Set sail to rock the boat

Photo Courtesy of Will Byington

By John Ostapowicz

For five days and four nights, two local bands will climb aboard The Rock Boat XXIII from Jan. 30 through Feb. 4. 

The 23rd annual floating music festival will feature the Columbus-based band Red Wanting Blue and Pittsburgh natives The Commonheart. 

The Rock Boat XXII featured 31 artists. Photo Courtesy of Tammy Vega

The Norwegian Pearl will depart from the Port of Miami with stops in the Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas and Costa Maya, Mexico. 

The annual event started in 2001 by rock band Sister Hazel in collaboration with the cruise charter company, Sixthman. Through the years, Sixthman has served over 300,000 guests and generated over 150 vacations on land and at sea. 

Red Wanting Blue has performed on The Rock Boat for 11 years. The band’s guitarist and keyboardist Greg Rahm said he loves the boat’s atmosphere and the ability to play for a sold-out crowd every time. 

“Doing it once, I would have been really happy, but to continue to be a sought-after act is such an honor,” Rahm said. “All of the music that we have to learn for The Rock Boat to make it special and the environment is just awesome.”

In addition to local acts, national bands such as Zac Brown Band, Neon Trees, American Authors and Plain White T’s have performed on The Rock Boat. 

Photo Courtesy of Will Byington
Photo Courtesy of Tammy Vega










Red Wanting Blue and The Commonheart join a stacked lineup with Sister Hazel, Young The Giant, KT Tunstall, Lit, The Struts, Bowling for Soup and several other bands that will make appearances throughout the cruise.

Although this marks The Commonhearts’ first time on The Rock Boat, lead-singer Clinton Clegg participated in Sixthmans’ Soulshine at Sea with Michael Franti in November, 2023, which he said prepared him for the upcoming cruise.

“It was almost like an internship. I got a good feel of the land and an understanding on how [Sixthman] does business, and they made me feel like family,” Clegg said. “We not only got to network with other artists from The Rock Boat, I also got to be a part of another awesome cruise.” 

With several acts gearing up to perform on the cruise, The Rock Boat features a full itinerary with themed days, dining options and bingo. 

To decide the line-up for The Rock Boat, Sixthman holds a yearly competition called the Sixthman Soundcheck. Bands can submit their music for a chance to perform on the cruise. 

The staff selects the top 10, then the general public votes on its favorite acts. The winner is only decided by the cruise’s booked guests.

Jen Wedick, manager of Creative and Brand Strategy at Sixthman, started as a guest on The Rock Boat in 2004 and joined the company in 2010. Wedick said she enjoys the process of finding new bands for guests and expanding her musical horizons. 

“[The Soundcheck] has been a really great way to find new bands for us,” Wedick said. “There are some bands that catch our attention in the soundcheck process every year that didn’t win but they came back.” 

Alongside The Rock Boat, Sixthman curates several cruises of all genres, such as the Chris Jericho Cruise, Get Ship Faced with Impractical Jokers and Eric Andre, and Rock The Bells Cruise: A Hip-Hop Experience hosted by LL Cool J.

Although The Rock Boat XXIII is sold out, Sixthman is working on The Rock Boat XXIV and has spots available on several other cruises.

Once The Rock Boat docks in Miami, The Commonheart will perform on land July 24 at FloydFest in Floyd, Virginia, while Red Wanting Blue continues its 2024 touring slate at the City Winery in Boston, Massachusetts.