Chillin’ the Most with Packway Handle Band: Day One

Editor’s note: Local bluegrass group Packway Handle Band is currently sailing the high seas on Kid Rock’s Chillin’ the Most cruise. Thankfully for us, they’ll be blogging about their experiences all week long.

Day One: Monday, Mar. 3

Josh Erwin: “Traditional absurdist experience” was a term coined by Flagpole many years back explaining Packway Handle Band’s sound. Anyway, to us, that’s the appealing part of playing the Kid Rock Cruise. Any gig that could be ridiculous—we want first dibs and front row seats. 

When we got the offer, there were, naturally, lots of questions. There are a lot of music cruises, so why were we invited to play this one? Who would we be playing for? Who’s gonna listen to us in the midst of all the other bands, who we don’t necessarily fit in with (Kid Rock, Doug E. Fresh, Sugar Ray, David Allen Coe)? I guess we’re not necessarily bluegrass, so maybe that’s the answer. Nevertheless, tickets were booked and cabins were assigned.

After counting merch, sleeping four hours and embarking from Hartsfield-Jackson early Monday morning, we hopped on the shuttlebus to take us to the ship. Lots of check-ins/admin to take care of. We got settled and headed off to the artists’ party for a meet-and-greet with the other bands and a few beers. Great to meet David Allen Coe and tell him we’re admirers. There’s some common-ground songwriting absurdity there, right?


After we checked in with the production office on the 12th floor of the ship, we spent some time wandering around to find our bearings. We passed through some empty rooms, including the Stardust Lounge—a barren room with a stage with pre-noon sunlight pouring through the windows along with one lump of a person passed out with an open Bud Light bottle off to (her/his?) side. This was surely a sign of more spectacles we’d see throughout the week.  

Our assigned “sets” declared that PHB was to “Walk Around,” which basically meant that we’d play wherever, whenever during our two-hour window. So, we did—poolside, dockside, atrium—and we topped it off with about a 30-minute elevator session. People were really receptive to our acoustic shenanigans. No bluegrass mosh pits—yet. There’s nothing like playing to 15 people in a 20-capacity elevator bouncing up and down for 12 floors. We topped it off by gathering four sets of “Virgin” pasties for the band by a crazed Arizonan fan (see photo below). We’ll sport those tomorrow during a flip-cup tournament we got entered into. I’m sure there will be more to report after another day at sea.

I encountered a lone woman greeting each person going to the sun deck with the same phrase: “SWIMMING POOL, MUTHAFUCKA!”

Michael Paynter: The best part of the walk-around to me was playing in the elevator. It was great to see people’s faces light up every time the doors would open. You never know how people are going to react to bluegrass, but everyone has seemed to love it thus far on the boat. 

People would come clamoring in filling the elevator to capacity bouncing and laughing. Do the inclusion of stringed instruments reduce the maximum-capacity of elevators? Sure, we all could’ve died in a tragic elevator collapse, but it would have been worth it (what a way to go). We also got to play an impromptu “Happy Birthday” to a surprised and delighted lady on the pool deck.  

I have to admit I had my reservations about Kid Rock, but after seeing his maiden performance for the cruise, I kind of got caught up in the excitement. People were hanging on his every word, and when it comes to party music, he’s definitely carved out his own niche.

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Zach McCoy: The trip thus far in a few words? Cigarettes. Lotion. Disproportionate upper torsos sitting atop small asses. Unimpressive wolf tattoos. Impressive eagle tattoos.

I didn’t sleep well the first night. A mélange of beer, Beam and pizza assured an early wake-up call generated by my angry insides. Attemping to get some coffee and water to ease me into the second day, I encountered a lone woman, hanging on to the buzz from the night before—or still drunk after no sleep?—greeting each person going to the sun deck with the same phrase: “SWIMMING POOL, MUTHAFUCKA!” At first, I laughed. After about 80 or so repetitions of that phrase, it was time for me to retire to my cabin to seek refuge. 

Andrew Heaton: Josh and I are the skinniest men on the ship. When I’m standing in the starting line at a marathon, I feel fat. Here, there are mirrors everywhere, and every time I see myself I look like I’m dying of starvation.  

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We have done a lot of busking in our day.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and it is hard to predict which way it’s going to go. Last night hit just right. Everybody was drunk. A woman played air fiddle next to me for song after song and she wasn’t joking. We would get stuck in front of restaurants in in hallways blocking guests and the staff.  I assumed the staff would be annoyed, but they worked around it, pulled out their own phones and shot pictures, danced and laughed. The elevator was the best. I was at the way back looking straight out, and when the door would open, everybody in the stairwell would pause mid-sentence or mid-laugh or mid-stumble. Then they would smile, laugh, and pretend they were going to get on despite there being absolutely no room. Then we would say “GET ON, COME ON,” and they would laugh hysterically and push on like it was a NYC subway. 

Tom Baker: Tom is MIA right now and we can’t call him. No cell phones. Oh well.