JamBase Editorial Director Scott Bernstein recently attended Jam Cruise 16, which took place between January 17 – 22. A special Jam Cruise episode of The JamBase Podcast featured an aural profile of the happenings aboard the boat and today the site launches the first in a series of articles documenting JC16.
One of the first events that happened after Jam Cruisers boarded the NCL Jade at the Port Of Miami was a quick safety meeting, in which the NCL crew went over procedures in case of an emergency. I went to my assembly station, where I was sat with a group from upstate New York who was embarking on their first Jam Cruise. We discussed the five-day musical adventure that lied ahead and I told them they couldn’t even imagine the incredible experience that they were about to enjoy. They pulled the, “we’re fest veterans” and almost made it seem as if nothing could phase them. At 3 a.m. on the final night of the trip, about four hours before Jam Cruise 16 ended, I found myself in the back of an elevator when the group of Jam Cruisers from upstate New York entered without seeing me. The trio of music fans was talking about how transformational the cruise had been and how they had their minds blown. I took the opportunity to lean in and say, “Told ya!” The Jam Cruise newcomers gave me hugs galore and said over and over again, “you were right!”
While the phrase “jam band” has been used as negative connotation by some music fans and musicians, Jam Cruise is the week each year in which attendees get to witness the best of what the style is all about and acts as a state of the union of sorts of where the scene is at. Jam Cruise 16 displayed that the state of the jam scene is strong, as there as so many talented players within the community.
The jam scene is also thriving in large part due to the bevy of young and highly-skilled musicians and acts climbing the ranks in recent years. A handful of those bands performed during Jam Cruise last month and each played sets that included many “wow” moments. Turkuaz impressed so much aboard Jam Cruise 15 they were invited back for this year’s installment.
Not only were their sets filled with killer originals and fun covers, but the members of the band made their presence felt all over the boat with vocalist Shira Elias’s turn as “Jazz Host” on the Friday of the trip a highlight of the entire cruise thanks to interesting pairings and next level performances. Guitarist Craig Brodhead showed a different side of his musicality when he spun into the wee hours of the first full day of the trip and drummer Michelangelo Carruba shone a light on his fellow young musicians by recruiting some of them as part of his role as “Jam Host” of the final Jam Room session of JC16.
Turkuaz was far from the only example of the Jam Scene Youth Movement that made an impression during Jam Cruise 16. Wisconsin’s Horseshoes & Handgrenades and The Lil Smokies out of Montana are both quintets that play music which can accurately be described as “jamgrass,” have plenty of originals that feature strong songwriting and put their own stamp on interpretations of classic rock radio staples.
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades is made up of five versatile, acoustic musicians that gather around one microphone and take turns stepping up to the mic when it’s their turn to solo or sing. The five-piece kicked off the Pool Deck action on the first full trip of the day and then did the same for the more intimate, indoor Spinaker Lounge the next day. HHG’s Spinaker set was highlighted by a pair of originals: the emotion-laden “Don’t Say Hello” and the hilarious ode to shower sex “Make One Today.” The Pool Deck performance saw the Wisconsin-based band work portions of Pink Floyd’s “Time” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” into their own “Whiskey,” deliver their standout rendition of “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac, jam with special guest Vince Herman and bring joy to cruisers by ending the set with “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody).”
The Lil Smokies also followed a similar schedule of opening the Pool Deck one day and holding a hootenanny in the Spinaker. It was in the Spinaker where The Smokies played “California,” one of the most stunning originals performed by any act on the boat. “True Blues” and “Ms. Marie” are two other breath-taking originals The Lil Smokies worked into a set that also included an open-ended “Rocket Man” (Elton John) and unbelievable vocal harmonies on “Goodbye Stranger.” (Supertramp)
Additionally, rock was represented as part of Jam Cruise 16’s youth movement thanks to Aqueous, Pigeons Playing Ping and The Marcus King Band. Mike Gantzer of Aqueous, PPPP’s Jeremy Schon and of course Marcus King all are shredders of the highest order. Aqueous was clearly influenced by moe. and Umphrey’s McGee, but their sound wasn’t derivative. The quartet’s Spinaker set spanned 90 minutes, most of which was spent on one song – “Warren In The Window.” Aqueous embraced the “Space Is The Place” theme by working a memorable cover debut of “Walking On The Moon” (as well as a bit of Radiohead’s “National Anthem”) into “Warren.” The way Gantzer plays his Fender Stratocaster is unlike anyone else and the energy he infuses into his performances makes it hard to look away. Keyboardist/guitarist Dave Loss adds a nice versatility to the Aqueous mix and the rhythm section of Evan McPhaden (bass) and Rob Houk (drums) is a strong one as displayed on a brilliant version of Steely Dan’s “Josie” featuring special guest Max Newman of the Main Squeeze during the Pool Deck performance.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong had been waiting years to make their Jam Cruise debut and their enthusiasm showed throughout both sets. Vocalist/guitarist Greg Ormont made every note count and Pigeons’ “Horizon” and “Fun In Funk” were yet more examples that jam acts can indeed write great songs. PPPP embraced the collaborative spirit of Jam Cruise by bringing out the horn section of Chris Sgammato and Mario D’Ambrosio for songs including “Whoopie” and “F.U.,” while Lotus percussionist Chuck Morris sported a wild costume for his five-song Pool Deck sit-in.
Meanwhile, The Marcus King Band drew huge audiences to both of their sets and seemed to win themselves plenty of new fans. Marcus was all over the place as one minute he would be ripping up “Ramble On” with Dumpstaphunk and in what felt the next minute he was on stage with Andy Frasco & The U.N. tearing through a blues-based number. A large swath of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe’s set was devoted to Allman Brothers covers featuring Marcus, yet he was at his best leading his own band on such numbers of “Virginia,” “Plant Your Corn Early” (featuring Naughty Professor horns), CSNY’s “Ohio,” “Always” and “Rita Is Gone.”
King is only 21 and the future is incredibly bright for both him and his band. Speaking of his band, MKB keyboardist Deshawn Alexander was another musician who made his presence felt all over the boat. Whether he was joining his boss in sitting-in with Lettuce on a stellar rendition of “Silverdome” or stealing the show in the Jam Room, “D’Vibes” was everywhere and impressed at each spot.
Not only were all of the acts mentioned above full of young and talented musicians but they each seemed to be in it for the right reasons. Many of the artists could be found watching other bands or musical legends like Maceo Parker, George Porter Jr. and John Scofield when they weren’t on stage themselves. Jam Cruise 16 showed the future is bright for the jam scene.
Stay tuned for a profile of the intimate Atrium sets performed aboard Jam Cruise 16.
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