Jam Cruise Journal | And So It Begins..
Words By: Scott Bernstein
Jam Cruise :: Day One :: 1.4.14 :: Miami, FL
Check out Scotty B’s full review of day one below gallery!
Over the past few days a number of cities across the nation have experienced extreme weather including record low temperatures and major snowstorms. For many of those attending the 12th installment of Jam Cruise, the weather created challenges in getting to Miami for Saturday evening’s departure. As cruisers loaded on the brand-new MSC Divina, they exchanged horror stories about how they made it to the boat. Yet once aboard all the travel stress faded away as thousands of music fans embarked on a magical music adventure.
This year’s trip features plenty of changes from past voyages. First off there’s the boat itself as Jam Cruise 12 leaves aboard the Divina, after four years on the Poesia. “Ritzy” and “swanky” were two adjectives thrown around often to describe the trip’s new home. The Italian Cruise Line spared no expense in building the latest addition to its fleet with a pair of dramatic Swarovski crystal staircases and gorgeous artwork located around the boat. Another big change was the port of departure -Miami. Jam Cruise had left from Fort Lauderdale for the past few years in a building that had the charm of an old warehouse. MSC’s new facility in the Port of Miami was a welcome upgrade which made it easy to load on the boat in about as stress-free a fashion as possible.
Once aboard the Divina, Jam Cruisers took time to explore their new home. It was easy to tell those who are “Jam Cruise Virgins” by the expressions of awe and amazement on their faces. The music on Day One wasn’t scheduled to start until the evening, giving attendees plenty of time to meet up with their friends, grab a bite at the buffet, take a shower or swim in one of the many pools on the Divinia. As the clock approached the 7 p.m. start time for the Sail Away Part featuring Bonerama, it became clear there was a delay in building the Pool Deck Stage. Cruise director Annabel Lukins, aka “Julie McCoy,” made an announcement that there would be an hour delay in the schedule for the Pool Deck due to a snag in building the stage.
The delay in the Pool Deck action gave Umphrey’s McGee keyboardist Joel Cummins the opportunity to open the musical activity on Jam Cruise 12. Cummins performed a 45-minute set at a piano located in the ship’s atrium. The piano is perfectly located at the bottom of the Divina’s crystal stairways allowing cruisers to gaze down at the set from four different levels. Joel welcomed many guests throughout his set including Ivan Neville for a duet, Paul Hoffman and Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass for takes on UM’s “Great American” and Greensky’s “Lose My Way.” Montreal-based drummer Terry Arsenault, a longtime friend of Cummins, helped out on a cover of “Linus and Lucy” as well as a set-closing version of “Glory” that featured an amazing sax solo from Bill Evans.
Meanwhile, up on the Pool Deck, free Magic Hat beer was provided for cruisers gathered for the Sail Away Party set from New Orleans’s brass-heavy Bonerama. Annabel introduced the Cloud 9 Adventures staff who had spent the whole year putting together Jam Cruise 12 and led a toast to kick off the trip. Over in the theater Keller Williams was performing with guitarist Steve Kimock and his drummer son John Morgan Kimock. Williams stuck to bass for the majority of the set. John Morgan impressed behind the kit as he’s come a long way since his last Jam Cruise appearance in 2010. The trio mixed songs from Steve’s repertoire including “Tangled Hangers” and “Thing 1 and 2” with a handful of Keller’s originals such as “Freaker By The Speaker.” The set came to a close with an outstanding “Scarlet” > “Fire.”
Robert Randolph and the Family Band followed Bonerama on the main stage and showed off a new, heartier sound since their last Jam Cruise appearance. There are many football fans aboard the ship and a big screen was setup on the other end of the pool deck from where the stage was to show the Eagles/Saints matchup. It was an interesting contrast between those dancing their cares away on one side of the deck and those intently watching the football game on the other side. At points the football players received bigger cheers than those on stage. However those paying attention to Randolph’s set were rewarded with an impressive performance that featured a lengthy sit-in from guitarist Eric Krasno.
Les Claypool was among those on the very first Jam Cruise in 2004. This year he made his return to the boat with musical partner Bryan Kehoe as Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang. Claypool told many stories about that first trip throughout his 90-minute set. Towards the end of Les’s set a concertgoer screamed from the front row that he wanted Claypool to help him propose to his girlfriend. Claypool was incredulous, but was game to help out and we’re happy to report the girl said yes! Another surreal moment during Les’s set was the trio’s (Les and Kehoe were augmented by a mandolin player for most of the performance) cover of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.
Another venue aboard the Divina is the “Black & White Lounge,” which was similar to a nightclub. The Black & White Lounge hosted a number of performances throughout the night before it was turned into the famed “Jam Room” starting around 2 a.m. each evening. Orgone took the Black & White Lounge stage around 11:30 p.m. and drew a huge crowd. It was tough to move around the venue as cruisers streamed into the room to watch Orgone’s bombastic brand of funk and soul. After witnessing a few tunes it was clear why Orgone had gathered such a huge crowd -they provided an amazing dance party for the revelers.
Part of the magic of Jam Cruise are the unannounced performances. Many musicians aboard the boat aren’t content to just play one or two sets and often find other opportunities to jam. One such occasion took place on Saturday night when the members of Infamous Stringdusters took over a table at the Golden Jazz Bar and played a number of bluegrass classics including “I’ve Been All Around This World” for anyone who happened to be passing by.
Gigantic Underground Conspiracy closed out the Pool Deck Stage on the first day of Jam Cruise. The supergroup features members of Conspirator, Big Gigantic and Chicago’s Underground Orchestra. The band didn’t take the stage until after 2 a.m., but there were plenty of audience members on hand looking to dance the night way. Gigantic Underground Conspiracy didn’t disappoint those looking to get their groove on as they delivered a top-notch mixture of pre-recorded beats and live riffage.
Lettuce has become a Jam Cruise fixture and you can always count on them to throw down for their sets aboard the boat. The NYC-based band were the final performers of the night in the theater and showed off much of the new material they’ve been formulating and recording over the past few months. Nigel Hall was on keys for the vast majority of the performance, which saw Ivan Neville sneak in for a sit-in. One of the highlights of Lettuce’s set was vocalist Alecia Chakour’s appearance. Chakour, a longtime Lettuce associate, asked fans to be “gentle” as she was a Jam Cruise Virgin. Alecia led the way on the new original “Don’t Be Afraid To Try” as well as Syl Johnson cover.
As the clock approached 4 a.m. I decided to remember Jam Cruise is a marathon and not a sprint, so I headed to bed. Before hitting the hay I stopped by the Jam Room and was in for a treat as John Popper, Will Bernard, Robert Walter and a drummer were ripping it up for a dozen fans. Lettuce and Gigantic Underground Conspiracy were playing in front of huge crowds, which didn’t leave many cruisers in the Jam Room. Yet those who were in the Jam Room were treated to an exceptional performance. Once Popper left the stage, Bernard assembled the Stanton Moore Trio (Bernard, Moore and Walter) as more cruisers filed in. Day Two of Jam Cruise 12 finds the boat steaming towards Jamaica and features a full slate of performances. With that in mind I tore myself away from the magic taking place in the Jam Room. You can’t see it all, or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.