Jam Cruise 18: 9 Memorable Musical Moments From Day 2
The first full day of Jam Cruise 18 took place on Wednesday and included a visit to a newly-opened private island operated by cruise line MSC and a veritable bonanza of incredible music around every corner. Day 2 of Jam Cruise is when the “bubble” effect takes full hold. The “real world” is left behind with limited internet, TVs featuring more channels of Jam Cruise-centric programming than networks and many living in the present, soaking up every moment of the unparalleled musical adventure at sea with over 3,000 fellow live music freaks, musicians and potential friends who all just want to enjoy peak live music experiences. Talk turns from politics, business and family to “How did your day go?” and “What were your highlights?” With so much going on, Jam Cruise is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” trip so these debriefs are key to figuring out gameplans moving forward.
MSC’s Ocean Cay is a small island in the Bahamas that recently opened and is probably only 80% finished at this point. Jam Cruise, aboard the MSC Divina, docked around 9 a.m. and left just after 3 p.m. — a bit early in aims of avoiding bad weather. Some decided to soak up the sun and enjoy one of many gorgeous beaches adjacent to the turquoise-tinged sea, others went on excursions and I caught my first fantastic performance of the day. Here’s more on that and eight other memorable music highlights from Day 2 of Jam Cruise 18.
Brock Butler at The Lighthouse
Perpetual Groove frontman returned to Jam Cruise this year after a five-year break. When JC organizers Cloud 9 decided to put together “pop-up sets” at a lighthouse just a short walk from the dock, both Butler and Ryan Montbleau answered the call. While I missed Ryan’s set, I got to The Lighthouse just as Brock started his hour-long performance with a take on Tom Petty’s “Time To Move On.” Butler served as a musical jukebox of sorts, offering up delightful renditions of such songs as Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” John Prine’s “Summer’s End” and Todd Snider’s “Play A Train Song.” It was quite the scene with the sun shining, the MSC Divina acting as the backdrop and tasty beverages in plentiful supply. The one annoying part of Wednesday and the private island was a long wait to get back on the ship. It took me a half hour to make it through the line and to go through a security check that seemed unnecessary. The only people on the island were MSC employees, so I’m unsure of the need for metal detectors. But if that’s the biggest problem one encounters all day, which it was, you’re in good shape.
Keller Williams' Grateful Grass
Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass had the honors of starting the day on the Pool Deck as the Divina set sail for Mexico from Ocean Cay. Williams’ band for the set of, as the name implies, bluegrass-heavy renditions of Grateful Dead classics, featured guitarist Lebo (Dan Lebowitz), bassist Reed Mathis and members of Virginia’s Love Canon. This new iteration of Grateful Grass and special guests along the way delivered standout versions of “Wharf Rat,” “Franklin’s Tower,” “Alabama Getaway” and more. My favorite moment was an “Eyes Of The World” done ’73 style, complete with the heavily composed section that disappeared from the Dead’s versions after the song’s first year in the repertoire.
Cut Chemist & Chali 2na
Rapper Chali 2na came together with turntablist Cut Chemist to provide Jam Cruisers with a dance party heavy on nasty beats. Chali’s flow is like none other and so distinctive. He paired really well with Cut Chemist, who he called his best friend. The duo made a big sound for just two guys and their energy was contagious.
Each day, an artist — usually a pianist — performs a set at the ship’s atrium, located at the bottom of a wild crystal staircase that needs to be seen to be believed. Ever since the atrium set tradition started, Ivan Neville has been a staple. The format displays a different side of the legendary keyboardist’s musicality and vulnerability. Neville began the performance with a series of songs from his criminally underrated 1988 album If My Ancestors Could See Me Now. Ivan told the story behind each tune and was joined by various members of Dumpstaphunk. Eventually, the New Orleans native got into covers and played DMB’s “Crash Into Me,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and Don Henley’s “The Boys Of Summer,” among others. Ivan recruited drummer Robert “Sput” Searight for “The Boys Of Summer” but didn’t tell him what song he would play. The same went for other guests on the tune: bassist Tony Hall, saxophonist Karl Denson and guitarist Marcus King. Neville directed the musicians, simulating the parts he wanted them to play and it all came together perfectly. As you can imagine, the “Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac” lyric received huge applause.
Circles Around The Sun
Guitarist Eric Krasno had the tough task of filling the late Neal Casal‘s role in Circles Around the Sun. Just ask George McConnell how it went replacing Michael Houser in Panic or Jimmy Herring about his one tour of duty in The Allman Brothers. However, especially with one full tour under his belt, Kraz came through with flying colors. He masterfully served the songs while still maintaining his own distinct sound. CATS’ set crushed from the first note to the last, and they were joined by percussionist Jeff Franca throughout, with “Gilbert’s Groove” and “When I Was At Peace” particular standouts. Look, losing Neal was tough enough, losing Circles Around The Sun wouldn’t have been good for anyone. The future is still bright for the psychedelic instrumental band and I’m hoping Krasno eventually signs on full-time. Kudos to bassist Dan Horne for leading the jams and providing the necessary thump.
Galactic Covers Shaggy With Ryan Montbleau
Galactic has played each and every Jam Cruise and rocked the Pool Deck on Wednesday. The New Orleans-birthed funk act are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year and got 2020 off to a fine start with a potent performance that included new vocalist Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph. However, it was Ryan Montbleau who stole the show by fronting a debut cover of Shaggy’s 2000 mega hit “It Wasn’t Me.”
Another band celebrating a big anniversary in 2020 is moe.. The veteran jam act turns 30 this year and worked material from various eras of their career into two-hour performance in the theater. Wednesday’s theme was “Voodoo Night.” moe. embraced the theme by covering “House Of The Rising Sun” and J.J. Cale’s “Cajun Moon.” My highlight was the goosebump-inducing version of classic “Buster” that ended the set, thanks in big part to guitarist Chuck Garvey‘s fretboard fireworks.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong
It’s been two years since Pigeons Playing Ping Pong made their Jam Cruise debut. The band’s fanbase, or “Flock,” has grown exponentially over that time and they drew a huge crowd to the Pool Deck on Wednesday night. Guitarist Greg Ormont guided fans through the experience with plenty of banter and engagement. Guests included Lebo, The Philly Horns and a saxophone player dressed as Sasquatch. “Melting Lights,” “Water” and “Funk E Zekiel” crushed and a medley of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and Chicago’s “25 Or 6 To 4” was played disco style, which was … interesting.
Sput had the honors of hosting the Jam Room on Wednesday and turned it into a “Purple Party” in which he and other musicians covered the music of Prince. I went to sleep at the early hour of 5 a.m. and it was still going strong. Turkuaz vocalists Shira Elias and Sammi Garett fronted “Kiss,” while MonoNeon held down the bottom end in fine form on “Controversy.” Another stellar performance I witnessed was “I Will Die 4 U.”
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