Though currently considered “closed,” the old Mark Twain Riverboat is still serving up entertaining experiences aboard its sixty year old deck. Since attractions on the Rivers of America ceased operation in preparation for the imminent construction of Star Wars land, and until the rivers themselves are drained, the Mark Twain has sat at its Frontierland dock as a sort of museum piece for guests to explore. The park has made efforts to spice up the experience, adding characters and educational elements, recently culminating in the surprising return of on-board musical entertainment.
The stately riverboat last hosted musical acts in 2015 for a special annual passholder event the hearkened back to the park’s famous Dixieland at Disneyland shows of the sixties. Initially held in the fall of 1960 as a one-night only special event, Dixieland at Disneyland showcased the era’s top jazz musicians at stages and parades throughout the park for the grand fee of $4.50 per person. As related by the Disney History Institute, the show “…started with water pageantry that created a floating Mardi Gras parade on the Rivers of America. …For each of the inaugural year’s six bands a floating raft was created, complete with multi-colored spotlights that illuminated the musicians. And for the grand finale, all six bands gathered aboard the riverboat Mark Twain and sailed past the audience, swinging in time, to the all-time Dixieland favorite, When the Saints Come Marching In.” Following the opening festivities, the Mark Twain docked and the celebrity bands dispersed throughout the park to perform for the remainder of the the night.
Walt Disney was so proud of the annual event that he showcased it on his popular television show in a special called “Disneyland After Dark” that included an extended segment of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong playing to a tightly packed crowd on the Mark Twain’s quaint second floor stage. This on-board entertainment was a hallmark of the Dixieland event, and was even replicated in last year’s homage. The vast majority of modern guests wandering about the old riverboat under normal circumstances probably don’t notice the small elevated platform, unaware that some of the biggest names in jazz once held court on this unassuming stage.
With the boat docked and construction uprooting the northern reaches of the river Disney, seeking to keep the now stationary experience something of a draw, surprised guests this last week by re-introducing live music aboard the parked Mark Twain. In a rarity evoking Disneyland’s classic Dixieland days the Strawhatters, composed of members of the Disneyland Band, have been performing throughout the day on the riverboat’s second level stage. Sure to be a limited time run, the throwback performances have been a hit with fans and are recommended viewing while they last.