Cruisin’ Memory Lane

It was a time of record hops. Cars with big fins. Ponytails and beehives.

StarVista Live - America, members of Little River Band and Orleans with Alan Rubens, Executive Producer of StarVista LIVE, and Michael Jason, VP of StarVista LIVE

That’s the opening line, at least, for the infomercial for Malt Shop Memories, one of those Time-Life record collections that is sold on television on Sunday afternoons after the golf tournament.

These collections have been around for decades and you can still get the music of your life, 150 songs, on 10 CDs for just $149.95.

But let’s face it: the business model is evaporating, not only threatened by Spotify and Pandora but even by customers who still like vinyl.

“People just love the music,” Mike Jason told Pollstar. “They didn’t always love the way we delivered it. It was more and more digital and less of a recorded music experience.  It was a live experience now and we went that direction.”

Jason is senior VP of live entertainment for StarVista Live, a production company that was borne out of the Time-Life series. He is a record company exec with a background at BMG, Sony and RCA. Alan Rubens, executive producer for StarVista, produced the infomercials and had his own record label.  About 10 years ago, their business started to change.  It morphed from selling box sets of CDs to something else entirely: cruises.

“The idea came out of the success of our infomercial packages and that our customers were telling us they were interested in spending x-amount of money for the memories of that era,” Rubens said. “The original idea was to take Malt Shop Memories and create a 24-hour themed experience.

“But we were not booking agents, we were not touring artists; we picked up the phone and said ‘Let’s go find a cruise ship, book some acts and make this concept come alive.”

That was in 2008, and the cruise launched in 2010 with acts like Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker, and Little Anthony.

But wait, there’s more!

Now there are six cruises: Malt Shop Memories Cruise, the Soul Train Cruise, the Flower Power Cruise, the Rock and Romance Cruise and The Country Music Cruise. The maiden voyage of the Southern Rock Cruise with Lynyrd Skynyrd and 38 Special is next year.

“The rate has accelerated in terms of the size of the ship, the number of days, and number of themes,” Jason said. “We have two or three on the drawing board. We program everything internally. We certainly have a lot of contacts in the industry (now).”

They’re such full-fledged music promoters that they even recently bought an operational stake in “Abbey Road on the River,” a five-day music fest that draws 20,000 to the Ohio River across from Louisville, KY.

For the cruises, though, Rubens and Jason focus on experiences beyond the half-dozen stages calling it “Disneyland for adults, centered on music.”

StarVista Live - America, members of Little River Band and Orleans with Alan Rubens, Executive Producer of StarVista LIVE, and Michael Jason, VP of StarVista LIVE

For instance, the Flower Power Cruise includes a bell-bottom ball day, a psychedelic ‘60s dance party, and a British Invasion day, with guests encouraged to dress up in those themes.

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