Jam Cruise 17 Highlights: And So It Begins


Jam Cruise 17 started on Tuesday as the NCL Jade departed Miami loaded with musicians and live music fans. The musical adventure at sea was first held in 2004 and with each installment organizers Cloud 9 Adventures fine-tune the experience. Embarkation was a breeze, which gave attendees plenty of time to get their bearings before the music started at 6 p.m. One of my favorite parts of the trip is watching the expressions of those on the boat as they realize what they are about to experience. There was plenty of people watching to be had but at the end it comes down to the music. Here’s a look at five highlights, mainly focusing on the music, from Tuesday aboard Jam Cruise 17:

Come Sail Away With Matador! Soul Sounds

Jam Cruise veteran Eddie Roberts formed Matador! Soul Sounds in 2017. The band released their debut album and played a few short tours last year. Lead vocalists Kim Dawson and Adryon de León also are no strangers to the boat having performed with The Motet and Orgone respectively in the past. Matador! Soul Sounds’ mix of funk, soul and R&B was the perfect way to get the music started as the Jade pulled away from Miami. Cruise Director Annabel Lukins greeted attendees and warned everyone to pace themselves since this year’s Jam Cruise is one day longer than the past 11 trips. Dawson and de León showed off massive pipes as the band focused on originals from 2018’s Get Ready. The spacious room allowed the crowd to get down on the Pool Deck and it was hard to find anyone who wasn’t sporting a huge smile.

Rob Marscher Combines Phish & Beach House

Another of my favorite aspects of Jam Cruise are the sets held in the ship’s atrium. These stripped-down performances, often solo piano sets, give cruisers a chance to see musicians in an intimate setting. Keyboardist Rob Marscher, making his first appearance on Jam Cruise, kicked off the action in the atrium shortly after the Matador! Soul Sounds set. Marscher started his career as a founding member of beloved Northeast jam band Addison Groove Project and more recently has spent time on the road with Matisyahu and the Jennifer Hartswick Band. Rob is aboard as part of Marc Brownstein’s Star Kitchen project. The keyboardist mixed a few originals with a killer collection of covers. While guitarist Nick Cassarino sitting-in on two originals and Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song” were strong points, it was his impressive instrumental medley of Phish’s “Horn” and “Myth” by Beach House that was the highlight.

Ice Capades

Many Jam Cruisers embrace the experience and dress in costumes for the trip. One pair of long-time attendees, Brandon and Hillary, not only wore figure skating outfits but worked up a routine they showed off as Sister Sparrow played the Pool Deck. It was a sight to behold. Sister Sparrow’s recent album was a huge departure from their typical brassy sound. While the album is phenomenal, I must admit I was happy to hear the old-school Dirty Birds sound come from the stage. A particularly impressive moment came when they worked the catchy original “Sugar” into Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love.” Wednesday’s theme is Green Eggs & Ham and I can’t wait to see how attendees fit it into what they wear.

Leftover Salmon Go Guest Crazy

My favorite set of the first day of Jam Cruise 17 was by Leftover Salmon in the theater and it wasn’t even close. Banjoist Andy Thorn couldn’t make it due to a broken leg he recently suffered. At the last minute, literally, the band called upon old friend Matt Flinner to stand in from Thorn. One day prior, Flinner was in Vermont and now he was aboard the boat. Flinner was a member of LoS for a brief period after Mark Vann’s death and upon their return from a hiatus in 2007. Salmon kept the guest spots coming throughout the set with Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, Jon Stickley, The Sweet Lillies and Andy Frasco among those sitting-in. Niederauer, an Artist-At-Large, helped out on a handful of songs including emotionally-charged versions of LoS original “House Of Cards” and a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie.”

Umphrey’s McGee Takes ‘Ocean Billy’ Deep

Before Umphrey’s McGee LD Jefferson Waful started working for the band in 2008, he saw the sextet perform “Ocean Billy” aboard one of the first Jam Cruises. That night, Waful came up with a vision in his mind of how he would light the song. After Jefferson took the job, he turned his vision into an actual lighting scheme he has been using for “Ocean Billy” ever since. UM played a powerhouse 90-minute set on the Pool Deck yesterday that featured an adventurous “Ocean Billy” in which Waful got to show off the first scheme he ever “wrote” for an Umphrey’s song. The set had extra meaning beyond that, as UM’s Pool Deck set a few years back was canceled due to bad weather. Thankfully, the weather was beautiful this time around as was the jam that developed out of “Ocean Billy.” The six-piece’s wild “JaJunk,” untz-y “Wappy Sprayberry” and a double dose of covers — The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and The Police’s “Driven To Tears” were other amazing moments from UM’s Pool Deck set.

Daniel Rodriguez & Friends Perform A Nathan Moore Song With Nathan

Elephant Revival’s Daniel Rodriguez formed a band for a set at the atrium that saw him backed by four members of Fruition (everyone but Mimi Naja) and guitarist Lewi Longmire. Rodriguez mentioned Elephant Revival used to cover singer-songwriter Nathan Moore‘s “Back In 15 Minutes.” He couldn’t pass up the opportunity to perform the tune with the man himself. Moore and Rodriguez traded verses before Nathan told a story of a man dressed as a turtle he ran into on his way to the set that freaked him out.

There were dozens of other memorable moments as SunSquabi impressed, Toubab Krewe welcomed “Big Sam” Williams for an afrobeat jam, KDTU trumpeter Chris Littlefield held in down in the Jam Room and Neal Evans hosted the free-form Jazz Lounge. Jam Cruise 17 continues with a “Day At Sea” on Wednesday.