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When describing the experience that is Jam Cruise, there is simply no words that could possibly do justice to just what actually occurs during these five most epic of days and nights. As this was my "virgin" cruise, I got to witness what all the hype was about with eyes wide open. And I can now honestly say, after having my Jam Cruise cherry officially popped, that the hype doesn't even live up to the reality of it all. Between the music, the like-minded people, the beautiful ship, the wide range of incredible musicians on this one boat, the ridiculous collaborations and sit-ins that take place, the theme parties and costumed crowd, the accessibility of everything in general, and the sea of never-ending smiling faces....this is something out of a fantasy come to life. You just can't make this stuff up, even in your wildest of dreams.
So, it was with an over-abundance of anticipation that I boarded the same ship (the MSC Poesia), that some of my Live for Live Music brethren disembarked from merely hours earlier, as they had been on the three-day Holy Ship!! EDM experience (check out the review here). The dynamic of the two festivals is completely different, but to each his own. I got mine, and you got yours. And I couldn't wait to see what Jam Cruise 11 had in store for us this year.
It has to be said, first and foremost, that the attendees of this festival-at-sea are straight up professionals when it comes to partying. Many have attended three or more Jam Cruises ("Once you go on one, you'll never miss it again!"), and are so well prepared for everything that takes place. Everything is laid out perfectly for Jam Cruisers, as Cloud 9 has this down to a science. The theme parties give everyone a reason to dress up (and do they ever!). We had a Zebra night, a Blue Lagoon Boogaloo night, a Cirque du Funk night, and a Spinal Tap night. People went all out for these theme parties; it was truly a sight to see. Jam Cruise quite literally hits hard on all cylinders, and we were ready for anything. I think it's safe to say that this year, Jam Cruise most definitely went to 11!
Here is a day-by-day breakdown of what happened on the ship:
After breezing through customs, getting on the ship, and settling in with a drink in hand, the Soul Rebels, the brass heavy NOLA funk outfit, gave us a proper send off. A mix of originals, covers, and funk standards got everyone out on the pool deck to begin this epic journey. There was quite a bit of roaming around between acts on the first night, as you are getting your bearings about you and discovering all of the nooks and crannies of the ship. However, Brooklyn-based The Pimps of Joytime set was dripping with that "Janxtafunky" music; their set was high energy, dance-driven funk that got a packed Zebra Bar going. And just prior to that, Kyle Hollingsworth of The String Cheese Incident played a solo set in The Atrium (which boasts a grand piano and a very intimate vibe for those wise enough to attend). Unfortunately, with everyone being so excited and many seeing each other for the first time since last year's cruise, it was quite loud and Hollingsworth's set was drowned out by the noise. A "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)" did provide a nice sing-along, though.
Steve Kimock, Bernie Worrell, Andy Hess & Wally Ingram in the Teatro Carlo Felice (better knows as the Purple Theatre) was psychedelic and exploratory. These seasoned veterans can make anything sound good; and it was great to see Steve Kimock's son, John Morgan, playing drums alongside his dad. Steel Pulse was an act that I had been waiting to see for years, and they did not disappoint. And it's tough to think of a better place to see them than on Jam Cruise, as they fit right in, and you could look around and see that many artists were amped to see them on the boat as well.
Big Gigantic's pool deck set brought the serious dance party. It was interesting, as they had played for the Holy Ship!! crowd, stayed on the boat, and made a great transition over to the jam-centric crowd. A little rain at the end of their set didn't stop anybody from getting down, as it was quite the contrary, and it seemed most people got their rage on even harder. The Jam Room on this first night was hosted by Dan Lebowitz of ALO. Joining Lebowitz for this first jam session was a rotating cast that included Stanton Moore of Galactic, keyboardist Robert Walter, ALO bassist Steve Adams, and Tea Leaf Green's guitarist Josh Clark and keyboardist/vocalist Trevor Garrod, along with a horn section. It proved to be a great first night, and an indication of the unbelievable collaborations that were still to come.
Early sets from Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, which saw Steve Kimock make an appearance on Stevie Wonder's "I'll Be Loving You Always", and a Greensky Bluegrass set with sit-ins from Kyle Hollingsworth and Joel Cummins of Umphrey's McGee (who was traveling solo for this mission) had a nice laid-back feel to a crowd that was enjoying the pool and surrounding hot tubs while getting their drink on. JJ Grey & Mofro's set was a late-afternoon treat, as they brought out saxophonist Jeff Coffin of Bela Fleck & The Flecktones and Dave Matthews Band (who literally sat in with it seemed every other act), and pedal steel aficionado Roosevelt Collier. Grey has this natural musicality that just seeps out of him, and Mofro's swampy soul music has Deep South written all over it.
The Royal Family's Nigel Hall (who was one of the MVP's of Jam Cruise) played a beautiful set in the Atrium in the early evening. Hall showcased both his piano and vocal skills, in using the natural acoustics of the room to let his incredibly soulful voice carry every note to our receptive ears. It was at this point that the true magic of Jam Cruise hit me, as I am standing on the staircase (hovering right over Hall) and I turn to my left and Corey Glover (Galactic/Living Colour) is standing right next to me enjoying the set as well. Robert Walter had a front row seat, cocktail in hand, as Hall brought out multi-instrumentalist James Casey on sax, and then invited Ivan Neville of Dumpstaphunk and Glover on stage to sing the last song of his set, which was an Earth, Wind & Fire track.
Colorado's The Motet played their "Funk Is Dead" set, which is the music of The Grateful Dead rearranged and spruced up to include a horn section and a touch of the funk. Songs like "St. Stephen", "Help On The Way", "Slipknot", and "Franklin's Tower" had everyone movin' and groovin'. Dominic Lalli of Big Gigantic also sat in for a portion of the set. A set that had everyone talking was Femi Kuti & The Positive Force in the Purple Theatre. Kuti brings along a great backing band and tribal dancers that just has that authentic African vibe going for them. His lyrics are very socially and politically charged, and it is easy to see why he has such a powerful stage presence. The man is a leader, runs a tight ship and can almost be compared to an African James Brown, "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business".
Galactic, who seem to play every Jam Cruise, had a rockin' first set, and brought out percussionist Mike Dillon, Mr. George Porter Jr., Corey Henry (Rebirth Brass Band), the Soul Rebels brass section, and once again Jeff Coffin. It was an energetic set, which led into what gets my vote as one of the top sets of the cruise; that being The Funky Meters set. From the first note played, you knew this was going to be something special; and man, oh man, was it ever! Art Neville, Brian Stoltz, George Porter Jr., and Russell Baptiste Jr. were locked in and just jammed. Guests included Mike Dillon, Ivan Neville, Dumpstaphunk drummer Nikki Glaspie, Stanton Moore of Galactic, and some solos by the Soul Rebels. Highlights of the set were "Hey Pocky Way", "Iko Iko" and "Fire On The Bayou". By the end of the set, there wasn't one body on the ship that wasn't dripping with sweat; the energy was palpable. Oh, and it was apparently Art Neville's 75th birthday.
Big Gigantic played yet another huge set, which saw Lalli and drummer Jeremy Salkin bring out members of The Motet, James Casey, Karl Denson, trombonist Natalie Cressman, and bassist Erick "Jesus" Coomes of Lettuce. They ended the set with a Herbie Hancock number, which was very well played. The Pimps of Joytime's Brian J hosted the Jam Room on this evening, which once again brought a slew of guests and seemed to never end (George Porter Jr., Robert Walter, Stanton Moore, Nikki Glaspie, Nigel Hall, Brock Butler, the list goes on and on). It's almost unfathomable to see so many different and incredibly talented artists on the same stage together – but on Jam Cruise, ANYTHING is possible. By the end of the night, it was off to the cafeteria for many to grab some breakfast before attempting to catch a little bit of much needed shut eye before we docked in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos for a relaxing day on the beach.
On Wednesday, we spent the day on Grand Turk. It was nice to get off the ship for a few hours and wander around. Some spent time on the beach, others went to a bar, some took cabs into town for some authentic food, and some didn't even get off the ship and chose to sleep. However, it was fairly overcast, so it is hard to blame them. But that didn't stop Positive Legacy from doing some great work at one of the local schools. Artists including Eric Krasno, bassist Tony Hall of Dumpstaphunk, members of March Fourth Marching Band and several other performed for the school children, and at one point invited a 10-year old boy to play drums with them, and he apparently killed it. This is just one of the many special things that Jam Cruise and Cloud 9 has created to give back to communities that they visit.
Back on the boat, Dumpstaphunk played an awesome set that got everybody right back into the swing of things as we left port. The opening notes of "Fame" led into a super-funky version of the David Bowie classic. Glaspie had a stellar drum solo and played the MC for a hot minute as well during the set. James Casey was once again brought out for several songs, as was Nigel Hall while Parliament Funkadelic legend Bernie Worrell made an appearance behind the keys. It seemed everyone hit their stride, and it was full-on party mode at this juncture of our trip.
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe played a fun set on the Pool Deck, and had about 15 different artists sit-in during their set, including Robert Walter (Karl D's Greyboy Allstar band member, along with bassist Chris Stillwell). Lettuce seemed to have much more energy than their first set. It was like night and day when comparing the two sets that they played. On Day 3, that New York funk was filthy, and Eric Krasno truly shined during this set.
moe. played the Purple Theatre to a packed room, and had some technical issues early on, but were eventually resolved. The "Recreational Chemistry" during this set had an extended jam and was played perfectly. It was Al Schnier's birthday, and Cloud 9′s Annabel Lukins brought out a piece of cake with trick candles. The highlight of this set, however, was when Mike Dillon came out for a vibraphone jam with Jim Loughlin during "McBain"; the two were locked in for what seemed like five minutes. They were so on point, everyone in the crowd was mesmerized.
Dillon was the host of the Jam Room on this night, and the Garage a Trois member led a rowdy session, as is his style. Not only is this man super talented, but he is out of his mind; an absolute wild man. At one point, he had Nikki Glaspie give him a hip-hop beat, and he started freestyling. At first, several artists had looks of "What the hell is going on?", then realized that Dillon was actually spitting some serious lyrics, and before you knew it they were all falling over each other to get on stage and take part. Near the end of the late-night session, he invited Lettuce to the stage to finish out the night. Dillon was another superstar of the cruise.
Also, Nathan Moore of Surprise Me Mr. Davis led troubadour sessions out on one of the decks every night 'til the wee hours of the morning. It was cool to walk out on the side deck and see a gathering of fans and several artists. He had members of Tea Leaf Green join him, as well as members of Hot Buttered Rum and Greensky Bluegrass. Wednesday night flowed right into Thursday morning, as many of us watched a majestic sunrise over the ocean from the back deck. It was a beautifully serene moment of the trip, as the colors in the sky were vibrant and psychedelic.
An acoustic set from moe., which was originally supposed to be an Al Schnier solo set at the Wind Stage, was a pleasant surprise to those that made it out to the top deck to catch some rays and relax in the warm weather. It started out with just Schnier, then Rob Derhak stepped in, and before you know it the whole band was up there for "Nebraska". Femi Kuti played yet another great set on the Pool Deck, before Eddie Roberts of The New Mastersounds was introduced for his Super Jam set, which Annabel Lukins had personally called him many months before to do. Roberts must have had about thirty-plus different artists join him on stage during this set, as artists would rotate in and out. The list includes: Nigel Hall, Robert Walter, Natalie Cressman, Stanton Moore, Nikki Glaspie, Karl Denson, Chris Stillwell, The Lettuce Horns, Femi Kuti's horns, members of Pimps of Joytime and Motet, Jeff Coffin, Tim and Nicki Bluhm, Mike Dillon, Aphrodite, and Art Neville. After the set, you could hear people talking about how impressed they were with Roberts' band leading skills, as he rotated players in and out so seamlessly. Definitely a highlight set of the cruise, as Roberts led artists in some jazz-funk classics, as well as some tracks from his latest solo record It's About Time.
Later on in the evening, the trio of Eddie Roberts, Robert Walter, and Adam Deitch played an impressive set in the Zebra Bar. The trio has played together several times, but not since last year's Equifunk Music Festival. James Casey and Nigel Hall both sat in during the set. Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers set was a nice change-up before heading over to the Purple Theatre for The Meters final set. Bluhm is not only easy on the eyes, but has such a smoky, sultry voice; it's like liquid in your ears. Steve Kimock brought out his guitar skills to this set for two songs as well. MarchFourth Marching Band brought their traveling circus act to the Pool Deck. What a wild sight it is to watch this group of artists. They consist of a 12-piece horn section, a 10-piece drum/percussion section, led by a bassist, and they have stilt walkers, all while being dressed up in trippy marching band outfits; it's definitely very Burning Man-esque.
Late night was spent roaming between BoomBox (who put on a super dance-y set on the Pool Deck), Magic Gravy, who were extremely impressive, and then making sure to "Put it in the Dumpsta" with the final Dumpstaphunk set, where Tony Hall was bringing out his inner rock star. And, of course, you can't have a Jam Room session without Karl Denson taking the helm; and this was no exception, as the Tiny Universe's commander-in-chief brought the heat with a bevy of his musical cohorts as we made our way to Coco Cay, Bahamas for our last day before heading back to Fort Lauderdale.
The day spent on Coco Cay was fantastic, despite the sun peaking its head out for only a brief time. It's a very pretty island with nature trails and great scenery on the opposite end, away from the main area. Acoustic sets from Scott Law and Brock Butler lent themselves nicely to this chill day. Butler's set included a cover of Pink Floyd's "Us and Them", and a cover of The Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" which was absolutely perfect and the icing on the cake to this afternoon island session.
Steel Pulse took us back out to sea as we were set to embark on this last leg of our journey. Matt Butler's Everyone Orchestra had participation from both artists and fans, with Mike Dillon, Adam "Schmeens" Smirnoff on guitar, Jeff Coffin, Natalie Cressman, Al Schnier, Kyle Hollingsworth, Jeremy Salken, Zach Gill, and others joining in this never-ending experiment.
While every set is great during Jam Cruise, there is one set that was the definition of what Jam Cruise is about, which shows the true intimacy of this festival-at-sea, which you simply can't compare to any other festival on the planet. That set of music was performed in The Atrium on the grand piano, by none other than Ivan Neville. I mean, this set was beautiful, serene, touching, heartfelt, and everything in between. He was asked to play another Atrium set (which has never happened before) by Annabel, as his set last year floored people. Well, it might be safe to say that this set may have topped last years, as Neville not only had everyone in the crowd in tears, but himself as well. The stories he told before playing these ballads were enough to make the toughest of tough guys eyes well up. He spoke about his mother that had passed away several years prior, and then played a song that he wrote for her; he played a lovely cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide", saying that it's one of those songs that will come on in the car, and he will sing his heart out, but never admit it to anyone, as it's "one that guys don't like to admit they like."
Bernie Worrell came up at one point to give him a hug, his uncle Art Neville sat in his wheelchair right in front of the piano telling him that "it sounds good." He called his Dumpstaphunk band mate and bassist Nick Daniels up to sing a couple of songs with him, including Sly Stones "Family Affair", and a finale with Nigel Hall and Daniels of Gerald Tillman's "Padlock." This set defines why, as fans AND as artists, we gravitate towards music; it brings out emotions in us that many things can't. A melody, a harmony, a beat, or a particular set of lyrics all have that affect on us. THIS is why we love music; THESE are the moments that we cherish and will never forget.
After drying the moisture from our eyes and giving a well-deserved round of applause, we all went off to enjoy the remaining hours of this amazing experience. Hot Buttered Rum, ALO, and Tea Leaf Green all had fun sets on the Pool Deck. Zoogma and Wyllys & The New York Hustlers Ensemble gave us the dance we needed in the Zebra Bar. Karl Denson and Galactic closed down the Teatro Carlo Felice in style with energetic sets. And Joey Porter of The Motet threw down a great session in the Jam Room to officially close out Jam Cruise with some popular covers that had everyone getting their last little bit of dance on. In particular, a cover of Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Starting Somethin'" was electric. Orchard Lounge spun up in the disco, and Nathan Moore kept his troubadour session going to the sun came up, despite disembarkment set to begin at 7am sharp.
There is so much more that took place on this boat, that it is impossible to fully add every detail, but you get the gist. Jam Cruise is unlike anything else that you have ever been on. If you have been there, than you know what is up. For those that haven't, seriously consider going – you won't regret it one bit. There is no place where you will find the talent that Jam Cruise boasts, in which all of these amazing artists are hanging out with each other and fans, checking out the bands while standing right next to you, and hopping on stage with each other when the mood strikes (which is more often than not).
On Jam Cruise you are fully immersed in what is literally a fantasy world come true, not just for us fans, but for the artists as well. And the convenience of being on a ship, where you can run to your room in two minutes, hop over to the cafeteria to grab some grub, or roam from stage to stage in no time at all, is simply something that you will not find anywhere else.
TOP 3 SETS-
The Funky Meters – getting a chance to see these legends throw down was one for the books.
Ivan Neville's Atrium Set – the intimacy, the story-telling, the tears flowing from people's eyes. It's reasons like this that we all feel the way we do about music.
Eddie Roberts Super Jam – people weren't sure what to expect, but by the end of the set, no one could stop gushing about how good it was. Roberts did an amazing job leading a wide array of artists on a big selection of songs WITHOUT much practice.
Nigel Hall - the guy was everywhere, and everybody wanted him there. He said Jam Cruise is the best time of his life, and it shows. His face must be hurting from smiling so much.
Mike Dillon – a straight-up beast of a man. His energy level is palpable, and he brings out the best in everyone around him.
George Porter Jr. – he was up all day, all night, slapping the bass with a big ol' smile on his face. And he is so damn nice taboot.
Rookie of the Year-
James Casey – the NY-based multi-instrumentalist made a plethora of new fans (out of artists too) this year, as he could be seen wandering from stage to stage and not showing any hesitation at showing off his skills.
Under the Radar-
Joey Porter (Motet) – this dude can flat out play. He is very unassuming when you look at him, then he hops behind the keys and blows minds.
Tie between Skerik and Mike Dillon – what else is there to say? These guys open their mouths and you can't help but laugh and want them to say more. It makes complete sense that these two would be in The Dead Kenny G's together; it's like a match made in heaven (or hell?).
Bustout Band of Jam Cruise 11:
Pimps of Joytime – their 1st set on opening night in the Zebra Bar brought some serious heat to the MSC Poesia. And then they go and play a follow-up set on the Pool Deck on Wednesday night that was just as hot. Keep an eye out for this band in 2013, as they will be hitting the studio to record a new album to hopefully be released by late-spring/early-summer.
Moment of Beauty-
Watching the sun rise on Thursday morning after a wild Wednesday night was absolutely incredible. There were certainly a bunch of us still up, as the ship was abuzz all night. Hanging on the back deck, along with some of the artists, still reeling from an action-packed night, and seeing the sun slowly rise above the big blue ocean and throw all sorts of colors from the spectrum into the sky is simply something that you don't get to see on a daily basis.
Check out video of The Funky Meters, joined by Ivan Neville and Mike Dillon on "Hey Pocky Way":
Video of Dumpstaphunk doing a funked up version of David Bowie's "Fame":
Video of The Motet's Funk is Dead set:
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