Jam Cruise Diary by Jeff Lloyd of The Heavy Pets
Jam Cruise is the world’s most inclusive music festival. It is unique in many ways, but the most noticeable difference is the vibe. The immediate transformation is palpable. Once the ship sets sail, all of us lucky enough to be on board begin to bond and conglomerate into one. It is the nicest group of people I have ever encountered, and the comfort level provided by both the ship and those around you does amazing things to the mind and soul. There is a true sense of "we are all in this together." We become one band.
DAY 1 – We arrived at Port Everglades around 11am, bleary-eyed after two late night post-Umphrey’s McGee shows (of which we played under the moniker "Squirt Vonnegut"). After seeing our gear unloaded and very efficiently hauled off, we were funneled into a large holding area containing nearly all of the artists to play the ship. This was immediately surreal. There was a lot of catching up to do, new friendships to be made and many "Happy New Years" were exchanged amongst banter about the previous weekend’s football games. Just to be a part of this group was an honor. We got on the ship no problem and made it to our rooms with time to catch a solid nap. When we awoke, we explored the ship a bit and caught our first of countless meals at the MSC Poesia’s ample cafeteria before heading to our venue to sound-check. We were to be the first and last band to play the Zebra Bar. The backline gear provided and the production rivaled anything we might encounter on land. The PA system in the Zebra Bar was large and loud and was built to handle some serious volume. We kicked off the festivities to a raucous crowd flying high on the euphoria of all the madness to come. We were up against some solid competition – headliner Bruce Hornsby on the Pool Deck and Trombone Shorty across the hall in the Teatro – but our fans, new and old, hung tough at the Zebra for a very rocking set including an extended “So Thank You Music” closer, which we dedicated to the many folks who had been pulling for us to be on the boat for years.
We finished strong and were followed by Lettuce, Umphrey’s McGee, 7 Walkers, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Break Science and DJ Logic, of which I caught a little bit of each. We then headed down to the jam room which was hosted by our Everyone Orchestra conductor pal Matt Butler. The jam room is a Jamcruise staple and late-night becomes this big amorphous blob of nasty music featuring many of the ships artists. Jaime, Justin, Jim and I all got in on the action, jamming with a great list of players including a bunch of our friends from Toubab Krewe, Zach Deputy, Ryan Montbleau, Andrew Barr of The Slip and bassist Joshua Fairman of Kinetix. The evening ended with Jaime, Josh and I throwing down some power trio renditions of “Electric Xanadu” and “Iceberg Blues” before retiring to the Pool Deck to catch the sunrise.
DAY 2 – Our acoustic side project, The Fat Mannequins, was invited to play a Poolside mid-afternoon set. I had been excited about this as an opportunity to show this audience another side of the band and to do a whole lot of singing. We also got to play a song I had written for my friend Sara who was supposed to be on the boat but tragically passed away this past fall. Although a little bit challenging due to the wind, this will go down as one of my favorite sets of the week. It was special – on a boat in the middle of the sea, with the sun shining brightly, playing music with my best friends to the greatest audience ever –special. And to honor my friend’s memory added a hint of emotion that I think really translated. For a millisecond, I glanced out to the left of the pool and thought I saw her. For just one millisecond, I forgot all about her not really being there. I caught the chills and made it through the tune, but I will never forget that moment. Miss you Sara.
After the set, we had a few hours to relax before one of our artist activities. On Jam Cruise, the attendees commonly decorate their doors. We were given the honor of judging the Jam Cruise Door Decorating Contest and on Tuesday afternoon, we toured the ship from bow to stern and examined every single decorated door. There were some great efforts, some non-efforts, some gag doors and some very creative and interactive doors. After about 3 hours, we had selected a winner and were free of any scheduled artist activities or sets for a few days. It was time to get down to some music.
Ivan Neville did an outstanding job organizing a super jam for a very fun set of Sly and the Family Stone, followed by Galactic absolutely crushing a set out on the Pool Deck with covers of “Kashmir” and a sit-in by Ryan Montbleau for a groovy rendition of “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover.” I then caught some Orgone and Umphreys McGee down in the belly of the ship before making my way to the Jam Room to play some more guitar. Tonight the room was hosted by my friend Eric Krasno and featured the entire Lettuce and Soulive Crew with a bunch of the Dumpstaphunk fellas making appearances as well. I jammed with Kraz, Tony Hall, Ian Neville, Nigel Hall and Zach Deputy again amongst others. Jim was a staple on keys, jamming alongside Nigel while Justin jammed with Chris Myers from Umphrey’s, trading in and out at the tubs with Jaime. Another night of epic jamming until sunrise and then some sleep.
DAY 4 – We ported in Falmouth, Jamaica and I headed out solo for a little adventure. I basically just ran amok around town, denying several women requests to braid my hair, and took in a little local flavor. Inevitably, I ran into many people from the boat around town and even made some new friends. "Hey, I met you in Jamaica…" became a running joke. This was another "cut loose" day for me so I made sure to. I made it back on the boat and prepared myself to boogie to one of my all-time faves, Toots and the Maytals. His voice is so powerful, the band is so tight and the songs hit you right where it counts. I danced my ass off and thus began a five set run for me at the main stage. An inspired, powerhouse set by Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, including a bunch of Rolling Stones numbers, was followed by a gorgeous P-Groove set highlighted by a touching rendition of Arcade Fire’s "Wake Up." This led into one of my favorite sets of the weekend – an electronic tour de force by Paper Diamond.
So after dancing hard to four straight bands, my legs were just about ready for what was slated as the final New Deal performance ever. Growing up in upstate NY (a few years ago), I had the opportunity to catch these guys early and this band means a great deal to me. The pioneers of the jam/electronica fusion closed out their career in style under a starry sky to an emotionally charged audience. The bittersweet moment was narrated by drummer Darren Shearer telling stories about the origin of certain songs and noting how special and crazy and powerful the entire scene and this particular festival is. When you are right you are right, and he is right. They have been getting it right for a long time. To the New Deal: thanks for all the good times. We are sad to see you go.
I stopped by briefly in the jam room but instead took my guitar around the ship, playing an impromptu show to some new friends and doing a little jamming on the pool deck. This led to a hilarious scene at sunrise with a large group of new friends popping bottles of champagne and offering a huge round of applause and bubbly to any new person who sat down in our circle. We were the rowdiest most obnoxious bunch of folks I have ever been a part of…in a very warm and welcoming way. A little northern hospitality if you will. We started having clap offs and cheering contests with other groups out on the pool deck. The enthusiasm was infectious and ample, and I’m quite sure that I still have a piece of it left. After about 20 bottles of champagne, the group dispersed to get ready for more music.
DAY 5 – Show day. After all I had experienced that week; I couldn’t wait to play music again with my band. It is my favorite thing to do in the world and to do so under such conditions is simply too much for words. But first was a band trip to the main stage to present our award for Best Door at the Jam Cruise Award Ceremony. We presented the award to door #10093 for their hand crafted wooden Jam Cruise Plinko machine complete with pinball-machine style flashing lights and prizes. This craftsman won a porthole painted by famous Miami artist Lebo, and I am confident we got the right door. His roommates were there to accept the prize and ecstatic, and the whole thing was pretty freaking fun.
We grabbed some grub and retired to our cabins to cook up the evening’s setlist. We had several great sit-ins this night, including Albert from Perpetual Groove, Big Sam of Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Roosevelt Collier of the Lee Boys and Jimmy Dunstan of Spontaneous Underground. We were able to work the whole thing smoothly into a very rambunctious set. It was hot and sweaty rock n roll just the way we like it, and all of our guests mirrored our vibe well and helped us get even grimier. We finished strong with a wonderful audience to whom we owe so much.
After labeling our gear and again watching it carefully get hauled off, we split up to catch some final music. I made my way to Galactic for a bit before heading up to the Disco Room to catch DJ Logic absolutely blowing the place apart. He surprised me by dropping some ill dubstep bombs early on before moving on to some more old-school Rock and R&B stuff. It was all a raging dance party. We were to be back in Florida in the morning, so the bar was rather crowded as people hurried to get rid of their remaining drink tickets and buy those final bottles of champagne. I boogied until sunrise and then watched Miami sail by as we made our way to port. Just enough time left to pack up our room and get ourselves and stuff back to land. What a journey.
We disembarked with ease and found all of our gear waiting for us when we got through customs. Beyond being the greatest party on earth, Jam Cruise is also an amazing feat of organization, and I would like to thank all of those who work tirelessly year round to make this happen. Thank you for doing what you do, it is incredibly special. Jam Cruise X was the best week of my life. I feel fresh and invigorated, hungry yet thankful. In this past week, I have made friends and acquaintances with fans and musicians that I will keep with me for my entire life. The voyage never ends.
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