Words & Images by Gabriela Kerson

Dave Matthews & Friends Caribbean Cruise Getaway :: 02.03 - 02.06

My favorite movie of all time is Festival Express. I love seeing all those talented people hanging out, drinking, and jamming together while they travel on a continuous loop to nowhere. I was ecstatic therefore when I found out I was going on the Dave Matthews and Friends Cruise as a production assistant with Soulive. The organizers had collected a brilliant cross-section of the best bands on the scene. There were two ships filled with a total of just under 5,000 people and 1,800 crew. The Sovereign of the Seas sailed from Port Canaveral, and The Majesty left from Miami. The fourteen bands were divided down the middle and sent onto the separate ships. Our destination was a secret island for a Dave Matthews and Friends show, but as with Festival Express, it turned out the real fun was just getting there.

Flying out of LaGuardia on an unseasonably warm February afternoon, I almost couldn't believe my luck, except I was sitting next to top music personality Reggie Watts, and he wouldn't shut up. Fortunately, he also had me laughing. We landed in Miami and were met by a tech guy who picked us out from the crying babies with no trouble at all. I guess with our shades and ragged clothes we must have looked like rock stars, or at least like New Yorkers.

Dave Matthews & Friends Caribbean Cruise

Our boat was huge - 14 stories high and 880 feet long with all the amenities, including a gym, a rock-climbing wall, 24-hour buffet, a dining room, pool, two hot tubs, and five different venues, each with their own bar. After finding my cabin, which was super cute, self-contained, and yes, bigger then my apartment, I headed out to look at the theatre. Soulive was billed as the headliner on our boat, meaning they would be playing two sit-down shows in a red velvet upholstered 1,400 seat theater.

Toots and the Maytals were scheduled to kick off the cruise with a poolside show at 3 p.m.; however, there was an issue with electrics compatibility, and the first day was spent trying to track down generators and to get them onboard, an amazing accomplishment. Our ship was a lot happier then The Sovereign, whose pool party was rained out completely as well as having the same electrical problems. Around 6:00 p.m., we found the generators, set sail, and the sound checks began.

All of the issues that plague any first-time production were compounded by the fact that we were in the middle of the ocean and could only work with what we had at hand. There was an amazing production staff collected from all over the country, including the top security, hospitality, management, and production people. Their ability to solve problems made, or shall we say "saved" the weekend.

ALO & Stollenwerck :: Caribbean Cruise

The change in schedule gave me an opportunity to check out the bouncy, slightly jammy but more enlightened sound of California-based, ALO. Grace Potter stopped by to sing "What would you do if I sang out of tune" with keyboardist and vocalist Zach Gill. Potter's youth was accentuated by the maturity and fullness of Gill's gruff and slightly off-key voice, as Potter hit each note impeccably.

Samantha Stollenwerck rose to the top in the face of adversity. She played a four hour acoustic set, which included her own "Cali-Soul" sound mixed with some of the hundreds of covers she knows. Stollenwerck has a great look, a comfortable sound and she is a very capable musician. There were moments throughout the weekend where she let down her guard and really shined.

G. Love with Soulive

At 11:00 p.m., Soulive went on for one long set. Uber-professionals through all the changes, they rocked the boat. The audience in the end was small - the massive confusion and excessive access to alcohol seemed to have knocked out most of the cruisers. With Reggie Watts along for the tour and no horn section, Soulive played sweet and loud. They ended to a huge crowd response and a hot young woman jumping on stage and racing backstage before security could catch her. The stage management crew finally seemed to settle down. They had all the kinks worked out, and from here on in it would be smooth sailing.

Later in the evening I caught the last moment of G. Love playing in a tiny venue. His crowd of maybe 30 people was pressed as close to him as possible, breathless to catch every nuance of his sexy, edgy appeal. Word was that Krasno had rushed up to sit in for the first of three joint performances.

Late night, DJ Logic spun until the wee hours of the morning. At 4 a.m., the only people dancing to his mix were the other musicians; meanwhile, Motion Potion played on the Majesty to an audience of three people. While artists and their crews had rushed around all day traveling, unpacking, setting up, and playing, the audience had done nothing but wait. In apology, the cruise line offered even more periods of free drinking. What started as a one-hour Pina Colada party on the deck stretched late into the evening. By 11 p.m., 90% of our captive audience had passed out.

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