Jam Cruise 8 | 01.03.10 – 01.08.10

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Chad Smith, Casey Flanigan & Dave Vann

Jam Cruise 8 :: 01.03.10 – 01.08.10
Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Ocho Rios, Jamaica – Georgetown, Grand Cayman Island

STS9 :: Jam Cruise 8 by Flanigan
The urge to set sail on an adventure is deeply rooted in our collective unconscious. Tom and Huck on a makeshift raft on the muddy Mississippi, Odysseus tossed about the Mediterranean, Ahab in restless pursuit of his alabaster nemesis – these tales are writ large in our subconscious and I felt the symbolic stirrings of these and myriad other stories the first night on open water during my first Jam Cruise. With nothing but stars, clouds, waves and shiny, happy people around me (plus a few other cruise ships in the distance), I realized that this journey was my reality for the next five days. Home was miles behind me, the air cool and filled with energetic sounds, and I felt a primal sense of adventure rise in me. Jam Cruise is surely a party, but approached with slightly more conscious intent, it can be considerably more.

While sometimes seen as an elitist fest because of the price tag, what I found was the vast majority of people had obtained passage through hard work, talent and scrimping and saving. Yes, it is considerably more than the average camping fest but one has a cabin, shower, 24-hour food and drink, excursions to Jamaica and the Grand Cayman Island, and a host of amenities that constitute real luxury for the average festivarian. And there’s something to be said for being patient and working towards a really big event like this, particularly in a culture of near-instant gratification of most appetites. Sitting in a hot tub watching Luther Dickinson lock horns with Robert Randolph during The Word‘s blistering opening night set, I swiftly realized that this was unlike any other experience I’d ever had. To then wander indoors – barefoot, smiling and steaming – to find Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes tearing it up like a miniature gritty soul-rock revue in the Zebra Bar – think a pimp’s idea of “classy” done up in mirrors and garish zebra print – and I soon discovered that there were going to be a lot of temptations to not sleep over the next week. The atmosphere is charged, to say the least, and there’s as much as one can stand – and then some – on offer almost any hour of the day.

Annabel Lukins (JC Organizer) :: Jam Cruise 8 by Smith
There is an intrinsic sense of playfulness on Jam Cruise. One encounters sights and sounds every few hundred feet that make one laugh aloud – costumed freaks making wild animal noises in the stairwells or a door hanger that reads, “Fucking Your Mom – Do Not Disturb.” It was, with few exceptions, good natured mischief, and I found myself humming Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes” (or in my saucier moments, Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ “Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll“) as I strolled the carpeted hallways, frequently finding strangers in harmony with my fine mood. And many times these random encounters turned into extended conversations that dipped into everything from politics to divorce to our children and wistful remembrances of musicians past (Garcia’s spirit was very much afoot on the MSC Poesia). It may not have been universal but there was a significant portion of attendees who seemed split open in the most beautiful way, ready to face all sorts of things inside them, shared with a clarity we don’t often reach on dry land. On a half dozen occasions I found myself cradling someone I’d never met before as they cried into my shoulder only minutes after we’d begun speaking. And I was glad to be their sounding board and temporary comfort. Perhaps some of us felt freed up by the wonderfully alien setting, certain, on some level at least, that we were in safe company and that the music unfolding around us would heal and guide us onward. I saw people move from sobbing to dancing in swift order, and each of these encounters meant I had another new friend every time we bumped into one another the rest of the trip. And unlike most festival friendships, the depth of feelings shared cemented something more enduring that I want to hold onto and nurture now that I’m home, and I hardly think I’m alone in that desire.

DJ Logic :: Jam Cruise 8 by Vann
You’ve also never ever geeked out and talked music like you can on Jam Cruise. Literally hours would pass as we traded our touring pedigrees and insights on beloved albums. With wide, wild eyes, we waxed poetic about Dead, Panic, Phish and Crowes shows we’d experienced, and in this company we felt no shame in being irrationally and completely in love with music. These are people whose personal timelines are marked by musical moments, songs or shows that capture the essence of a relationship or an entire year. A cigarette on the deck could turn into two hours of intense discussion of Duke Ellington or improvisation or whatever metaphorically floats our boats. And regardless of what was happening on stages, one rarely felt like they were missing out. In fact, usually the conversations would travel from disco to pool deck to Jam Room, shifting tone and content as one encountered others or got sparked off by the notes flying at them. More than any other festival, I felt surrounded by my tribe, the people for whom music is central and endlessly informative and inspiring.

And there’s the music. Perhaps it’s the herd mentality and general myopia of most music press, but this might be the most talented yet overlooked collection of musicians on the planet. This thought occurred to me repeatedly throughout the week as I watched players engage with a staggering number of styles and genres, most of them seemingly ready at a moment’s notice to wing it and see where they might go with their compatriots. In terms of pure chops, musical smarts and live energy, it’d be tough to beat the assemblage on Jam Cruise 8, and even if most aren’t household names that takes nothing away from their immense talent and infectious, free spirited spark.

“The beauty of this thing is we’re all sequestered in this place,” said saxophone marvel Jeff Coffin, an artist-at-large this year, who proved a real musical colossus with a wicked imagination and the dexterity and facility to pull off anything that came to mind, as he popped up with seemingly everyone at one point or another. “There’s so many chances to get outside of your comfort zones.”

Coffin’s observation hits the nail on the head: Jam Cruise is a chance to get outside one’s comfort zone and taste and feel the unfolding moment in a tangible way. If nothing else, this trip has reaffirmed that the jam scene continues to thrive where it counts most – the music.

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Sail Away

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave. :: Jam Cruise 8 by Vann
As they cut the ropes to the ship in Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave. broke into a viciously funky, breathless set that harbingered the flood of New Orleans rooted music to come in the days ahead. One of the finest soul trombonist since Fred Wesley first cracked skulls, Shorty and his blazing band – especially his lead guitarist, Pete Murano, who went after and captured that extra something every time he stepped up – set off the festivities properly with a sound as lean, charismatic and focused as their bandleader himself. Looking around the pool deck, there were visibly joyous people hoisting drink after drink and pushing their internal amps up to “11” from the very start of the voyage. Amateurs might well be taken aback by the gusto and open throttle of this crowd but it felt quite natural to jump rather than ease into things with Shorty’s bouncing groove ensnaring one’s limbs.

The “Sail Away Party” was truly unifying, a centralized gathering that reminded us we were in this thing together. It made me wish more small festivals would hold something similar to create a general sense of togetherness, and the same collective vibe cropped up at each of the two subsequent Sail Away sets as we left Ocho Rios and Georgetown.

Karl Denson – Sexual Chocolate :: Jam Cruise 8 by Smith
“When they told us we’d be playing the pool stage as we sailed away from Jamaica I had a very different idea of how it would be,” said John Brown’s Body‘s lead singer Elliot Martin on Tuesday as wind and steady rain pounded the still enthusiastic though sparser than expected audience. JBB infuse reggae with a soulful lilt, faster rhythms and choice live dub effects. Using patient builds, lover’s rock vocal sweetness and rebel rock toughness, John Brown’s Body honored their ancestors from the island disappearing in our wake by treating reggae not as canonical but alive and ready for remolding. Plus, they have excellent songs, which is the ultimate litmus test of any band working primarily in a single genre. Like pals and sometime JBB touring partners The Black Seeds, John Brown’s Body offered up genuinely modern reggae that incorporated a plethora of strains rather than another tired-ass recreation of what Bob Marley wrought.

On Wednesday, JJ Grey & Mofro took us out of the Grand Cayman Island with a rockin’, honestly soulful performance that showed off as tight and interesting a bunch as Grey has ever gathered around him. Otis Redding would have loved JJ and his songs redolent of Southern culture, family and an aching worldview with enough heart to weep for fallen trees and lost wilderness. Four days in, some of us, myself included, were feeling a little homesick – as sailors will – and Mofro’s set hit our guts like amazing home cooking. “Is this a big party?” asked Grey. “We been going every night but we still got a ways to go. If this is a big party then everybody dance!” And we did – hard – and we chuckled at his impression and translation of Yellowman and got suitably wistful singing about life on the wrong side of the tracks. Like JBB and Shorty (and many other artists on the cruise), Mofro isn’t an imitator but a vibrant evolution of the sound of their ancestors. I have no problem imaging Ray Charles and the cream of ’60s/70s Muscle Shoals studio killers absolutely loving what this band is laying down today.

First Night

Stanton Moore & Skerik :: Jam Cruise 8 by Smith
Besides Orleans Ave.’s party starter, the evening we set out contained some of the strongest music at Jam Cruise 8, though no day’s fare was weak or anything beyond most expectations – a testament to the quality programming and band choices of the organizers. In fact, it became swiftly apparent that premeditating one’s Jam Cruise experience too much was a fool’s errand. Sure, one could intend to hit this or that set, but more than likely one was jostled about by more immediate, serendipitous influences, overtaken by a Skerik or Ivan Neville sit-in, or just enraptured with the fresh sea air and good company on deck, regardless of who was playing. It’s a point I’ve made before but it bears repeating: Things that situate us in the moment are a blessing. We are so often caught up in our past and future that we miss the pleasures of right now, and Jam Cruise planted one in that wonderful present tense right away.

Dark Star Orchestra‘s nighttime pool deck set made it clear that DSO has as much a claim on the Grateful Dead legacy at this point as any of the surviving members of the Dead. With fans’ hearts and an under-appreciated level of technical skill, DSO reconnects with the source vibe of Dead music, that thing that makes us listen to countless bootlegs of every era, that thing that made us fall for this strange American music in the first place, particularly when they do original setlists, as they did both performances on Jam Cruise. “The Music Never Stopped” kicked this set off and seemed a purposeful anthem for this cruise. Swaying in the inky blackness of open water, cell phones dying off and the mainland a fast fading memory, Dark Star wove music that knitted us together and made one glad to be part of this adventure – not unlike when Garcia was still leading the Dead and made many of us feel we’d run away to some fantastical circus. Any doubts about new lead guitarist-singer Jeff Mattson (i.e. DSO’s new “Jerry”) were erased by a breathtaking “Eyes of the World” that rivaled the arguably definitive version on the So Many Roads box set. Overflowing with beauty and common man’s spirituality, “Eyes” made one glad to be nowhere else at that moment, and Mattson continually proved a real prize in his new role, bringing all his years in The Zen Tricksters to bear and then upping the ante a bit more. Though heresy to many John Kadlecik purists, I personally dug Mattson more in DSO and suspect he’s only gonna prove a better and better fit as time goes by.

Maceo Parker :: Jam Cruise 8 by Flanigan
In the Teatro Carlo Felice, the well-appointed, tiered seating indoor space, Maceo Parker was the definition of class and style, neither of which took one damn thing away from his sheer funky, jazzy essence. I was reminded of Maceo’s guest spotlight with De La Soul years ago, where the track begins with him saying, “I’m Maceo. I be blowin’ the soul out of this horn.” He sure is, and he’s nearly the powerhouse of his youth even in his golden years. With a ridiculously together band, all dressed in suits like Parker, this set and the subsequent pool deck set on Wednesday were just wonderful. This cat helped birth funk music and has only added great complications and tweaks as he’s grown older, like having his British manager come out to recite Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy as the band cooked softly behind her. Not sure what I expected going in but Maceo kept flipping the script, revealing a more well rounded musician than even his many admirers – including every horn player on the boat who watched and played with Parker with kid-like enthusiasm – might have suspected.

Another surprise to many Jam Cruisers was Bay Area faves The Mother Hips, who hypnotized many new listeners with their sinewy, muscular rockin’, stopping folks in their tracks in the Zebra Bar (and again Tuesday in the Teatro) as they sang, “This is the sound/ Let it bring you down.” One of the few truly rock ‘n’ roll acts this year – if there’s one quibble with the programming it’s maybe a hunger for just a little more hard-toned rock music amongst the many funk/soul/jam ensembles – the Hips offered a welcome spot of danger and sex onstage. Loose but never limp, the quartet played a solid cross-section of their catalog with an emphasis on recent Pacific Dust material as they worked on their sea legs. This was an ongoing challenge for the musicians, especially during a few turbulent, white water splashing nights, and all of them deserve an extra measure of respect and appreciation for working through wobbly tummies and jelly legs to keep the music flowing.

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At Sea

Zach Deputy :: Jam Cruise 8 by Smith
Monday and Thursday were spent trucking through the sea and were the only full days of music programming, with Tuesday daytime spent in Jamaica and Wednesday daytime in Georgetown, Grand Cayman Island (or perhaps aboard ship recovering from one’s frolics on the deck with prodigious amounts of coffee and sliced fruit). Boarding and disembarking took several hours each on either end of the trip, though if one relaxed and didn’t let the waiting get to them they probably found some fun with their compatriots waiting in line next to them. The spacing out of options, including a civilized two-hour dinner break most nights, helped set a reasonable pace. Like the gluttony available at the buffet, one could be tempted to take in too much, push and push to miss as little as possible OR you could enjoy simply “being” in an environment designed to stimulate one’s pleasure centers, kicking back with musicians over a three-course meal and some wine or watching college football on the satellite TV in your cabin. While one could “rage” for days on end, there was another constituency that embraced idleness and atmosphere, perhaps choosing a perch somewhat away from the front of the stages and people watching over cocktails, maybe while floating in the pool or hot tubs while colorful creatures raced past, howling at the moon that peeked in and out from behind the running clouds.

Monday’s offerings began around noon with Vote-To-The-Boat winners the Ryan Montbleau Band on the pool deck easing into the day with violin and textural keys massaging Montbleau’s warm voice and radio-friendly pop-singer-songwriter fare. With tunes about breakfast and populist lyrics like, “I’ve never broken a bone in my life/ Let alone a heart or hip replaced,” these guys were a pleasant if conventional way to wake up.

Toubab Krewe with Ivan Neville :: Jam Cruise 8 by Flanigan
Inside, a Slide Guitar Workshop in the Zebra Bar led by Steve Kimock, Luther Dickinson and Robert Randolph was both educational and a hoot. “One word of advice is put the pick down. Just listen to what’s in your heart and play that,” said Dickinson. Kimock added a moment later, “Please use your fingers,” which Dickinson rejoindered, “Just pretend you’re with your girlfriend,” to mass laughter.

Back on deck at the Solar Stage, Zach Deputy made me not hate acoustic guitar based, loop-driven music – it’s really all getting a bit cliché, eh? Deputy, a regular pinch-hitter in the Jam Room, oozed charm and reminded one very strongly of prime Bill Withers, both in his singing style and fluid picking. A big man with a sunshine sound, Deputy was a nifty discovery for me and many others.

Toubab Krewe played the first of two stunning, original sets on Monday. They’ve refined and tightened up their already unique sound. There are blurrier lines between the genre blending now, resulting in the sense one was witnessing something new and powerful being born, Africa and America in a bold conversation that takes one into ancestral streams too strong to be ignored. You can dance to it, too, especially when Ivan Neville hops up to get a piece of it, fighting off the buffeting winds to find his own place inside Toubab’s world.

Railroad Earth :: Jam Cruise 8 by Vann
The winds kicked up even more boldly during Railroad Earth‘s deck set, but instead of being cowed by the elements RRE danced with them, pulling out solos that flew and flittered with the breeze, Todd Sheaffer‘s Del McCoury-esque voice cutting the current like a dexterous bird. Between this set and the Tuesday Teatro set – likely the most tender, lovely, emotionally exposed set on Jam Cruise 8 – Railroad Earth showed that every element of this band is top-notch and fabulously dovetailed. It all works like great folk music given new clothes and saucier intentions. For all the philosophizing, it’s not hippy-dippy shit – it’s actually thoughtful! Like fellow unsung modern songwriter Nathan Moore, Sheaffer is a contemporary classic, this generation’s answer to Dylan, Neil Young, et al. and the more one delves into their catalog the richer the experience becomes. Brave enough to be delicate and smart enough to never be pussies, RRE played two of the best sets I’ve ever seen them do, and this with guest bassist Keith Moseley (SCI) filling in for the recently retired Johnny Grubb and showing incredible feel for what they do. Unless one is prone to nitpicking, it would have been hard to find fault with his playing, which offered mostly continuity with Grubb’s work, though a few jerks in the crowd on Tuesday actually booed Moseley when he was introduced.

Two one-off performances also stood out on Monday, namely the heavy-rock-meets-prog-jazz of OHMphrey – which seemed to scare the more delicate flowers off the pool deck but delighted strange, thick noise loving weirdos like myself, totally living up to their introduction, which claimed, “It’s like a combination of Bitches Brew and metal. They will melt your face.” While most of the band jumped off at Jamaica, keyboardist extraordinaire Joel Cummins stuck around and added intuitive magic to a number of sets, including an especially hot Everyone Orchestra gathering on Thursday. The other Monday standout was The Motet Plays Talking Heads barnburner, with Deep Banana Blackout shredder Fuzz, two boffo female singers and Kyle Hollingsworth (keys, vocals) creating a loving, sort-of-giddy salute to the Heads and really lighting up the packed crowd. While perhaps over-praised in their retirement, the Talking Heads are a touchstone, especially for younger fans introduced to them by Phish’s fabled Halloween performance of Remain In Light, and the high feeling and sense of well being permeating the pool area during this set was hard to match the rest of the voyage. A genuine homage, The Motet-plus set did the job it set out to do and skirted being a simple recreation by gently stretching the songs and injecting a lil’ jamminess the Heads would likely never abide.

The Motet w/ Kyle Hollingsworth :: Jam Cruise 8 by Vann
My Monday came to a close with one of the best STS9 shows I’ve caught in some time. I’m fully aware that the rollers and tweakers miss the band’s earlier sound, but standing on the upper deck looking down on the undulating swarm on the deck below, I kept thinking, “Where did this music come from?” It makes no sense on paper – a sometimes jarring intersection of instrumental rock, electronica, African textures, lounge music and more. What I appreciated about this set – and today’s STS9 in general – is their bravery in embracing gorgeous, slower moods. There’s something highly vulnerable in this engagement with pure beauty, and it’s only going to expand their emotional range, particularly since they work in instrumental music, to work with the full range of tempos and feelings on top of bass-heavy, dance stuff. As they’ve evolved as musicians and composers it makes sense that they’d change and this set was a fine example of the band today.

Thursday’s day at sea culminated in Mike Dillon’s Go-Go Jungle in the Zebra Bar, which was a delirious period to place on the music for my first Jam Cruise. As usual, I wanted to illustrate Fleischer style black and white cartoons full of anthropomorphic objects and wise talking animals set to the mayhem unleashed by Mike D. and his cohorts, who brought some much needed agro-energy into our collective bloodstream. The slipstream of this music is breakneck and asks a fair amount of listeners, but go with it enthusiastically and there’s not much more exciting or rewarding out there. This is the kind of band, augmented by omnipresent saxophonics expert Skerik and others, that could nail The Dead Kennedys’ “Too Drunk To Fuck” and then seamlessly ease into Ellington’s “Caravan” and out into hip hop reminiscent of primo Schooly D. That they make such disparate elements swing mightily is a greater achievement still. I relish any session with such delightfully misbehaved musicians, and this particularly gnarly-sweet shindig left me with a head full of fucked-up dreams and a smile that made my jaw hurt.

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All Funked Up

George Porter Jr. :: Jam Cruise 8 by Smith
Funk is pervasive on Jam Cruise. From elder statesmen like Maceo Parker to New Orleans iron men Galactic to one of the ship’s pillars, George Porter Jr. – who played like he’d drunk the blood of a young boy, his groove-metronome head a beacon whenever one fell off their good foot – and the seemingly non-stop grooves of the Jam Room, which acted like a go-all-night long, open door cutting session curated by a different musician each night starting at midnight. One just never ran out of music that made one move and love New Orleans and New York and any other oasis of funk. There was simply too much in this vein to catalog but if funk is a primary musical love for you then Jam Cruise delivers in a HUGE way.

And the whole thing felt like one long family affair with most of the players sitting in with their peers and welcoming them into their own sets. However, one of the glues that held Jam Cruise together was keyboard wizard Robert Walter, who shined brightly every single time he touched a B-3 or Rhodes, and he may have played with more people than anyone else on this cruise. He also led the Fantastic 4 on Wednesday, which may have been the crispest, nastiest funk display I heard. Joined by the freaking crushing guitar attack of Eric Krasno, a vaguely possessed George Porter Jr. and brutally tight drummer Adam Deitch, the Fantastic 4 just killed it again and again and again. A couple quality guest turns from Nigel Hall, including a buzz-inducing vocal turn through Stevie Wonder’s “Love Having You Around,” confirmed that Hall is a major talent, both as an original, appealing keyboardist and strong, engaging singer. I leave the boat with Nigel Hall on my shortlist of dudes to keep a VERY close eye on in the future. The guy is a total pro, even in major party mode, and likely to kick out some of the most engaging soul, funk and jazz we’re gonna hear in the near future.

The primary competitors for “funkiest times on the boat” were Krasno’s set with Chapter 2, which includes Hall, and the Ivan Neville driven Dragon Smoke throwdown in the Zebra, which pleasantly slowed down for a sultry version of War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness” with War’s original harmonica champ Lee Oskar, another artist-at-large this year. It’s probably a matter of apples and oranges for funk enthusiasts, and I chose to eat the full fruit basket and didn’t regret the decision one little bit!

Zappa Lives

Pretty Lights :: Jam Cruise 8 by Smith
In a very real way, Zappa Plays Zappa, who performed twice, are keeping Frank’s music alive and well. Nostalgia is part of the game, and there’s a great deal they don’t play in Frank’s massive catalog, but what they do tackle is done with loving grace and a bluesy edge that’s markedly different than Dweezil Zappa‘s pop. Mostly young players, Zappa Plays Zappa has a real find in Scheila Gonzalez, who sings with a broad, cool range, plays saxophone and keys with flair, and generally uplifts everything she touches. No one else is a slouch either, which may account for the Australians who’d flow out for the cruise prompted by their great love of ZPZ. Frank Zappa’s work is a wholly unique creation, and yet it’s also one of the largely un-discussed roots of the jam scene in terms of both attitude and composition. Having ZPZ on the boat reminded us of that and helped introduce some of the vast, peculiar catalog of one of the 20th Century’s greatest musicians to neophytes. If they maybe didn’t repeat so many songs at the two sets I’d give ’em an extra gold star, but that’s really a minor quibble when measured against the pleasure and force of what they do.

Pretty Lights

As fine as Dark Star Orchestra’s deck set had been, it was the Teatro set on Wednesday that brought me back to the feeling I had seeing the Grateful Dead for the first time in 1984 at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. And though awash in a warm, familiar and very satisfying feeling, I felt a pull to head up top and see what all the buzz was about with Pretty Lights. I’ll say this: The kid and his sleek, hard-knock drummer bring it. His style is heavily informed by straight-up Studio 54 late ’70s disco, with string splashes and orchestral sweeps pushing a knack for comforting, crowd stirring samples (“After Midnight,” “Midnight Rider”). He’s got the balls to bust out Lonely Island’s “I’m On A Boat” AND chase it with the unctuous keyboard intro to Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” He’s shameless and fiercely dedicated to stirring up a hands-in-the-air frenzy, which he surely generated by the pool. Pretty Lights is easy to like, and has a wider range of flavors – including bits that reminded me of Kraftwerk’s robot rock – than many contemporaries. Not hard to see why this act is blowing up.

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Other Jam Cruise 8 MVPs

Ivan Neville & Brock Butler :: Jam Cruise 8 by Flanigan
Hot Buttered Rum for showing that twang can be modernized, and for hosting a really informative, jovial pickin’ workshop.

Sexual Chocolate, the Coming To America inspired cruise ship alter-ego to Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, particularly for their utterly sincere, flute dappled reading of Christopher Cross’ “Sailing.” Extra points for KDTU’s pool deck set for the best version of “Elephants” they’ve ever played, helped along by ferocious guest turns by Skerik, Jeff Coffin, Robert Walter and Mike Dillon, amongst others.

Steve Kimock Crazy Engine for creating a psychedelic version of instrumental yacht rock and prompting Melvin Seals into some of the most wiggling, turned on playing we’ve heard the big man do in some time. And Kimock was maybe the most relaxed and copacetic I’ve ever seen him be. Neat!

Brock Butler for his official and unofficial deck sets and whacked yet perfect instinct for cover tunes. Dude makes folks smile BIG!

-Everyone who dressed up for “Funk ‘n’ Formal” and “Superheroes and Villains” theme nights. While I plain clothes it, the attention to detail and wild creativity of those who suited up made the cruise a brighter, more fabulous place.

-Cloud 9 Adventures, the producers of Jam Cruise, for donating the instruments for a whole brass band to a village in Jamaica. That’s putting one’s ideals into substantive practice!

DJ Logic for consistently crushing it in the disco and making everyone feel like our record collections are inferior to his.

-Every chummy, woozy set on the acrylic piano in the main lobby. Sing-alongs with virtuoso accompaniment and some of the prettiest music of the fest.

Josh Phillips Trio for idyllic afternoon chilling folk-pop that evoked fab ancestors like Paul Simon and the Everly Brothers. Solid harmonies are always to be celebrated.

-The Jam Room nights that Skerik and Ivan Neville hosted. Lord above, the range of sounds and fearless thrust of the WIDE FUCKING OPEN playing by all was staggering. Never seen anything quite like either night, and both nights were strikingly different from one another. Two master class musicians at the helm and so bloody much to work with coming on and off the stage for hours upon hours.

-JC organizer Annabel Lukins for her ceaselessly upbeat attitude and for keeping the cosmic tumblers of this great enterprise moving smoothly. Girl, you are a miracle and a half.

A Revelation

The Word :: Jam Cruise 8 by Vann
During George Porter’s Super Jam I had a flash, which gelled into a true revelation during Everyone Orchestra. As much as people, critics especially, wax poetic about a time when Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis or Miles Davis and John Coltrane were new voices and playing in endless configurations that moved music forward at a speedy clip, I realized that the assortment of musicians with their cavernous range, monster sized talent, prejudice free POV and marathon runner stamina gathered on Jam Cruise 8 were the inheritors of these forefathers’ legacy. While many could probably ring more money out of their careers by playing to a single sensibility, adhering to bebop structures, VH1 pop or uninspired Meters recreations, they’ve chosen a tougher path. And God bless them for it.

These shape-shifting men and women reveal the fluidity and basic cohesion of MUSIC, the archetypal thing stripped of adjectives and qualifiers. These musicians extend the line begun by Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Rodgers, The Beatles and countless other heavy-hitters. It’s not to say one era is better than another, but the jam scene, as represented on Jam Cruise 8, is maybe the most wide-open bunch to come down the pike, able to meld field hollers with Fela, Bill Monroe with boogie woogie. They invite us to investigate and explore the whole spectrum of music, honoring the past by not making an artifact of it, and in turn creating music that will grab and inspire future generations.

It was a gift to watch them work for five days, and the feeling they stirred in me, combined with the overwhelming good will and kindness of most Jam Cruisers, is something I vowed to take home with me as I stepped off the ship last Friday. While the temptation is to lament the ending of this journey, I’d encourage anyone who was there to strive to bring some of the Jam Cruise world/vibe into daily life – be a touch more patient, a bit more ready to give away what you have, and get out there to your local clubs and see all of these hard working musicians when they come to town. No one is getting rich doing this kind of music, and the community that breathed and rollicked on the MSC Poesia is exactly who these musicians need to survive. The benefit is not only the positive feeling of helping great talents make a living at their craft but an almost lock-certain guarantee that these players will deliver grand music night after night wherever they roam.

Jam Cruise 9 Wish List

Jam Cruise 8 by Smith
1. The Roots. Their collaborative spirit and buoyant vibe would be a perfect match for JC, though a more budget minded choice could be the almost-as-lethal-live Asheville, NC crew GFE, who’d drop some quality hip hop flavor into the funky stewpot.

2. Poor Man’s Whiskey performing Dark Side of the Moonshine on the pool deck. Like this year’s Talking Heads set, I think folks would lose their widdle minds with PMW dressed in Wizard of Oz costumes and lasers firing overhead under a star filled sky. Plus the PMW boys would be extra tasty sauce for the Jam Room and other sit-ins.

3. Craig Finn – Artist At Large. The Hold Steady frontman would be a cool x-factor that’d bring some rough rock energy to the proceedings, as well as lending his earthy, dark tinged personality to the trip.

4. Nate Wilson Group. They’ve already produced a bong hit masterpiece, and are one of the best hard rock units going today. They jam but with teeth, and the former Assembly of Dust keyboardist-singer would be a welcome addition to the general pool of musicianship onboard, not to mention under-valued, supremely heady guitarist Adam Terrell.

5. I’m on the boat sharing this incredible, life-affirming experience again!

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Images by: Chad Smith

David Murphy (STS9)
Robert Walter
Trombone Shorty
Brock Butler
Jeff Coffin
Adam Deitch
Drum Workshop
Dark Star Orchestra
Everyone Orchestra
Galactic with George Porter Jr.
Nigel Hall
Jake Cinninger
John Brown’s Body
Karl Denson
Eric Krasno
Eric Krasno
Lee Oskar (War)
DJ Logic
Maceo Parker
The Motet
Railroad Earth

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Images by: Dave Vann

Mike Dillon
Dark Star Orchestra
The Mother Hips
Steve Kimock
Maceo Parker
JJ Grey & Mofro
Pretty Lights
Poker Tournament
Walter, Denson, Moore
Artist Photo

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