Jam Cruise 18 set sail from Miami, FL on Tuesday evening for a five-day voyage aboard the MSC Divina. After a port stop at a private Bahamian island on Wednesday, Jam Cruise continued on Thursday with a packed “Day at Sea” music schedule. As I write this, the boat is docked in Costa Maya, Mexico for a day at the beach (and Positive Legacy’s Day of Service). In a few hours, we’ll set sail once again for the final two days of music as we make our way back toward Miami where we’ll disembark early on Sunday morning.
On Thursday, Jam Cruisers woke up to a full day of music starting at 1:30 p.m. and stretching through 5:00 a.m. Friday morning featuring performances by Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Lotus, Lettuce, Ghost Light, Too Many Zooz, The Soul Rebels, Ghost-Note, Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers, Keller Williams, Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, Nathan Moore, Samantha Fish, Grateful Shred, DJ Brownie, and more. Beyond the main stages, Jam Cruise 18 day 3 offered a wide variety of special “solo” shows and jam sessions including an open-air sets by Lebo and Tom Hamilton at the Garden Pool, a Pickin’ Lounge led by The Kitchen Dwellers and Mihali, a Jazz Lounge set run by Casey Benjamin with help from the Ghost-Note squad, a Karina Rykman-hosted Jam Room, fantastic Atrium sessions by Aron Magner and Shira Elias, and beyond. As strong winds and big waves rocked the Divina, Jam Cruisers bounced back and forth between the various shows and showed off their best cartoon impressions in honor of the day’s “All Toons On Deck” costume theme.
With multiple sets running simultaneously throughout the day, night, and into Friday morning, it was impossible to catch everything that went down onstage. However, here are just a few of the most memorable moments from day three of Jam Cruise 18. (You can also head to Live For Live Music‘s Instagram and Instagram stories to follow along in real-time or check out our recaps of the festivities on day one and day two).
Aron Magner Brings SPAGA (& Then Some) To The Atrium
Jam Cruise Atrium sets frequently wind up being among the most memorable, and day three offered a pair of truly fantastic ones. The Disco Biscuits’ keyboardist Aron Magner was scheduled for a solo piano set in the early evening. For most artists, the accompanying musicians on an Atrium set are a surprise. However, Magner has been making tracks with his relatively new jazz trio, SPAGA, and he got the other two pieces of the mostly-acoustic band (drummer Matt Scarano and bassist Jason Fraticelli) involved to take this set to the next level. As the set drew to a close, Magner welcomed up old friends Marc Brownstein and Tom Hamilton to assist on a performance of “Home Again” before the SPAGA crew retook the Atrium stage for a set-closing rendition of Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter favorite “They Love Each Other” (special shoutout to Jason Fraticelli here for some downright incredible work on the upright bass). We couldn’t be more excited for SPAGA Plays The Dead at Brooklyn Comes Alive in March!
Shira Elias Gives Jam Cruise The Feels At Vocals-First “Unplugged” Set
With so many big bands and big sounds all over this boat, Turkuaz’s Shira Elias wanted to make a point to highlight the vocals at her unplugged set in the Atrium (okay, it wasn’t entirely “unplugged,” but as Shira noted, there were far fewer plugs going on here than at a Turkuaz show). With a core band comprised of guitarist DJ Williams (KDTU), bassist Dan Africano (Ghost Light), and percussionist Joél Mega (with whom Shira wrote many of the songs she sang during the set), Elias showed off her loveable onstage charisma, her ever-growing catalog of original tunes, and her love for good pop music—like Lizzo’s crowd-pleasing smash hit, “Cuz I Love You”, some classic Alanis Morrisette, and a Smokey Robinson/Aretha Franklin duet in “I Did You Wrong”—with soulful flair. Over the course of the set, she welcomed members of her Turkuaz family including vocalist Sammi Garett (a.k.a “the artist formerly known as Pink”), saxophonist Greg Sanderson, and trumpeter Chris Brouwers, guitarist/vocalist Cris Jacobs, and more to help make this one of the most unique and memorable sets of day three.
The Soul Rebels Throw Down A Hip-Hop Dance Party, NOLA-Style
New Orleans funk/hip-hop brass band The Soul Rebels took to the Pantheon Theater on Thursday night for a Big Easy-style throwdown. The party-starting outfit welcomed up a slew of featured vocalists throughout their 90-minute set including Chali 2na, Ivan Neville, Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph, and Tarriona “Tank” Ball, and more, as well as heavy-hitting instrumental guests like drummer Nikki Glaspie. It’s always a party when The Soul Rebels are playing, but when there are so many talented artists available to join in, they truly show why they’re one of the best backing bands in the business.
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Tarriona “Tank” Ball of @tankandthebangas joining @thesoulrebels in the Pantheon Theater on @jamcruise day 3. This band is one of the baddest in the land, and this girl is a bonafide star… . #thesoulrebels #nola #tank #tankandthebangas #jamcruise #jamcruise18 #liveforlivemusic
Ghost Light Makes It Rain On The Pool Deck
Ghost Light, the relatively new band comprised of guitarists/vocalists Tom Hamilton and Raina Mullen, keyboardist Holly Bowling, drummer Scotty Zwang, and bassist Dan Africano, has made massive strides since forming in early 2018. From raging, Dead-like jams that highlight Hamilton’s untouchable guitar chops to thoughtful indie rock compositions to soothing, airy instrumental vamps, Ghost Light masterfully traverses a wide array of sounds within the space of a live set.
It’s been exciting to watch this group of familiar, talented players blossom into a true band to be reckoned with over the last two years. That learning curve seemed to reach its apex on the Pool Deck on Thursday evening, where Ghost Light threw down what was easily one of the most thrilling sets of Jam Crusie 18 so far. In addition to some early-set guest brass courtesy of the Turkuaz horns, the Ghost Light Pool Deck set was highlighted by its final number, when the band’s searing jams seemed to summon the rain that had been looming overhead all evening. Those who stayed got wet, but we’d wager that none of them minded too much. This show was that good.
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It’s been a year plus since I’ve seen @ghostlightband, and MAN have they gotten good! Their day 3 Pool Deck set was easily one of the best sets on the boat so far . #tomhamilton #hollybowling #rainamullen #danafricano #scottyzwang #ghostlight #jamcruise #jamcruise18 #liveforlivemusic
Lettuce Goes Above & Beyond At The Pantheon Theater
After missing Jam Cruise in 2019 for the first time in years, it’s clear that Jam Cruisers are thankful to have Lettuce back on the boat in 2020. They kicked off the Jam Cruise 18 festivities with a high-energy performance on the Pool Deck on Tuesday and kept that notable momentum as they entered the Pantheon Theater for their Thursday night set.
Throughout the stellar performance—unquestionably one of the best Lettuce sets this writer has been lucky enough to witness—the Grammy-nominated sextet showed exactly why the music world at large is starting to take notice after 25+ years. Unbelievably tight, creative, and enthralling for the duration of the set, Adam Deitch, Jesus Coomes, Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff, Ryan Zoidis, Eric Benny Bloom, and Nigel Hall explored vast sonic terrains as a cohesive unit while shrouded in a thick fog of production smoke. The hazy visuals only served to highlight the theme of 2020-vintage Lett: This collection of master instrumentalists is hitting a new stride as a single, unstoppable whole. Make no mistake—we are currently experiencing the “golden age” of Lettuce.
Casey Benjamin & The Ghost-Note Crew Captivate The Jazz Lounge
On Thursday night, saxophonist Casey Benjamin (Robert Glasper Experiment) took the stage for his Jazz Lounge set. For his backing band, Benjamin recruited a chunk of the Ghost-Note collective, fresh off a notably incredible set of their own in the Black & White Lounge. With the incomparable pairing of Robert Sput Searight (drums) and MonoNeon (bass) holding down the rhythm section and fellow Ghost-Note members like guitarist Peter Knudsen, keyboardist Dominique Xavier Taplin, and saxophonist Jonathan Mones adding tonal texture, Benjamin wowed the Jazz Lounge with his prodigious jazz odysseys and musical tangents like a jam on Gnarls Barkley‘s “Crazy”. The inclusion of the Ghost-Note guys upped the energy even higher—something that’s becoming a theme on Jam Cruise 18. From the band’s two regularly scheduled sets to the members’ various offshoot performances like this one, Sput’s “Purple” Jam Room session on Wednesday night, and the upcoming Xavier/V. Keys Atrium set on Saturday, Ghost-Note is making damn sure that Jam Cruise 18 remembers their name.
Lotus Rocks The Pool Deck With Special Guests, Fun Covers
Lotus capped off the music schedule on the Pool Deck on Thursday night with a standout, guest-filled show. From heavy, electronically-influenced jams to crowd-pleasing covers like the Legend of Zelda theme song Tame Impala‘s “Elephant” to sit-ins by the likes of Steve Kimock, Nate Werth, and un-billed “artist-at-small” Casey Russell (Magic Beans), this set served its purpose as the satisfying final “main stage” act after a day filled with top-notch open-air performances.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe Is Effortlessly Cool In The Pantheon Theater
Karl Denson is a Jam Cruise fixture, and his late-night set in the Pantheon Theater showed why Cruisers continue to welcome him with open arms year after year. Karl Denson is the consummate frontman, and his cool-as-the-other-side-of-the-pillow demeanor sets the tone for his red-hot, insanely talented band, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. While we popped in and out of this set (there were plenty of choices in that late-night slot), we did see the band shell out a low-key funky “Front Money” and welcome Casey Benjamin for a fiery sax solo on a set-closing “I’m Your Biggest Fan”.
Check back tomorrow for more coverage from aboard Jam Cruise 18, and don’t forget to tune into Live For Live Music’s Instagram stories to follow the action in real-time. You can also check out our recaps of day one and day two.