For me, the Salty Dog Cruise, a 3 day Irish punk musical festival on a ship sailing in the Bahamas, was a life-changing experience. The past two years, I have gone with my wife and an ever-growing group of friends and family. Each time, I leave the cruise with a renewed appreciation of life, the importance of living in the present, and most especially, a deeper feeling of love and connection with others.
Some may read this with skepticism. When I first signed up for the cruise two years ago, I did not expect this result. Sure, it looked like fun. And because my wife grew up with these bands, I knew she would enjoy it. But for someone who spends most of his time concerned with what's logical, dressing according to the surrounding norms, and concerned primarily with understanding and meeting the needs of others, the Flogging Molly Cruise was a radical departure from the norm, an opportunity to connect with another sense of meaning in the human experience. Sometimes, hyperbole turns out to be reality.
PUNK IS HEART
I never really went to concerts growing up; I never knew what to do with myself at them and always felt uncomfortable. Nor did I appreciate punk music; I listened to Green Day and The Offspring, but didn't think of them as part of a genre separate from other Top 40 I listened to. The 2016 Salty Dog Cruise was essentially my introduction to punk rock.
What I discovered on the cruise and have come to appreciate since, is that punk is special. It's not about being angry. It's about expressing emotion and finding pleasure in them, no matter which one you feel, whether anger, love, sadness, or joy. Punk isn't about hiding any of them. Punk, at its finest, is about passion and the interconnection of every emotion.
This is the diversity of the punk movement. When I first joined the cruise, I wondered, "How in the world can a genre bring together The English Beat (ska), The Attack (hardcore punk), Brogue Wave (traditional Irish), and Flatfoot 56 (Irish punk) together?" The answer is simple: They all come from the heart.
Here's another way of putting it (supposedly from the Bouncing Souls, but I can't find proper attribution): Heavy metal and punk are on opposite ends of the rock spectrum. Punk is all about heart and emotion. Heavy metal is all about the head and skill. Heavy metal is similar to classical music in its endeavor for melodic perfection, i.e. what is technically correct. Punk is far more concerned with free expression, i.e. what feels right.
MOSH PITS ARE FILLED WITH LOVE
The mosh pit is a microcosm of everything that punk and the cruise represents. To the outside observer, a mosh pit is anger and hatred, violence and subordination. To those who engage in moshing, it is about love and respect, dancing and support for others.
My introduction to moshing was a Rancid concert. I saw my wife dive into the middle of the circle pit while I stayed on the fringes and began to absorb the customs. The first five minutes of feeling shoved, pushed around, and uncertain of my position were jarring. Was I getting in someone's way? Was I being rude? What is my proper place? But as time went on, I realized that people weren't pushing against me, they were pulling me in to join. Standing still will get you knocked down. Joining the dance, moving freely, and expressing yourself, keep you balanced. In the words of Frank Turner (who I moshed to later that night), you "fight for this four square feet of land like a mean old son of a bitch" to give yourself the room to do what you damn well please.
Watch when someone falls down in a pit. They do not get trampled on. They do not get ignored. The exact opposite happens: everyone nearby circles around to protect them and lift them back to their feet. And as soon as they're up, they get shoved right back into the action. People care for each other in the mosh pit.
Crowdsurfing is started just as often by a group of people lifting someone in the air to give them the ride of their night as by someone asking to be lifted up. No matter how it's started, everyone pitches in to carry and safeguard the person in the air.
In many ways, the mosh pit is the embodiment of the abstraction of community. A group of people come together from many backgrounds and philosophies. They may not know each other. They may only have a few things in common. But they have chosen to come together to share the same space and dance with one another to the same music, creating a zone where people can fully express themselves. Do they run into each other? Yes, no person is an island. Does running into each other hurt sometimes? Yes, the best things in life come with pain, including, and especially, interacting with others. (At the end of the cruise, every member of our crew was covered in bruises and one person had to wear ankle braces for a week afterward.) Love involves pain. And the mosh pit, when done properly, is an expression of love.
Note: I have been to many shows between and since the last 2 cruises. There are, indeed, mosh pits filled with people focused on inflicting pain rather than just enjoying themselves. However, these are the exceptions rather than the rule. There are bad apples in any genre, industry, or group. It is important to understand whether they are representative of the group or anomalies. In general, they are anomalies in punk.
Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Jameson
So what's so special about the Salty Dog Cruise as opposed to a concert or festival? To be honest, it may not be. I have no doubt that the transformative experience people have at other festivals or Burning Man are just as meaningful. But, for me, here are a few reasons:
Everyone should find love, beauty, and free expression in their own way. I found mine on an Irish punk rock cruise through the Caribbean. The Salty Dog Cruise may not be for everyone. But it's well worth experiencing to find out.