Jam Cruise 7 :: 01.04.09 – 01.09.09 :: Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Day 1: Setting Sail
With the cobwebs of New Year’s Eve still lingering in most minds, fans with a noticeably large line of credit, due to the admission tag ranging in the thousands of dollars, headed south for the winter to Ft. Lauderdale, where the seventh installation of Jam Cruise, now in its sixth year (two cruises were held in the inaugural year) was preparing to set sail with port stops in Belize City, Belize and Costa Maya, Mexico.
As for the musicians, the main pool (pun intended) of bands and roaming artists – another unique aspect of JC – hailed from the funk and jazz capital of the universe, New Orleans, as well as New York and San Francisco. When speaking about what makes Jam Cruise unique, George Porter Jr. touched on the fact that NOLA is well represented on board: “This time, we’ve got a lot of the New Orleans boys – the hometown boys – that I don’t get to see too often. So, we’re getting to hang, you know?”
I’ll also be honest, like any festival nowadays, it’s simply impossible to see and hear it all. With multiple shows happening at the same time, JC usually finds me “going with the flow,” wandering from set to set or wherever my inner, nautical compass seems to guide me. To kick off our voyage, Charles Walker and The Dynamites blasted us with some funky sounds as we left for the trip many patrons wait all year for.
Shortly afterwards in the theater, Les Claypool made his return to JC after several years away, offering his usual goofy/scary antics with a mix of old and new tunes, while I found myself back cooling off on the pool deck before The New Deal played their patented dance and house grooves, much to the delight of everyone. The first night went well past dawn with David Murphy (Sound Tribe Sector 9) and DJ Rootz in the disco, while Brock Butler (Perpetual Groove) played the role of Jam Room stage-rat (held by Steve Kimock in previous years) and led Neville and Claypool through roughly 40 minutes of jamming, featuring Claypool showcasing his rather impressive chops on the drums. Like I said, welcome to Jam Cruise, where anything is possible.
Day 2: At Sea
Usually a popular day to lounge by the pool, Day 2 saw me doing exactly that, along with some sit-down interviews with the artists on board. San Francisco’s loveable freaks, ALO treated my ears to a number of pop-filled jams that rolled deliciously off the ears shortly after I was able to sit down and talk with Tea Leaf Green keyboardist-singer-songwriter Trevor Garrod. “This is kind of like a vacation,” Garrod said. “We have to play a couple of sets, but otherwise we’re hanging out. On this boat, it’s a little bit more like a professional atmosphere. It’s like the upper-echelon of festivalgoers.”
Followed by Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, after only a day on board, it became clear that it would be virtually impossible to see any set that wasn’t smothered in New Orleans’ funk, much like a small stack of pancakes dripping with strawberry syrup at your local IHOP. Neville and company welcomed seemingly everyone to the stage including Denson, Krasno, Kininger, Skerik, Claypool and all of Bonerama. In fact, this year’s JC also found me meeting a much larger portion of fans from NOLA as well as the artists performing.
But, by far my musical highlight of the day – and now that I look back on it, the entire cruise – was the first of two solo acoustic sets by Brock Butler. Opening with my second favorite tune of all tune, the Talking Heads‘ “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody),” while standing atop a circular balcony overlooking the pool deck, only one word came to mind: Heavenly. With, I-shit-you-not, the most glorious sunset I have ever seen happening just off to his side, I listened to Butler pour through his set with unrelenting beauty, even offering a stirring debut of a tune called “Up Again.” More than once I saw many patrons walk by and stop dead in their tracks, seemingly asking themselves, “Who is this guy?” while gazing up at Butler as he sang with his authentic simplicity. Butler seems to have that effect on people during his solo sets, offering true beauty through his crystal clear licks, loops and heartfelt vocals that just seem to resonate with everyone who hears them, like a warm feather floating around inside of you, tickling your heart and soul. Mark my words: Butler will continue to rise as a shining star for years to come, winning over fans and critics alike. He is a talented, likable artist, the sort that does not come along very often. He seemingly makes everything he touches a little brighter, much as this first solo set showed. But, Butler is a multi-talented guy and has a nasty side, as you’ll read about a little later on.
To close out Day 2 – the day, where after three tours of duty, I have found Jam Cruise seems to fully find its sea legs – Claypool, joined by longtime collaborators Skerik and Mike Dillon, finished out his brief stint on the boat with some more psychedelic weirdness on the pool deck, while Porter Batiste Stoltz rocked the Savannah Bar and continued the steady onslaught of funk. The Savannah Bar also turned in a rather impressive set from 1:15 – 3:15 a.m. by The Lee Boys and guests Big Sam and Trombone Shorty, who leaned heavy on the funk this night, while saving their more reserved gospel numbers for their late morning set on the final day at sea.
For a change of pace, I also dipped into some of the rocking Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, who is as talented as she is charming and pretty, and a final sliver of Garage a Benevento, where they not only touched on classics but also some of Benevento’s newer, solo numbers.
Day 3: Belize
Also, of note was the first of two excursions over the next few days led by the Greening Team. In addition to helping reduce our carbon footprint on board by making it very easy to place bottles, trash and compost in their proper receptacles, the Green Team held a panel discussion on Day 2. For those willing to commit their full-day to active adventures, some cruisers participated in the excursion to Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (MBWS), joining the Greening Team for a day of “learning, connection and giving.” Participants saw the ecosystems of MBWS and heard from one of Belize’s non-profits. Executive Director Rafael Monzanero of Friends for Cultural Development addressed the group before a concert from students at the Maroon Creole Drum School.
Some of my “best” and most candid interviews have occurred aboard Jam Cruise, where artists truly embrace the relaxed atmosphere and open up like blossoming flowers, or in some cases, a cheap prom date. Denson and I spoke at length about the Jam Room.
KDTU welcomed the passengers back on board around dinnertime with a horn-blasting set of booty shaking deliciousness. After that, I grabbed a shower before testing my skills in the Texas Hold ‘Em poker tourney (where I finished eighth), and rubbed shoulders with the like of “Schmeeans” and Murphy. Taking a chunk out of my evening, I resurfaced after being eliminated just shy of placing in the money (always the bridesmaid…) to hear the opening notes of “Eyes of the World” on the pool deck performed by Keller Williams, guitarist Gibb Droll, former-String Cheese bassist Keith Moseley and drummer Jeff Sipe, who was pulling double-duty as he also played with his longtime band, Leftover Salmon, while on board. Immediately, the perma-grin that JC helps produce returned to my face as I grabbed a cold brew and boogied down to some of Keller’s quirky takes on the good ‘ol Grateful Dead.
Taking a quick walk downstairs to catch some of the headliners, I popped into the Jam Room, where things were eerily quiet. That wasn’t enough to deter Butler from plugging in and treating a handful of fans to covers of Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up,” Phish’s “Gotta Jibboo” and “Dark Star” teases thrown into the middle of a Sublime tune, further solidifying the fact that Butler simply loves to play – anything, anywhere, anytime.
Galactic and The Cruise Krewe, consisting of Trombone Shorty, Big Sam and a number of others, delivered one of the week’s strongest efforts. Upon walking into the theater, located at the far front end of the boat, the room was rocking so hard I felt like they should be handing out Dramamine. But, after about two songs, I realized it was the band – not the ocean – that was causing the masses to gyrate uncontrollably. Stanton Moore‘s relentless onslaught on the kit served as the ever-present anchor as the band tore through a slew of Galactic numbers and choice covers. One highlight was Trombone Shorty stepping out to the front of the stage and sustaining a trumpet solo, without drawing a breath, that seemed to stretch on forever. Speaking of drawing a breath, I needed to catch mine towards the end of this set and simply walked out of the theater a few feet to hear ALO welcoming Jackie Greene (Phil Lesh & Friends) to the stage for a cover of his “Ball & Chain” as well as The Dead’s “Sugaree.” It served as the perfect bookend to my Dead and funk filled evening before slouching down in the Jam Room, where the eerily quiet scene of earlier had turned into a sweaty session with Porter, Krasno and the Bonerama horns until dawn.
Day 4: Costa Maya, Mexico
Back on board, there was another round of activities such as Simon Says led by The New Mastersounds‘ Simon Allen, mock weddings for any couples that dared, a special JAMuary party for cruisers born in January and Rockstar Karaoke, where a band of JC artists backed any cruiser that wanted to live out their ultimate, musical fantasy. I did witness some performances later on, thanks to the 24/7 workings of Jam Cruise TV, broadcasting in every cabin, and was rather impressed by a young woman dressed in a bumble bee outfit performing Blind Melon’s “No Rain” and an old timer rocking out to “Hey Joe.”
Tired yet? Almost home.
As the rays of a Mexican sunset set upon our shoulders and we prepared for our final day at sea before the harsh realities of home returned, Bonerama was determined to blow the boat right back to where it came from through sheer horn power, including a rousing cover of “Whipping Post.” Michael Franti welcomed J. Bowman and Carl Young to the stage to serenade us with his Spearhead catalog. He also invited fans, Captain Toast, Butler, Krasno, Sipe, Myers and others to help on the biggest sing-along of the cruise. No matter what your feelings on Franti, he has an innate ability – especially during the sunshine at festivals – to ignite a crowd and collectively move them in a positive way, and I dig it.
After four days confined on a vessel at sea, it’s only logical that sit-ins galore would continue to crop up in every direction. The next two nights saw a plethora of head-scratching collaborations, made somehow comfortable on Jam Cruise and culminating in the Jam Room. What transpired down there until nearly 7:15 a.m. was an all-out celebration of life, funk, New Orleans, New York and everything in between. All I can say is that from around 3 or 4 a.m. until close, no less than 20 musicians appeared in the Jam Room before I finally gave up keeping score and caught some shut eye for the final blowout.
Day 5: Final Day At Sea
The last day of Jam Cruise is always bittersweet. The work and bills we left behind are only a day away and your legs are always as loose as a bowl of Jell-O if you’ve done your job right. The fans seemed to realize this, and after the aforementioned gospel set by The Lee Boys many wounded soldiers rallied for their last battles that evening by soaking in the sun, listening to the likes of an acoustic set by Martin Sexton on the main pool stage. Shortly thereafter, I found myself enamored by the second pool deck stage, or the “hidden gem stage,” as I dubbed it. Literally a perfect semi-circle above the crowd below, Butler called it, “The best seat in the house.” His solo set this afternoon picked up where he left off a few days earlier, serenading everyone with “Graceland” and “Hesitating Beauty” before putting a rather simple exclamation point on his two, beautiful sets with a tear-jerking version of “Let It Be.” Attention Cloud 9 Productions: Under any and all circumstances, please make Butler a constant staple on the boat. His solo sets, mixed with his uncanny ability to freestyle rap, his irresistible likeability and skill at sitting in with anyone and on any tune, make him the perfect act for Jam Cruise – an absolute superstar in the making right before our eyes.
On top of that, there was the second costumed night of “Life on Bourbon Street,” where the vibe was fucking electric from the moment the sun went down and the freaks came out. Anchored by KDTU and Galactic on the pool deck and the very impressive New Mastersounds in the Savannah Bar, the ship rocked something fierce. Add in the second helping of Bustle in Your Hedgerow in the theater, complete with a bare hand and arm drum solo by Russo during “Moby Dick,” and it was clear that all were set on putting the throttle at full speed and slamming this night home into a pile-driver finish.
With DJ Rootz and Murphy spinning in the disco until well past sunrise and the Jam Room being anchored by seemingly everyone, including Brian Jordan (KDTU), Ivan Neville and Butler on freestyle vocals (citing Kanye West, Jay-Z and The Wu Tang Clan), this part of the evening sounded like hip-hop on cocaine, with seemingly everyone dancing as if the ship wouldn’t make it back to port without our collective energy – a true “you had to be there” moment. But, my favorite moment, and one that many Jam Cruisers will tell you was the most poignant was still yet to come.
As I stood on the back deck of the cruise ship, outside of the disco with dancers, day-glo freaks and friends old and new, I watched the sun rise over Miami and Southern Florida, and the magic fairy dust that had been sprinkled on us seemed to gently wash away, like the remains of some collective baptism of jam band, NOLA and NYC kids drying as we approached home. Jam Cruise is an event that one should experience at least once, as it is the most unique festival model we have to choose from, and it’s worth every penny for the vacation of a lifetime. I, for one, can’t wait to get back on board next year.
Continue reading for more images of Jam Cruise…
|Walter “Wolfman” Washington with Galactic|
|Garage a Benevento|
|Stanton Moore & Joe Russo – Bustle In Your Hedgerow|
|The Lee Boys|
|Brock Butler & Dave Dreiwitz|
|Marco Benevento and his daughter Ruby|
|Stanton Moore, Karl Denson, Marco Benevento & Ruby|
|Mardi Gras Time|
|The New Deal|
|Drew Emmitt, Bill Nershi & Keith Moseley|
|Joe Russo & Marco Benevento|
|Robert Walter, Eddie Roberts & Joe Russo|
|PBS with Bonerama|
|DJ Rootz & David Murphy|
|Tea Leaf Green|
|Tim Bluhm, Jackie Greene & Steve Adams|
Continue reading for more images of Jam Cruise…
|Cyro Baptista & Chris Wood|
|Bonerama with Dumpstaphunk|
|Les Claypool with Karl Denson|
|Garage a Benevento|
|The Lee Boys|
|George Porter, Jr.|
|Keller Williams & the WMDs|
|Trevor Garrod (Tea Leaf Green)|
|The New Deal|
|Bonerama with Lettuce|
|Grace Potter & Big Sam|
|Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Tromebone Shorty & Big Sam with Galactic|
|The New Mastersounds|
|Karl Denson & Annabel Lukins|
Continue reading for more images of Jam Cruise…
|Michael Franti & Spearhead|
|Grace Potter and the Nocturnals|
|Jeff Coffin, Big Sam & Trombone Shorty|
|Keller Williams & Keith Moseley (WMDs)|
|Jeff Sipe & Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon)|
|Chris Wood & John Medeski (MMW)|
|The New Deal|
|Big Sam & Trombone Shorty|
JamBase | The High Seas
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