It isn’t often I think about reality while on Jam Cruise, but I couldn’t help but smile on Wednesday afternoon when I thought about what I’d be doing on any other work week Wednesday. Instead of working at the office I was sitting on a magical boat in the middle of the Caribbean about to take in another full day of exciting musical adventures. Wednesday was our first day at a port and it was nice to have a short break from the relentless onslaught of unbelievable music.
The first port Jam Cruise 11 visited was Grand Turk in Turks and Caicos. Those smart enough to schedule excursions in advance were able to participate in such adventures as snorkeling, rides in glass bottom boats, scuba diving and a trip through Cloud 9’s Positive Legacy arm in which cruisers brought much-needed school supplies and other materials to a school on the small island. In return, these cruisers feasted on a local meal consisting of conch and were entertained by a local band. The members of Hot Buttered Rum accompanied those on the Positive Legacy trip and jammed on some reggae tunes with the local musicians. For most though, the trip to Grand Turk gave us a chance to sit on a beach and drink cocktails while dipping our toes in the aqua blue ocean.
Once back on the ship Dumpstaphunk provided the first set of the day. Ivan Neville’s funk troupe has such a dirty and hard-hitting sound thanks in part to the soupy heaviness provided by the ensembles two bassists – Tony Hall and Nick Daniels. Dumpstaphunk has undergone a transformation since they last played Jam Cruise as drummer Nikki Glaspie has taken over for Raymond Weber. In addition to being a beast behind the kit, Glaspie also threw in a freestyle or two for the large crowd assembled for the Pool Deck performance. One of the many highlights from Dumpstaphunk’s set was a spot-on cover of Fame by David Bowie that went into the double-entendre heavy Put It In The Dumpsta. Guest wise, Ivan Neville and his band welcomed a horn section that included TAB’s James Casey and Jennifer Hartswick (making her first appearance of the cruise) as well as Skerik and Roosevelt Collier on an original called Meanwhile that tore the roof off in a way that was only topped when living legend Bernie Worrell came out to lend a hand on a song he helped make famous: P Funk’s One Nation Under A Groove. Despite his age, Bernie still has it as he added fiery synth riffs throughout the cover.
[All Photos by Dave Vann]
When walking around the boat I had the pleasure of meeting a member of the ship’s “decor team.” That’s right, Jam Cruise hires people to dress up every part of the Poesia to make sure you know this is not your typical cruise. Not to mention, many cruisers deck out their cabin doors with all sorts of decorations. A bunch take it to the extreme and come up with themes for their doors. A few of my favorites were those that turned their door and the area in front of their door into a giant game of Twister, a crew that turned part of a hallway into a jungle-like environment and a particularly arty door featuring used Five-Hour Energy Drink bottles. It’s this attention to detail that helps make Jam Cruise so special.
I also wanted to put in a mention of Jam Cruise TV. The TVs in each cabin contain four channels programed by the event’s organizers that cycle through photos, interviews and performances from the last few days. I was actually able to catch parts of a few sets I had missed on Monday and Tuesday while waiting to pull away from Grant Turks.
One of my favorite Jam Cruise activities each year is “Rock Star Karoake” in which random cruisers have the opportunity to take the stage to sing a song backed by members of Tea Leaf Green, ALO and Hot Buttered Rum. My pal JRapp delivered a formidable The Gambler with Use Me, Like A Rolling Stone and Superstition among the other notable performances.
Greensky Bluegrass’s second set of the trip took place in the theater. After finishing an incredible take on How Mountain Girls Can Love, GB’s Anders Beck mentioned that it was the “fastest song yet on Jam Cruise” and he wasn’t kidding. Beck and his band mates sure can pick and add just enough of a rock edge to satisfy those looking for something harder than just a string band. The Michigan-based band is known for their inventive ’80s covers. On this night we were treated to a plucky upbeat take on Money For Nothing by Dire Straits.
Up on the Pool Deck Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was holding court. Last year KDTU offered one of the best sets of the trip with their wall-to-wall cover of Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones. This year we got a taste of their Beastie Boys sets with Sure Shot and an outstanding, true-to-form version of Sympathy To The Devil as well as an evil-tinged Seven Nation Army. Saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Flecktones, Dave Matthews) added an edge of craziness to one of Karl’s new originals that sounded like the theme song to a ’70s cop show. Ivan Neville, Collier and keyboardist Robert Walter were a few of the other guests who sat in with Karl D.
Now it was time for moe. who are making their first appearance on Jam Cruise this year following two moe. cruises of their own. moe.’s initial Jam Cruise set took place in the theater and I have never seen the place so packed. Usually you can find your own row, but by the time moe. took the stage it was tough to find a seat (though easy to find a place to stand). moe. took their time working through the first three songs of the set and jammed each part of each tune as The Pit, Water and Recreational Chemistry went on for close to an hour. Cruise director Annabel “Julie McCoy” Stelling came out after the impressive, jam-filled opening segment and brought a birthday cake to moe. guitarist Al Schnier. Schnier seemed genuinely touched by the love and said he’d fulfill a birthday wish by welcoming out percussionist Mike Dillon.
Mike D. sat in on prog-funk instrumental McBain and took part in a mindblowing call-and-response vibes session with moe.’s Jim Loughlin. Both mens’ arms moved so fast as they shared each measure, I couldn’t believe how crafty they were in formulating rapid-fire licks on the fly. Later, Schnier offered his Fleetwood Mac meets Pink Floyd original Silver Sun, while guitarist Chuck Garvey treated us to Where Does The Time Go? Despite Jam Cruise favorites Lettuce performing at the same time on the Pool Deck, moe. kept their large crowd enthralled and in place throughout their entire two hour performance. For their encore, moe. dipped into their repertoire for a romp through Godzilla by Blue Oyster Cult that drove the crowd wild. I tend to jump around from set to set on Jam Cruise, but moe. kept me in place for two hours straight.
Because I was focused on moe. I missed nearly all of Hot Buttered Rum’s first set of the cruise. Thankfully, as I passed through I caught their sizzling version of Life During Wartime by Talking Heads featuring String Cheese Incident’s Kyle Hollingsworth on keys. Next up it was back to the Pool Deck for the end of Lettuce’s set. In catching two sets by the funk torchbearers of the 21st century I was impressed that they didn’t always rely on the “rage” aka hard-hitting, James Brown-esque funk. Eric Krasno and Co. went off on many excursions that hit upon tasty, Bitches Brew-style fusion. For their encore, Lettuce welcomed DJ Williams (Karl Denson) and Coffin for an outstanding cover of War’s Slippin’ Into Darkness.
Back in the theater, Marchforth Marching Band was a spectacle to behold. This group of freaks filled the stage with between 16 and 22 members depending on the song and included a few performers walking on stilts. This was the troupe’s first appearance on Jam Cruise and you could feel their excitement to be part of this adventure. Marchforth has a sound that’s all over the map but I’ll go with Gogol Bordello meets Fela Kuti with a dash of Talking Heads.
Now that the clock had moved beyond 2AM it was time to take a stroll to “The Spot.” As you may remember for yesterday’s report, The Spot (an area of the boat that Nathan Moore has made his own personal stage and acts as an oasis for those seeking a respite from the funk) wasn’t secret anymore. On Tuesday night there were a hundred people surrounding the musicians in an area not made to handle so many cruisers. Wednesday was a different story, at first. Moore gathered with musical compatriots Bryan Elijah Smith and Jay Cobb Anderson in front of a crowd that only consisted of myself, Jambands.com’s Mike Greenhaus and Jeff Waful. The trio treated us to three originals they had just written. These songs were so fresh they were less than two days old, but they didn’t sound like it. However once “The Spot” started, cruisers flocked to the area and our private concert didn’t last long.
As much as I enjoyed “The Spot” I made sure to take laps every once in a while to check out music on other parts of the boat. On one of these trips I caught Brock Butler sitting in with jamtronica act Zoogma on a cover of the theme to Ghostbusters. Butler and Zoogma broke the song open; a jammed out Ghostbusters? That’s Jam Cruise for ya.
I didn’t spend much time in the Jam Room on the first few nights, but I made up for lost time on Wednesday night/Thursday morning and I was sure glad I did. At one point I caught Vinnie Amico of moe. teaming up with George Porter Jr., Mike D., Robert Walter, Nigel Hall and Neal Evans for a cover of Mysteroso by Thelonius Monk. Then, GPJ led the ensemble, which now featured Glaspie on drums through an exceptionally funky High-Heeled Sneakers > It’s All Over Now segment. Yet the highlight for me was when Eric Krasno took over on bass and teamed up with the Lettuce horn section, Natalie Cressman and Glaspie for a few ’70s soul covers. Those on the Jam Room stage had clearly plotted a take over of the room as Nigel Hall gave a signal and the music turned on a dime to a well-rehearsed George Benson cover. Somehow this segued into “Fuck The Police” – only on Jam Cruise folks.
When I went back to “The Spot” I was surprised to find Brock Butler there. This was a meeting of the two late night performers and Butler took his shot by leading the assembled musicians – which now included members of Tea Leaf Green and Hot Buttered Rum – through covers by Alabama Shakes and Phospherescent. In keeping with the unexpected covers theme, the musicians at The Spot covered Billie Jean which really drew a crowd, especially since there wasn’t many other musical options at 4:30AM.
I heard Butler mention he hoped to play an impromptu set of his own but I was running on fumes. It was 5AM and I was ready for bed. Thankfully, when I tried to close my eyes nothing was happening so I decided to see if I could find Brock. It didn’t take long and like magic I found a spot on the Pool Deck where Butler had his guitar out for about six people. Once Brock started strumming a crowd of about 20 cruisers assembled and I was impressed by how quiet and attentive they were as Butler treated us to covers and originals until the sun came up. Some of my favorite tunes were Skinny Love (Bon Iver), Weather and the Wait (Brock Butler), I Can’t Make You Love Me (Bonnie Raitt), Million Dollar Bill (Dawes), Ho Hey (Lumineers) and Castles Made of Sand (Jimi Hendrix). I knew I’d pay for it in the morning but I was so glad I decided to make one last run for music at 5AM. Two hours later I had a more successful trip to sleepland.
There’s another full day of music in front of me as the boat is “at sea” on the way to The Bahamas, so while there’s plenty more to tell I want to get back at it. Check back tomorrow for more from Jam Cruise 11.