Words by: Scott Bernstein
Jam Cruise 15 – Day Four:: 01.23.17 :: Norwegian Pearl
Monday was another full day of action aboard the Norwegian Pearl as Jam Cruise 15 started the journey back toward Miami. It was an unplanned day at sea since inclement weather prevented a stop in Grand Cayman. For those like me who aren’t big on the port stops, the change in plans was welcome – especially since even more musical shenanigans were added to the mix. The trip is like a family reunion for musicians and cruisers alike. By the fourth day, incredible collaborations were around every corner.
I love jam bands and have since before the term was popularized. In the late ’90s and early ’00s folks like Andy Gadiel, Ted Kartzman, Dean Budnick, Peter Shapiro, Larry Bloch, Mark Brown and countless others helped the incredible musical acts within the scene blossom. Though the term “jam band” has been much derided, Jam Cruise reminds me each year the state of our community is strong. There are so many sub-genres within the genre and the diversity of those acts that can possibly fly under the “jam band” banner continues to grow and flourish. Once again on Monday I caught bands that date back to the scene’s early days and those coming up through the ranks. But there would be no community without fans. I’ve had so many wonderful conversations with cruisers with backgrounds as diverse as the music they listen to. Met new friends that will hopefully be in my life forever and re-connected with cherished old ones as well. We’re all joined together by a passion for exploratory music. For one week we leave our worries at the dock and just enjoy the music we love so much.
Three afternoon sets were added to the schedule in lieu of the stop in Grand Cayman. Up first was a solo set from Twiddle frontman Mihali Savoulidis. The guitarist presented a performance heavy on acoustic guitar, beatboxing, loops, special guests and covers. I caught a pretty take on Counting Crows’ “Round Here” featuring Turkuaz tenor saxophonist Greg Sanderson and a powerful “What I Got” (Sublime). It was then up to the Pool Deck for “Grateful At Sea,” an all-star tribute to the Grateful Dead. The core band featured guitarists Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz and Steve Kimock, drummer Jay Lane, keyboardist Joey Porter, vocalist Lesley Grant and bassist Reed Mathis. Lebo said it best, “It turns out it’s not hard to put together a band on Jam Cruise.” The impromptu two-hour performance was a big hit and I especially appreciated the contributions of Joey Porter, who hasn’t been as connected to the music of the Dead as the other guys in the band (at least since The Motet pulled off their own Dead tribute sets years ago). Highlights of the set included a gorgeous “They Love Each Other,” a groovy “Brown Eyed Women” that saw The Shook Twins add backing vocals and Vinnie Amico of moe. on drums, a momentous “Eyes Of The World” > “Sugaree” sequence with George Porter Jr. on bass, Robert Walter on keys, Cloud 9 staff member Captain Toast on percussion and Karl Denson on sax.
A few hours later moe. guitarist Al Schnier played a rare acoustic set in the Crystal Atrium. Schnier mixed moe. classics such as “Gone,” “Strychnine Waltz” and “Rise” with a bevy of covers including “Rocky Raccoon” (performed with Mihali and Love Canon’s Jay Starling on dobro) and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” While Al solo sets are rare, they aren’t unheard of. Percy Hill/Ghosts Of Jupiter keyboardist Nate Wilson performed solo for the first time ever at the prompting of Cloud 9’s Annabel Lukins. While Nate might not be a big name, he’s one of the best in the scene and has been since Percy Hill took New England by storm in the mid and late ’90s. He’s a bit shy, but he came up strong by presenting some of the moving originals he’s written over the years and a handful of covers including a killer “Glad” (Traffic) with help from percussionist Yahuba Garcia.
What happened next was a musical highlight of the trip for me and sadly a set seen by only a handful as no one really had any clue with a performance listed as “MOORE Here” was all about. It turns out it was the debut of troubadour Nathan Moore’s new psychedelic folk/electronic project. If you’re familiar with Nathan’s career, the thought of Moore playing electric guitar, keyboards and looping beats is hard to believe. I walked in to find Nathan, bassist/collaborator Lex Park and other musicians performing behind a sheet set up at the front of the stage. All you could see were silhouettes of the musicians as they worked through completely rearranged and highly improvisational versions of Nathan’s songs. I spend all week trying to describe the indescribable in these reports and the MOORE Here set is one of the hardest-to-describe performances I’ve ever come across on Jam Cruise, so let me just say I hope Nathan does MOORE Here again and again as it was a mind-blowing experience that gave me a new appreciation for Nathan – a man I consider one of the greatest unsung heroes in the scene.
First up in the theater on Monday was Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. Karl’s band is a tight unit with drummer Alan Evans of Soulive fame adding a powerful force behind the hit. The group rolled through favorite originals and covers such as “Millvale PA” and “Hang Me Out To Dry” (Cold War Kids). Up on the Pool Deck Widespread Panic keyboardist JoJo Hermann performed his second set of the trip with his new outfit Slim Wednesday. JoJo and his crew pulled a Vulfpeck and played nearly all of the same material as a few days prior in the theater – a bevy of Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint songs. Down in the Crystal Atrium Neville Jacobs showed off the songwriting talents of Cris Jacobs and Ivan Neville. They were backed by a crew that included Shira from Turkuaz and bassist Tony Hall. One of my favorite moments was when they growled out The Band via Motown gem “Don’t Do It.”
My musical relationship with moe. dates back 22 years to when I convinced my parents to let me attend a concert on a week night for the first time. I saw moe. at a small church in New Brunswick, New Jersey with about 50 others. It took me no time to fall for their music and moe., more so than any band, convinced me to pick up an instrument (bass). While I still see moe. from time to time, the opportunities have become less frequent for me and I hadn’t caught up with them in a few years before Jam Cruise. Their set in the Stardust Theater reminded me why I traveled long distances to see them in the late ’90s. They opened with a bombastic and jam-heavy “Timmy Tucker” which they expertly worked into the reggae-punk Schnier original “Threw It All Away.” moe. continued to focus on older material including “Y.O.Y.” with an exception being the more recent “Silver Sun” featuring Rob Compa of Dopapod on guitar for a shredfest. Yet it was the closing combo that knocked my socks off. It started with Mihali and Ivan Neville coming out for a wild “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and ended with a 20-minute “Rebubula” that, to be honest, left me quite emotional. The song has themes of the sea and is perfect for Jam Cruise and is one of the songs that got me into the band. I had forgotten about it’s existence until they started it and then screamed along with every lyric like I was at a Justin Bieber concert.
A quick stroll around the boat saw BIG Something joined by JoJo Hermann for “Sympathy For The Devil” and a packed Crystal Atrium for Stanton Moore’s Jazz Lounge set. Moore and a bevy of the New Orleans musicians aboard the boat absolutely destroyed everything they played and had nearly everybody gathered around grooving as if there was no tomorrow. At this point I realized the Pool Deck was closed, which meant no Break Science set as a storm came through with heavy winds. Thankfully we’re good to go for outdoor activities on Tuesday’s final day of the trip. My last stop of Monday was the Jam Room hosted by George Porter Jr. I spent nearly three hours in there watching a cavalcade of performers, both young and old stop by to jam with The Meters’ bassist. Members of Dopapod, Soul Rebels, Galactic, KDTU, Dumpstaphunk, Nth Power, The Suffers and Lettuce all contributed to a mix of material that included “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” and a Billy Iuso-led “Fire On The Mountain.” George gave a master class in holding down the bottom end that I won’t soon forget.
So now we’ve reached the end of Jam Cruise. Tuesday is the final day and it’s packed to the brim from until we get off the boat on Wednesday morning. There’s no rest for the weary and that’s just the way we like it. I hope to sleep for 24 hours when I finally hit my bed, but expect a report on the final day by the end of the week.
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