Jonathan Coulton is a legend in the geek music community, a former programmer turned fan-favorite singer-songwriter whose witty anthems (“Re: Your Brains,” “Skullcrusher Mountain” and many more) are practically engineered for joyful, singalong revelry. And as one might expect, a cruise with his name on it is a very special voyage indeed…
2018 will mark the return of the JoCo Cruise, a 7-night music and comedy odyssey from San Diego, CA around the Mexican Riviera which Coulton and his pals and fellow musical maestros Paul & Storm have been hosting since 2011; the event is a unique opportunity for fans to enjoy performances and a beautiful vacation destination while at the same time having the opportunity to meet and greet with amazing guests; this year’s lineup includes Wil Wheaton, Aimee Mann, Maria Bamford, Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, John Hodgman and many more!
We spoke to Jonathan about the history of the JoCo Cruise and the anticipation of this year’s shindig; oh, and we have an AMAZING opportunity for you and a friend to actually attend this awesome event! See below the Q&A for your way to enter!
Hi Jonathan! You’re embarking on the seventh JoCo Cruise in February; in what ways has it grown that has surprised you from that first voyage?
We were pretty amazed that we pulled it off at all that first year. It started as a funny idea, moved quickly through the “hey, why not” phase, and then suddenly we were throwing a week-long party on a giant cruise ship with all of our friends. But over the years, I’ve been truly amazed to get to know the community that has developed around it. It’s a warm and welcoming bunch of nerds who are there to celebrate stuff that they love, discover new things they WILL love, and get together create their own stuff and make their own fun. All of the attendee-run events (what we call the Shadow Cruise) make it so much better than it would be if it were just us coming up with things to do. So even though it’s got my name on it, I wouldn’t describe it as a fan cruise. Truly, I think I could disappear and it would keep rolling on just fine without me, which is very gratifying.
For folks who haven’t been but who have seen you guys at conventions and other events, in what ways does the cruise differ from, say, a con community experience and how is it similar?
Paul and Storm and I have been to a lot of cons, both as performers and as attendees. We love them, but we also are keenly aware of the things that make parts of them not so good. So we like to say the JoCo Cruise is like your favorite con except without all the awful stuff. Of course the other big difference maybe goes without saying, which is that it is on a cruise ship instead of in a convention center. As such, it’s got a lot of built-in fun and charm. We work hard to find that balance between making sure there’s a wide variety of things to see and do, but also to leave space to just enjoy the adventure of being on a giant ship that’s sailing to sunny places.
What’s some of the most popular types of programming during the cruise, and is there anything new for 2018 that you’re excited about?
We’ve got musicians, comedians, authors, meet and greets, q&a sessions, etc. Some of my favorite moments have been the collaborations between performers, in particular the last concert, where we form a giant supergroup and murder a bunch of cover songs. But I think where we really shine is the many events that are in the category of “other.” One standout for me was when the incredible Zöe Keating, after blowing everyone away with her music, organized and hosted an armpit farting colloquium. So probably my favorite thing for 2018 hasn’t been conceived of yet, and will come together at the last minute when someone has a crazy idea and we say yes.
You yourself came from a tech background and ended up making music for a living; do you feel like events like the cruise encourage geeks from different disciplines to explore new interests?
One of my favorite things is introducing this audience to performers they might not otherwise get to know. And vice versa – performers are always so delighted with how receptive and enthusiastic our crowd is, especially the ones who are a little outside the traditional nerd scene. Sarah and Sean Watkins were so amazing that someone yelled “shut up and take my money” after the first song, and Sarah and Sean didn’t know what they were talking about. Comedian Rhea Butcher was learning how to pilot a ship in the Artemis bridge simulator game in preparation for playing it onstage when she turned to me, I think probably with a tear in her eye, and said “I’ve been waiting my whole life to do this.” Jean Grae is an amazing musician and all-around genius person who, I swear, granted everyone in the audience superpowers the first time she performed. Ted Leo is way too cool for this thing, except that he’s a not-so-secret nerd who made everyone cry when he read from the Silmarillion, so really he fits right in. So yes, it’s a real pleasure to facilitate that connection between artists I love, and fans who don’t yet know they love them.
In what ways have your interactions with fans on an extended journey like this been rewarding?
I won’t lie, it feels wonderful to have a fan come up to you and say what your work means to them. But so often, that interaction gets squeezed and strained because it’s happening in front of a merch table at a con, or in a parking lot after a show, and everyone’s a little awkward and uncomfortable. I know how it is, I’m a fan of people too, and all of my 15-second conversations with famous people have also been pretty excruciating. But when we’re on this ship together for an entire week, everyone has time to relax and get used to the idea that we’re just there together for a while. Oh, there’s Jonathan Coulton at the buffet AGAIN. It’s a very pleasant hang, and by the end, it feels like we’ve all just been at the same Summer camp for a week.
The guest list for February is amazing, and includes some familiar faces and some new ones. Who are you most excited to have on board this year?
We’ve got a nice mix of regulars and old friends and new friends. And we’ve still got a lot more in the works for our roster in 2018, but so far I’m particularly excited about Maria Bamford, who is one of my favorite comedians, and I’m kind of geeking out about getting to maybe hang out with her a little bit if that’s cool Ms. Bamford OMG.
Anyone still on the JoCo Cruise wishlist that you just haven’t been able to work out yet?
Yes. We are already thinking about 2019, believe it or not.
Lastly, if you were to tell someone who’s never been on the cruise what makes it the perfect nerd vacation, how would you sum that up?
I understand cruise skepticism, and I won’t say cruises are not weird, because they are: delightfully so. Even leaving aside all this nerd stuff, all the entertainment, the amazing community made up of several hundred of your new best friends; even without all that stuff, cruises are great. For me, part of it is the physicality, the fact that you’re on this ship which is VERY BIG and still somehow floating, and also it’s filled with stores and restaurants and theaters and bars and swimming pools. It’s a technological and logistical marvel, and it is on the freaking ocean, where whales live. Also there’s a thing that happens to me, where for the first 24 hours onboard I am confronted with strange choices: am I going to have a piña colada with breakfast? (Yes, I am.) But after 24 hours I undergo this transformation, and it suddenly feels like I’ve always lived this way, that this is my new life now, and by the way please hurry up with my breakfast piña colada. So as much work and stress as it is to put together, I have a genuine sadness when it’s over, because I know that I have to return to my dumb boring life as a professional rock star on land.