Jam Cruise 15 Journal – Day Two: The Best Kind Of Musical Marathon
Words by: Scott Bernstein
Images by: Joshua Timmermans & Chris Monaghan
Jam Cruise 15 – Day Two :: 01.21.17 :: Norwegian Pearl
Jam Cruise 15 continued on Saturday with the first full day of action aboard the Norwegian Pearl. The music started at noon and continued through the closing of the Jam Room at 5 a.m. We’re talking 17 hours of music for those scoring at home. And what a wonderful 17 hours it was. Saturday on Jam Cruise featured a few throwbacks to jam bands past and performances from groups currently carrying the jam banner. We also learned of a major change to the trip as Monday’s stop in Grand Cayman was canceled due to rough seas, and instead we’ll get an all-star performance I’ll detail later in this report.
For the second day in a row the weather was absolutely gorgeous on Saturday. After finishing my first Jam Cruise Journal I threw down a few cups of coffee and headed to the Pool Desk to bask in the sun and the Americana music of Bay Area favorites The Brothers Comatose. Ben & Alex Morrison gave cruisers a rowdy dose of bluegrass to dance along with and finished their set with a Roosevelt Collier sit-in on “Feels Like The Devil.” The song is about a nasty hangover and I’d imagine hit home for some of the fellow revelers.
Up next was Percy Hill, a band born out of the University of New Hampshire in the early ’90s that quickly became beloved in the Northeast. The lineup featured on Jam Cruise was from the Color In Bloom era, an album that stands among the best-ever produced by a jam act. Guitarist Joe Farrell, keyboardist Nate Wilson, bassist John Leccese and drummer Aaron Katz were joined by percussionist Yahuba Garcia for the few shows they’ve played since reuniting in March as well as their Jam Cruise performance. Percy Hill opened with a cover of Bob Marley’s “Soul Shakedown Party” and delivered a set filled with material from Color In Bloom and the surrounding period including “Awaiting Our Return,” “Casa De Vino,” “Sun Machine” and “Spirit Of Air.” The music was perfect for the early afternoon as their Steely Dan and Yacht Rock influences came through. Plus, they were remarkably tight for a band that has played just six shows in well over a decade.
Singer-songwriter Nathan Moore was playing a set in the Crystal Atrium as Percy Hill performed on the Pool Deck. While I hadn’t seen Percy Hill in 17 years, I made the decision to head down to the Atrium to catch a song or two from Nathan. Boy was I glad I made that decision. It turns out keyboardist Marco Benevento – Nathan’s Surprise Me Mr. Davis band mate – had sat-in for the vast majority of the set on Hammond B3 organ. I caught the end of one song and then Nathan asked if anyone had any requests. I just couldn’t help myself and yelled out “Sissyfus!” the name of my favorite song from the Surprise Me Mr. Davis days. Nathan laughed and said, “Sissyfus!?! I don’t think so pal. I play tambourine on that one not acoustic guitar.” However, to my delight, Marco had other plans. He yelled out “I love ‘Sissyfus!'” and started to play the main groove on organ. I wouldn’t be denied as Moore went along with the flow and played “Sissyfus.” There were drums set up on stage and Nathan played them for part of the songs. Imagine my luck, I get there for one song and I get to pick my favorite! Yet another Jam Cruise miracle.
Next up at the Atrium was Virginia’s Love Canon, a group that plays ’80s covers using bluegrass instrumentation. The band gave cruisers a dance party filled with impressive roots versions of such songs as “Sledgehammer,” “Centerfold,” “Enjoy The Silence,” “Legs,” “Graceland” and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World.” Speaking of “Sledghammer,” Neville Jacobs were playing the Pool Deck and also performed the Peter Gabriel smash. Ivan Neville, Cris Jacobs & Co. brought out Lettuce’s Shady Horns for their take on “Sledgehammer.” Later in the set Neville Jacobs welcomed legendary percussionist Cyril Neville for a cover of “Fire On The Mountain” which included the line “To Cool Trump down,” one of the few overt political statements made on Saturday.
Jam Cruise hosts many cool music-related activities each day and on Saturday we saw Percy Hill face off against moe. in “JAMily Feud.” As you can imagine it was a takeoff on Family Feud. moe. was winning last I saw, but I headed up to the Pool Deck for a jaw-dropping set from Kamasi Washington. I was so impressed with Kamasi’s entire set as he mixed intense and groovy jazz passages with more traditional jazz numbers. His band features musical beasts including two drummers and a keyboardist who at times makes his rig sound like a guitar. Kamasi brought up his father Rickey Washington for a large portion of the set and both men were all smiles and excited to be playing together on a floating vessel in the middle of the Caribbean.
Between 7:30 and 9 p.m. there was just one set scheduled, a solo piano performance from The Motet’s Joey Porter. I took the opportunity to enjoy a lovely sit-down dinner with some friends. As I’ve mentioned in the past Jam Cruise is a “Choose Your Own Adventure” experience and I love hearing about what others did that day as it most cases it was vastly different from what I did. Jam Cruise organizers Cloud 9 Adventures charter the whole boat, so cruisers share a similar interest in the music they love. As such, it makes meeting new people easy as you have plenty to talk about. I’ve already met some folks I think will be lifelong friends. Another cool element of Jam Cruise is that I reckon the ratio of men to women is nearly equal. Our scene sometimes is known as a big sausage party and that’s not the case on the boat.
The official theme for Saturday was “Orange Night” and people really embrace the themes aboard the boat. I’d say four out of five wore orange which made for a really cool visual at the venues. Some take it to the extreme and put together wild outfits such as a group that dressed as prisoners with full jumpsuits and a man sporting a Randy “Macho Man” Savage getup.
After dinner it was back to the music starting with Twiddle on the Pool Deck. Last year Twiddle opened the action on the last day of the trip and played before a small crowd. This time around they had a prime slot on the Pool Deck and drew one of the biggest audiences of Jam Cruise 15 up until that point. Love ’em or hate ’em the Vermont jam quartet is blowing up. I liked their “Blunderbuss” opener and it was fun to see moe. guitarist Al Schnier sit-in on “Mamunes The Faun.”
Keyboardist JoJo Hermann started the action in the Stardust Theater. His band, Slim Wednesday is similar to his other solo projects as he focuses on the music of New Orleans. A highlight was a riveting take on Allen Toussaint’s “Get Out Of My Life, Woman.” Col. Bruce Hampton came out at one point to lead the group on “Stagger Lee.”
One of my best new discoveries on the boat was The Suffers. The Houston-based band is all about soul and frontwoman Kam Franklin has an energetic stage presence. A special moment came when she talked about the rights of women on the day of the Women’s March On Washington. Meanwhile, in the Crystal Atrium Kamasi hosted a jam session with music featuring a more funky vibe than the jazz of his previous two performances. Yet my mind was elsewhere as I was about to witness the true return of the Benevento/Russo Duo for their first full electric set of the decade (outside a surprise show at a small club in December that was more a rehearsal according to drummer Joe Russo).
The theater was packed as Russo and Marco Benevento took the stage to a hero’s welcome. Marco and Joe played a set spanning the material from their ’00s heyday, which varied from intense and powerful to delicate and lovely. There were so many times it was hard to imagine all the noise coming from stage was played by just two people. Both guys had smiles as wide the open seas as you could feel the love emanating from them. I was surprised The Duo welcomed a guest, but towards the middle of the set Marco yelled, “Ladies and gentlemen, on saxophone Skerik!” He had to repeat the introduction three times before Skerik finally came out. The saxophonist revved up the crowd and added crazy tones to “Scratchitti.” Joe had a good laugh at Skerik’s delayed entry. Some of my favorite moments were the solos Marco would use to begin “Something For Rockets” and “Mephisto.” The latter was a shining moment of the show with Joe and Marco taking an excursion towards George Michael’s “Faith” to the delight of the crowd. I’ve been waiting for The Duo set since it was announced and it didn’t disappoint. Watching the “Becky” finale I teared up just a bit.
Benevento/Russo Duo Setlist – Jam Cruise 15
Set: Jam > 9X9, Play Pause Stop, Sunny’s Song, Best Reason To Buy The Sun, Jam > Something For Rockets, Scratchitti (w/ Skerik), Welcome Red, Echo Park, Walking Running Viking, Hate Frame > Mephisto > Faith > Mephisto > Four Sticks (Led Zeppelin) > My Pet Goat, Becky
After I screwed my head back on I stopped by the Crystal Atrium for magicgravy. There were only 15 minutes left of the improvised set from ALO’s Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz and The Motet’s Dave Watts and Garrett Sayers. I took what I could get considering performances from the trio are few and far between, especially if you don’t live in the Bay Area. Lebo eeked out fantastic tones from his acoustic axe with Watts and Sayers laying a potent funky base.
Over in the Stardust Theater Lettuce packed the venue. The Jam Cruise veterans are tighter than ever, though I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I missed the presence of both Eric Krasno and Neal Evans. Bassist Jesus Coomes and drummer Adam Deitch are one of the best rhythm sections in the game and I spent the majority of the set watching them work. The entire set built up to a jammed out “Phyllis” complete with a samba section led by Jesus. Keyboardist Nigel Hall provided some of the sets only vocals as he stepped to the front to lead his mates through the party anthem “Do It Like You Do” to close out the performance.
If you’re a regular reader of my Jam Cruise Journals you know of “The Spot.” Each year Nathan Moore brings aboard a group of his musical friends from his hometown of Staunton, Virginia and beyond. They find an area on an outside deck with plenty to room to hold an acoustic jam session that gives those interested a break from the funk and rock. It was so great to see “The Spot’s” new home outside of the theater and Marco Benevento and The Shook Twins were a few who stopped by to participate while I was there. The Shook Twins led a beautiful rendition of “Dear Prudence,” which was my favorite “The Spot” moment of the night.
Speaking of Jam Sessions, guitarist Steve Kimock was the host in the Jam Room. Jay Lane, George Porter Jr., Reed Mathis, Todd Stoops, Al Schnier, Vinnie Amico, Robert Walter and JoJo Hermann were among those who took the stage with Kimock at one point or another between 2 and 5 a.m. when the Jam Room closed out. Porter Jr. led a supergroup through “Sugaree,” while I also caught a majestic cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers To Cross” featuring George, Steve, Stoops and Amico. It’s so impressive how that quartet, who had never played together before, absolutely nailed the delicate song.
So, now we’re currently docked in Ocho Rios, Jamaica which it turns out will be the only stop of the trip. There’s bad weather surrounding Grand Cayman and instead of going through nasty weather that would make the boat rock hard in a bad way back to Miami, organizers decided to forego the stop. I’d much rather skip the port visit than get seasick and risk the chance of the Pool Deck closing, which was a disaster when it happened on Jam Cruise 13. Cloud 9 is putting together surprise “pop up sets” and an all-star “Grateful At Sea” tribute to the Grateful Dead for tomorrow to make up for the skipped stop. “Grateful At Sea” will feature Kimock, Lebo, Lane, Mathis and special guests. It’s funny, this was the first Jam Cruise I’ve been on without some element of Grateful Dead music, but that won’t be the case anymore. Thanks for reading and check back tomorrow!