I Think About This a Lot: John Mayer’s Cruise Ship Music Festival

Photo: Getty Images

I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.

Let me begin with an important truth: I am a capital-F Fan of John Mayer’s music. If stranded on a deserted island with nothing but a first-generation iPod Nano (this is the device you get, I don’t make the rules), you can bet that thing would be full of the assorted tracks of John’s 20-year-old pop and rock discography. This isn’t my coolest declaration; John’s association with both quintessential soft rock and some problematic sound bites doesn’t earn me a ton of ‘street cred,’ as it were. But it’s well-known enough that I never miss news of John — if he so much as sneezes in a way that might suggest a new single, I get an alert from a friend. Ordinarily I reply to these with gratitude and some sort of celebration of the man’s oeuvre, but lately my response is something else entirely. I am a woman distracted. Every time John reappears in the Zeitgeist, my mind goes straight to a fascinating and severely under-examined chapter of his career: the Mayercraft Carrier.

The Mayercraft Carrier, per the production company’s website, was “the ultimate fan experience,” wherein John Mayer and a group of handpicked artists hosted a musical cruise on the luxury cruise ship Carnival Victory. The ship sailed from Miami to the Bahamas and back, between February 1 and February 4, 2008. In my cursory Google search, no one made note of the huge missed opportunity to call this “The Mayerflower,” but that’s neither here nor there.

You may recall the Mayercraft’s most infamous cultural artifact: a series of photos of John in a Borat-inspired lime-green thong. It’s not that I think much about those photos. In fact, it’s an act of self-care to actively forget those photos. What keeps me coming back and really makes me go, Huh!, is that this event happened at all. As if the mandate for the event were simply “devil-may-care whimsy!” and “shirtlessness,” our darling John designed an eponymous festival on a cruise ship. If I so desired, I could have boarded a vessel to the Bahamas with a group whose sole common denominator was a desire to be in an enclosed, seabound space with this man. The number of questions I have about this experience is frankly limitless.

To start, who were these attendees? Surely I was the target audience, but at age 16 I had neither the autonomy to plan my own vacations nor the interest in cruises to make a case for it. When I think of the group that flocks to the Carnival Victory for a “quick Bahamian bender” (as I imagine they call it), I can’t say that a passion for John Mayer circa 2008 comes to mind. But surely there was a subset of the usual cruisers — retirees, large families, casual all-you-can-eat enthusiasts — who thought this would be a fun li’l something different. My burning question is, how did this group co-mingle with the John Mayer superfans? The soft-rock-adoring, “my stupid mouth” tattoo–bearing, undoubtedly white and female faction who had both the fervor and disposable income to make this dream a reality? Did they all become friends? Would the superfans take breaks from staking out John’s sleeping quarters to join bachata lessons on the main deck?

And John, if you’re listening, I have to know, if you’re going to embark on a multiday festival, why go with a cruise ship? Though reports do suggest that John would often practice his stand-up routine around the ship, and I must say that I struggle to think of a better place to test your chops as a new comedian than with your most devoted audience, in a space from which there is literally no escape. Did they laugh as much as he wanted? Did they get it?

And of the attendees, there must have been some who loathed being at sea but loved John more than their hearts could bear; what was their experience? Did they mainline Dramamine and otherwise let the music be their medicine? And more importantly, was it worth it?

The true beauty of it all is that I will never know the answers to most of these questions. The Mayercraft’s maiden voyage took place just before the era of social media ubiquity. Save for a few LiveJournal posts and shaky YouTube videos, you just had to be there! I respect that most of us will never really know if whatever this was — vanity project, thought experiment, attempted second coming of Woodstock — accomplished what it set out to achieve.

Despite the unknowns, I’m willing to venture that the Mayercraft Carrier could be more of an inspiration to us all than, say, John’s friendship with Dave Chappelle. To all ye who would resign the man to a “try-hard bubblegum” box, I say, look to the Mayercraft. Putting aside the sort of missteps that you would expect to befall a person who goes on record saying he’s looking for “the Joshua Tree of vaginas,” John has an undeniable appetite for going for it. That an act of brazen self-indulgence like the Mayercraft Carrier transpired without any major cosmic negative consequence should inspire the risk-averse among us from the pedestrian comfort of our land concerts.

I Think About This a Lot: John Mayer’s Cruise Ship Festival