The entertainment aboard the American Queen paddle wheeler was top-notch during our three-week Mississippi River cruise. From the guest entertainers to staff singers/dancers and musicians, we were quite impressed with the quality of the shows we enjoyed after dinner each evening.
Even the captain had us impressed when he sat in with band with his electric guitar made from the planks of the ship’s old paddle wheel. That guy could play!
Following one of the shows early in the cruise, we made our way back to the Engine Room Bar to listen to the duo performing covers of classic rock tunes. The setting back there had a cool vibe—an ornate tin ceiling, a lot of dark wood, and port hole windows; just as you would expect on a vintage-style ship or riverboat.
Through those port holes, I was mesmerized by the turning of the huge red paddle wheel, as I listened to the music. During the break, I stepped out on deck to enjoy the view up close.
It was during those early days of the cruise that I tried to convince Bruce to ask if he could sit in with the guys and play his harmonicas. He had brought a few harps with him and played a little bit on deck when nobody was around; however, I knew Bruce would enjoy playing with the guys. He had played drums and harmonica in bands back in high school and college, and I’ve seen him get enthusiastic applause and glowing compliments each time he’s played since getting back into music. He only plays occasionally now, and sits in from time-to-time with a really good rock and blues band, when they perform fundraisers for local charities. They love to have him join them, and he fits right in. Not to brag about my husband, but the guy is good.
Not wanting Bruce to regret being too humble to ask to sit in with the guys on board, I stepped in with a little nudge. I told Jim and Norman that Bruce had a few harmonicas with him, and he would love to sit in. Oh yeah… and, Bruce is good. I’m sure they thought to themselves, “Yeah, that’s what they all say; we’ll let him join us—for just one song. Period.” To me and Bruce, Jim actually said, “Sure, bring your harmonicas with you next time, and I’ll bring you up to sit in on a tune.”
The next night, that one tune was all it took. They invited him back onstage for another, and another, and… Every time we saw Jim and Norman around the ship, they wanted to know if Bruce was going to come sit in at the Engine Room bar that night. One time, Bruce went to an afternoon Dixieland Jazz performance that included the show band and Engine Room performers, and Norman sent him back to the cabin to get his harmonicas! When Bruce protested that he played blues, and Dixieland wasn’t his genre, Norman shot back, “That’s ok; you’ll figure it out!”
Now, Norman was not only the musical director for the American Queen, but he was also the musical director for the other two American Queen Steamboat Company riverboats, the American Empress and the brand new American Duchess. He knew his stuff!
At the end of the cruise, when I told Jim how much Bruce enjoyed sitting in with him and Norman, he told me how skeptical he was when I first asked him to let Bruce sit in. Having had nearly all give-it-a-miss experiences with passengers sitting in, he was prepared for Bruce to be a one-and-done. Let him sit in once, so he could have that memory to tell all his friends, and then never invite him back on stage. Instead, Jim told me I should have asked earlier in the cruise, instead of waiting until the last week! Norman echoed the same sentiments, and they both kept thanking him.
Bruce learned his lesson, and I’ve learned mine. Harmonicas have been added to the packing list for our upcoming American Duchess and American Empress river cruises, and if Bruce leaves them behind the first night, I’ll bring them myself! After all, I can just tell the band, “Norman and Jim told me to ask you if Bruce can sit in. They said you wouldn’t be sorry.”
Coming up next, I back up one week to August 21, 2017, the day after visiting Hanibal, Missouri. Our next port was Alton, Illinois, our home-base for the day while visiting St. Louis in the morning, and Alton in the afternoon for the solar eclipse.