Decades ago, when a salt-rimmed singer-songwriter famously recounted being “Wasted Away Again In Margaritaville,” I’m not sure he knew then that his subject was more than a state of mind. It was actually a real place located on a cruise ship loaded with throngs of fans eager to join him in the salted rim glasses full of tequila and fresh lime juice festivities.

These days, as the music industry struggles to reinvent itself and develop a business model outside of the sale of recorded music, entrepreneurial artists with a loyal fanbase have taken the term “income stream” to the high seas, replacing sweaty clubs and months on the road touring with sunny poolside jam sessions and suntan lotion. Gone are the festival port-a-potties and long lines for cheap, warm keg beer—today’s latest live music craze offers private cabins and 24-hour room service.

Enter the music cruise—the multi-day tropical excursion where fans literally go on vacation to see live shows, mingle with their favorite bands and share experiences with a much smaller, intimate group of loyals. Crossing all genres and reaching all audiences, the rising tide of floating festivals has become big business for the industry and a viable alternative to the traditional tour or weekend festival in a field somewhere for those enthusiasts with about $1,000 and a passport.

From the “Monsters of Rock” boat to the “Mercy Me” Christian music romp, there are options for everyone to get on board. For the diehards, these long weekends offer up close connections to their fave groups, opportunities for pictures, autographs and exclusive merchandise and unreleased tracks. From a marketing perspective it’s up-sell heaven, as participants regularly shell out hundreds of dollars per person for the extras. But it’s not just for uber-fans—these cruises appeal to a wide range of casual music consumers—often those looking to simply get away, relax, catch a show or two and soak in the sun come back as repeat customers.

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Humble Beginnings

As with all spectacles, the rock boating experience comes from humble beginnings. The “booze cruise” became a popular four-hour tour around port locations like Miami and New York City in the '80s, with folks passing the day sailing on party yachts without the worries of breathalizer tests. Needing entertainment, local promoters would add DJs or popular regional acts to the bill in order to provide a more festive experience.

Over the last 10 years or so, international acts and have gotten wise to the value of these captive audiences, offering bigger boats, stronger artist lineups, and multi-day exotic ports like Mexico, the Bahamas, and European offerings that include Sweden and beyond.

Industry watchers liken the trips to “live social media” by breaking down the wall between artist and fan and eliminating the gatekeepers and impersonal experience that large venue and stadium shows have come to personify. By flipping the live dynamic, fans are getting an immersive experience with their idols which translates to a greater feeling of appreciation of their loyalty -- a truly reciprocal platform without artists on unreachable pedestals -- which has become increasingly difficult for performers to convey from the stage in a modern concert world of huge parking lots, long lines, video screens and nosebleed seats.

"Artists get to break the monotony of traditional touring grind, which brings more communion with the fans and usually a different show all together," says Shane Goldman of Rocks Off, a New York-based promotion company. "We get fans out of the dark room into a new fresh environment wrapped in a concert experience."

Rocks Off booked more than 150 concert cruises last year alone. "We're just a rock venue that happens to be on the water," Goldman adds.

For the music business as a whole and the artistic community relying heavily on live concerts, touring revenue and merchandise sales to stay afloat in this disruptive digital era, the intuitive counter-programming of pressing the flesh of fans, face to face, instead of surfing the online world of fan engagement is working not only to strengthen the bond between band and fan, but to also create new and ingenious waves of rebranding, reimagining and reinvigorating the the age old concert.

A popular ‘80s artist made a name for himself by eerily predicting the future with the line: “I’ve got two tickets to paradise, pack your bags we’ll leave tonight.”

How right he was.

Jeff Rabhan has worked in virtually all areas of the music industry and has helped guide the careers of international superstars across all genres of popular music. His clients have garnered more than a dozen Grammy Awards, sold more than 100 million records, and generated more than $1 billion in global receipts. He started his career as a music journalist at Rolling Stone and SPIN, then held executive positions at Atlantic Records and Elektra Records before transitioning into artist management. He currently chairs the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.