Words By: Scott Bernstein
Jam Cruise :: Day Two :: 1.5.14 :: Miami, FL
Check out Scotty B’s full review of day two below gallery!
The beauty of Jam Cruise is that Cloud 9 Adventures charters the whole ship, so outside of the crew everyone on the boat is here for the music. When you walk into an elevator with someone you’ve never met before, you know you have the shared interest of live music with them so striking up a conversation usually leads to a friendship or at least an interesting chat. Another fantastic element of Jam Cruise is that there isn’t much of a barrier between musicians and fans. At lunch yesterday I sat next to Ivan Neville, George Porter Jr., Zach Deputy and Karl Denson. They didn’t hide backstage, in fact they graciously engaged anyone looking to talk about their music.
When we boarded the boat in Miami the sky was filled with clouds and it was hard to see the sun, which I was hoping wasn’t foreshadowing the weather to come. Thankfully, as soon as we hit International Waters, the clouds broke and the weather has been incredible ever since. Temperatures hit the low 80s as the MSC Divina steamed towards Jamaica. Sunday was a “Day At Sea,” which meant a full slate of musical performances all day and night long.
As I mentioned yesterday, Jam Cruise 12 is taking place aboard the MSC Divina after four straight years on the MSC Poesia. The Divina is a sparkly new boat with all sorts of nooks and crannies. I feel like I keep finding new areas to explore as yesterday I came across the ship’s very cool Infinity Pool and a badass water slide that extends for nearly half a deck. There’s plenty of pros to the new boat for Jam Cruise, but there are also a few cons. On the old boat the venues were located closer to each other, allowing you to breeze from one performance area to another with a quickness. On the Divina you often have to walk from one end of the ship to the other to catch different sets. I walked miles yesterday criss-crossing the boat trying to take in as much music as I could. My feet aren’t happy with me, but my soul is extremely satisfied as I saw many once-in-a-lifetime musical collaborations and impressive sets on Sunday.
The first set I caught on Sunday was Keller Williams’s performance on the Pool Deck Stage. Keller kicked off his set with a number of solo tunes before he brought out Steve and John Morgan Kimock for a reprise of the previous evening’s Keller and the Kimocks set. You can always count on K-Dub to play plenty of covers and Sunday’s set was no exception as he tackled “Criminal” by Fiona Apple and even threw in a portion of a Daft Punk song. For their finale, Keller and the Kimocks treated fans to an outstanding cover of “Naive Melody” by the Talking Heads. It was one of those “I’m lucky to be alive” moments as I basked in the sun and realized this was indeed the place.
The Magic Hat Solar Stage is setup across from the Pool Deck Stage. Smaller acts play the Solar Stage while the larger Pool Deck Stage is set for the next band. Troubadour Nathan Moore kicked off the action on the Solar Stage following Keller’s set. The Virginia native has become a Jam Cruise staple thanks to the impromptu performances he plays until early in the morning at a place dubbed “The Spot.” Many of us who love Moore’s performances at “The Spot” were wondering how the new boat would change “The Spot” situation. Nathan addressed that fact in the middle of his set saying that he and his musical friends used the first night of the cruise for “recon missions” to figure out the best place for “The Spot” and shared the good news that the tradition would continue that evening. Moore unveiled a new song he had just written the night before during his set and also played a tune he had written on a previous Jam Cruise. We would hear how the new song progressed later that night at “The Spot” as Moore added a pair of new verses to the tune in the time between his Solar Stage set and the start of “The Spot” at 1 a.m.
New Orleans guitarist Anders Osborne was up next on the Pool Deck Stage. Osborne’s usual trio was augmented by guitarist Peter Stelling and legendary keyboardist Ivan Neville for the duration of his set. Stelling is the husband of Jam Cruise cruise director Annabel “Julie McCoy” Lukins and Annabel took special pride in noting her talented mate as she introduced Osborne as her “brother and spirit guide.” Osborne’s set included many recently debuted tunes which are less dependent on his overwhelming guitar skills than previous compositions. What they do show off is his talent for penning a stirring tune. Anders welcomed percussionist Mike Dillon to back him a few numbers as the set came to a peak with kickass renditions of “I Shot The Sheriff” and “Fire On The Mountain” mixed in among originals.
Many Jam Cruisers are also novice musicians and there a few opportunities aboard the boat to jam with your heroes. One such opportunity is Jam Cruise’s annual Pickin’ Party. Cruisers are encouraged to bring their instruments to play along with the likes of Keller Williams, the Infamous Stringdusters, Allie Kral and Anders Beck and Paul Hoffman of Greensky Bluegrass. This year’s Pickin’ Party brought out a huge crowd to the ship’s atrium as dozens of amateur musicians performed a batch of Grateful Dead and Talking Heads classics with the pros. Highlights included a singalong “I Know You Rider” with seemingly hundreds lending their voices and a Keller-led “Once In A Lifetime.”
Sunday’s full slate didn’t include many breaks in the musical action, but after the Pickin’ Party I met with a few friends from NYC for dinner. The food at the boat’s sit-down restaurant was a vast improvement over previous years. It was nice to take an hour to hear about my friends’s experiences during the first day and a half of Jam Cruise. With so many musical options it’s impossible to see it all and it was fun (and frustrating) to find out about some of the collaborations I missed.
Disco Biscuits keyboardist Aron Magner returned to Jam Cruise this year for the first time in six years. Magner was aboard as a member of Conspirator and for Saturday’s Gigantic Underground Conspiracy set. Aron brought collaborator Tom Hamilton on the boat with him for a special Piano Atrium set on Sunday night. I really appreciated the opportunity to see Magner perform on a simple acoustic piano without all the synths and analog keyboards he utilizes with the Biscuits and Conspirator. His instrumental skill really came through. Then there’s Hamilton, who recently impressed as a member of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, in addition to his regular gigs with Brothers Past and American Babies. Hamilton’s voice on a cover of The Beatles’s “My Life” was a particular standout of the set.
The New Mastersounds kept the action moving on the Pool Deck Stage as the sun went down. The Leeds-based band welcomed many guests throughout their set including the West Coast Horns, Carly Myers of the Mike D. Band, Jennifer Hartswick, Jans Ingber, Mike Dillon and Allie Kral. As The Mastersounds were funking it up on the Pool Deck, Zach Deputy played an impromptu, loop-filled set of his reggae-tinged originals in the Golden Jazz Bar.
It’s hard to define exactly what a jam band is, but one aspect of the genre is that acts generally switch their setlists from night to night to provide fans with a unique experience each time out. Apparently Les Claypool didn’t get the memo as he played many of the same songs he had performed on Saturday night during his Pool Deck Set on Sunday. Claypool was ill the previous evening and apologized for his Saturday set, calling it “a pile of feces” and promised better results this time around. While Claypool and his Duo de Twang performed many of the same songs between performances such as their cover of “Stayin’ Alive” and “Wynonna’s Big Brown Beaver,” he did bring out a few guests on Sunday. Les and guitarist Bryan Kehoe were joined by saxophonist Skerik and percussionist Mike Dillon for a large portion of the set. I must agree with Claypool that Sunday’s set was much better than Saturday’s performance.
The Pantheon Theater is one of the Divina’s largest venues as it spans three floors and includes two balconies. Up first on Sunday at the theater was funk legend Bootsy Collins and his Funk Unity Band. Bootsy is not only one of the best bassists in the biz, but he’s an incredible show man. I was very impressed by his ability to work the crowd into a frenzy and I’m glad to cross the former P-Funk bassist off my musical bucket list. Bootsy brought a huge band with him aboard the ship as there were 13 people on stage at various points including a pair of hype dancers. Collins also changed wardrobes a few times during the 90-minute performance with each outfit more sparklier and goudy than the last.
As much as I was enjoying Bootsy’s set, I wanted to keep it moving and check out New Orleans’s The Revivalists. The Revivalists were performing the Black & White Lounge -a nightclub-esque venue that also hosts the Jam Room starting after 2 a.m. each night. Just as Orgone did on the night before, The Revivalists drew a huge crowd to the Black & White Lounge. A few months back The Revivalists welcomed 10-year-old guitar phenom Brandon Niederauer to jam with them at Brooklyn Bowl on “Whipping Post.” Well Niederauer came aboard Jam Cruise 12 and after performing with Robert Randolph & The Family Band on Saturday night, he reprised his “Whipping Post” guest spot with The Revivalists on Sunday night. Niederauer is oozing talent and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return to Jam Cruise with his own band in a few years. The Revivalists’s music hits hard with a dirty edge to their brass-y funk. They won many fans aboard the boat with a set that also included guest spots from North Mississippi Allstars bassist Chris Chew, Carly Myers and guitarist Billy Iuso.
My musical highlight from Sunday night was Zach Deputy’s star turn as Ray Charles backed by Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe for “A Ray Charles Boogaloo Dance Party.” This scene isn’t exactly known for sparkling vocal performances, but Zach D. showed immense talent as he sang a score of Ray Charles’s most beloved tunes such as “Unchain My Heart,” “Mess Around” and “Busted.” Deputy and KDTU brought their Ray Charles tribute across the country in 2013, but the Jam Cruise set was the pairing’s last scheduled performance of the material. Let’s hope we haven’t seen the last of Deputy covering Ray Charles as it was magical.
One of the few bummers of the start of the trip was word that Phish drummer Jon Fishman didn’t make it aboard the ship. Fishman was supposed to perform with his Pork Tornado ensemble, as part of The Everyone Orchestra set and to take part in the Wheel Of Fortune Cookie activity. Unfortunately the drummer became ill on New Year’s Eve and stayed at home to recover. Fish’s Pork Tornado band mates did make it on to the MSC Divina and they recruited Galactic drummer Stanton Moore to fill Fishman’s shoes. The memo about the switch must’ve been received as only a dozen or two revelers were on hand for the start of the Pork Tornado set.
Speaking of Phish, the band’s LD, Chris Kuroda, helped design the light rig for the Pool Deck Stage and also operated the light board for parts of many Pool Deck Stage performances including Claypool’s and the Gigantic Underground Conspiracy set on Saturday. It was easy to tell Kuroda was manning the light rig as he’s got such a distinctive style.
On past Jam Cruises, the Solar Stage was only used during the day but on Jam Cruise 12 the Eric Krasno Band was slated to perform on the small stage in between sets from Thievery Corporation and Lotus. Kraz’s solo band, which featured Lettuce guitarist Schmeans, keyboardists Pete Levin and Nigel Hall, vocalists Alecia Chakour and James Casey, among others, was quite impressive as they mixed soul, funk and rock throughout. They also drew a huge crowd as nearly every space where you could see the band from was occupied throughout their set.
Another change for this Jam Cruise was the addition of theme nights for the late night buffet. Saturday night was Taco Night as chef Bradford McDevitt whipped up all sorts of Mexican delicies. Sunday was the “Jam Cruise Fish Fry” as cruisers were treated to fish and chips and beer-battered fried shrimp. The food was delicious and was plentiful besides a huge line for tacos at 12 am that dispersed soon thereafter on Saturday.
California’s ALO closed out the theater on Sunday night with their happy brand of jam-rock. The band kept the Jam Cruise tradition of collaboration going with guest spots from Karl Denson, Corey Henry, Allie Kral, Joel Cummins and more. ALO even brought out a few dozen fans to perform a dance they had made up to accompany one of their originals. As the clock neared 4 a.m. ALO finished their set with a fun take on “Fifth Of Beethoven” featuring Cummins. Over on the Pool Deck Stage, Lotus closed down the action with a jam-heavy set that saw Roosevelt Collier and Dom from Big Gigantic sit in.
George Porter Jr. was the Jam Room host on Sunday night and more often than not the stage was filled to capacity. Around 4:30 I caught a fantastic version of “Aiko Aiko” featuring members of Bonerama and Bootsy’s band, while another impressive moment was Porter teaming with Krasno and friends for his riveting “Out In The Country.”
As I mentioned earlier, Nathan Moore announced he would be returning to “The Spot” for his impromptu performances on Sunday night. For Jam Cruise 12 Moore brought along three of his musical friends to help hold down The Spot starting at 1 a.m. each night. When I decided to finally go to bed around 5 a.m. The Spot was still going strong with members of Greensky Bluegrass and the Infamous Stringdusters augmenting Moore and his crew.
As of press time the Divina is docked in Falmouth, Jamaica. Cloud 9 offers many different excursions for the port, but more than a few cruisers are using the opportunity to catch up on sleep after a pair of marathon days. The musical action continues this evening starting around 5:30 with a set from reggae legends The Wailers as we pull away from Jamaica. Check back on Tuesday for a full report.
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