Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Brad Hodge
Full review below photo gallery!
Motion and emotion were the operative words for the Monday kick-off to Jam Cruise 10. The sense of something special afoot began at Port Everglades, where it felt like many currents flowed to this one buzzing spot, friends literally squealing with delight as they reconnected with a tribe that grows and grows, a depth of feeling that defies simple explanation but so tangible that even the many first timers coming aboard vibed heavily with the seasoned Repeat Offenders. To call the participants in this experience welcoming is an understatement, open arms and broad smiles making newcomers an immediate part of this evolving dream. And the feeling of massive camaraderie prevailed in the pre-boarding area inside the port hall where the musicians, Cloud 9 Adventures staff and various journalists and photographers gathered – a space with more collective talent than almost any other this writer has ever seen. Look left and George Porter Jr. is grinning huge as he laughs with Steve Kimock or Lettuce's Nigel Hall embraces Ivan Neville, the musicians as delighted as anyone to be here. One of the more charming aspects of the several hours wait was seeing seasoned veterans quietly geek out as they caught sight of JC 10 artist-at-large John Oates, most like myself too shy to just walk up to the worldwide star, though needlessly since Oates is one of the most enthsiastic, approachable new additions to the musical mix who's excitement about getting his hands into this free-form convocation is clear. Which makes sense since Jam Cruise provides a happy crucible for musicians, particularly for the top-of-their-game players and gifted up-and-comers that provide the score for this journey. Listen closely in that waiting room and one picked up on the joyful plotting and brainstorming for musical moments ahead, and the sense of excitement about their craft in this unique setting was apparent.
Just after sundown, the Cloud 9 staff and a huge crowd on the pool deck toasted this lovely dream, and with a funky strut the Dirty Dozen Brass Band took us out on the water under a big, bright moon. Every act that followed long through the night took the same approach, lunging out of the gate at the start of each set with ferocity and purposeful intention that made folks snap to attention with a quickness, no time wasted as they showed off their best stuff and kept showing it off until their time onstage time ended, almost always leaving one quite satisfied and yet still hungry for more. There are no mediocre musicians on this trip, and a healthy sense of competition makes each act strive to be their most memorable, innovative, etc. Everyone wants their slice of time to be THE most memorable, and the intensity of it all made the engaged, grooving masses feel a touched overwhelmed in a wholly positive way. People wore expressions that said, “This is the first day? Seriously?” as the music makers strived to take us and themselves higher, deeper, further, happier, etc. The intertwined audience/performer dynamic is perhaps stronger here than any other festival I've ever attended. As the lights came up at set's end, one usually encountered a sweaty, surprised glow on everyone's face whether they were onstage or on the floor.
As per norm, the spirit of New Orleans – and more broadly, The Drum in the archytypal sense – permeated the music, caught up in the enveloping warmth of Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers' pool deck performance (which included a bang-up piano sit-in from Ivan Neville, who seemed to bring out the playful side of Hornsby), the classicaly grounded yet progressive, psychedelia-touched surprise set from Lettuce (who filled in for a missing Shpongle), the airtight Apollo Theatre style revue thrust of Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue (who have one of the best young lead guitarists out there right now), or in the colossally swinging 7 Walkers set, which showed there are new things that can be done with the New Orleans rhythm tradition, the combination of Bill Kreutzmann's flowing, energetic drumming and George Porter Jr.'s inquisitive, foundational bass so satisfying it made one smack their lips, especially on a downright holy "Lovelight" that featured guests Col. Bruce Hampton, Anders Osborne and Big Sam that had people dancing madly, hands to the sky like a revival meeting. This pervasive sense of rhythm 'n' flow extended to the twisting, how-the-hell-did-they-do-that three hour performance from Umphrey's McGee, who once again reminded us what a truly unique group they are, weaving classical music, electric jazz and more with a real understanding of what makes classic rock so goddamn satisfying. Simply put, no one else sounds like these guys or is likely to pull off even a reasonable facsimile of what they do.
As usual, a choose-your-own-adventure vibe prevailed as the night drew on, some drawn to Matt Butler's suprise filled Jam Room hosting session, where musicians were grabbing each other to listen to what was going down, others pulled towards the monster good foot stomp of Karl Denson's Tiny Universe theatre set, and others still captured by the crunchy newness and hip-hop bounce of Break Science with guest MC Chali 2na in the charmingly garish Zebra Lounge, the sort of room Scarface surely had in his Miami digs. And before the wee wee hours, one might have caught Robert Walter on the clear top atrium piano showing off his boogie woogie skills or getting avant-jazzy with Galactic's Stanton Moore on a snare drum and Karl D barking like a man who's heard a few Albert Ayler records. Or perhaps you were drawn to the appealingly busy groove of The Heavy Pets, who mixed up muscular rock, catchy pop, and prog/jam band elements into a really nice package.
There's no one pathway on this ship, and sometimes the best moments occurred when people slowed down to have a deep, revealing conversation or just watch the open water expand endlessly around us. Options abound and perhaps the core of it all is how aware of the unfolding moment one becomes once that anchor rises. We are here. We are happy. We have just begun.