Depending on the talent the Piano Bar can be the highlight of your cruise or completely forgotten.
On my first cruise with Burton we had Tommy G in the Piano Bar. He worked with Journey on the original arrangement of one of their classic hits so he had talent, personality, and the occasional story to tell. Admittedly he made songs seem a little more upbeat, sometimes almost carnival-like, than we were familiar with but you want the performer to make it their own otherwise you could just sit in your cabin and listen to mp3s. We went to see him a couple times on our 4 day sail and had a great time. I mistakenly made the assumption that all Piano Bar experiences would be like this.
On my second cruise the Piano Bar fell on its face. The performer, TC, with his frosted tipped hair, seemed to talk twice as long as he sang and would frequently interrupt the song to talk some more. I had built up the magnificence of the Piano Bar but the best thing about that experience was making friends with other disappointed members of the audience.
The next 4 cruises had unremarkable performers; they simply weren’t noteworthy as being either very good or very bad, just not worth our time.
Then on what was to be the Bermuda cruise aboard the Sunshine we ran into another disappointing performer, Craig. Craig didn’t like the music he sang. He told you so and you could hear it in his performance. It was just sad. When he got around to singing If I Had a Million Dollars by Barenaked Ladies he had clearly never heard the song before. Interpreting a song and making it your own was one thing, but beyond the lyrics it was an unrecognizable mess. He sang the dialogue between Steve and Ed – need more be said?
Next we sailed on the Glory with another unremarkable performer. Then came the dawn. We thought Tommy G was as good as it gets, and he isn’t bad, but little did we know we hadn’t seen anything yet. The next 3 cruises, forthcoming video of which shall likely be known as The Porthole Chronicles, took things to new heights.
On The Paradise we encountered Gustavo; acerbic, hilarious, and very talented. We went every chance we could. He was like an insult comic and an incredibly gifted musician all in one. The comedy club had nothing on him. George Lopez would have nothing on this guy. He did a piano version of Stone Temple Pilots’ Plush that blew my mind. There’s no piano in the original and he made it seem like the most natural thing in the world. One night he got sick mid-performance so to make it up to us he added a show on his day off that probably ended up running longer than his normal show. It was great because it was mostly just Mike, myself, and the women from Kentucky that had become his unofficial fan club on the sailing. He formed a very quick relationship with his audience and it was a delight. No one could top Gustavo we figured.
On the Fascination we had Tony Ward who was pretty good and funny. About on par with Tommy G.
Then on the Sensation we encountered Natalie Carboni. She blew the doors off the place. With a voice combining the best parts of Sarah McLachlan and Celine Dion she made a permanent impression. She was funny, personal, and put real emotion behind every song. Her personal backstory is at times tragic and touching. People say she sounds like Adele, I think that’s underselling her by half. Natalie makes me love songs I hated previously. She takes song I consider broken and fixes them. She’s the best there is.