Jam Cruise 20: ‘Remain In Light’ Shines, Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country Wows & Other Day 2 Superlatives

JamBase’s Scott Bernstein cites top moments from the first full day of Jam Cruise 20.

By Scott Bernstein Feb 27, 2024 12:48 pm PST

After Departing Miami on Sunday, Jam Cruise 20 kicked into high gear on Monday a la a full day at sea aboard the MSC Divina chock full of peak live music experiences. The Divina was a fine choice to host the festivities as more past Jam Cruisers have been on this ship than any other, giving “lifers” and vets an instant familiarity with the vessel.

Each of the artists on the strong and fairly diverse lineup were tied together by their eagerness and ability to bring their A-game. The mix included plenty of Jam Cruise favorites along with a handful of newcomers ready to make their mark on the Musical Adventure At Sea that gives Cruisers a true “choose your own adventure” interactive affair where it was tough to wrong.

Here are the superlatives for the first full day of Jam Cruise 20 for this particular writer:

Best Set

Jerry Harrison & Adrian Belew Remain In Light

Talking Heads founder multi-instrumentalist Jerry Harrison and one-time touring member guitarist Adrian Belew were joined by Cool Cool Cool (ex-Turkuaz), bassist Julie Slick and percussionist Yahuba Garcia-Torres as they presented a tribute to the iconic 1980 studio album Remain In Light that they’ve been refining for nearly three years. Turkuaz made their Jam Cruise debut in 2017 and came back nearly every year after until seven members left the band in November 2021 under contentious circumstances. Those seven musicians founded Cool Cool Cool and have been on both cruises since Turkuaz dissolved. So there was a sense of pride in watching said musicians serve as an ace backing band for living legends Harrison and Belew.

The Remain In Light set combined the best material from the LP with other Talking Heads classics, a choice Jerry Harrison solo cut and Belew’s best contribution to the King Crimson catalog. Saxophonist Josh Schwartz delivered lead vocals on most tracks in a fashion filled with Byrne-like frenetic energy. “Crosseyed & Painless” came early and showcased the massive talents of the ensemble as they expertly pulled off the Talking Heads’ live approach of shifting from slow and silky intro groove into the turbo-charged pace found on the album. Vocalists Shira Elias and Sammi Garett sounded spectacular and had synchronized dance moves for each song. The pair also co-helmed “Slippery People,” a version previewed by Turkuaz aboard Jam Cruise 17 in 2019.

Adrian Belew is a stunt guitarist who gets wild tones out of his instrument that was crucial in the making of Remain In Light and translated perfectly to the stage. His “Crosseyed,” “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” and “Life During Wartime” solos were an awesome sight to behold. Belew also was showcased on his King Crimson contribution, “Thela Hun Ginjeet.” Yet, the most goosebump-inducing moment was a “Once If A Lifetime” belted out by Schwartz that had nearly all in theater — and the Pantheon Theater was as packed as it’s ever been for the set — dancing their hearts out and singing along.

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Most Impressive Jam Cruise Debut

Tie: Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country and Cimafunk

Daniel Donato made quite an impression on Jam Cruise 19 last year as a member of Trouble No More but had the opportunity to show off his Cosmic Country outfit this time around. The quartet impressed over the course of their 75-minute performance, drawing the bulk of the bulk of the people on the trip to the Pool Deck. Keyboardist Nathan “Sugar Leg” Aronowitz has the same youthful and innovative approach as his boss while bassist Will McGee was deep in the pocket all set. Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country came out of the gates strong with “Hi-Country.” The highlight of the frame arrived late via an outrageous “Weathervane” featuring an excursion through Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.” The well-jammed sequence was funky as hell and truly out of the box.

Cuban superstar Cimafunk nearly had his set canceled when a ripper of a storm with fierce winds and heavy rains enveloped the MSC Divina. Thankfully, the microburst was over quickly and the Cubano vocalist and his powerhouse band were able to play the Pool Deck leaving jaws agape. Cimafunk threw down a funky dance party of the highest caliber backed by insanely talented musicians. The music was the best of Cuban, funk, soul and R&B with hints of jazz and rock in one cohesive package — kinda sounds like Jam Cruise.

Smartest Decision

Perpetual Groove Backloads Set

It’s easy to imagine Perpetual Groove’s first impressions when the schedule came out. First, they were excited by the prime 9 p.m. slot on the Pool Deck. Then they realized the first hour of the 90-minute time frame conflicted with the highly-anticipated Remain In Light set. So the quartet made the right move and loaded the final 30 minutes with a pair of top-shelf collaborations. First, frontman Brock Butler was Kenny Rogers to vocalist Ansley Stewart’s Dolly Parton on the 1983 smash “Islands In The Stream.” Then, the fretboard fireworks flew as TAUK axeman Matt Jalbert added to the crowd-pleasing funk-rock original “TTFPJ.” Stewart returned for the sexy “Erotic Touch” sandwiched within “TTFPJ.” By saving the cover duet and tasty fan for last, PGroove made an impression on those who found the Pool Deck ablaze after Remain In Light lit the flame.

Best New Find

Proxima Parada

When asking around about Proxima Parada more than a few responses included “loved the songs featured on the Jam Cruise playlist, so I’m going to check them out.” What sets the band apart are the dynamic vocals of guitarist/frontman Nick Larson. Close your eyes and you’ll hear Sam Cooke. Yet, the music underneath is more ’00s DIY than ’60s soul. And while the midnight slot in the Black & White didn’t play into their particular style of music, I look forward to seeing a headlining show and hearing the band’s upcoming new album. The quartet particularly shined on catchy new number “Pair Of Shoes” and a slightly extended “Resilience,” the first song Larson ever wrote.

New Sound, Who Dis? Award

Lotus

Lotus took a much different form in 2020 when the jamtronica act last played Jam Cruise. Guitarist Mike Rempel was replaced by Connecticut cult hero Tim Palmieri (Kung Fu/The Breakfast). Timmy is known for shredding with flair and he didn’t change his style once he joined Palmieri. Instead, the addition of Palmieri’s handiwork brought a much needed shot in the arm to the music of Lotus. Tim Palmieri was an out-of-the-box choice for Lotus and it’s been paying big dividends.

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Best Reunion

Ryan Montbleau & Yahuba Garcia-Torres

Cool Cool Cool weren’t the only members of Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew’s Remain In Light ensemble that has history with Jam Cruise. Percussionist Yahuba Garcia-Torres first played the ship in 2010 as a member of the classic Ryan Montbleau Band lineup. Yahuba backed Ryan for a decade — a period that saw the group open for Dave Matthews Band, play over 150 shows most years and sell out hometown venues in Boston. Garcia-Torres won raves for his time in the latest Percy Hill iteration and scored the Remain In Light gig. However, thoughts of Jam Cruise 8 abounded when Yahuba jumped on the Brews At Sea Stage to join his old boss for “Songbird,” a song that dates back to the early ’10s.

Yahuba utilized small percussive instruments that complimented current Montbleau drummer Mikey Carruba’s reggae beat. Many in the audience seemed familiar with the “Songbird” lyrics and sang along. Ryan made the most of the situation and guided the crowd to different octaves making for a cool moment. But not as cool as two musicians who spent the majority of a decade in van together sharing a hug at the site of a big gig in their history. Ironically, Carruba and his Cool Cool Cool bandmate Craig Brodhead (guitar) — who are part of Remain In Light band with Garcia-Torres — filled out the current RMB lineup with Montbleau, The Slip bassist Marc Friedman and keyboard wiz Paul Philippone

Best Cover

Lettuce — “West L.A. Fadeaway”

A “When In Rome” moment during Lettuce’s second set of the trip, which took place in the theater late-night on Monday. Erick “Jesus” Coomes put down his bass and belted out a rare cover of “West L.A. Fadeaway.” Most know Lettuce previously presented Jerry Garcia Band tributes and long ago recorded a take on “Shakedown Street,” yet “West L.A.” was right in the band’s wheelhouse. Nigel Hall took care of bass duties via synth on a rendition the Jam Cruise staples made their own.

Best Use Of Guests

Daniel Donato and Karl Denson Join Jimi’s Dead

Guitarist Eric Krasno and bassist Ross James filled the Black & White Lounge in leading a Jimi’s Dead tribute to the music of the Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix. Kraz, a Jam Cruise regular, frequently called upon his legion of comrades aboard JC20 to help out during the set. Yet the biggest highlight in a set filled with them came when Daniel Donato and Karl Denson emerged for “Shakedown Street.” Karl D. handled lead vocals while Donato peeled off a marvelous solo. Three generations of Jam Cruise favorites joined forces to deliver a version of the GD classic that stands with any previously played in the trip’s history.

Best Unplugged Set

Al Schnier

moe. guitarist Al Schnier nailed it by wishing a good morning to those at the idyllic Garden Pool for his hour-long solo set on Monday. While 2 p.m. is typically the afternoon, it’s likely most there had just gotten up after music on Sunday went deep into the night. Schnier showcased a sense of humor that continually shined at the Garden Pool. Al treated fans to a handful of stripped-down moe. favorites (“Gone,” “Bring You Down,” “Downward Facing Dog”) along with gems from his past solo projects (“Everything Here,” “Revolving Door”) and classic covers (“Mama Tried,” “Wildflowers,” “Climb To Safety”). Derhak jumped onstage with cocktail in hand to nail the harmonies on “Gone.” Schnier quipped “Security!” after Derhak vacated the Garden Pool.


Jam Cruise 20 reaches its first port stop of Montego Bay, Jamaica on Tuesday. Follow @JamBase on Instagram for live coverage.

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