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“It’s an experience that can’t be replicated on land,” said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of

Theme cruises are common - they’re available for fans of history, dancing, wine, nature or knitting, Ms. Spencer Brown said. But she ranked music No. 1 in variety and popularity, with the cruise industry using it to attract first-time customers.

“Anything that encourages people who haven’t cruised before to get on a ship is a good thing,” Ms. Spencer Brown said.

Music on cruises is nothing new; the Titanic had it. There was a time when the main attraction might be Wayne Newton’s cousin or the former drummer for Three Dog Night, but options are hipper now.

Genre cruises showcase jam bands, goth, R&B, country, gospel and jazz. Sixthman, the Atlanta-based company behind Cayamo, also offers cruises for fans of alternative rock, Southern rock and even Kid Rock.

With record sales in decline, performing at sea becomes an even more appealing option for musicians, Sixthman founder and CEO Andy Levine said.

“Artists are seeing their chance to be superstars diminish, so they’re trying to build a healthy fan base and take care of them,” Mr. Levine said. “The thing we hear the most from artists is that they feel a huge lift from the cruise because they get exposed to potential new fans.”

Mr. Levine became intrigued by the concept of music at sea a decade ago, when he managed the band Sister Hazel and scheduled it for a four-day cruise.

“We had a great four days,” he said. “We were able to share space without it being awkward for the band or the fans. I’ve always liked that it’s just us, and everyone is there for the same reason. There’s a certain power in that.”

On my Cayamo trip, the performers seemed to have as much fun as their audience, even if the occasionally bumpy ride made standing at the microphone a challenge.

“If I had told my teachers about this, they would have thrown me out of school: ‘I want to sail around the Caribbean singing my songs,’ ” Mr. Prine said with a chuckle. “Not a bad gig.”

Many of the musicians were Cayamo repeaters, among them Mr. Earle, accompanied by his wife, singer Allison Moorer, and their young son.

“Welcome to my vacation,” Mr. Earle said after performing his first song.

The division between artist and audience tended to dissolve, because many musicians hung out in the same bars, shops and dining rooms as the other passengers. We sat next to Mr. Earle at a safety briefing, crossed paths with him at lunch and saw him on the jogging track, although he wasn’t jogging.

Performers sat in on each others’ sets. There were only a few nautical tunes, and thankfully no “My Heart Will Go On” or “The Morning After.” Mr. Wainwright did joke he had seen Ernest Borgnine and Shelley Winters on board.

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