Jam Cruise 19 Sails On: 6 Highlights From Day 2
Neal Francis, Cymande, Andy Frasco and Fearless Flyers were among those who shined aboard the MSC Divina on Tuesday.
By Scott Bernstein Feb 8, 2023 • 12:11 pm PST
Tuesday was a full day at sea for Jam Cruise 19, which meant a packed schedule loaded with performances, workshops and artist-led activities. One day out of Miami, the MSC Divina was steaming toward its first port stop in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic on Wednesday. Highlights were plentiful and six of my favorites are detailed below.
The Lil Smokies
The Lil Smokies took the Pool Deck stage in the early afternoon as the temperature hit a comfortable 73°. The Montana-based string band currently features Matt “The Rev” Rieger (guitar), Andy Dunnigan (dobro), Jake Simpson (fiddle) and Jean-Luc Davis (bass) with Kyle Tuttle handling banjo duties. Dunnigan and Rieger are incredible songwriters and singers who led their mates through a hearty mix of staples including originals “Feathers,” “It Must Be True Love” and “Broken Hearts.” While the Smokies had fans dancing throughout, they showed off a different side of their musicality when “Rev” led an intimate set at the ship’s atrium. Rieger’s bandmates sat-in for the majority of the hour-long performance which ended with singalong covers of Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger,” Shania Twain’s “You’re Still The One” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”
A special performance was held on the Pool Deck in the late afternoon featuring Cymande, a recently reunited British band that laid the groundwork for the hip-hop movement during their short run from 1972 to 1975. The large ensemble mixed funk and soul with a strong percussive base in delivering stellar versions of standout tracks from their self-titled debut including legendary track “The Message” as well as “Dove” and “Bra.” Sadly, the set was cut a few minutes short when high winds blew through.
The wind in the Caribbean Sea picked up to an unsafe level, leading not only to the early end of the Cymande set but organizers Cloud 9 Adventures also moved Tuesday’s remaining Pool Deck sets to various indoor venues. One such set was Chicago-based keyboardist Neal Francis, who took the stage in the Pantheon Theater. Francis, drummer Collin O’Brien, guitarist Kellen Boersma and bassist Mike Starr drew a huge crowd despite the time change and had Jam Cruisers groovin’ from the minute they started “Alameda Apartments.”
The group focused on material from 2021’s In Plain Sight and was joined by a horn section made up of members of The Bamboos and Dumpstaphunk trombonist Alex Wasily for “Changes Pts. 1 & 2” and “She’s A Winner.” The horns augmented Francis’ music nicely and his core quartet continues to become jammier as the years pass.
The Fearless Flyers
The Fearless Flyers were supposed to play the Pool Deck yet the wind had other ideas. Instead, the supergroup featuring Cory Wong (guitar), Mark Lettieri (baritone guitar), Joe Dart (bass) and Nate Smith (drums) packed into the atrium where they were surrounded by Jam Cruisers who made use of every possible inch to gain a view of the Vulfpeck offshoot in action.
After a few false starts due to technical issues, The Fearless Flyers crushed material from their three albums and welcomed special guests. Lettuce horn players Eric “Benny” Bloom (trumpet) and Ryan Zoidis (saxophonist) each joined for a few songs as did guitarist Isaiah Sharkey. I kept my eyes focused on Dart and Smith and was blown away by not only their technical proficiency but their ability to play in the pocket.
Delvon Lamarr’s West Seattle Allstar Revue
The MSC Divina has a small venue called the Golden Jazz Bar that hosts artist-led activities and live music performances in a beautiful room with all sorts of seating and standing options. I was walking across the venue when I came upon a set that stopped me in my tracks. The West Seattle Allstar Revue brought together organist Delvon Lamarr, members of his trio and members of instrumental outfit Polyrhythmics. Guitarist Andy Coe also hopped up for a few songs. Lamarr starred in the hour of the set I witnessed with funky organ licks a plenty over acid-jazz grooves.
Andy Frasco & The U.N.
Andy Frasco & The U.N. closed out Tuesday’s action in the Pantheon Theater with a 90-minute set that ran from 2 – 3:30 a.m. Frasco brought out over a dozen musicians over the course of the performance including Neighbor’s Ricky James, Doom Flamingo vocalist Kanika Moore and the hip-hop duo Little Stranger. Andy jumped into the crowd multiple times and did a fantastic job keeping cruisers in a party mood despite the late time frame. He’s also become a highly skilled songwriter as the band was less dependant on covers than they were when they made their Jam Cruise debut in 2019.
Photo by John-Ryan Lockman
Jam Cruise 19 hits Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic on Wednesday. The music starts around 6:30 p.m. with The Bamboos. Follow JamBase’s Instagram for photos and videos from aboard the ship.