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Jam Cruise 12: Professional Partiers Apply Here
With the threat of a major blizzard in the Northeast, scrambling to move flights to Miami up a day, sitting in the plane and on the runway for 3 hours, while looking out the window to see the veil of white beginning to blow our way, and the pilot saying, "We have 15 minutes to get out of here, or we're not getting out tonight"....let's just say that getting to Jam Cruise 12 was a feat in and of itself. As we took off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City into a snowy abyss, my thoughts were simply "The things that we go through for our love of music." Jam Cruise, you better bring it!
But, really, does anyone ever have to ask that question with Jam Cruise? The answer to that is a resounding No. If there is one thing you can be assured of, it's that Jam Cruise is the best of the best, and exceeds any and all expectations that you may have. Luckily, as we were told via announcement on the new and beautiful ship, the MSC Divina, all Cruisers made the ship, despite weather delays and cancellations. Now, that is a way to start the best 5 days of the year!
As Cloud 9 decided to go bigger this year with a brand new cruise ship (once again, the MSC Divina), more rooms, more activities, and a smidgen more music, both "Lifers" and "Virgins" were left in awe at the gorgeous new boat and all of its attractions. The Divina is massive, and compared to the Poesia, allowed plenty of space for all additional bodies on deck. Five days of dancing and walking around that ship is a complete workout (my legs don't lie). And another thing that was noticeable this year as compared to last year, as far as the lineup was concerned, was the diversity in acts. Last year was very funk-centric (read a review of JC11 here), whereas this year boasted talent from all over the musical spectrum. With a bigger ship, and more rooms to fill, this may have not been premeditated, but regardless, it was the right move.
As we made our way to Joel Cummins of Umphrey McGee's atrium set (Bonerama was moved back an hour due to stage issues), it was impossible to not notice the crystal staircases (each glass step was encased with a plethora of shiny crystals) as you walked from one level to the next to snag a good vantage point of the set. Apparently, each step cost $35,000, or so we were told by an employee on the ship; whether or not that is true, who knows, but it's not hard to believe. Either way, it was difficult to not trip over your own two feet, as you couldn't take your eyes off the steps. The atrium sets are always great, as you simply have a classical piano, maybe some acoustic strings, and vocals; these sets don't happen at your everyday show. Cummins invited Ivan Neville, Paul Hoffman and Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass, Bill Evans and drummer Terry Arsenault up at different times during the 45-minute set. The cover of "Linus and Lucy" w/ Evans and Arsenault was particularly memorable, as all you could think of was watching Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang.
As the Pool Deck stage was finally ready to go, New Orleans brass outfit Bonerama kicked off the Sail Away Party, inviting out the likes of Anders Osborne and Stanton Moore to officially get the party started. Meanwhile, Keller Williams & The Kimocks were having their own party down in the Pantheon Theater. Robert Randolph and the Family Band took over on the pool deck after Bonerama, but had to put up with fans of the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints, as the playoff game was being broadcast on the big screen across from the main stage, resulting in a sweet "Saints Go Marching In" during one of their drives. Now, to some this may sound sacrilegious, as not only is Robert Randolph playing, but we're on Jam Cruise – it's about the music, right? However, that is the beauty of Jam Cruise, there is so much going on all the time, bands play two full sets, there are 5-star restaurants that you can eat at (which are included in the price), a sports bar with a bowling alley, hot tubs, pools, steam rooms and saunas, bars, lounges, etc. In other words, this is YOUR vacation, you paid a lot of money to be on the boat, so treat it like a vacation. If you miss something....Oh Well! There is literally music all day, all night, and a plethora of activities to partake in, as well hanging with your friends, and meeting new ones.
Even though you may think you are missing something, you aren't missing anything. For every incredible thing happening in one place, another is happening somewhere else on the ship. Wherever you are is the place to be, and if you mosey on across the ship to some place else, well, then that's the place to be. That is the only mentality you should get on board with on Jam Cruise.
As I am writing this, I realize that this could go on forever, because there is so much to write about. So, basically here is a rundown of my own meanderings around the ship. Like I said, this is a vacation, you do what you want, when you want. If you miss something, too bad, on to the next. After catching Joel Cummins, Bonerama, and a bit of Robert Randolph, we got down to some that 70′s sex-funk that Orgone is so well known for in the Black & White Lounge; it provided the right atmosphere to get your sweat on. Gigantic Underground Conspiracy, featuring members of The Disco Biscuits, Big Gigantic and Underground Orchestra threw down a major dance party on the pool deck right after midnight. This was a lot of fun and really kicked the ship into high gear. Lettuce, to put it as simply as possible, was Lettuce. That edgy, dirty, city-style funk is enough to make anybody get down. The Jam Room w/ Will Bernard got going a little later than usual as it ran into Lettuce's set, but finally got the love it deserved from the midway point on. And Rob Garza spun a set which was the precursor to what would be a monumental DJ set on the main deck on the 3rd day. 5:30? Time for sleep.
With the sun out, it was time to hit the back bar on deck 15. A little breakfast at the buffet>BBC's for breakfast (it's the Jam Cruise drink – a pina colada with a shot of Bailey's and a banana....yes, it is as good as it sounds)>saltwater pool>getting my tan on>feeling like money,baby....and life is good! Keller played a afternoon set on the pool deck, which ended with Keller & The Kimocks performing a perfect cover of "Naive Melody (This Must Be The Place)" by the Talking Heads; this was most certainly one of those apropos moments. After grabbing some lunch, we reconvened on the pool deck for Anders Osborne's set, who was accompanied by Ivan Neville on keys for most of the set, along with guitarist Peter Stelling. At one point, Osborne brought out Stanton Moore on drums, Mike Dillon on percussion, and absolutely slayed a rendition of "All Along the Watchtower." It was truly rocking. Another cover of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" was a prelude to the treat that we would receive on Day 3, and a perfectly timed "Fire On The Mountain" with George Porter Jr. on bass, was played as the sun was setting over the mountains on some island that we happened to be passing in the Caribbean; quite literally "a fire on the mountain." It was a majestic sight.
The New Mastersounds started the evening's festivities off in splendid fashion, as guitar maestro Eddie Roberts (who let the SuperJam last year) and his cohorts from across the pond gave a set full of jazz-funk goodness. Bootsy Collins & The Funk Unity Band kept the fun-k going; the "Flashlight" cover was the highlight of the set for me. What to say about The Revivalists? These guys are FUCKING AWESOME!!!! I had the pleasure of covering them early last year, and have been keeping my eye on them. This is a band that is making some serious waves. They incorporate elements of rock, funk, folk, hip-hop, and basically anything they feel like so flawlessly. Talk about energy. If you haven't seen these guys yet, do yourself a favor and check them out. If you don't dig it, you're nuts. Seriously. When they covered Rage Against the Machine's "Bulls on Parade" to end the set, with charismatic front man David Shaw and Mike Dillon trading verses, I literally almost put my head through the ceiling of the Black & White Lounge, I was that amped.
That set got the energy to 11, as the world beats of Rob Garza and the rest of Thievery Corporation took the stage. One of the most anticipated acts on Jam Cruise, they did not disappoint. What Rob Garza, along with Eric Hilton, have created with Thievery Corporation is truly stunning. They infuse so many different styles into their own, bring along a full band w/ guitars, sitars, bass, drums, percussion, exotic female singers, reggae MC's, and a hip-hop MC (Mr. Lif), and have a sound that suits Jam Cruise perfectly. As far as I'm concerned, this was the best move the booking department at Cloud 9 did. The Eric Krasno Band put on a funky set at the Magic Hat Solar Stage, which is located directly across from the main stage on the pool deck. Kraz even broke out some smoky vocals, which you don't get to hear often with Soulive or Lettuce; it was a nice change of pace and lead into what was a really fun set from Lotus back on the pool deck stage.
About halfway through Lotus' set, we decided to go check out ALO, which turned out to be a brilliant move. If there is one feeling that you can use to describe how ALO's musical offerings makes you feel, that word would be Happy. With so much going on around the ship at this point, the Pantheon Theater had a lot of room, but those that were in attendance had plenty of dancing space. And dance we did. During their set, one of the teams that had won the WTFunk Games earlier that day (or at least I heard that's who they were) got the chance to perform a dance routine during one of ALO's songs and release about a thousand balloons into the audience. We literally were dancing around, hitting balloons up into the air, playing all sorts of games with them, and smiling like kids in a candy store. They ended their set by bringing out Joel Cummins for a rendition of "Fifth of Beethoven", which if I could compare it to anything else would be like Phish's version of "2001″, it's a straight up dance party. We tried to make our way into the Jam Room for George Porter Jr., and I will get into that a little more towards the end, but honestly the Jam Room this year was too small, ceilings were too low, and it just got way hot. Staying in there for an extended period of time was just not happening.
On Day 3, we docked in Falmouth, Jamaica, and it was necessary to get off the boat. Some choose to stay on and catch up on sleep, but if I have a chance to sit on a beach in Jamaica or some other Caribbean hot spot, you can bet that is where I will be. The weather was nice early on, then a huge downpour hit for a little while, which eventually subsided and led to a nice afternoon on the beach of Montego Bay, into some local and delicious jerk pork and chicken. As we got back on the boat, we decided to hit up the steam room and sauna before The Wailers took the stage as we sailed away from Jamaica. If getting to see The Wailers perform the songs of Bob Marley, such as "Stir It Up," "Three Little Birds," and "Buffalo Soldier," as your sitting on a boat (albeit a massive cruise liner) in the waters of Jamaica isn't your idea of a good time, then please stop reading this....like, right now.....oh, still there? I thought you would agree; glad that's settled.
Moving on, as March Fourth Marching Band did their incredible freaky, gypsy, Cirque du Soleil-esque performance on the pool deck (which has to be witnessed at least once), Stanley Jordan was putting on a clinic with John Popper, George Porter Jr., Adam Deitch and DJ Logic; this was some straight up jamming. I had never seen Jordan before, which was the main reason I caught this set, and was blown away by his skill; it is like he descended down to Earth from guitar heaven; I don't know if I have ever seen a better guitarist. His ability is second to none. The guy can flat out play; and put him on stage with a group like this, and it makes for some interesting moments. This group explored all of space, and then Bill Evans joined in towards the end, and it got even farther out there. This was the goods.
Galactic, Jam Cruise's house band (as they have played on every cruise) was up next on the pool deck. And just when you thought "How could they possibly outdo themselves again?", they literally get up on stage and outdo themselves again. It's absurd. They get on stage, and it's like they bring every Jam Cruise musician up on stage with them. Ivan Neville, Cyril Neville, Ian Neville....are there any more Neville's available? Mike Dillon, The Revivalists David Shaw, and vocalist Maggie Koerner. I think that's it, but honestly, I can't remember. So much going on all the time. However, Galactic's set got nasty when Shaw and Koerner took the stage to perform the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" and Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Got Your Money." During the set, there was a brief run down to the Black & White lounge to catch 20 minutes of the Infamous Stringdusters; they are just really good, and I missed their earlier set. Love the bluegrass, and these dudes know how to play.
In between Galactic's and Conspirator's set on the pool deck was the surprise (well, not so much of a surprise) throw down set of Jam Cruise. Rob Garza of Thievery Corporation performed a DJ set at the Solar Stage that will not soon be forgotten to those of us that were there. Garza threw down a set of some Deep House that just hit the spot; it was so choice. Talk about the right place at the right time. There was a moment during the set, as I took a break from dancing my ass off to look around me, when all I could see was a sea of purple (as it was purple night, and the costumes were all out) getting down so hard, then looked over the railings of the boat into an abyss of sea and stars, that I turned to my girlfriend and best friend and said, "There is nobody on this planet that is having a better time than us at this moment....NOBODY!" To which they wholeheartedly agreed, and continued to get their dance on. It was truly one of those "you had to be there" moments, in which words simply cannot do justice to the feeling of that moment in time.
If Garza could have kept on spinning until the sun came up, that would have been fine by me. However, he didn't, and there was more music from other artists coming our way. Conspirator's set got going really quickly, and kept the energy level high. The overall sound of Conspirator has changed with the addition of Chris Michetti on guitar; they went from an overwhelming electronic sound to a style that incorporates a lot more power riffing and rock-based jams. Big Gigantic drummer Jeremy Salken and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe guitarist DJ Williams sat in with the band; however, the most interesting sit-in with the band came from Roosevelt Collier during "Orch Theme." It was pretty cool seeing the big man get his jamtronica on. After making a stop in the cafeteria for some food, taking a walk around the ship just to see all the different pockets of people kicking it, and grabbing a beer, it was time to catch the sunrise. And what a morning to catch it. The clear night skies gave way to the first inkling of the impending sun coming up over the horizon line. There is nothing quite like a sunrise on the open seas. You can see for miles around, and you can see that the sun is this big ball of fire that emanates so much light and heat, and is the true source from which we gain our energy. And after that brilliant night, it was back to the room for some much needed rest.
Day 4, needless to say, got off to a slow start. The decision had been made, and it was nothing but some food>BBC's and a poolside seat by the bar on Deck 15 until the surprise Electron set at the Solar Stage around 5:15 (due to the cancellation of the Pork Tornado set, as Jon Fishman didn't make the boat). Electron is made up of Marc Brownstein and Aron Magner of The Disco Biscuits, Brother Past/American Babies guitarist Tom Hamilton, and Lotus drummer Mike Greenfield. Basically they play Biscuits songs that Brownstein wrote, mainly from the Chemical Warfare Brigade rock opera, which consists of songs like "Plan B," "And The Ladies Were The Rest of the Night," and "Confrontation." Pair that with a double whammy of Pink Floyd covers to end the set as the sun was going down, and you have yourself a nice late-afternoon delight.
We decided to hit up one of the two restaurants that were included after the set, and sat ourselves down for a 5-course meal that included a pesto and mozzarella soup, a chilled watermelon soup with honeydew and cantaloupe, salad, lobster tails, and dessert....and who could forget the dirty martinis? Mmmmm, now this is what every Jam Cruiser should be taking advantage of. I learned after last year to take full advantage of the restaurants. While many only attend a "sit-down" dinner one night on the cruise, my girlfriend and I went three out of five nights. I mean, you pay A LOT of money to be on this ship, you might as take full advantage of every amenity that is included in the price. Personally, I'm pretty comfortable with the decision of missing a little music to eat a tasty 5-course meal, that would otherwise cost me an arm and a leg at a restaurant on dry land. I know, I missed the Alan Evans Super Jam....I know. But the disappointment faded as my belly grew fuller. It's Jam Cruise – you do you, I do me.
After dinner we caught a little of Bootsy Collins' set, but it was a lot of the same thing as his other set, so we headed back to Thievery Corporation, which was also fairly similar to their first set, but was still a good time. Mike Dillon Band went off in the Black & White Lounge; my man is crazy. I love Mike Dillon. Karl Denson's Tiny Universe was damn good, and got even better when they brought out possibly one of the nastiest bassist's in the world, in Victor Wooten. Wooten is a phenomenon; he can take over one minute, play in the pocket the next, and makes those shine around him. The Revivalist's played another incredible set, bringing along George Porter Jr., Roosevelt Collier and Billy Iuso for the ride. One thing I am sure of, this may have been their first time on the boat, but it will most certainly not be the last time. After catching some of Dumpstaphunk, and with a day in the sun on the beaches of the private island in the Bahamas looming over our heads, as well as the past 3 days catching up, it was time to get a good night's rest, and leave a little gas in the tank for one last hurrah on the fifth and final day.
Day 5 – The boats a little rocky, but it looks pretty nice outside, and that island looks A-MA-ZING! We booked a snorkeling excursion, so we get up and head to where the tender boats will take us to the island to spend a day on the beach, and check out a special Warren Haynes solo set (which is bound to have special guests). But, wait just a minute, we aren't allowed off the boat? What?! How can that be? The island...is...right...there. Apparently, in our deep slumber, an announcement was made that the powers-that-be decided the waters were too choppy and there was a storm headed our way....sooooo, no island. Yes, really. After a brief period of disappointment, and even briefer flash of anger (or rather a middle finger in the sky) to the weather gods, we decided to to head where? You guessed it, Deck 15 bar! A BBC and mojito later, along with some rather beautiful weather despite the announcement, and everything is A-OK. Add some old and new friends to the mix, and "What island?"
The Jam Cruise team and Cloud 9 did a great job of getting Warren Haynes onto the boat to perform his set, which was pretty fantastic. Here is the list of musicians that came out and played with him: Ivan Neville, Bill Evans, Luther and Cody Dickinson, Anders Osborne, Alecia Chakour, Steve Kimock, Victor Wooten, Anders Beck, Paul Hoffman, Cyril Neville, Kofi Burbridge, George Porter Jr., John Popper, Cyril Neville, Eric Krasno, Karl Denson, 10-year old guitar sensation Brendan Niederauer, and Paul Hoffman. I think that is it. Haynes ran through a 20-song set that consisted of U2′s "One," Stella Blue," Hammer & Nails>Other One jam>Hammer & Nails," "Sugaree," and "Soulshine." As we lounged on some chairs on the top deck behind the Solar Stage, Zach Deputy played a great set after Haynes that kept the relaxed feel of the afternoon going.
After our 3rd and final dinner, it was time for one last party 'til the break of dawn. Lettuce started a little late due to some rough weather, but eventually got things going on the pool deck with a set that got everyone's tired limbs warmed up and ready to give it one more go round. Unfortunately, the Masters Camp at Sea Allstars was cancelled due to weather, so we made our way down to the Pantheon Theater for yet another fire Galactic set. Sometimes there isn't anything better than some dirty NOLA funk, and not many can do it as well as Galactic. With things winding down, the Galaxy Disco was an all-out dance party with Luke the Knife (Luke Miller of Lotus) throwing down some tasty beats. As we were literally getting set to dock back in Miami, Miller decided to spin Will Smith's "Miami" and nobody seemed to mind listening to the Fresh Prince, because there wasn't a body in that disco that wasn't shakin' their thang. As we made our way out of the Galaxy Disco, with daylight upon us, and the final moments of Jam Cruise nearing, we brought our highly inebriated selves back to our cozy room, washed up, got ready, and got in line to disembark.
With no sleep, getting off the ship at 8am in the morning, and a possible wait of eight hours to check-in to our hotel, the prospects for a comfortable rest didn't seem in the cards. The stars were aligned, however, and I cannot thank the gentleman at The Kent Hotel for getting us into our room at 9:30am so we could pass out. You, sir, are a life-saver, and my group is forever indebted to you. After a solid sleep, it was like waking up out of a dream, one in which I will be going back to year after year after year. Jam Cruise, I Love You!
Thanks to Cloud 9, all the musicians, and especially the crew of the MSC Divina for their endless work around-the-clock to make that ship as beautiful and pristine as it is. And to all the Cruisers – you are all unbelievable beings! Absolutely amazing people! It doesn't get any better than that. Oregon Krewe, Gypsy Love Pirates, and Brooklyn Bowl Crew – Thanks for adopting me into your squads, I appreciate it more than you could imagine.
The Lists -
Top 5 Performances
-Thievery Corporation Pool Deck Set – perfect band for the setting. As I said, brilliant move by Cloud 9.
-The Wailers – it wasn't the best played set, but watching Bob Marley songs performed live in Jamaica gets the nod.
-Rob Garza DJ Set at Solar Stage – if you were there, then you understand.
-Galactic Pool Deck Set – it was ridiculous.
-Warren Haynes – 20 songs, 2:45 minutes, a ton of special guests. No brainer.
Top 5 Moments
-Anders Osborne w/ George Porter Jr. "Fire on the Mountain" – as the sun is literally setting over island mountains.
-The end of Thievery Corporations pool deck set – unbridled energy.
-The incredible sunrise on Tuesday morning – you don't get to see that everyday.
-Stanley Jordan going off on the guitar – whichever moment of him playing that you choose, you're still right.
Rookie of the Year
-The Revivalists – I will accept no argument here. Maybe 10-year old guitar prodigy Brendan Niederauer making appearances on the ship. Pretty impressive – but that is the ONLY one!
-Mike Dillon Raging Against The Machine with The Revivalists during "Bulls on Parade" – I'm writing it, so I get to pick it.
-The 20+ minute jam that Stanley Jordan, John Popper, George Porter Jr., Adam Deitch, and DJ Logic played in the Pantheon. It was epic.
-Galactic w/ David Shaw, Maggie Koerner, and Luther Dickinson performing "Gimme Shelter" – yeah, that totally sucked.
-The entire Electron set in place of Pork Tornado – sorry, but I was way happier about this set than Pork Tornado.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Mike Dillon. As was the case last year, Dillon is all over the ship. He has more energy than anybody I have ever seen.
One Tiny Complaint (if I may?):
The Jam Room is entirely too confined. The ceilings are low, and at least to me, it felt much smaller than the Jam Room on the Poesia. Plus, the Jam Room was its own separate room on the Poesia, whereas this year it shared the same space at the Black & White Lounge. It just got too claustrophobic in there. I spent a lot of time in there last year, and this year it was just too much to deal with. I'm just saying.
If you disagree with the list, too bad. It's my list, make your own. I'm kidding, of course. The beauty of Jam Cruise is the diversity of music which it boasts, especially this year. There were so many choices, that you really couldn't go wrong if you tried. There isn't a boring moment on the boat. Until next year, Cruisers!
Here are some performances from Jam Cruise:
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