Come Sail Away: Jam Cruise 19 Departs Miami With Fearless Flyers, Neighbor & More

The Word, George Porter Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners, The New Deal and The Bamboos also played aboard the MSC Divina on Monday.

By Scott Bernstein Feb 7, 2023 11:53 am PST

Jam Cruise 19, a musical adventure at sea, finally departed Miami on Monday, February 6, which was 1,122 days after the previous installment ended. There was excitement in the air at PortMiami and throughout the MSC Divina as Jam Cruise veterans and virgins loaded onto the ship for six days and nights filled with live music.

The first few hours on the Divina were spent getting our bearings and meeting with friends, some of whom hadn’t been seen since Jam Cruise 18 in January 2020. The main stage action started an hour late as the logistics of loading a full stage where a pool normally is took longer than expected. George Porter Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners were tapped to kick off the action as the ship left port.

Fittingly, the legendary Meters bassist and his band opened with “The Happy Song,” singing about a feeling that was in high supply on Jam Cruise 19. Porter was introduced by the staff of Jam Cruise organizers Cloud 9 Adventures with cruise director Annabel “Julie McCoy” Lukins noting George was the perfect person to herald the return of the trip and she couldn’t think of a better tune to start than “The Happy Song.” One of the first collaborations of Jam Cruise 19 came when Karl Denson added saxophone to a riveting rendition of “Ain’t No Sunshine.”

A rare set from Vulfpeck offshoot The Fearless Flyers was up first in the gorgeous and spacious Pantheon Theater. Only two dozen fans were in attendance when the quartet of guitarists Cory Wong and Mark Lettieri, bassist Joe Dart and drummer Nate Smith started their set. The virtuosic musicians mixed material from their three albums with choice covers including Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In The Years” and Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.” Each member had a turn in the solo spotlight with Wong, Lettieri and Dart playing their axes on stands in what has become a Fearless Flyers tradition. A take on the Vulfpeck original “El Chepe” was the perfect example of the quartet’s edgy and high-energy approach.

Dogs In A Pile made their Jam Cruise debut in the intimate Black & White Lounge, where they were joined by The Horn Section (former members of Turkuaz) while Lettuce focused on Arabic-tinged jams on the Pool Deck. It was then back to the theater for me to check out The Bamboos. The Australian-based band brought the funk and soul led by powerhouse vocalist Kylie Auldist.

I’ve been meaning to see Neighbor for years and something would always come up. Monday night in the Black & White Lounge I finally had a chance to watch the Boston-based jam quartet perform and they lived up to the hype. Guitarist Lyle Brewer delivered one passion and blues-infused solo after another with Neighbor’s jam “Mighty Apple Tree” my favorite song of the night. Many Neighbor loyalists packed the crowd and some were so happy to see their beloved band on the boat, they were in tears.

Next up for me was a trip to the Pool Deck for The New Deal. The trio played a memorable set on the ship a decade ago before going their separate ways. Keyboardist Jamie Shields and bassist Dan Kurtz have reunited a handful of times since with different drummers. For Jam Cruise 19, the pair were joined by Scotty Zwang (Ghost Light) who provided a groovy and bombastic beat throughout the set. I didn’t stop dancing as the three-piece laid down one hearty livetronica jam after another.

Jam Cruise is a marathon, not a sprint. So I decided to end my night at the reasonable time of 3:30 a.m. after checking in on SunSquabi in the theater and The Word on the Pool Deck. Big smiles was the theme of the night and the Colorado-based jamtronica act SunSquabi were all grins as they tore through diverse originals while Robert Randolph, Luther Dickinson, John Medeski and their The Word bandmates couldn’t contain their glee as they tore through songs from acclaimed 2001 debut studio album.

Tuesday marks a Day At Sea with music starting around noon and continuing until sunrise. Stay tuned to JamBase’s Instagram for more from Jam Cruise 19.

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