In many ways the feeling that I had in my stomach as I was preparing for and traveling to the Jam Cruise maiden voyage reminded me of the days leading up to the first Bonnaroo in 2002. No one had ever tried anything quite like this, and in turn no one really knew what to expect. Would it be a nightmare train wreck at sea, or an ocean dream sailing in bliss? Would the bands rise to the occasion, or sink under the weight? Would it be a raging party or would the international cops, Coast Guard, boat hands, and Customs officials ruin all the fun? Would I get seasick and be in bed for days? Would I even go to bed? These ideas and more were swimming in my head as New Year's began to fade and my bags were ready to go.
Seems like sometimes the hardest path is the one that will lead to salvation. And sometimes when that road is particularly rocky, the payoff will be far greater than you imagined. We all know planes, schedules, and traveling cross-country can be trying and when I tell you that my negligent and incompetent airline had me sprinting down Market Street in San Francisco, spinning through security, and sliding onto a plane that left a few hours earlier than planned, I had some stress in my bones. Bottom line was GET ME ON THAT BOAT. It wasn't until I finally hopped my ride to the dock and saw my people milling around on the sidewalk like we were at The Fillmore that I knew it was all gonna be OK.
Tuesday January 6th
At this point part of me was wishing I had a travel partner, a friend, someone to make sure I was doing this right. But it didn't take long for me to realize that in fact I did have a friend, about 900 of them. Eyes were warm and smiles abundant; I was sensing early on that this might turn out to be one hell of a party. The first couple of hours were a bit lackluster as we stood in line after line, but so it goes, certain aspects of travel are unavoidable, and getting on a cruise ship proves to be one of these rather time-consuming facts of life.
After showing credentials, pulling out passports, checking bags, getting the all-important white boat card (which essentially served as your credit card/money as it was the only way to purchase beverages), and having your photo snapped, it was onto the Regal Empress' Imperial Majesty cruise boat.
The Imperial Majesty
I dumped my bags in my little room and found myself getting lost on my way to the deck. I stumbled my way around the belly of the boat and eventually emerged with Florida sunshine in my eyes and a Maker's Mark in my hand. There was little time wasted as the wait staff was pushing doubles on us and before I knew it we were floating away from Ft. Lauderdale and heading to the wide-open Atlantic ocean.
I've noticed that some of the finest parties on earth begin with New Orleans' good time crew, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Around 5:15 p.m. on that first day at sea, as Ft. Lauderdale was shrinking from sight, the Dozen got the party started. Leading the charge as always, trumpet man Efrem Towns was up, down, and all over the place. Blowing hard and raising the mood at every opportunity, the Dirty Dozen certainly knows how to kick things off. Even amidst a nod to a fallen friend with a soulful "Amazing Grace" there seemed to be an incredibly festive vibe radiating from band to boat and back again. With the sun dropping and stars shinning, we were clearly under way.
Dirty Dozen Brass Band by Kayceman
Now one of the many nice things about being on a cruise is that there is a ton of food, and you've already paid for it. Besides alcohol, (which is obviously a rather large component) pretty much everything was already paid for. And between the breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight snack you could do your fair share of eating. But what I found odd was I often didn't have my raging appetite. The food was fine, actually not as good as I expected, but still better than most of my daily meals. I just didn't seem to feel like eating it all that often... sometimes eating and partying don't mix all that well.
There were two choices in eating venues, a sit-down restaurant-type setting where you could easily find yourself situated next to Stanton Moore, Karl Denson, or some really cool cat you happened to land near. And there was also the buffet up near the deck where more often than not DJ Medi4 would be spinning some rather tasty tracks during dinnertime.
After the catch of the day, some wine, and good conversation I made my way to the Grand Ballroom where Umphrey's McGee had just taken the stage. Sitting in the deep outfield of familiarity with the Umph yet clearly aware of their musical prowess I was looking forward to better acquainting myself with their show.
Grand Ballroom by Kayceman
Bouncing from Umphrey's in the Grand Ballroom and Keller Williams outside on the Main Stage, while getting excited for Jerry Joseph in the Mermaid Lounge, I was really beginning to get a grip on this whole boat thing. The ground was moving, my legs swaying, body dancing, and mind floating. Everything had a very surreal quality to it, and I kept meeting the nicest darn people.
I caught the majority of Umphrey's first set, which certainly piqued my interest for the following evening's highly coveted late night slot. In fact I was digging on Umphrey's enough to miss the majority of Keller's music. After what must have been a strong showing by Keller with reworked covers like "Scarlet Begonias," "Legalize It" and "Whole Lotta Love" mixed in with fan favorites "Blazebago," "Portapotty," and "Best Feeling," the K-Dub crew seemed very pleased.
The music I was most eagerly anticipating over the four days was that of Jerry Joseph. Jerry is one of my main men. Some people's music just hits ya, and Jerry knocks me in the mouth every time... just the way I like it. Jerry stood alone with his acoustic guitar and an arsenal of songs dishing out the dirt. It wasn't long until Bill Nershi of the String Cheese Incident had joined Jerry, and I was pleasantly surprised with how well the two combined forces. When Jerry told the story of "10 Killer Fairies" and the families that were slaughtered by Mexican drug lords near his brother's home a few faces went from party time to shock in the sip of beer, but we are talking about Jerry here. Moving through a few other choice numbers including the Gabriel García Márquez inspired "Light Is Like Water" and the heavy tides of "Glory Land," Jerry delivered a strong performance, but one that would be dwarfed by his assault two days later.
Jerry Joseph & Billy Nershi by Kayceman
It was during the insanely hot MOFRO set that followed my romp with Jerry where I began to realize that the line up on the cruise was actually a blessing in disguise for me. Now this is not to say there weren't many bands I was excited to check out again (all but one I had seen a few times) but to be blunt, I wasn't boiling over with excitement upon first glance. But as JJ Grey, front man for MOFRO, was delivering some dirty-ass, greasy blues I realized that having only one of my favorite bands (bands that I know I will be a few minutes early to, stay a few minutes after for, and plan my schedule around), I could stumble upon something as inspirational as MOFRO in the Grand Ballroom at 1:30 in the morning.
Now I had enjoyed MOFRO once before, so I had them on my mind as I got on the boat, but what transpired in the late hours of that first night sold me on their self-proclaimed "Front Porch Soul." Daryl Hance on guitar rarely if ever speaks, but his slide guitar work and rock persona compliments the warm story telling and multi-instrumental abilities of JJ Grey perfectly. The band was already impressing me immensely, but when JJ dropped a ragga/dancehall inflected vocal segment somewhere around the band's "Brighter Days," I, and the rest of the lucky few who were missing the beginning of an incredibly strong Disco Biscuits show, pretty much lost it. I had no idea JJ could pull that off. Any band--or man for that matter--that can bring me from the depths of a Florida BBQ to a dusty angst-filled southern street, and across the ocean to some London dancehall take on a Jamaican art form, is going to remain on my radar. MOFRO was an early highlight of the trip.
MOFRO by Dave Vann
By the time I finally found my way back outside to the glorious ocean air The Disco Biscuits were well into their marathon late night gig and I had long missed Ming & FS. I had wanted to check out the New York DJ duo again, but let's be realistic: there was no way I was leaving MOFRO till JJ was done.
The Biscuits are one of those bands that is entirely hit or miss for me, and even when it hits it doesn't usually leave the park. I have indeed had some moments with them, but more often that not one of a few things really throws me off. Well I am happy to report that over the course of their four-hour-plus escapade they more or less wowed me. As is always the case a great deal of my enjoyment was tied to expectations. Since I had not reached that euphoric feeling with the Bisco boys in quite some time I wasn't really looking for much more than a few less vocals a few more jams and some good times. Now there were some ups and downs, but I must say they took a few songs way out there and kept my attention far more than in past occasions. Being less familiar with a band often doesn't allow for one to deliver the details that may be necessary to really unearth the goods that were offered. But I can tell you that the "Run Like Hell" that surfaced in the first set and ended the second was more than enough to make me smile. In fact the entire second set was perhaps the best set I've seen from the Biscuits. Beginning with "Magellan" and dropping into "I-Man," I was shocked to find myself spacing out and getting down to the tweaked space sounds being laid on my ears. From there the set really began to take on a life of its own, and I was lost--I put my notes down and found myself dancing with eyes fixed on the immensely vast and ominously dark open ocean. Every night as we began to dip into the wee hours I remember trying to determine if the boat was moving more, or if my buzz was just growing more. It was truly hard to determine at times, but I do recall one instance during the Bisco set where the boat swayed dramatically and everyone that was still awake took two steps forward and one step back. I believe the band was traversing an instrumental segment at this point and if memory serves me correct it was bassist Marc Brownstein who seemed to pull the reigns back at this exact moment and quickly blurt out, "We're movin' all over!" before dumping back into whatever they were doing. It was an incredibly unique and really cool moment, one I can't imagine happening really anywhere else.
The Disco Biscuits by Dave Vann
As The Biscuits pummeled their fans both faithful and casual, I recall "Crickets" and that set-ending "Run Like Hell" to be of particular note, not to mention the "Floodlights" > "Magellan Reprise" encore around sunrise that capped it all off. As my head was fading and my legs as well, I wandered off to bed with Bisco in my head, wondering what it was going to be like trying to sleep in a moving bed that was way too small for me.
Wednesday January 7th
When I came to we were already docked in the Bahamas. For a moment I freaked thinking maybe I slept through the day and my opportunity to sit on the beach had been swallowed. But as is often the case, I hardly slept. I clocked in a few hours, enough to get the batteries back to autopilot, and so I quickly had some coffee and a few morsels of food before getting off the boat. Not really sure what to do and not having all that much cash I did what the average Joe was told to do and headed for the Atlantis Resort. Not that I was looking to hang by the pool at the resort, but apparently that's the easiest way to get to a nice beach. I spent a few hours on the white sand soaking in some sun and trying to wash last night off in the ocean. All in all, it was a nice way to spend a few hours. Before long it was back to the Empress for a little more down time and some much needed food.
|Bahamian Coast & Atlantis Resort by Kayceman
As the waitress kept bringing cocktails and the sun began to walk down the backside of the sky I noticed we were clearly at sea. I recall sitting down for dinner and I do remember thinking that those internal batteries I had on autopilot seemed somewhat depleted, so next on the agenda was a quick nap.
The next time I saw one of the many foreign waitresses I was in the Grand Ballroom checking out one of the hotter bands on the circuit, Particle. Always full of energy but rarely of particular interest to me, the band impressed me most with what they did when Karl Denson was in the mix. And it wasn't even specifically what Karl was playing, but it was more how the sound morphed a bit due to his presence. Things slowed down and took on a far more liquid sound than the more pushing dance beat Particle has built their success on. There were moments when Karl and guitarist Charlie Hitchcock locked up, creating a fuller, more soulful sound than I believe I've ever heard them play. While it was a jazzier Particle, it was still full of that spaced-out Steve Molitz keyboard funk, but with a more expansive musical palette due to Karl.
Karl Denson with Particle by Kayceman
While Particle was certainly proving to be enjoyable the knowledge that Galactic was surely well into their Main Stage set under the stars sent me sliding out the door and up the narrow stairs leading to the deck.
Without question one of the coolest aspects of the cruise was how easy everything was. You never had to worry about how you would get anywhere, or how far you'd have to walk. It was a festival at sea and all three stages were strolling distance. It was nice to be able to walk by Billy (Nershi) and Liza (Oxnard), who happened to be playing with another woman I had never seen, but it was also nice to be able to walk the twenty feet back to Galactic.
Just as the other NOLA boys, the Dirty Dozen, always bring a party, so does Galactic. Could it be that New Orleans inspires people to party? In the vein of Jazz Fest, (which I was reminded of several times over these four days) there were sit-ins galore. Galactic featured a slew of talent as they skrunked and bumped their way through a great night of music. Often regarded as one of the hardest working men on the scene, Karl D drifted from Particle to Galactic, adding his power and breathing yet another voice to the thick stew. While Karl was knee deep with fellow horn man Ben Ellman and beat master Stanton Moore it was nice to see Ratdog bass explorer Rob Wasserman find some room on stage as well. All of this was impressive, but perhaps the best sit-in of the weekend came in the form of my new favorite front man, JJ from MOFRO. What is it about these white boys with two-letter first names starting with "J"? JJ, J.B. (Widespread Panic), J.J. Cale--something about that J must bleed soul and fill you with the type of grit that legends are made of. I began to see stars when JJ delivered a Galactic-backed "Sympathy For The Devil." JJ was all over it, as was the band. Mid-way through the Rolling Stones' masterpiece things opened up and a nasty breakdown featuring DJ Z-Trip adding the female "Ohh Ohh" background vocals sent the entire boat into freak-out mode.
|Galactic by Kayceman
Towards the end of Galactic's getdown boat party their newest addition, female vocalist Teedy Boutte, stepped up for a raucous delivery of the reggae classic "You Don't Love Me, No No No." That is one of my favorite tracks, and it's been sampled heavily by many a band and a ton of DJs. Galactic and Teedy did it justice, putting some serious icing on the cake.
As Galactic broke down and Umphrey's McGee set up Z-Trip continued to drop the beats and move them feets. Saul Williams' "Not In Our Name" and The Police classic "Walking In Your Footsteps" received particularly nice treatment as the boat pushed on, along with the night.
Umphrey's is an interesting band right now, and on this evening they became a far more interesting band to me personally. They are clearly one of the more technically advanced bands on the scene, their fan base is growing quickly, and they deliver the type of intense, wildly different show from night to night that can lead to serious things. But for some reason it hasn't jumped out and grabbed me. Part of the problem seems to be in the dichotomy I see in their vocal/lyrical work versus their tight chops and instrumental abilities. Now vocals are perhaps even more personal and opinion-based than the notes and chords. And for all the maturity Umphrey's shows in their instrumental attack I find their lyrics to be, for lack of a better word, immature. In mulling this over there is certainly the possibility that I am simply more drawn to the southern thang, and maybe for whatever reason the Midwest thing just doesn't hit home as much. No matter what the reason I've often noticed this... that, and I like my music dirty, slowed down and nasty where the Umph tends to focus on tight chops, clean breaks, and an almost prog-rock ethos.
Ron Johnson (KDTU) with Umphrey's McGee
Again I found myself headed to a featured show of the evening and it not being a band that is on my "must see" list. And again I found this to be a very favorable stance. I was able to hang back without the pressure of certain songs or a level I felt needed to be reached. Instead I was enjoying simply being on a boat, all the new friends, the easy access to plenty of whiskey, very kind neighbors, and the most outrageous setting imaginable. Much in the way The Disco Biscuits really impressed me, UM delivered the most enjoyable moments I've ever spent with them (which admittedly has only been a handful of shows). Now mind you it wasn't that the music between the Biscuits and Umphrey's was all that similar, but there is a certain personal parallel I see between two established bands that clearly have their own "thing," and bands that I have enjoyed yet rarely if ever completely "gone there" with. Perhaps it was the boat, perhaps it was me, or maybe these really were incredibly strong shows by both these bands, regardless of the reason I really enjoyed what went down.
The first set showcased predominantly original songs from the band but came equipped with a few nice "Hot For Teacher" and "Amazing Grace" teases worked in. About halfway through the first set a nice addition of Chris Littlefield (Karl Denson's Tiny Universe) on trumpet helped raise the ante on "Big Heart" and pushed the sound into some dissonant areas before guitarist Jake Cinninger took a few serious solos and even a beat box outro. Before long Rob Wasserman found his way to the stage during "Soul Food," creating a double bass bash with Ryan Stasik which led to a set-ending "Song Remains The Same."
In retrospect the first set was clearly a warm up for an impressive second go at things. As mentioned before, the boat seemed to move more in the early morning hours, but then again it gets very difficult to determine just what is moving and why sometimes. Regardless of why I was floating back and forth, "Walking On the Moon" was a marvelous way to start the second half. The entire set took off with a determined state of mind and the band whipped up a serious party. The entire set was damn good but it was the middle section of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" > "Willie the Pimp," "Hot For Teacher," and "Wife Soup" that blew it open. When keyboard player Joel Cummins absolutely nailed the delicate tripped out intro of "Shine" I was at a loss for words, and when Cinninger did a note-for-note reading of David Gilmour's haunting guitar I almost lost air. The vocals weren't on the same level as the instruments, but at that point it was really just details. Coming out of the soaring "Shine," Ron Johnson, also from KDTU, took over bass duties and gave Zappa's "Willie The Pimp" a nice dash of extra soul, and even added some back-up vocals ta boot!
Umphrey's McGee at sunrise by Kayceman
Before it was all said and done Steve Molitz would also make a cameo and the sun would rise behind the band as they finished off a hell of a night with a hell of a cover. Quickly becoming known (at least partially) for their cover work, guitarist Brendan Bayliss proclaimed that they wouldn't normally do this as the band slipped into a fine rendition of the Outkast hit "Roses." The sun was up, the band was hot, and I went to bed singing, "I know you'd like to think yo' shit don't stank/But lean a lil bit closer see/Roses really smell like poo poo poo/Yeah, roses really smell like poo poo poo.
Thursday January 8th
This was to be our only real full day at sea. Cruising the ocean, no land in sight, no lights, no escape! I've spent some time on boats, done some fishing, my family even owned a little Boston Whaler when I used to kick around the Northeast, but I've never engaged in 24-plus-hours without land in sight. Over the course of the four days I spent a great deal of time just staring out at the ocean... thinking, dreaming, contemplating. And when there is no land in sight, not a speck of recognition, and you realize you are truly a needle in the haystack, the mind begins to take on a new angle. When the water is all you feel and all you see, and sleep has dwindled while the party has festered, again, the mind begins to do things it normally does not.
Who's to say if what I really did was sleep after Umphrey's late night? I know I closed my eyes and I'm sure rest came in some form, but before I could get the dreams of ocean waves and Outkast songs to take form I was aware that music was no doubt being played. I had planned to check out Tishamingo, who took the Main Stage at an early 11 a.m., but considering I didn't even hit the pillow till well after 7 a.m. it was simply not to be. Now I'm not one to use alarm clocks (and with far too many "boat announcements" being funneled into ever nook of the Regal Empress who would really need one); I tend to let my body do what needs to be done, so around noon the internal buzz shook me from the dark. I had glanced at my schedule before closing my eyes, and yes Tishamingo was desired, but MOFRO next to the pool had become a necessity.
Seeing that the day had already broke noon I slipped on my flip-flops and made for the deck. Not minutes after grabbing some fruit and ice water MOFRO had begun their set. Spying a prime spot at a table to the side of the stage I sat my tired ass down in the shade. Now I'm sure the sustenance I gathered from the breakfast bar was helping, but I'll be damned if it wasn't the preaching and playing of MOFRO that raised my spirits. Sitting there listening to the title track off the band's only release, 2001's Blackwater, I was overcome with a certain feeling you can only really get from the more profound bands you witness. JJ singing:
Been doin' a lot of hidin/Tryin' to get away from myself
|JJ Grey (Left) & Daryl Hance (Right)
Granny say/How you gonna live come tomorrow?
Roll black water roll
Roll black water roll
The words are pouring from his lips as the boat sways with the tides. Daryl Hance is playing the most liquid guitar slide imaginable and French bass player Fabrice Quentin rumbles a low end pulse that could have doubled for the boat engine under my bed. I sat in relative disbelief that I was not more accustomed to this fine band. After turning down a shot of whiskey from an enthusiastic fan, JJ wisely realizing that, "No, it's too early for that," the set continued with the addition of a friend named Gina on vocals. Together they led the band through a gorgeous and mood altering "Air:" We've been walking on air y'all, we've been walking on air. A strong rendition of Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey," the band's own "Florida," and a set-ending blowout with Ben Ellman on harmonica made for another very impressive outing with MOFRO. To say it's a joy when you come across something new of this caliber would be an understatement. Music is obviously deeply personal, and I can count the number of times I've stumbled upon something I've enjoyed this much without any real prior knowledge on one hand... the last time was the Drive-By Truckers. With only a few years of truly being a band under their belt, I'm hoping for big things out of MOFRO.
Ben Ellman & JJ Grey by Kayceman
I got some more food as DJ Medi4 bumped the smooth dub and Karl and crew set up. This would be our first taste of the entire Tiny Universe, and quite a nice way to spend a few hours under the sun.
Karl dedicated the set to Buddy Rich before launching into a "Rich Man's Welfare" > "Frankenstein" that turned the boat into an instant party. Karl's relatively new drummer John Staten lends a great backbone to the funky jazz vibe, and I was pleasantly surprised with his touch of rock during the "Frankenstein" cover. I think most people are aware that it's enjoyable to check KDTU out in a sweaty club. He always brings a dance-happy, fun-loving crowd, and the vibe is reliably high; the same is true for seeing Karl under the tropical sun. The set grooved along, featuring "Good For You (and Me)," and ended with a nice sultry vocal accompaniment by Teedy Boutte on "Can You Feel It?," "Everything," and "Cool Is Back."
|Karl Denson & The Tiny Universe Party by Kayceman
It was an easy transition on the ears to go from Karl on the deck, to a few minutes of the Dirty Dozen in the Grand Ballroom, and back to The Stanton Moorestars Superjam back up under the sun. Stanton's Superjam was a somewhat predictable but very enjoyable event. Featuring Galactic, the Dirty Dozen boys (with Towns donning a nice wig), Karl D, Liza Oxnard, Wasserman, and JJ to name just a few, the stage was packed. It was nice to see a pair of ladies (Liza and Teedy) trading licks while JJ helped out on "Woman To Woman," and it was damn nice to see all those horns passing the torch. Stanton is clearly one of the best drummers around and I was a bit bummed I missed his workshop that happened later that evening. It sounds as if he and Z-Trip put on quite a show as Stanton enlightened the people on the nature of drumming, the use of brushes, and of course much more.
Stanton Moorestars by Kayceman
As the evening pushed toward 10 p.m. I found myself checking out Peter Rowan's Crucial Reggae. His self-described Reggaebilly band fuses the finger-picking American roots of bluegrass with the bass-heavy island roots of reggae. I enjoyed a few moves with Rowan's smoky-mellow vibe before heading back outside for another taste of The Disco Biscuits. I made myself comfortable by the bar talking with some new friends while getting my mind in the appropriate space for another drive with Jerry Joseph. I was actually anticipating Jerry enough to catch only a few Bisco beats before heading upstairs where a nice size crowd was materializing.
The party was in full swing and the rock 'n' roll faithful were ready for Jerry. Wasting absolutely no time with a "Brother Michael" opener, it seemed that Jerry was determined to open this thing up far wider than his first boat show. It was nice to see some much-deserved respect being paid to Jerry as most of musicians on the boat had made their way to the Mermaid Lounge. With Nershi and Wasserman on stage Jerry led the trio through the gut wrenching "Brother Michael" and into a blistering "Drive" that twisted around "Whole Lotta Love" before bubbling back into "Drive," and a sweaty bar was witnessing Jerry in his element. There are times when Jerry simply taps into it. He is always good, but sometimes it's just something else. He channels some dark energy and conjures up spirits as he looks through the crowd eyes burying deep and blazing through bodies. And tonight, Jerry had it.
A few well-chosen "boat" songs carried the weight of Jerry's first set before a Stanton Moore tambourine addition and a nasty "Jacob's Ladder" closed down the first of two fierce outings. During set break that damn boat started moving again... and while some people seemed to be thrown off by the movement, I was rather fond of it. As wild eyes and joyous smiles slithered through the lounge I couldn't help but think of Jazz Fest at sea. Sentiments and spirits were in the highest of times and after a few days of locating our collective sea legs and ocean minds we seemed to be riding this joyous boat for all it was worth.
Jerry Joseph & Billy Nershi
Toward the beginning of Jerry's second set he explained how his daughter sang "Two Balloons" in grade school during show and tell... he then went onto explain the phone calls he soon received from concerned parents. You see, "Two Balloons" isn't about a party by the pool. No, the "balloons" we are speaking of are found underneath someone's tongue and their contents end up in another man's arm. It is never a clean or bright walk with Jerry, but you remember when we spoke about the path to salvation, and how it is often paved with pain and struggle... Jerry has walked through the valley and he comes baring some of the most righteous and real rock 'n' roll around.
This impressive final set with Jerry would display his raw talent and again leave me asking why more people don't flock to see him. A destructive "Savage Garden," Jerry's underrated Eastern guitar scales, and "Tarantula Hawk" had the bar getting dirty, but it was without question the encore that blew things open. With no one scheduled in the Mermaid Lounge after Jerry, his show was long... real long and real nasty. When the set wound its way towards encore time the Widespread Panic staple "Climb To Safety" came up from beneath. Panic obviously kills this Jerry original, and musically opens it up and turns it out. But what Jerry does with the vocals and the emotions is what makes John Bell call him "The Reverend Jerry Joseph." By the time Jerry was done with Jam Cruise I wasn't quite sure what time it was, which way the boat was going, or where we really were. But then again, that was half the fun.
From Jerry the lounge spilled onto the deck where Particle was already embarking on their late night affair. Getting down to "Disco Inferno" and a strong take on Pink Floyd's "One of These Days" made for another good engagement with Particle. Hailed as the late night longevity band it was a wee bit disappointing to find that they had to stop a bit before sunrise as we prepared to dock in Key West for the day. With no mind for sleep there was a plethora of people who sat on the deck sipping beverages until we were able to hit the town.
Rob Wasserman with Particle by Erik Koral
With no plans and not a clue what to do in Key West I had the good fortune of getting to know a great crew with a few people that had lived in Key West. Tagging along I was treated to stone crabs, conch fritters, and plenty of libations. Strolling through the town and laughing through several conversations, me and mine eventually found our way back to the Empress. A bit beat up and in need of a bed I made for the mattress rather quickly knowing I would need at least a few hours to get through the final fandango.
Friday January 9
And get through it I did. I was a wee bit concerned when I woke up bit later. I wasn't sensing the necessary spark for the final party. But rest assured, where there's a will there's a way, and with a bit of hard work and determination it wasn't long till it was a full-bore dance party.
I began to get it back during Peter Rowan's Dirty Dozen-infused feast. A little "Saints Go Marching In" and some Bill Monroe and I wasn't feeling quite so rough anymore. While Rowan was soothing, it was Tishamingo that served as the real starting point for the evening, and I truly enjoyed my first exposure to these Southern boys. A young rock 'n' roll-slinging band that shows great promise, they sure did help me find that fire. It was a nice surprise to see such a wide range of musicians take the stage supporting Tishamingo. Karl Denson, E.T. (Dirty Dozen), Rob Wasserman, Jeff Raines (Galactic), JJ Grey (MOFRO), Jerry Joseph, Joel Cummins (Umphrey's McGee), and Bill Nershi (String Cheese) all stepped up and raised the energy exponentially.
Jerry Joseph with Tishamingo by Dave Vann
With the ball rolling and long over my lack of sleep, I was sort of stuck in ON mode. I've often found that in multi-day parties, festivals, or show runs that it's either "ON" or it's "OFF." And often once I make the switch I can't exactly change it up. The remainder of that final night on the boat was some of the more enjoyable and exhausting dancing I've done in quite some time. I was not only impressed with my own ability to get my party shoes back on, but also with the resiliency of the collective boat. I saw some serious moving, shaking, and partying going on.
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe pushed the jazz funk vibe into serious depths. To be honest I again found myself having more fun with a band I'm very familiar than I had in quite some time. And again, not feeling the need to get up close and really see what is going down on stage allowed me to move all over the place, talk and dance, laugh and dig on the ocean. It was a very uplifting experience that bled seamlessly into Galactic.
KDTU by Dave Vann
Still pushing that funky jazz, Galactic certainly adds a bit more angles to their approach. Moving from a few soul numbers and some deep grooves, there was a serious party unfolding. By the time Z-Trip was adding "Love Boat" samples, the wait staff had even begun to let it hang out and the entire evening became a wash of sound, color, and sweat. I was sliding over the pool deck (and damn near fell in the pool), dancing up the stairs over the upper deck and down the other side. Shifting through the crowd and moving past the bar I was overwhelmed with the amount of fun I was having. I again lost track of time and senses--the boat was approaching Ft. Lauderdale and by the time I stopped moving the sky was beginning to show signs of Saturday.
With the dual knowledge that tomorrow would bring ample sleep in a big bed and that I would likely not be on a cruise ship in the near future, witnessing the sunrise out of the sea was an easy decision. With prime people watching and the engaging conversation of another new friend, we watched the sea turn from a dark blue to a lighter blue, to a green to an almost iridescent shade of crystal. We pulled into port and were forced to begin picking up the pieces. The party was drifting, as was my mind. Gathering the odds and ends wasn't exactly what any of us wanted to do, but I quickly began to slip into reflection mode and put the body back on autopilot and coasted through Customs, softly landing back where I had begun... milling around on a side walk near a big boat.
As the necessary parts began to fall in place I was somewhat shocked at how much fun I just had. Not one of my fears even showed its head. I experienced absolutely no problems and in fact had even more fun than I expected (and I do tend to expect a good time). And again, much like Bonnaroo in a way, I was beyond impressed with how well the whole thing was run. From Josh Moore at Jomo Entertainment, Brown Coffee Productions, Cloud 9 Adventures, to the entire staff and quality of overall execution, I was pleasantly shocked. And while all of the planning, scheduling, and logistics were amazing, the single best part may have been the quality of people on board. It was almost all professionals. I crossed paths with some amazing people, from the bands to fans and more. And just as Jazz Fest, Bonnaroo, and High Sierra have become events I plan my days around, it looks like I have one more raging music party to prepare for.
Click here for Jam Cruise II pictures courtesy of Dave Vann.
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