Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Brad Hodge
Full review below photo gallery, and we'll be back on Friday with a massive photo gallery and our picks for this year's MVPs!
The final day of Jam Cruise usually brings out one of two reactions in people: Smiling denial that the trip is coming to an end or a creeping melancholy that grows more profound as the night consumes the day. Until this point, one is so totally absorbed in this beneficently surreal environment that the world of text messages, alarm clocks and the myriad other obligations that fill our days at home seem not only distant but even grow a little strange given how “normal” resets by week’s end on the boat. Quite a few folks got out on deck early to snag a chaise lounge in a prime music viewing spot and began a steady regimen of sunbathing and fruity rum cocktails. Others slept off yet another heady night/early morning of wild adventures in the disco or Jam Room, emerging midday bleary and charmingly disoriented, acquaintances quick to throw their arms around them, hand them water and ease them into the last chapter of a story they will retell repeatedly in the coming months. With a masquerade themed final night, many kept the reality of the last day at bay, aided by a later-than-usual arrival in Ft. Lauderdale the next morning, which allowed greater chance of some sleep or extended partying. However one approached Friday, a bittersweet thread wove things together, emotions worn close to the surface, tears falling with a readiness that caught many off-guard, and a pervasive need to share one’s feelings, particularly a drive to express one’s love for others aloud, permeating the day.
|”The Spot” – 01.13.12 - by Dennis Cook|
Surprise Me Mr. Davis, looking like men who’d fully enjoyed the previous four days of revels, kicked off the official music program on the pool deck, announcing, “Rise and shine, sleepyhead, love’s been looking for you.” A certain off-kilter raggedness suits them, and the set presented their core charms well – killer songs, interesting musicianship and a group personality that’s achingly honest in a way that makes one feel a touch more real just being around them. Sing-along anthem “Everything Must Go” exemplified the open-handed, leave-your-worries-behind philosophy at work on Jam Cruise, and for many folks, especially the parents in the audience, “So Close To Dreams” was a choke-back-tears moment where it truly did seem the world was really magic. One becomes less cynical about a notion like that after more than four days of activities dappled with what seems like real magic, leaving one nicely tenderized in a world that usually rewards toughness and thickness of skin. A hearty endorsement from our Cruise Director “Julie” capped their set – who would return later with an even more exuberant shout-out for Orgone at the end of their set – encouraged people to pay more attention to this talented bunch, though left out a ringing endorsement for bassist Marc Friedman, who like kindred spirit Brad Houser in the Dead Kenny Gs, is an easy to overlook musical jewel, quieter in his way but no less lethally gifted or essential to the special formula that makes Surprise Me, well, such a consistently happy surprise.
|Surprise Me Mr. Davis – 01.13.12 - by Brad Hodge|
Options for one’s time were numerous on Friday. Orgone laid down another great set culminating in one of the covers of JC 10 – a blistering run through Funkadelic’s “Cosmic Slop” – and almost certainly securing passage on future jaunts. Railroad Earth were less intimate than their theatre set on Tuesday but still provided a fitting score for globe trotters and dreamers of the road. A pool party was a blast with a rotating cast of musicians, including Marco Benevento, who practically lived in the pool with his family all week, his ever-present smile lending one to believe he knows something about life we don’t but might pick up from his music. Marco later played the final solo piano performance in the evening, a sprightly affair that swept up bits of Phish, boogie ditties and lots more accompanied by his dancing little ones, stars in their own right by this point. During the day, one might have taken in a Song Making Workshop with George Porter Jr., Nathan Moore and others, attended a funky ad hoc game show with the members of Dr. Klaw and Orgone, or been serenaded in a lovely, singer-songwriterly way by Ryan Montbleau or Brock Butler - that is if you missed one of Brock’s impromptu, category defying pre-dawn pool deck hootenannys, an unofficial but essential part of Jam Cruise in the past few years.
|Pool Deck – 01.13.12 - by Brad Hodge|
In fact, it’s often the unplanned moments that delight one the most, occurrences that arise out of a need to put notes into the air and just see if anyone is snagged by them. For all our premeditation, Jam Cruise evolves each year in ways that can’t be pinned down beforehand. This point was epitomized by The Everyone Orchestra, whose kinda-brilliant mastermind Matt Butler led the proceedings in a swanky new open-third-eye conducting jacket and hat gifted to him by on-board painter Lebo. The annual EO concert is a thank you celebration for the direct-impact efforts of Positive Legacy, which this year offset carbon emissions, brought much needed socks and shoes to Haiti, raised funds for building schools and a long list of other worthy achievements that sharply differentiate Jam Cruise from the usual swath-of-consumption that marks cruise ship culture. Yes, we have a good time but there’s a faction within Jam Cruise that puts muscle and imagination into leaving a positive footprint wherever this ship sails. It’s something different and so is Matt Butler and his endlessly shifting Orchestra, who put on one of the most musically cohesive and revelatory performances I’ve seen in my 20 or so times witnessing EO.
The initial lineup onstage for the “sound check” was staggering: Anders Beck (Greensky Bluegrass) on dobro, Roosevelt (The Lee Boys) on vocals, That 1 Guy as part of the rhythm section with Andrew Barr (The Slip, Barr Brothers, SMMD) on drums and Pete Shand (The New Mastersounds) on bass, a horn section comprised of Jessica Lurie, Brad Houser and Sue Orfield (Tiptons Saxophone Quartet), Brad Barr and Steve Kimock on guitars, Mike Dillon on vibraphone and Luke Quaranta (Toubab Krewe) on percussion. Others would join them while some departed as the segments of this particular EO unfolded, notably some more-soul-than-is-fair vocals from Zach Deputy , spicy harmonica from Matt Hubbard (7 Walkers), and stinging guitar from EO first-timer Anders Osborne, whose presence and playing stirred up some gospel energies that eventually prompted the crowd to their feet. In many respects, this EO session showed off the musical (and even human) potential of Jam Cruise, particularly with Butler’s near-unerring knack for picking participants, mingling neophytes with EO vets in ways that keep things fresh but increasingly stable and outright musical. What’s going on with EO is a lusty drive towards engagement, listening, participation, entertainment and enlightenment that tumbles, sprints and saunters in ways that help everyone involved out of their constrictions. Butler is an instigator in the finest sense of the word, easing us out of our comfort zones, tentatively at first but with more force and sureness with each step until we’re lovingly French kissing the moment. If you took the full ride at this year’s Positive Legacy performance you surely left feeling you’d experienced something and not just another concert, a journey that dabbled its toes in the Ganges and raged dirty blues style, screamed about being positive and skipped like carefree children, everything intense and lovely and real as it gets. More thoughts on Butler and his improvised orchestras in the months to come as he prepares to release the first studio EO album in 2012, but suffice it to say I told him he’s a genius after this set, and ‘genius’ is a word I withhold for very special people only, a descriptor earned through extraordinary talent and dedication to one’s vision. Matt has more than earned it after what I witnessed on Jam Cruise this year..
|The Everyone Orchestra – 01.13.12 - by Brad Hodge|
Where one washes up for the final hours of Jam Cruise depends a lot on their personality and how tenaciously they’re holding onto the party vibe. On the main stages, the final sets were covered by guest filled performances from Galactic, who served the funk faithful well in the theatre, The Heavy Pets, who riled up the next generation of jam band fans in the Zebra Bar, or best, in my opinion, Toubab Krewe on the pool deck, throwing a wide, strong net over the world and pulling in shimmering pieces of Africa, Brazil, South America and more to a foundation that is unmistakably American, the blues and rock dancing with these new partners in original ways and inspiring some of the sweetest guest turns all cruise from Larry Keel, members of Railroad Earth and more. The playfulness and willingness to embrace mistakes and stumbles made Toubab’s set wonderful punctuation on the official programmed music this year. Not everything needs to be perfect in order for it to work, and Toubab was daring and intriguing right up until the very end, an ideal band for an adventure built around taking chances.
The costumed, grasp-every-last-dance folks shook it madly in the disco with DJ Logic or splashed around in groove in the Jam Room, where The New Mastersounds’ Snidely Whiplash-mustachioed guitarist Eddie Roberts held court, starting off with his new trio with all-stars Adam Dietch (drums) and Robert Walter (keys) – who I gave the new nickname “The Pimp” this year for so many reasons - and eventually letting scores of New Orleans killers and others join in on their fun, keeping the bar packed and buckwildin’ lively until nearly sunrise. However, if one were feeling a bit more reflective, “The Spot” - the extremely loose pickin’ party on the deck outside the Jam Room hosted by Nathan Moore - was a natural fit. Singing unifying tunes like “Stand By Me” and “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean,” the ebbing and flowing crowd gathered around the core musicians sitting on the deck, Moore joined by Spot regulars Brad Barr, RRE’s Tim Carbone, Greensky’s Paul Hoffman and Anders Beck. Amidst cicada conversational chatter and a lot of boozy huggin’ ‘n’ kissin’, the musicians off-handedly tossed out songs that one was welcome to listen to or join in on, not caring all that much about focused attention, aware that these final hours were about cementing connections and simply savoring the journey we’d experienced together. Wet eyes and big smiles were all around, and the best summation came to me from a new friend I’d made the previous year on his first Jam Cruise, a snippet attributed to Dr. Seuss but not found in his writings that balms the sting of letting something this amazing go:
|”The Spot” – 01.13.12 - by Dennis Cook|
"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."
Some of us cried anyway but happy tears, most leaving a bit more loved and a bit more loving, vowing to return same time next year to do it again with even greater gusto, increasingly aware each time we step on-board of how our own level of engagement and enthusiasm ripples out to others. Yes, Jam Cruise is a music festival – a damn fine one at that – but what makes it singular is how it presents a host of humanity at their best and offers each of us inspiration to be a little better than our past, a little kinder and more giving, a bit more ready to accept differences and recognize shared traits. Much as I love a good metal pounding or punk rock boot to the head, Jam Cruise has become my standard for what a music gathering can do in one’s life. If one sluffs off their cynicism and embraces the energies of this trip the potential ramifications in one’s life are huge. As in past years, I ended this journey ready to go out in the world and get things done, armed in subtle ways to battle fear and doubt, psyched to make the world a better and more tuneful place, and anxious to write some poetry of my own and help others build their stanzas, too. I can think of a no more rejuvenating way to start a year if music is the key one uses to unlock the universe. Jam Cruise places a golden lock un-scrambler in our hands and gives us a friendly push to step through doors that have been closed to us in the past. Yes, a LOT of great music transpired, but perhaps more importantly, we tasted greatness in the larger sense and left with an appetite for more, better people than when we set out on Monday, and for this my gratitude knows no bounds for the many hard working Cloud 9 staff, MSC Poesia crew, technical support and musicians who made this possible. Jam Cruise is a gift that keeps on giving, especially if one answers the call inside that sounds as we docked again in Ft. Lauderdale - weary, bleary and thoughtful but knowing one has been in the embrace of people at their brightest and best.
|”The Spot” – 01.13.12 - by Dennis Cook|
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