Behind The Scene: Anders Beck on Rhythm & Sails

Dean Budnick on February 20, 2024
Behind The Scene: Anders Beck on Rhythm & Sails

photo: Ele Hart


“Rhythm & Sails is one of the most unique things going on in the world of music,” says Greensky Bluegrass’ Anders Beck, who serves as music director for the aquatic travel experience, which will return to the crystal-clear Caribbean waters of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines from May 4-10. “It’s hard for me to put into words, which is weird because I pride myself on being verbose. I just run out of superlatives. It’s really special.”

Outside agrees, naming Rhythm & Sails one of the “World’s Top 10 Tropical Adventures.” The travel outlet reports, “Think of Rhythm & Sails as Yacht Week meets the Telluride Bluegrass Festival: an entourage of three 50-foot catamarans hosting 10-11 people each, including guests, staff and musicians, who perform jam sessions at daily ports of call over the course of a week-long marine adventure. Each boat has four double-occupancy cabins with en suite bathrooms, along with a full crew and chef.”  

Beck’s musical cohorts for the journey include: Travis Book (The Infamous Stringdusters), Eddie Roberts (The New Mastersounds), Duane Betts (The Allman Betts Band), Torrin Daniels (Kitchen Dwellers), Jay Cobb Anderson (Fruition), Mark Morris (Rapidgrass) and Megan Letts (Mama Magnolia). As Beck explains, “For each destination, someone’s the ringleader for that particular beach or boat or island show. It’s been super fun for me. We try to make each show a little bit different. It’s acoustic throughout the whole trip. Then, on the final night, we do an electric jam. The island of Mustique has one of the coolest beach bars in the world. They’ve got a PA, a drum set, keyboards and any sort of amps that we need. So that’s where we play our greatest hits of the week. We’re sort of practicing all along the way for this rock show at the end.”

As he considers his involvement with Rhythm & Sails, Beck emphasizes, “I wasn’t looking for another thing to do. I’ve got a lot of irons in a lot of fires. But I went on one of these trips and was so smitten with the idea, the places and the people. For those of us who have done it, this really has been a life-changing experience.”

How did you meet your two Rhythm & Sails partners, Ashley [Hart] and Damian [Quigley]?

I met them through [Andrew] Lincoln, our light guy, about four years ago. Ashley and Damian were trying to find musicians to come and jam on one of these trips, which were sort of like the Rhythm & Sails beta tests. They both work in the ski industry. Ashley works for Icelantic Skis, but he’s had his captain’s license for a long time and spent time in the Grenadines.

There was a group of friends doing this and the idea was that everybody chipped in, whether it be cooking, playing music, sailing, cleaning, whatever. My way to chip in was to play every night with Mark Morris. He’s in a band called Rapidgrass, and he also filled in for Greensky when Dave [Bruzza] had to take some time off. The two of us played as much music as we wanted, which was all the time because that’s what we love to do. It was also my way of not having to clean toilets. [Laughs.]

How would you describe the Grenadines? It’s a really unique remote place. Ashley grew up sailing around that area, so he knows the islands really well. We know the local people. We’re playing gigs on beaches that you can only reach by boat and you’ll never see any other way. So it helps to know the folks when you’re pulling in and dropping an anchor on their beach. In addition, the weather there in May is utterly perfect.

Speaking from my experience, you feel like you’re one of those lucky people that’s sailing through the Caribbean in the middle of nowhere. I’d never thought I would get a chance to do this, but it was always a weird life goal that I figured I’d never touch.

When you get on these boats it’s like you’re in a different world. It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth, and everyone can learn as much or as little about sailing as they want. Some people are into learning about it, and some people just want to chill. I’ve learned a lot over the course of four or five years.

It’s an amazing way to travel. There’s something about that moment when you’re cruising along in the middle of the ocean and you realize there’s no engine; it’s just wind. There are dolphins swimming next to you, and it’s an unbelievable experience.

Beyond that, we’ve built relationships down there with some of the people on these islands. Seeing them again every year and watching them make friends with the people on the boat has been super cool. There are people from the trip who stay in touch with people from the islands that they’ve met. To me, those real human relationships are always so special to see.

As for the musical performances, it appears that some of them are more formal, while others are akin to a campfire setting. Is that correct?

Yes, it’s both of those things. Sometimes when we’re playing on a stage, it’s going to feel a little more formal. Other times, it feels a little looser. To speak to the musician side though, it’s not that loose because we’re rehearsing regularly in order to make every day special.

But there are evenings when the concert for the day is a sunset boat jam that goes on for four hours. Everyone crowds around and it is kind of like a campfire vibe. The idea is to have the most intimate experience you can get in the most idyllic location possible.

It’s all scheduled out, but we also try to keep some of it a little bit of a secret, so there are surprises for people. Last time, there were nights when Travis and I would pull up to people’s boats on a dinghy as they were going to sleep and we played them lullabies.

We really try and fit each location with what’s going to work best there. If it’s a little beach bar, then we’ll do something that has a little more of a reggae-jammy theme or something.

We had an all-requests afternoon last year and the cool thing is that everyone was such fans that they were requesting original songs, which is spectacular.

The videos I’ve seen also remind me of the backstage jams I’ve occasionally witnessed at festivals. I’ve always felt lucky to stumble on those moments when musicians are playing solely for themselves and each other.

It’s totally a window into that— those little picks where it’s a bunch of friends jamming. Those are my favorite moments, too.

In all honesty, there have been times on Rhythm & Sails when five of us were jamming on a beach and when we finished a song, I’d look up and go, “Whoa, there are people here.” We’re all so into it. It’s this quiet, intimate experience where people are just playing for the sake of playing, which is really cool.

The musicians already have a text thread going where we’re talking about songs that we’re going to play six months from now. We’re excited about a certain song that would be cool on a specific beach.

Jay Cobb Anderson wrote a song last year during the trip. A couple of fans were like, “Wait, was that the song you were working on while you were on top of that hill a few days ago?” And he was like, “Yeah, it’s done. Check it out.” So it’s a creative place for the musicians, and you get to see that process come to fruition. No pun intended.

What can you say about the Anders Beck Golf Invitational?

On the island of Bequia, there’s a beautiful old stone church kind of venue where we play music. When we were up there, we met this guy who was like, “I have a golf course.” He showed it to us—he had 20 sand wedges lying around, and he had stuck a bunch of flags in the ground. So we made these score cards that followed his course. It was like “OK, aim for in between the two coconut trees and you’ll see hole number two.”

Then once in the early years of the trip, I said, “Hey, we’re having my golf tournament when we get there!” Everyone sort of laughed, and I kept saying it for a couple of days, not knowing at all what I was talking about. At which point, we got up there and everyone was like, “When does the golf tournament start?” So I took the reins, as I tend to do, and created a golf tournament. It’s a way to walk around in the hills with palm trees overlooking the ocean. It’s a fun, loose afternoon—no good golfers are allowed, I’ll put it that way.

How would you describe the meals?

We wanted to make sure that what we’re offering people is an incredible experience all around, and food and beverage is a part of that. We bring in chefs from different restaurants and it’s amazing.

The chefs are working all day, whether it’s preparing the three meals or snacks or whatever. They’re using fresh local ingredients and fish we’ve caught along the way. They’re sort of like the musicians, where they’re already getting together and talking about menu stuff. They’re super excited about it too.

There’s an energy that surrounds this trip for the whole year leading up to it. For the musicians, getting to play music on sailboats or on beaches is pretty rare. It’s the same thing for the chefs who get to serve these meals in the middle of the ocean.

On a couple of the islands, we do beach barbecues where the local guys grill up 30 lobsters that they’ve just caught. It’s good because we’re stimulating their economy, which is one of the things we like about it. But also, these are dudes on tiny islands who know how to cook their local fare pretty damn well.

There’s so much to the total experience, but when I ask you to think back on Rhythm & Sails, what’s the first image that pops into your mind?

For me, the first image is sitting on the bow of the boat, sailing along the clearest blue water. There’s this spot on the front corner of the boat where you can dangle your legs and it feels like you’re flying. So you’re both completely relaxed and completely excited at the same time.