Ah, Jam Cruise. It’s good to be back… On Monday, three years and a pandemic removed from Jam Cruise 18’s voyage in January 2020, the MSC Divina loaded up at the Port of Miami and set sail for the 19th edition of the beloved floating festival.

As the ship left Miami in the distance and charted a course toward Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, Cruisers decked out in “3 Years of Sparkles”—the first “unofficial” theme of Jam Cruise 19—reveled in the sounds of George Porter Jr. & Runnin’ Parners, The Fearless Flyers, Lettuce, Dogs In A Pile, The Bamboos, The New Deal, Neighbor, SunSquabi, Jason Crosby, Cool Cool Cool, DJ Brownie, The Word, and more as they steadied their sea legs for the long, strange journey ahead.

With several sets running simultaneously throughout most of the night, it was impossible to catch all the music played on the ship, both on stage and otherwise. Here are just a few of the most memorable moments from the first day of Jam Cruise 19. (You can also head to Live For Live Music‘s Instagram and Instagram stories to follow along in real-time).

George Porter Jr. Welcomes Jam Cruisers Back To Paradise

George Porter Jr., the legendary funk bassist of The Meters fame, was the perfect choice to open the long-awaited return of Jam Cruise. While some brief production delays pushed his start time past the usual sunset sail-away timeframe, Porter’s steadfast grooves and iconic growl still captured the gravity of the moment under cover of a near-full moon.

Whether intentional or not, the songs he played seemed to have a particular connection to the momentous occasion. Timeless Meters instrumental “Cissy Strut” felt like a wink to Cruisers’ celebratory strut onto the ship after years away. “Runnin’ Partner” seemed to acknowledge all the friendships primed to rekindle this week on the high seas, and a gritty yet compassionate “They Love Each Other” (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter) encapsulated how everyone on board felt about that reunion.

Few artists are as synonymous with this event as Porter, but saxophonist Karl Denson is surely on that short list, and his surprise appearance for a moody medley featuring a reggae-style cover of Bill Withers‘ “Ain’t No Sunshine” furthered the “Jam Cruise love letter” vibe of the opening performance. Gone are the dark, boat-less days of 2021 and 2022. The time has finally come.

“Oh my god!” George proclaimed early in his set, surveying the sparkling crowd and the scenic ocean vistas around. “Is it Jam Cruise yet?!!” You’d better believe it, George.


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The Fearless Flyers Achieve Liftoff In The Theater

The Fearless Flyers have always operated under a veil of mystery. While the members of the band—Vulfpeck‘s Joe Dart on bass, Vulf cohort/prolific solo bandleader Cory Wong on guitar, Snarky Puppy‘s Mark Lettieri on baritone guitar, and renowned jazz drummer Nate Smith—are all well-known in their own right, the funky four-piece has largely remained silent and stoic since forming in 2018, surfacing only to release new recorded music (they have 3 EPs, a live album, and a full-length studio album to their name) or play a particularly significant live show (their less-than ten total live shows have taken place at the likes of Madison Square GardenRed Rocks AmphitheatreNewport Jazz Festival, and Suwannee Hulaween).

The quartet delivered the most talked-about performance of the night for its first of two slots on Jam Cruise. A Vulfpeck-like minimalist, rhythmic approach remained their core directive—Smith, for example, squeezed an inconceivable amount of sound out of his three-piece drum kit (kick, snare, and hi-hat only)—but The Fearless Flyers still tapped into the diverse sounds and talents the band’s members to dabble in a range of styles, even from their relatively narrow conceptual lane. Ever wonder what Vulfpeck would sound like if it was a jazz-fusion jam band? Probably a little something like this.

With waves rocking the theater, the stage’s lights and video screens swung back and forth as the airtight combo worked through its reimagined versions of Steely Dan‘s “Reelin’ In The Years” and Stevie Wonder‘s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”, a slew of blistering originals, a Dr. Dre jam featuring snippets of “The Next Episode” and “Xxplosive”, and more. In fact, the only things in the theater that weren’t rocking were Wong, Lettieri, and Dart’s instruments, which remained characteristically perched on their “floating” stands throughout the set. It’s safe to say that excitement on the boat is sky-high for The Fearless Flyers’ second set on the Pool Deck on Tuesday night.

Lettuce Brings The Funk, The Whole Funk, & Nothing But The Funk

Lettuce is one of the biggest funk bands on the scene today, but it’s often difficult to call the band’s sound “funk” in good conscience. Adam Deitch (drums), Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff (guitar), Erick “Jesus” Coomes (bass), Ryan Zoidis (saxophone), Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet), and Nigel Hall (keys/vocals) have the unnatural ability to sound like a different band every time you see them. One day, it might be underground nightclub house-funk. The next, it’s a lesson in jazz history with a modern lens. The next, it’s a g-force journey through the cosmos. The next, it’s a case study in the applications of jazz-funk in underground hip-hop.

But on a cool, breezy pool deck on the opening night of Jam Cruise 19, what Lettuce fans got was something of a throwback to the Lettuce of old—funk, the whole funk, and nothing but the funk. With a few new favorites mixed in (“Vamonos” continues to rise the ranks of the Lett catalog), the set was highlighted by a few choice covers (like Patrice Rushen‘s “Forget Me Nots”) and much more vocals than usual (Let Shmeeans sing!).

Lettuce continues to be one of the most interesting and versatile bands on the scene. After last night, I may even call them a “funk band” sans asterisk today. That is, until they hit the Pantheon Theater for a late-night show on Wednesday and inevitably reinvent themselves once again.

The Spot Is Already Hot

“The Spot” is another beloved Jam Cruise tradition: an unofficial corner of the outer deck that turns into a free-form bluegrass picking party in the late-night hours. When I stopped by just a few minutes after 2:00 a.m., The Sweet Lillies had a stomping, hollering, sing-along party already raging to a sizable crowd—and in true Lillies fashion, they worked through a Mardi Gras-worthy “Iko Iko” and a cover of Cypress Hill‘s “Insane in the Brain” featuring a full washboard solo within the space of the few minutes I hung around. Stumbling upon magic like that is what Jam Cruise is all about.


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Cool Cool Cool Reintroduces Itself In The Jam Room

Cool Cool Cool took over the storied “Jam Room” on night one for the first of six sessions in the cruise’s collaborative late-night lounge. While the stage was decidedly on the small side for a band with eight members (plus guests), it had all the makings of a top-notch collaborative late-night: familiar Jam Cruise faces (you may know them from Turkuaz) connecting with their talented friends on an over-crowded stage in a little lounge room and creating veritable fireworks in the process.

Related: Cool Cool Cool: The New Avengers Of The Turkuaz Cinematic Universe [Interview]

The session delivered with palpable energy as a parade of guests including keyboardist Neal FrancisNeighbor guitarist Lyle BrewerElectric Kif bassist Digo, keyboardist Tommy Shugart, drummer Cliff Porter (Jellybread), guitarist Joe Marcinek, saxophonist Mike Quinn (Doom Flamingo), Kevin Shields (Little Stranger) and Kanika Moore (Doom Flamingo) and more dropped in to lend a hand (or a voice, or an instrument). Now, Shira Elias, Sammi Garett, Chris Brouwers, Josh Schwartz, Greg Sanderson, Michelangelo Carubba, and Craig Brodhead will disperse to grace the ship with their various other projects throughout the rest of the week.

The Sparkling Smiles of Jam Cruisers Coming Home

We saw some great music last night, but seeing three years worth of smiles and sparkles milling around the MSC Divina once again may have been the biggest highlight of all.


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Revisit the rest of the action from Jam Cruise 19 with Live For Live Music‘s recaps from day twoday three, day four, day five, and day six. Scroll down for a selection of photos from day one.


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