Jam Cruise 6 | 01.04 – 01.09 | Florida

Words by: Brian Bavosa | Images by: Dave Vann & Casey Flanigan

Jam Cruise 6 :: 01.04.08 – 01.09.08 :: Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Spearhead :: Jam Cruise 6 by Flanigan
Now in its sixth year, this traveling circus has definitely developed into the most unique, wild and open backstage party our scene has ever known. Jam Cruise is where drinks flow like the mighty Atlantic, artists are more accessible than a Hunts Point hooker and the motion of the ocean only adds to the rock & roll. For almost six days, roughly 1,500 fans set sail from Fort Lauderdale aboard the MSC Lirica with stops in Roatan, Honduras and Cozumel, Mexico, in addition to roughly 19 hours of music a day. Col. Bruce Hampton summed up Jam Cruise perfectly: “This is the only festival in the world where you can go see reggae, blues, jazz, rock and everything there is.” Laughing, he continued, “And still being 23 years old, go get drunk and go to your cabin instead of driving home and paying seventy bucks for a ticket.”

Day 1 – Friday, January 4 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Unofficially kicking off on January 3 with a pre-party by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings at Ft. Lauderdale’s Culture Room, JC6 officially set sail with a spirited set by Soulive around 7 p.m. on Friday. Recently returning to their original trio framework, the Brothers Evans (Neal and Alan) and Jam Cruise veteran Eric Krasno kicked out the soul-funk, dirty jazz and rock they’ve become known for.

Haynes & Potter by Vann
Kraz filled us in on what he’s been up to and what’s ahead. “A lot of my time is spent doing the production work for the Fyre Dept.,” he says. His production credits are something he brushes off in passing but it should be noted that he’s worked with some of hip-hop’s top acts including Talib Kweli. “We’re doing remixes [for] a lot of artists on Interscope,” Krasno continued. “We recorded a Lettuce record last February, and we are getting ready to finally release that.” But, most interesting to fans, and Kraz himself, is some forthcoming solo, acoustic material. “I’ve been working on my own solo record for a long time, but I’ve finally come up with a solid plan. I picked my favorites and I’m doing an EP that’s going to be called Kraz and the Royal Family.”

Immediately following Soulive’s performance, the reminder that this was a sailing festival became painfully apparent as one had to decide between a solo set by Warren Haynes, The Motet in the Lirica Lounge, or the maiden voyage (pun intended) of The Everyone Orchestra including anchors Jon Fishman, Steve Kimock, Jeff Coffin, Jamie Janover and Tanya Shylock (Mountain of Venus). Much like the ebb and flow of the blue water in the ship’s wake, I decided to drift wherever the current took me, catching a few songs from each set, knowing that if I missed anything, I’d probably be sitting next to the musicians at breakfast the next morning and could ask about the performances.

Shortly after midnight, Dark Star Orchestra conjured up the spirit of Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead in their recreation of a 1978 show. It appears that perhaps Garcia’s spirit has been resting in Davey Jones’ Locker for the last 12-plus years. I caught a taste of “Scarlet” > “Fire” before realizing there was another living legend playing upstairs: Toots Hibbert. Toots and the Maytals’ performance was solid but somewhat oddly placed at 1-3 a.m., so I decided to focus my energies until sunrise on the most surreal, amazing and truly powerful setting of this floating festival, The Jam Room. A step up from years past, this year’s room was a complete circle that put the musicians directly in the center of the fans. It was also a no-holds-barred, steel cage match, or “drunken brawl” as Kimock dubbed it, for every musician who stepped into the ring.

Day 2 – Saturday, January 5 – Day at Sea

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings by Vann
After a few hours of shuteye, Saturday began with a taste of “Vote to the Boat” winners, The Bridge. “Vote to the Boat” was a text-message sponsored contest by Relix magazine and HeadCount.

I was then lucky enough to sit down and chat with Haynes, Kimock, Krasno, Col. Bruce, and up-and-comers Toubab Krewe in an extremely intimate one-on-one setting. Jam Cruise virgins, The Krewe are special because they are so different. They incorporate African-inspired music mixed with a splash of rock, resulting in a sound your ears might not recognize but your heart, soul and body respond to without hesitation. They were amazed at how the equipment was loaded on by crane and overjoyed to finally catch fellow Asheville resident Haynes. Jam Cruise reminded them of another diverse musical gathering, Mali’s Festival in the Desert (check out JamBase’s 2006 coverage).

“[This has] the same festival spirit, with completely different groups of people. If anyone from the festival in the States went, I know they would have an amazing time,” says percussionist Luke Quaranta. “That undeniable spirit of togetherness that happens at a lot of festivals, and the real break from everyday life, I really felt that there and here.”

Every other artist I spoke to shared TK’s feelings about JC6, too. “It’s very unique in the way that we’re all trapped out here together, in a good way,” said Warren Haynes. “So, the audience and the musicians all share the same vibe, the same spirit, the same experience. The cool thing is that everyone is here for the exact same reason.”

Kimock took the baton and discussed why he’s embraced settings like this one lately. “If there’s something that I’m good at, for some reason, it’s sort of making up stuff on the fly. I actually do really enjoy and do well in completely improvisational contexts,” said Kimock.

Kimock & Fishman by Vann
This year’s Jam Cruise included non-musical activities that added to the overall carefree vibe. You could test your luck in the all-night casino that offered High Stakes Bingo with Skerik or play in the annual Texas Hold’em tournament, which included two Dap Kings. If you wanted a little more adventure, there was the treasure hunt revolving around David LeBatard a.k.a. Lebo, where one could win some of his amazing art.

Possibly the most important change this year was the “Greening” of Jam Cruise, Spearheaded by Zero Hero Events. By using recycled cups, garbage bags, colored coded recycling bins and even organic beauty products and coffee, they helped make this the most environmentally conscious Jam Cruise yet. Your Daily Greens in the Greening Jam Cruise Newsletter read, “Throughout the MSC Lirica – in cabins, restaurants, and bars – the green team has worked to provide more sustainable products to lessen our impact on the open seas.” Saturday also had a Greening Auction and Greening Panel Discussion moderated by Greening Coordinator Ann Kenworthy that included Matt Butler (EO), Dave Watts (The Motet) and Dan Lebowitz.

To top things off, The Funky Meters and Jam Cruise favorites Perpetual Groove rocked the pool deck from 9:30 p.m. until 4 a.m.., including a glistening version of Paul Simon‘s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and the fitting “Two Shores.” For more on PGroove’s set, and the rest of his JC experience, read a first hand account on drummer Albert Suttle‘s blog. Despite some rough seas that affected even some crew members, the ship seemed to be sailing along as JC stretched its sea legs.

Continue reading for the second half of Jam Cruise 6…

Day 3 – Sunday, January 6 – Roatan, Honduras

Jam Cruise 6 by Flanigan
Sunday saw the boat stop rocking as passengers departed at the first port stop, Roatan, Honduras. Most of the shops were closed since it was Sunday, so many stuck close to the boat and browsed the local roadside vendors, while the earliest risers zip-lined, snorkeled or strapped on scuba gear. Honduras is scenic in places, but also made me realize how lucky we are in the States. Children lined the narrow streets with cars whizzing by, while others played in rowboats tied to their dilapidated houses – a far cry from our iPods and Xbox 360s. One young boy greeted me on the street, simply extending his skinny arm to shake my hand. He asked my name and where I was from, and when I responded, “New York City,” his eyed almost popped out of his head. “Whoa! Very big,” he said as he accompanied me down the main drag, offering local tips. When I finally ducked into a local bar to take a breather, I thanked him and handed him the two loose dollars in my pocket. He grabbed onto my leg in thanks. Combine that with cheap, exotic beers at two bucks a pop and a long gaze at the landscape, and it was the first time on the trip that I felt truly humbled. But, my generosity was far overshadowed by the groups of cruisers who took supplies, including hundreds of pounds of soap, to a local orphanage and hospital. A key figure in this effort was Justin Baker, a true missionary and brainpower behind the usually food-focused organization Conscious Alliance.

Toots by Vann
Back on the boat, with everyone in high spirits, Toots and the Maytals played the most perfectly placed set of the voyage and reminded us this was, at least in part, a vacation, both for fans and the musicians themselves. “Not many of us really take vacations where we can go and hang out. I take my girlfriend with me, and she loves it, and it’s a way to play and have sort of a semi-vacation,” said Krasno. “Being able to hear and play with some of the greatest musicians that we know and have met – or some that we haven’t met – and hang out a little bit in a social sense is just great.”

After Toots, the music quickly splintered into the soulful swoon of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, the finger-pickin’ goodness of Yonder Mountain String Band and the official SuperJam, which called on everyone from Russell Batiste to Karl Denson to Grant Green Jr. to deliver some explosive results.

Sunday morning saw what might have been my favorite set on the boat, namely Lotus. When I say these guys, along with Toubab Krewe, are the next surefire stars of our scene, I mean it. Shit, I know it! They threw down their mix of electronic, dance party fueled disco, mixed with ’80s covers like Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” and their take on Daft Punk. The set catered to both delirious fans and “Holy shit! Who the fuck are these guys?” newcomers.

Day 4 – Monday, January 7 – Cozumel, Mexico

Porter, Skerik, Ian Neville by Flanigan
Viva la Mexico! All of the good stuff you’ve heard about our neighbors to the south? It’s all true, and I’m not even talking about Tijuana. Cozumel did not disappoint, offering adventure possibilities not unlike Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary. I got off the boat bright and early, had my girlfriend speak Spanish to a few locals, haggle a cab driver down to take us to the furthest point on this beautiful island paradise and got dropped off at Mescalito’s; a restaurant ten miles away on the far beach with breaks surfers would sell their souls to get at. After fabulous food, a pharmacia stop and some Mayan ruins we were ready once again for the open ocean.

Back on the ship, we had dropped-off Haynes and his guitar while we picked-up the political fury of Michael Franti & Spearhead. His infectious reggae vibes picked up where Toots’ left off. Reggae and warm afternoons are the best match since Forrest Gump’s peas and carrots. We were also docked next to a Carnival cruise liner that had many of their passengers watching the show, probably wondering why their travel agent didn’t recommend Jam Cruise.

Galactic featured MCs Boots Riley and Mr. Lif during their set. They added some hip-hop and hooks to the normal funky sound, with selections predominantly from their latest effort, From the Corner to the Block. Galactic holds the distinction of being the only band to be on every Jam Cruise so far.

Galactic by Flanigan
A little later, DSO etched into my soul and aural canals, creating another highlight. Towards the end of their set, emerging from a rather upbeat “Drums,” they landed smoothly in “Standing on the Moon.” When I heard the line, “A lovely view of heaven / But I’d rather be with you,” I simply leaned my head backwards, stared at the most beautiful stars I’d seen since the Gorge and Limestone, ME, and instantaneously got the chills. Not a speck of land in sight, adrift in the magical mystery of the omnipotent Dead, time seemed to stand still. Then I suddenly realized it was ’80s Theme Night, with even the most mild mannered sporting wigs and spandex, trading their office personas of Clark Kent for their Superman Jam Cruise alter ego.

My toughest decision came in choosing between PGroove or the one-off Oh You Pretty Things, a band specially assembled for this boat consisting of Fishman and moe.‘s Al Schnier that focused on the works of David Bowie. I caught the first few Pretty Things songs, one of which included a jam eerily similar to “Gotta Jiboo,” before heading down to the Broadway Theater for PG. With Echoes From the Cave, a two-disc live effort, dropping next month and their first West Coast tour in over two years coinciding with the release, I have a feeling this Southern secret is about to spread like wildfire. Highlights of their set included contortionists during the Zeppelin-esque “MOTA” (which you can watch here) and a smoking set closing “TTFPJ” that featured additional keyboard work by Ivan Neville.

Since waking up in Mexico, Monday had the vibe of being one of those days. Little did I know how special until I ventured into the Jam Room around 4:15 a.m. Quite simply, this was the most inspired, improvisational music I have seen in close to ten years. It was the very essence of why we go see live music. When it’s perfect, it’s better than being in love, the most satisfying meal and a hole-in-one rolled together. The pocket that bassist Garrett Sayers (The Motet) and Fishman got into could have sunk the nine ball on Paul Newman in The Color of Money. Kimock’s right hand man and long time taper Charlie Miller spent his “vacation” recording the Jam Room the entire voyage, and I hope this particular session surfaces soon. Even though it was technically the seventh day of 2008, I cannot see any 40 minutes topping this jam all year.

Day 5 – Tuesday, January 8 – Day at Sea

Brock Butler by Flanigan
Brock Butler played the second of two solo sets, where he brought up his sister, Erin for a few tunes, and Toubab Krewe serenaded at the limbo contest. These boys from Asheville percolated more than a coffee maker, and got my vote for enjoying the cruise more than most even when not onstage. After all, as Haynes said, “Musicians are the biggest fans. That’s why we became musicians in the first place.”

I headed downstairs to talk to Sharon Jones. In 2007, she and the Dap-Kings released 100 Days, 100 Nights, a record many considered to be one of the year’s best. However, 2007 wasn’t all positive for Jones. “I’ve had quite the year,” she commented, lightly clenching my hand with a maternal softness as she told me about her brother’s passing on New Year’s Eve. “But, with those downers, I was also blessed. My head ain’t big. I ain’t no superstar. Before I walk onto that stage it’s not about, ‘I’m bad, I’ve got this great voice.’ No! I am humble. I am grateful for this gift. God has anointed me. I don’t believe God has brought me this far to leave me,” she said and then sang a few verses of one of her favorite church hymns.

About Jam Cruise, she remarked, “People can talk about hippies this and hippies that. They don’t even know what that word means. To me, they are just fun, loving people. I have not had one negative vibe since I’ve been on this boat. They gave me a chance because a lot of people on this boat I think have never heard me. [Maybe it’s] the love of their friends or their love of this type of music [but] they appreciate it. They welcomed me with open arms. I have not been able to walk the deck without being stopped and thanked or having to pose for a picture. I’m blessed, nothing can hold me back!”

A spellbinding set by Col. Bruce and Grant Green Jr. was relaxing and cool, followed by Everyone Orchestra‘s set, which had a sign that simply read “How Lucky Are We?” EO’s performance offered a rotating cast that spun quicker than a revolving door. This set also saw Fishman’s debut on the saxophone, and he managed to hold his own pretty well with Jeff Coffin and Karl D at his side.

Ivan Neville & Porter by Flanigan
If you’re still reading this mammoth recount, you just might begin to understand what a marathon Jam Cruise really is. People view it as a vacation, but honestly, it’s a never-ending party that wears a bathing suit. Picture Bonnaroo and Langerado back-to-back, while visiting two other countries, and your hamstrings might hurt like mine did.

The remedy for that sore hamstring could only be the workout that is The Funky Meters. These guys are my dad’s age but he never cut the grass the way bassist George Porter Jr. did. “He’s the Beethoven of bass,” said Col. Bruce. “He always blows my mind.” Downstairs, The Motet played a set of Jamiroquai tunes, as they did at their last Halloween run. I finished with Franti’s positive vibration, complete with a Butler sit-in, one more dose of Galactic with the MCs and a final smell that is the blossoming Lotus. And I had to try to catch lightning in a bottle once more down in the jam room.

The musicians had no intentions of going out quietly as we coasted back to the mainland. Neville, Krasno and Grace Potter showed up. Potter’s howling chorus to “Feelin’ Alright” elicited screams from the encircling crowd. As everyone seemed to be packing it in, Butler and his band mates Suttle and Adam Perry remained, accompanied by DSO’s John Kadlecik for a smoking rendition of The Chemical Brothers’ “Orange Wedge,” a song that often lands in PGroove setlists.

My final moments of Jam Cruise 6 were spent standing outside on the 12th deck disco, with DJ Harry spinning his wheels. We used our last drink tickets and watched the sunrise as we pulled into port. Hugs were in full supply, including a few with some of the musicians, who thanked us for such a great time. As we walked off the boat, I watched George Porter Jr. and his wife pre-book their cabin for Jam Cruise 7, a full year off. He was paying for it out of his own pocket to secure his spot on this most fantastic journey, whether he’s asked to play next time or not.

Continue reading for more images from Jam Cruise 6… Images by: Casey Flanigan

President Lot Dawg and his Delegates
Stanton Moore and Friends
Dark Star Orchestra
Sax Jam
Franti, Lebowitz, Austin
Dan Lebowitz
Toots and the Maytals
Jeff Coffin with YMSB
Ian Neville
Al Schnier
Jeff Austin
Ben Ellman
George Porter Jr.

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