Jam Cruise 18: 8 Memorable Musical Moments From Day 3
It’s part of the human condition to ask someone how they’re doing when you run into a friend or acquaintance, but on Jam Cruise it’s a dumb question. Yet, I found myself asking and being asked how I/they were throughout Day Three of Jam Cruise 18 aboard the MSC Divina on Thursday. The answer in 99% (unofficial number) of the cases is “wonderful,” “amazing,” “incredible” or some variation of trying to describe how grateful we are to be floating the middle of the Caribbean Sea with a bevy of the best musicians in the scene if not the world. I keep running into Jam Cruise “virgins” and every single one I’ve talked to has said something along the lines of “I’m never missing this again.”
Jam Cruise needs to be experienced to be believed, as on paper it may sound overwhelming or you may think JC is similar to a typical cruise (not even close) but in practice the trip combines creature comforts with peak live music experiences put together by a team that truly cares about providing a great time for cruisers and sweats the small stuff. For instance, there’s crew members dedicated to decor on the boat that will swap in New Orleans road signs and beads on Voodoo Night for graphics from cartoons on Toon Night. My favorite small touch are silhouettes of iconic JC musicians such as Col. Bruce, Karl Denson, Marc Brownstein and George Porter Jr. that the JC team installed in the casino. I also like that multiple channels on the television system are devoted to videos, photos and audios from this trip and past Jam Cruises.
While much of my Thursday was devoted to interviews for future installments of The JamBase Podcast, I did get to go see live music at various points through the day and night. With that in mind, here’s a quick rundown of eight musical highlights from Jam Cruise 18’s first day at sea without a port stop:
What if Circles Around The Sun actually played Grateful Dead covers? That gives a small taste of what Grateful Shred is all about. Circles bassist Dan Horne, keyboardist Adam MacDougall and drummer Mark Levy were part of the Grateful Shred lineup on Thursday along with full-time members singer/guitarist Austin McCutchen and Mapache‘s Sam Blasucci and Clay Finch. The band opened the Pool Deck yesterday with a set that mixed highly-improvisational versions of Dead classics with gorgeous takes on songs from the Americana side of the GD repertoire. Sam and Clay’s voices are stunningly beautiful and are really what separates this band from the pack of Dead tribute acts.
Blues guitarist Samantha Fish made her Jam Cruise debut with a Pool Deck set on Thursday. Fish is a shredder of the highest order with a killer voice to match. Samantha and her band drew a big crowd and kept them grooving. There’s a reason she’s towards the top of many blues festival lineups and it was an inspired decision to bring her on the ship.
The Disco Biscuits keyboardist Aron Magner was tasked with hosting a set at the atrium found at the bottom of a three-level glass staircase. Magner showed off his kickass acoustic trio, SPAGA, and then guests rolled in. Aron and his SPAGA mates recruited Tom Hamilton for a stunning take on Neil Young’s “Down By The River” before tDB bassist Marc Brownstein got in on the action for a “Home Again” that hit exceptionally hard with its appropriate for the situation line of “always knew my home was in paradise.” Brownie discussed how much Jam Cruise means to him and that he spends 11 and a half months of the year counting down the days until the next one. Magner joked that Marc is his best friend even though Brownstein gives the appearance on social media that Umphrey’s keyboardist Joel Cummins is his bestie. Brownstein confirmed that indeed Aron is his BFF. The set came to a close with a version of “They Love Each Other” that was nearly unrecognizable because it was such a cool and unusual interpretation.
The Soul Rebels
NOLA brass band The Soul Rebels made their triumphant return to Jam Cruise after a few years off. The group has toured the world, performed with many luminaries from various ends of the musical spectrum and put out their first album in nearly a decade since they last appeared on the ship. The Soul Rebs showed off their stellar new material and also threw in some classics, choice covers and guest spots.
What a difference 18 months makes. I first saw Ghost Light at the High Sierra Music Festival in 2018 just months after the band was formed. That set was good but their performance on the Pool Deck on Thursday night was monumental. Major chemistry has developed between keyboardist Holly Bowling, guitarists Tom Hamilton and Raina Mullen, drummer Scotty Zwang and bassist Dan Africano. Most of the set was based around a wild “Keep Your Hands To Yourself” that featured the Turkuaz horns on the beginning. They also crushed “Best Kept Secret,” the title track from their debut LP as well as “Diamond Eyes” and “Old Time Religion.” Hamilton expertly utilized a Mu-Tron tone at points and a heavily distorted sound at others to great effect, while Holly moved from electric piano to regular piano to organ with an ease I don’t remember seeing at High Sierra. At the end of the set, GL peaked “Best Kept Secret” as a huge rainstorm enveloped the boat. The Turkuaz horns came back out while Jam Cruisers danced in the rain. Then, just when they hit the final note, less than five minutes after the rain started, it suddenly stopped. It was as if the brief storm was a pre-planned effect.
While it took a “Get Lotus On The Boat” campaign from Lotus fans on the ship’s now defunct message board to get Lotus aboard Jam Cruise for the first time in 2010, they’ve since made multiple appearances and become part of the fam. Last night, they closed out the Pool Deck with a dance party of the highest order as they presented their untz-infused, yet pretty instrumental music. Lotus has embraced the collaborative ethos of Jam Cruise and on Thursday had Steve Kimock show off a different side of his talent than I’ve seen and also teamed with Magic Beans keyboardist Casey Russell for a tune. What was particularly interesting about the dream Kimock (it was Steve despite an initial introduction as “John Kimock”)/Lotus pairing was that Steve adapted his style to Lotus’ sound. They didn’t play a cover, at least as far as I’m aware, and instead had Kimock rip on original material.
Each year, troubadour Nathan Moore hosts an unofficial stage located on a side deck that in its first year was organically dubbed “The Spot.” The location features musical friends Nathan brings aboard as well as other musicians from the ship in an acoustic format. Moore’s crew this time around includes Rainbow Girls who up to this point win my “how the hell have I never heard this act before?” award. The trio’s voices mesh so well and they are incredibly talented musicians that have embraced the spirit of The Spot by performing from midnight to sunrise and writing songs on the spot (excuse the pun). I’ll dig deeper into “The Spot” in a future article.
Karina Rykman Jam Room
Bassist Karina Rykman had the unusual honor of being a first-time Jam Cruise musician tasked with hosting the Jam Room. Rykman deserved the spot and laid down deliciously dirty grooves while joined by a lineup of Holly Bowling and Aron Magner on keys, Craig Brodhead (Turkuaz) and Joe Marcinek on guitars and John Kimock on drums. Johnny and Karina made one hell of a rhythm section and were clearly vibing off each other musically. One actual song I caught was an amazing cover of No Doubt’s “Hella Good” featuring Pigeons Playing Ping Pong guitarists Jeremy Schon and Greg Ormont that had the joint jumpin’.
Stay tuned to JamBase’s Instagram for stories and posts from Day Four of Jam Cruise 18.