Jessie’s Girl were Jenna O’Gara, Chris Hall, and Mark Rinzel. O’Gara graduated from the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston. Hall and Rinzel have both worked in professional theater. This made all of them more than qualified to handle, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and “(Don’t You) Forget About Me”.
The band faced more than its fair share of challenges on the 2018 sailing as keyboardist and Musical Director, Paul “Sky” Armento, had to be rushed back to New York because of a medical emergency just before sailing. Armento founded the band with Eric Presti, guitarist and Technical Director. The two holed up in a hotel room for hours the morning of departure because even though Armento was still in pain after a night in the ER, they were determined to lay down keyboard tracks so the band could perform that week.
The band’s first performance at the Sail Away party was a bit rough. Their tour manager had flown back with Armento making their time on board more challenging. They recruited Brian Wilk, half of the Dueling Pianos show, to fill in on keys, but the pianist needed more than a quick rehearsal before mastering “The Final Countdown” by Europe. There were one or two glitches with the backing track during the second performance, but after that, the audience would never have known the band was working without two key members of their touring operation.
When news got out that Armento had to miss the sailing because of a health concern, the response from passengers was striking. Many asked each other for updates and passed around information garnered from other band members. Houston native, Mina Credeur, repurposed the Kevin Bacon poster she had taped to her cabin door to make a “get well soon” card that hundreds signed. Armento eventually recovered and posted a “thank you” message on Facebook. The ordeal made it obvious that Jessie’s Girl was no longer just a name on a list of entertainers; many of the passengers considered them a part of their 80s Cruise family.
Another important member of that Cruise family was Berlin drummer Christopher Olivas. Passengers were excited to discover Olivas was scheduled to perform under the alias, DJ Christopher J. There wasn’t always a good variety of music being played around the ship as Mina Credeur of Spring, TX explained. “(There was) so much more in the 80s, especially for dancing.” The overreliance on pop songs made the late night parties feel more like a bachelorette party at a generic 80s bar than an actual club night.
Olivas deviated from “The Big 80s” brand by mixing new wave, classic alternative, and rap and won rave reviews from passengers. Chuck Coverly said, “I loved that Chris DJ’s by dipping deep into the alternative bucket.” Myley Rosenbaum agreed, “Love Christopher Olivas! More from him, please!”
Trial by Fire were initially billed as a Journey cover band on last year’s sailing, but the band from Los Angeles has been much more accomplished than many passengers realized. Billy and Eric Mondragon are two-thirds of DW3, a jazz band that has seen chart success in the US and UK. Rod Pantoja, Johnny Reyes, and Whit Petrell perform all over Los Angeles under the name, Steel Rod. A sort of super group, Trial by Fire had no problems handling the entire spectrum of arena rock.
The band pulled double and triple duty by performing several times, hosting live band karaoke, and participating in a bar hop with guests. They donned suits for Prom and dressed up in karate uniforms for Cobra Kai karaoke. They were the life of the party at all of their events and like Jessie’s Girl, will be back for the 2019 Cruise.