More photos from Wednesday and Thursday coming tomorrow!
Wednesday was a day no one wanted to end. As the main action died down, a strange gravity pulled many towards the Jam Room and the informal picking party just outside on the deck that’s come to be known as “The Spot” since it began last year when Nathan Moore joined the Jam Cruise family. While a ragin’ range of high energy music prevailed in the Jam Room – more on that in a minute – Moore, Greensky Bluegrass‘ mandolinist Paul Hoffman and a rotating cast of pros and passengers sat on the deck, pulled tunes, often delivered with a sloppy, one-toke-over-the-line bravura, from the ether, many Moore originals that uniformly charmed ears new and old, but also ditties from the Great American Songbook (“Fly Me To The Moon,” “Salty Dog,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”). Makeshift rhythm devices, acoustic guitars, kazoos and more added their homespun charm as folks talked softly, laughed loudly or sat quietly in a close circle with the musicians, a feeling so happy and natural and unspeakably beautiful washing over us as the MSC Poesia stirred up white water en route to Falmouth, Jamaica.
All this high-minded reverie was preceded by a toes in the sand beach party with Zach Deputy and Toubab Krewe and relief efforts and charitable outreach in Haiti. Even though the ports are mostly pure cruise ship culture where passengers are regarded as friendly ATM machines, Jam Cruise’s organizers make a real effort to do some good for places we visit, acknowledging that the bounteous blessings we possess on board are not the reality for most of the world. It speaks to the extremes of care and love that hover over this journey like holy spirits.
Cover tunes are a huge part of the musical makeup of Jam Cruise – a common watering hole for the musicians to gather around that’s valuable given the spontaneity of so many pairings – and yesterday was especially satisfying example of this aspect. Amongst the standouts was the closing section of The Omega Moos‘ set, where John Oates joined The New Deal‘s Darren Shearer and Jamie Shields and Umphrey’s McGee‘s Brendan Bayliss and Ryan Stasik for their 80s pop celebration. Cynicism was set aside as a packed pool deck sang-along to “Maneater,” “Out of Touch,” and “I Can’t Go For That” with non-ironic gusto. Oates thanked us during his sit-in and said he was having one of the times of his life. Even superstars recognize this isn’t like anything else they’ve ever been involved in.
Late night, Perpetual Groove showed off future forward momentum with one of the most sonically fascinating and interesting sets of the cruise so far. Where PGroove seems to be headed with the recent return of keyboardist Matt McDonald is a darker place, and for my own tastes, it’s a positive move, making the band seem not only contemporary but highlighting the visionary tendencies of this group that’s way more than a “jam band,” a dumb soundbite that ignores what strong songwriting and modern rock awareness this band has always possessed. A thick, growling cover of the David Bowie/Trent Reznor dark horse “I’m Afraid of Americans” early in the set reminded one how much deeper into the collective song bag Brock Butler and his mates dig, and many of the instrumental sections of the set reflected a denser atmosphere than the Pgroove of old, who ultimately surfaced in the final numbers asking “Where Are Your Friends Tonight?” (a perfect marriage of place and song) and pouring us a shot of sweet oblivious cheer before sending us out into the night. I may be wrong about where this band wants to go, and moreover, it may not be where some core fans want them to go, but my instincts say that if they pull off this evolution we’re in for the best music yet from them.
Some of the most powerful emotions conjured up this night happened on the pool deck with 7 Walkers, who served up a healthier share than usual dose of the Grateful Dead material that was clearly hungered for by the massive crowd. A tear-stirring guest turn by Papa Mali‘s son Miles, some of the most animated Steve Kimock playing I’ve ever witnessed, and a set closing “Eyes of the World” that made one feel they might just be the song that the morning sings were but a few of the highlights.
It was a day no here could have expected and won’t likely ever be forgotten. Magic – a word I use with real caution – of this kind is rare indeed, and one shuffled off at day’s end feeling grateful and slightly stuffed with joy, weary for all the right reasons and ready for the next chapter with barely contained anticipation.
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