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Parahoy: One Year On & How Music Can REALLY Change Lives

If we could go back to my teenage years and ask me precisely what I wanted to do with my life, I’d say absolutely, categorically, that I wanted a career I could be happy in, the opportunity to travel, and the chance to keep on seeing the bands I love, preferably around the world. Nothing’s changed. I’m lucky in that at 25, I’m at least sort of living that dream. Sure, I may be slightly jaded, even disenfranchised somewhat, but stories like this one that I’m about to tell continue to give me hope. In fact, it’s a ton of stories, intertwined into one, inspired by a common love. My one wish is that this hope never dies.

My Story

I’ve been literally across the globe for music several times now, whether it’s been Riot Fest in Chicago, Warped Tour across the USA, Bamboozle on the East Coast, or Groezrock in Belgium. That’s not even scratching the surface on the countless tours I’ve attended in other countries, and all the gigs and festivals right here in the UK. Thankfully, I’ve stopped having to pay for a huge majority of these. I’m blessed, I know that, but I’ve surrounded myself with this world for as long as I can remember – coming up to half my life. I’ve worked extra hours and multiple jobs for flight money. Volunteered for countless music magazines for free tickets. Somehow ended up as a merch girl for my boyfriend’s line, Big Deal Clothing, and made friends for life in the festival organizers, bands and promoters who I meet at all these exciting places. The industry has become a part of me, and a part I can’t imagine my life without. Sure, it’s flawed, but it’s fun. In between all that, I’ve somehow managed to use my music writing to kick-start an actual, well-paid content creating career, which all just rolls nicely back round again to afford yet more tickets. Like I say – completely blessed. That’s not even starting on the people I get to meet and the places I get to see.

The best opportunity of them all, however, was undoubtedly Parahoy, a five day cruise with one of my favourite bands of all time, Paramore, and loads more – including New Found Glory, Tegan & Sara, Bad Rabbits, Shiny Toy Guns and MeWithoutYou. There were comedians, too. And food. How can I not mention the food?! I don’t think I could have imagined anything so awesome even in my wildest dreams, and that’s without even mentioning the fact that this was a cruise that took place in the middle of the ocean, between sunny Miami and the Bahamas, where we were able to get off and explore. Truly once in a lifetime – until next time, of course!

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I’ll admit, before I went, I was cringing – hard – thinking that the people on Parahoy might be kind of lame. I want to apologize for that here and now. You see, I like Paramore (a lot, clearly), but I’m by no means a super fan. I probably was when I first got into them aged sixteen, but “some of us have to grow up sometimes”, as they say. Not that I think their music is defined by age, at all. I’ve grown up with these guys! I’m just making the point that I don’t know everything there is to know, but that’s okay. I love their music, and I really enjoy the other bands on the bill, too.  I was lucky my friend Sophie felt the same and would also kill for this opportunity… or I would have never been able to go. It was worth every last penny of savings and every little sacrifice made. One year ago today, I was boarding that cruise, hyperventilating with anticipation. I could never have predicted just how much March 7th, 2014 changed me.

On the ship, I felt more alive than I have done in years. The people weren’t lame, they were passionate, grateful, inspired – and inspiring. I was so happy, so free. There was fancy dress. There was food (I can’t say this enough!). There were even frozen cocktails that would be brought you your hot tub or hammock. I was singing again, performing with an acoustic guitar and new friends, everywhere I went. The one person I encountered who wasn’t great? I managed to call out for sexism in front of hundreds of people at Jacob Sirof and Doug Benson’s comedy show, and everyone laughed. I could be myself, and everyone loved it. I barely slept – there was just too much to do.

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Since the ship itself, I’ve held a Parahoy reunion party in the UK, travelled to France with people I met there, done Leeds Festival and various others as a group, and even met up with the people my non-fan boyfriend affectionately refers to as ‘Paralosers’ all the way over in various parts of the USA.

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Some of these people now aren’t just friends, they’re my best friends. We have in-jokes, we have plans, and we blend into each other’s lives seamlessly.

I have talked about the bands of Parahoy in my work for Alter The Press!, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. It’s the journey itself, and what’s happened since. I made friends for life. That’s the real reason I love what I do – it’s the people I am privileged to meet and share with. It’s now one year on (a whole year, already…), so I spoke to some of these friends about what this meant to them. Their words truly broke my heart, and lifted my spirits, all at the same time. This is bittersweet at its finest.

Your Stories

Adam J. Reiter AKA Rainbow Beard, California, USA

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Adam – or Rainbow Beard, as he became known – transformed into a bit of a celebrity on the Pearl (our Norwegian Cruiseliner). He brought along his beautiful family, and became actively involved in our Facebook group, even before we embarked. He’d made stickers promoting our diversity – that we were a ship with people of all colors, nationalities, and of course, sexualities, as there were many of us in the LGBT community. He wanted us to know we would all be accepted, and he became a spokesman for this, making people feel loved for who they are. It was a safe space, which he had a hand in creating (as we all did). By the time he’d done his amazing ‘Belly Flop’ in a competition, he was known throughout the ship, even by the bands. His career as a photographer has since been boosted, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving. He told me:

Parahoy was a special place where the underdogs could be heard, seen, and felt like they were a part of something. It was a unique and special vibe. For me, it was the birth of RainbowBeard. It literally has changed my life’s direction. I will be forever grateful.

Amy Tassery, France

Amy, a beautiful French girl with a quirky style and an ever-present party hat explains to me just how amazing it was for her, including being able to visit America alone for the first time:

To feel the overwhelming exciting sensation of freedom that comes with traveling across the world; seeing new sceneries like the everglades; being able to go through a sand tornado, meet animals I never seen before and more importantly finally have time to learn to know myself”.

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She goes on to describe exactly what she experienced on the trip, and how she’s grown as a person from it.

“The cruise itself was so much more than some shows and some activities. It was a beautiful human experience and it was just based on music. Everybody there understands you, understands how and why music can have an effect on your entire person. I met so many people on the boat, what happened is that there is no judgment, ever. You could be anything and nobody cared. This whole event was about sharing something with people, you just kept on sharing with everyone doesn’t matter how long you do it, a little chat with the guys on your elevator, joking with that girl who wants all the ice cream flavors in one, screaming Glee at headphone disco, long conversations about Donnie Darko, drunkenly singing Beyoncé at 3am with someone else, meeting people from all over the world, and making friends. At the end of it I just knew that’s what I wanna go towards to in my life. I wanna find a place where I am comfortable enough to be me, where I’m just in a happy place not only figuratively, where I can broaden my knowledge and experiences, I want to take a big breath of freedom again.”

She’s right. It was a human experience and I bet even people who didn’t like Paramore or the other bands would have still loved it. Amy has since gone on to travel to the UK for Leeds Festival, been visited by a group of us (like me!) for New Year’s Eve, and so much more. She sums up with a simple few words, which resonate deeply with me, and many others, I’m sure:

I just think it is an experience that keeps on giving. And THAT is beautiful.”

Gaby Montelongo, California, USA

I don’t really know Gaby, but Gaby’s personal story is as unique as she is. However, there are obviously several common threads in what we all felt:

“Being on Parahoy was the escape I didn’t know I needed. It was absolutely magical. I finally met a friend in person who I had been friends with for a year. I made new friends that I am closer to than ever! I met someone who I’ve later gone to shows with and we meet up with other cruisers, which is always fun! I even met someone who I would eventually date. We broke up, but we’re still friends! I’m more than happy to have made friends with all the people from all over the world.”

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 (She’s on the front row!)

I can agree with this next part 10000%…

 “The best thing about Parahoy was the unity. Meeting people from all over the world who had the same passion as you was gratifying in ways I can’t even begin to explain unless you were there. Parahoy felt like home.”

Sak Pellicer, Mexico

To travel thousands of miles is sometimes hard enough, but to do it alone, and to a place where the language isn’t your first, is amazing. Sak is a wonderful individual, and I’m glad she got to do this.

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 “I had never travelled to the US, and I had certainly never travelled completely alone. I didn’t know anyone but I left that boat with some of my best friends to date. My mom has been very sick and I needed this trip to grow as a person and it was more than what I thought it could be. I finally had the courage to break free and explore this vast world full of wonders! I met all the bands and had the best time. But most of all, I found me. Parahoy gave me strength, knowledge and an entirely new perspective in life, a life where dreams come true and a life where you get the chance to meet people. People that are famous or not, people that are like you, that feel like family – and love like no others.”

Jamie Doran, Ireland

Jamie has become one of my best friends. I’ll be honest – I thought I wasn’t going to like him. However, we bonded over cocktails and his smuggled liquor, and the rest is history!

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“Parahoy was by far the best experience that has ever happened to me, not just for the cruise or seeing the bands, but because it was a trip that freed me, took me away, and opened my eyes a lot. I made some amazing friends, and it’s difficult to believe my first flight was just 1 year ago when I’ve travelled to so many different places now to visit these friends. My life will be forever changed by Paramore and this cruise.”

Ashley Legg, Colorado, USA

Ashley, a huge Paramore fan, has now met more people than she could ever have hoped to who share her mutual passion:

“Since Parahoy, I have remained in touch with the friends that I made there. I live in Colorado, but have made friends all over the world thanks to Parahoy. In Colorado, I continue to attend shows with my Colorado cruiser group and this May, we will be going on a road trip to see 6 Writing the Future shows. We had been going to the same Paramore shows in Denver for years, but never knew it until we met because of Parahoy!”

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“One of my roommates from the cruise and myself will be going to Harry Potter world together this summer, and I couldn’t be happier. I had the best roommates for the cruise. A friend and I went together, but we needed two more roommates. We didn’t know each other beforehand, and I was a bit anxious about having people I didn’t know as roommates, but it was the best experience of my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have made the best friends from all over the world and they continue to be friendly and welcoming just as is characteristic of the Parafamily.”

Martin Hardee, California, USA

Music connects us all, no matter our age. Martin is a somewhat older guy, as far as our little Parafamily goes (yeah, I prefix ‘Para’ to everything… deal with it), but I’m sure he’d agree that age is just a number. Whilst this cruise was the youngest EVER, he was still just as valued and jumped right in with getting groups of fans together to join in unison for sing-alongs!

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“Minutes after we got on the ship, I found myself playing guitar, singing, and meeting with new friends who would together put on the two night ‘Acoustic Parahoy! Singalong.’ We were joined by at least a hundred talented fans in singing songs from Paramore and many other bands those two nights.  I was pretty amazed at the singing talent of our fellow cruisers (Parafamily can really sing wondrously!) and even more blown away by the musicianship of the guitarists, uke players, drummers and piano players who joined us those two nights. The second night, a few of us stayed up until around 4 AM playing old Paramore songs. At one point in the wee hours, Jeremy happened by briefly with Kat, and I swear we almost got him to stop to sing “The Only Crustacean”* with us.”

(* Nautical Paramore wordplay!)

This anecdote made me smile because it highlights how Universal music is. It can be appreciated by any language. It has no borders, and Paramore have only strengthened this connection in all the talent they’ve encouraged.

Erin Beane, California/Florida, USA

Erin is a girl I’ve met up with in America since Parahoy, because on the ship, our paths didn’t cross much. I’m so lucky to know her – what a generous, kind heart she has (she took me to Disney, because she works there… wow!). She’s an amazing person, and she’s super talented at ALL OF THE THINGS. Here’s her tale, starting with the slightly humorous back story. YOU GO GIRL!

“As a 20 year old only “child,” I haven’t done much traveling on my own. Driving to-and-from college was about as much as my mom would let me do without company. Mention of Parahoy began infiltrating my social media, and as a long time fan of the band Paramore, I dreamed of being allowed to attend. In November of 2013, I began to take matters into my own hands. I applied (and got) my first part-time job in college, and put everything I earned in my savings. After doing some math, it looked likely I would have all the money I’d need to get myself from California to Miami and book a room on the ship. Though I had everything planned out, my parents simply did not trust it.  “No,” my mom said upon my attempt to gain her permission to go, “I don’t want something to happen to you. … I’ve seen news stories of people getting thrown off cruise ships. It happens. No.” I got a similar response from my dad after showing him how I planned the financial portion. For some reason, no matter how many times I said the words “I am paying for it entirely on my own,” his response always included, “Your mom and I don’t have $1,200 to drop on your trip. Sorry.”

Did that stop her? Hell no!

“In January, after a couple months of arguing with my parents, I double checked my bank account, and found a single roommate through our Parahoy! Facebook group. I booked a flight, and had to muster up the courage to look my mom dead in the face and say, “Sorry, Mom. I’m still going to go.” She wasn’t happy with my decision at first, but she later told me that she just let it happen. There wasn’t much she could do to change my mind, and it was about time I make decisions for myself.

Of course, the rest was history. Imagine looking back forever and kicking yourself because you didn’t go?!

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“What came of that decision to “just go for it” was the best weekend of my life, numerous friendships that now span the globe, exposure to new bands (that I now am a huge fan of), and memories that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. I even got to meet Hayley and Chad in Disney World later that year before a New Found Glory show, and Chad (and the rest of the band) recognized me from the cruise. 

To me, Parahoy! was more than just a cruise. It was a coming of age chapter in my life that has opened a countless number of doors leading to my future. I’m so  incredibly grateful for this opportunity, and am anxiously waiting for another chance like this.”

Heather McNab, Australia

Heather’s story made me cry. Despite not knowing Heather all that well, and only now speaking through the magic of Facebook, I can relate to almost every word she wrote. As an eloquent young raconteur, I hope you get a sense of the bonds we formed and the attachment we still feel to that cruise…

Heather told me her (seemingly amazing!) mum forced her to go after some friends cancelled on her. I hope those friends are jealous! She told Heather she would never have an opportunity like that ever again”. Heather confirms I’m glad she took me, because it changed my life.” 

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Despite initial anxiety about not knowing anybody else her own age, Heather soon felt caught up in the moment that struck us all, and involved herself:

“On the first night, I stayed up until 3am with other cruisers, laughing and playing Cards Against Humanity in the lobby of the hotel. From there, everything changed. Now this story could be long and go on for an entire thesis sized essay, but I’ll shorten it. Honestly, Parahoy changed my life because from the moment I stepped on that boat, I had people starting to speak to me, complimenting me on my T-shirt, my accent, asking my name, anything that came up. It turns out that almost every person I met on that cruise became my best friends. One of these people is now like a big brother to me, always having my back and I run to them whenever I need help with anything in life. Another, I developed feelings for, and the only reason that we’re not together is due to distance.”

It’s this last part that had me tearing up…

I have never ever felt more at home in a place that I was so scared to be. There was not one person that I met during that cruise was rude. Everyone was so welcoming and non-judgemental. There’s not a day in my life that I don’t wish I was back there, seeing everyone again. I miss it more than anything and I hope that there’s a second cruise so everyone can come together again.”

Her sentiments are echoed in my daily thoughts.

 Our Story

There were 2500 of us on board, from over 30 different countries. The stories I have detailed only cover a small fraction of just some of the people I met. However, I feel like these tales are indicative, not just of our physical journey, but also the emotional one we all took in being on that ship. No matter where you went, people would say hello. I couldn’t walk two feet without someone else grabbing me to chat. If I didn’t have time to speak to them individually, we just merged groups. We met even more people. It felt a bit like being famous! I felt like a cool kid, if I’m honest. Yeah, I think of Parahoy whenever I hear that Echosmith song!

People always ask me to shut up about this whole thing, but I doubt I ever will. I’m someone who’s done a lot of incredible things, but this was the best.

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There have been people who’ve travelled thousands of miles to be reunited.  People who’ve moved in together, as friends – or otherwise. There’s been engagements. Romances loved (and lost, and those that can never be). There have even been a couple of babies conceived on that ship (though sadly none named Parahoy… disappointing!). The memories we made will last a lifetime. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about it, or where I’m not touched by something someone from there has said or done. I’m so proud!

The Story Lives On…

This post isn’t for me. It’s for you. It’s for the bands. It’s for the way that no matter what city I go to now, I can meet a new Parahoy friend and it’s like we’ve known each other forever. It’s for Amy, Adam, Sak, Heather, Ashley, Gaby, Martin, Jamie, Erin, and all of my friends I’ve met and seen since – Sophie, Lucie, Ali, Erin, Arielle, Jayda, Louisa, Aaron, Asia, Jay, Philip, Jaime, Brandon, Marcus, Taryn, Brianna, Victor, Callum, Lidia, Chanel, and everyone else, all my partners in crime and adventures, people who’ve sent surprise packages and cards to my house, been there for me, since accepted me into their homes and friendship groups and countries – even those I may never see again – you’re people I love.

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You’ve seen me at my best. My worst. Singing drunk on balconies in the middle of the ocean at 4am. Lying in the street in Leeds at 4am. Crying in Paris at 4am – you can see where I’m going with this. I’ve asked you for advice, cheeky passes to stuff, places to crash – and of course, I’ve returned the favor. My life is enriched by knowing you (yes, I need to be sick in my mouth…). I can’t wait to see what our future holds.

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I’ll leave you with this, which I wrote as part of my Parahoy review for Alter The Press! almost one year ago. These are the words I’ll never be able to more succinctly say:

“Parahoy! brought together people from all walks of life, who would otherwise never have met. It sounds lame, clichéd and cheesy all in one, but for those who weren’t there, you will never understand – it was quite unlike anything else. Between the awesome bands, the beach, the parties, the headphone disco, the theme nights, the impromptu band forming, the midnight sing-alongs, high-fiving cruise celebrity Rainbow Beard, “washy washy, happy happy,” and so much more, it’s something the lucky fans – and bands – will never forget.”

If you want to read even MORE Parahoy stories, please check out this post on Pmore Online!

I now truly believe that music can change – and even save – lives. Looking at these pictures, I’m filled with nostalgia and happiness. What power does it hold for you? xo