By Steve Spears
If there’s one thing that ’80s cruisers can count on each year during our “adult spring break,” it’s the hit-packed sets by the tribute band Jessie’s Girl. The New York-based musicians have been a mainstay on the ship since the first voyage of The 80s Cruise and quickly grew to be crowd favorites with their pop-packed performances, creative costume changes and high-energy stage antics.
Jenna O’Gara, Jessie’s Girl’s female lead vocalist, even scored the ultimate gig earlier this year on the 2018 voyage with an invitation to join Berlin’s Terri Nunn and Katrina Leskanich of The Waves in a “Ladies of Rock” Q&A.
“It was an absolute honor for me to be up there with them,” Jenna says. “I not only sing their songs with Jessie’s Girl, but I’ve watched and listened to numerous performances of theirs to educate and grow as a singer and performer. It was very cool – and intimidating – to be casually having a convo and answering the same questions as two rock stars.”
With Jessie’s Girl returning to The 80s Cruise in 2019 on board the Celebrity Infinity, I reached out to “Sky,” the band’s musical director and keyboardist, to ask a few questions about the band’s history, its members and its experiences during our Caribbean adventures.
Spears: How much of the ’80s did you all experience in real life? Did you grow up during our beloved decade?
Sky: Most of us were in middle or high school in the ’80s. Some of us are a little younger though, but even Jenna got to live through a few months of the ’80s!
Spears: Whose idea was it to form the group? What was its genesis?
Sky: Eric Presti (guitarist) is a founding member of one of the first ’80s tributes, which started over 10 years ago. Me, Michael Maenza (drums) and Drew Mortali (bass) were part of that group as well. But six years ago, we got three new singers and changed the name to Jessie’s Girl and things have been amazing since.
Spears: Does everyone in the group have a regular day job?
Sky: Only Mark Rinzel (vocals) has a typical job. He is a social worker in NYC. He is also a father of two boys, so he is the closest things to a grown-up here! Mike and Eric each have children, so they are kind of grown-up. The rest of us are either full-time musicians or in the arts in some way. Mike, Drew, Eric and Chris Hall (vocals) do a Depeche Mode tribute. I’m “Geddy” in a Rush tribute band, and Mark is the “Sting” in a Police tribute. But all of us can say the most interesting job we have is dressing up in neon and spandex and playing ’80s tunes on a ship full of the world’s most hardcore partiers.
Spears: I assume you’re constantly adding to and tweaking your set list. How do you decide on a new song?
Sky: We have well over 100 hits in our repertoire, but we add new songs when we get a request we are all excited about. We usually debut it at our residency in NYC and see how it goes over with the crowd. If it works, we add it to the rotation.
Spears: Are there any bands from our decade that are a real challenge to cover?
Sky: I don’t think this crew feels technically challenged by anything ’80s anymore. But crowd response-wise, we have found not one Duran Duran song that seems to get the crowd going – ever! It’s crazy! They were one of the top bands in the ’80s. Go figure.
Spears: Tell us about some of the ups and downs of playing a long stretch on a cruise ship.
Sky: Doing six gigs in a week is definitely a challenge, especially for the vocalists. But our favorite part is the lack of limitations. We are able to break out some of our deeper cuts on the cruise. Last year’s set list had over 100 songs. And of course the best thing about The 80s Cruise is the fantastic group of people that attend!
Spears: Do you get much time to have fun and explore the ports between shows?
Sky: We all enjoyed Puerto Rico, and many of us have done some nature excursions. But we try to balance the vacation aspect so we have the energy to give 100 percent at every show.
Spears: You play live in New York each Saturday night. That’s a nice gig. For those traveling to NYC who might want to drop in on your shows, what are they like?
Sky: The NYC shows are a lot like the cruise in terms of crowd energy, but they can be even more insane as the night goes on.
Spears: What excites you most about the 2019 voyage of The 80s Cruise?
Sky: So much! What’s not to look forward to? The shows. The music. The great crowd. The exotic locations. The food. We can’t wait!
(Steve Spears is creator and co-host of the Stuck in the ’80s podcast. Spears and podcast co-host Brad Williams host The Big ’80s Trivia on board The 80s Cruise. Follow them online at @stuckinthe80s.)