Jam Cruise Journal: The Final Countdown, Pt. 1

The worst part about Jam Cruise is that it eventually ends. That’s not to say that five jam-packed five days of music isn’t enough, because it was, but the music stopped at 6AM on Saturday morning and disembarkation started just an hour later. Saying goodbye to all the amazing people I spent the week with was such sweet sorrow and returning to reality was painful. That said, I hope to take the lessons I learned, the amazing musical experiences and the positive energy with which Jam Cruise is infused with me for the rest of the year.

[Photo by Matthew Hebert]

Unlike the past few years, Jam Cruise 11 visited a port on the last full day of the trip. Instead of a “day at sea,” the MSC Poesia docked at Coco Cay in the Bahamas. Actually, “docked” isn’t accurate – we had to take small boats (tenders) to the port from the cruise ship. After writing my report on the magical music that took place on Thursday, I took a tender to the beach. Coco Cay is a private island owned by Royal Caribbean. Our cruise line, MSC, took over the island for the day which meant it was just Jam Cruisers and staff on the 140-acre site. There were paid excursions to choose from such as nature walks, jetski adventures and snorkeling. I, however, decided to relax on the beach where guitarists Scott Law and Brock Butler were performing.

I got to the stage just as singer-songwriter Scott Law was finishing a batch of tunes. Butler joined him for an amazing three-song string of covers: When I Paint My Masterpiece (Bob Dylan), Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes (Paul Simon) and Pepper (Butthole Surfers). After that, Law left Butler by his lonesome and the PGroove singer went on to perform a rousing set of 12 tunes using a looper to add color and layers to a batch of covers and originals. Highlights included Brock’s takes on Down By The Seaside (Led Zeppelin), Big Country (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones), Little Bit of Everything (Dawes), Queen Bee (Taj Mahal) and Us and Them > Any Colour You Like (Pink Floyd). Butler concluded with an epic, looped-out 13-minute version of the fitting On A Beach by Richard Ashcroft of The Verve fame.

Once Brock’s set finished, I decided to head back to the boat as the weather was overcast with a bit of rain sprinkling down. Jam Cruise organizers usually book reggae bands to play as we depart the islands and this year Steel Pulse had the honors of performing as we left The Bahamas. The reggae legends seemed to love Jam Cruise as not only were they seen around the boat talking to cruisers and taking in sets by other performers, but they even played Franklin’s Tower and invited Ivan Neville and Chris Littlefield (KDTU) up for guest spots.

Later, I caught a bit of the Everyone Orchestra set which featured an unreal lineup. Matt Butler always puts together ridiculous versions of his project for Jam Cruise, but this one could be the best yet. We’re talking Al Schnier and Jim Loughlin of moe., Anders Beck and Paul Hoffman of Greensky Bluegrass, Jeff Coffin of the Dave Matthews Band, Motet vocalists Jans Ingber and Kim Dawson as well as members of their horn section, Natalie Cressman and Jennifer Hartswick of TAB, Schmeans of Lettuce, ALO’s Zach Gill, Kyle Hollingsworth of String Cheese Incident, drummers Jeremy Salken (Big Gigantic) and Eric Bolivar (Pimps of Joytime, Anders Osborne), Reed Mathis of Tea Leaf Green and Andy Hess of Steve Kimock’s band on bass plus Mike Dillon on percussion. As you can expect, this lineup rocked it out tackling such themes as “cock rock” and “metal” during their 75-minute, improv-heavy performance.

Everyone Orchestra on Jam Cruise 11

Meanwhile, moe.’s Chuck Garvey and Vinnie Amico were in the Zebra Bar judging an “Air Guitar Contest” and J.J. Grey was at the boat’s atrium piano to make up his solo set which he had missed due to illness. Grey gave us a taste of Mofro’s new album as he switched between guitar and piano. He welcomed collaborator Anthony Farrell out for a few tunes and brought out Brock Butler for a gorgeous take on Sun Is Shining Down.

JJ Grey w/ Brock Butler – Sun Is Shining Down

Ivan Neville played his scheduled piano atrium set after Grey finished, but I only caught his version of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide. Apparently I missed a good one as described by Jambands.com’s Mike Greenhaus

Ivan Neville offered an emotional solo piano set of his own. Neville—the only person to play an atrium solo piano set two years in a row—focused mostly on sober ballads as well as covers like Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” He talked at length about his mother, who passed away when the keyboardist was on Jam Cruise a few years ago, and debuted a new song he wrote with The Bridge’s Cris Jacobs in her memory. At one point when Neville became emotional, Bernie Worrell took the stage to hug him. He also reminded the audience that Neville was his “nephew and protégé.” Dumpstaphunk bassist Nick Daniels sat in with Neville on a few songs too, first from the audience and later on the piano’s platform. At the end of Neville’s set, Worrell returned to play piano alongside his friend on Sly Stone’s “Family Affair.” As one encore, Neville, Daniels and Warren Haynes Band/Lettuce’s Nigel Hall offered Gerald Tillman’s “Padlock.” Ivan’s uncle Art Neville watched the entire set from the audience in a wheelchair, calling out songs and telling his nephew “it sounds good” from the crowd.

Over the years in my Jam Cruise Journals I’ve talked about the wonderful group of cruisers from around the country dubbed the “Awesome.town” collective who took me in on my first cruise. I had a fantastic time with them once again on Jam Cruise 11 and we celebrated the end of the adventure and our friend Kim’s birthday with a fantastic sit-down dinner in the ship’s main dining room. I knew I’d miss something special with Neville’s set, but this trip is not only about the music it’s about the people and we had the best time saying goodbye in our own debaucherous way.

From there it was time to celebrate “Spinal Tap Night” as the music was only beginning. Check back tomorrow for the rest of my story from Friday night and Saturday morning.

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