Words by: Scott Bernstein
Images by: Joshua Timmermans
Jam Cruise 13 is well underway after the MSC Divina departed from the Port Of Miami on Tuesday night filled with a bevy of excited music fans and an array of musical acts spanning every nook and cranny of the jam world. The music doesn’t start until 7 p.m. on the first day, while cruisers board between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., so there was plenty of time for attendees to acclimate themselves to their new home for the next five days. The 2015 edition of Jam Cruise is the second one aboard the Divina, one of the newest and most elegant ships in Italian cruise line MSC’s fleet.
Continue reading the rest of Scott’s recap of day one after the gallery.
It’s easy to spot those attending Jam Cruise for the first time, aka Jam Cruise Virgins. They are the ones with confused looks of shock, awe, excitement and gratitude. Jam Cruise is about as close to utopia as it gets for live music fans with the whole boat chartered out and many different venues aboard the ship providing music – both scheduled and spontaneous – for five days straight. I’ll never tire of seeing the look of amazement on all Jam Cruisers’ faces but especially those who are embarking on their first one.
One trend I noticed on Day One of Jam Cruise 13 is that it’s a true family affair. The Word features brothers Cody and Luther Dickinson, the sister act Shook Twins are aboard the boat this year and Jam Cruise newcomers Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds brings together singer Arleigh Kincheloe and her older brother on harmonica, Jackson Kincheloe. Beyond that, there’s a sense of family among Jam Cruisers that return each year. JC13 is my sixth in a row and I’ve met so many wonderful people over the years that I only see each January on the boat. It was so amazing running into these folks from all corners of the country as the day turned to night aboard the Divina.
The Motet were given the honors of performing the Sail Away Set on the Pool Deck as the boat pulled away from Miami and into International Waters. The Colorado act’s tight and euphoric funk was the perfect way to start the trip. Nine decks below the Pool Deck, Umphrey’s McGee keyboardist Joel Cummins played a solo set on a grand piano set up near the ship’s lobby. The piano sits in a location which cruisers can view the performance from any of three different floors. I took a spot a few decks above Joel to watch him mix classical numbers from the likes of DeBussy with Umphrey’s originals “Orfeo” and “In The Kitchen.” Cummins welcomed Paul Hoffman and Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass to sit in on their original “Bird Man” off the recently released GB album If Sorrows Swim. The Greensky fellas stuck around for a take on the UM tune, “In The Kitchen” also featuring percussionist Jason Hann of The String Cheese Incident as well as the finale, a cover of “Feelin’ Alright” just a few days after Umphrey’s performed the Joe Cocker tribute in Atlanta.
Lettuce followed The Motet on the Pool Deck and showed off their hard-hitting brand of funk. The Brooklyn-based funk traditionalists were joined by a number of guests during their set including Cory Henry, drummer Adam Deitch’s father Bobby Deitch and Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge. Eric Krasno and Co. drew a huge crowd, while Elephant Revival didn’t have the same draw down at the boat’s night club-like Black & White Lounge. Despite the small turn out, Jam Cruise newcomers Elephant Revival impressed those on hand with their interesting instrumentation, spot-on harmonies and dance-friendly (mostly) acoustic music. ER was assisted by Shook Twins on vocals for a majority of the set as well as Burbridge on bass and Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth on fiddle.
Each year Jam Cruise organizers Cloud 9 Adventures tweak the formula for the trip using what they’ve learned from past installments. On Jam Cruise 12 in 2014 one of the most talked about sets was a performance from guitarist Stanley Jordan in the boat’s jazz club. However, there weren’t many sets planned in the jazz club last January. This time around the Divina’s jazz club has been elevated to true venue status and each night will host a jam session between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. similar to what goes down a few hours later in the famed Jam Room, with a jazzier twist. The addition of the jazz club gives attendees yet another incredible option and I witnessed a handful of outstanding jams led by guitarist Grant Green Jr. , featuring the likes of George Porter Jr. during my few trips to the jazz club’s debut jam session.
Performances from The Word — a supergroup featuring Robert Randolph, John Medeski, Chris Chew, Cody Dickinson and Luther Dickinson have been few and far between since the band formed in 2000. So it’s no surprise The Word’s Wednesday night performance at the boat’s two-story theater attracted a big crowd. Despite the months and months since the group’s last performance, they were surprisingly tight as they delivered a blistering, high- impact set which showed off the band’s many talents. Highlights included Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and Wilson Pickett covers.
Shortly after Lettuce finished up on the Pool Stage, Connecticut’s Kung Fu took the smaller outdoor Solar Stage to one of the more boisterous crowds of the evening. There’s a prog-rock element to Kung Fu’s style of funk-fusion which was just what the doctor ordered after five hours that was heavy on more traditional funk. Kung Fu guitarist Tim Palmieri left many jaws on the floor by the time Kung Fu’s set was finished. Down in the Black & White Lounge, Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds finally made their Jam Cruise debut. The band showed off many different personas over the course of two-hours from poppy funk, to beautiful balladeers, to hard- hitting classic rock act. Front woman Arleigh Kincheloe had the audience wrapped around her finger by the time the set concluded after sit-ins from George Porter Jr. and trombonist Carly Meyers.
Pretty Lights headlined the Pool Stage on Wednesday night and made for quite the spectacle as lasers of many colors and sizes acted as the visual for Derek Vincent Smith’s EDM. Smith was assisted by a keyboardist and got into the Jam Cruise spirit at one point by triggering vocal samples laid down by Nigel Hall. I didn’t get to see much of Pretty Lights as I was focused on what was my favorite set of the night: Dragon Smoke.
Dragon Smoke features guitarist/vocalist Eric Lindell and Dumpstaphunk keyboardist Ivan Neville backed by the Galactic rhythm section of Stanton Moore and Rob Mercurio. The quartet played a mix of Lindell’s often-intense and emotional originals and covers. Highlights included John Gros sitting in on “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” and Neville leading the group through covers of “Groove Me Baby” and Bobby Womack’s “Nobody Wants You When You’re Down & Out.” Percussionist Mike Dillon sat in for most of the set and the Lettuce horns came out for a segment that included a sizzling rendition of “Second That Emotion.”
As the clock stuck 3 a.m. I abided by the familiar Jam Cruise axiom, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” and decided to bring my evening to a close. But not without a trip to the Jam Room. The Jam Room is one of the trademark’s of Jam Cruise – a venue where any of the musicians on the boat could come together and…you guessed it – jam. The only structure to the Jam Room these days is that Jam Cruise organizers pick hosts to lead the action. On Wednesday night, George Porter Jr. was the Jam Room host. Porter Jr. was joined by the likes of Tim Carbone, John Medeski, Papa Mali and John Morgan Kimock for a riveting “Them Changes” (Band Of Gypsys) > “Turn On Your Lovelight” (Bobby “Blue” Bland) > “Aiko Aiko.” One of the female vocalists who performs with The M&Ms then led the ensemble through “I’ll Take You There.” For the final song of my first day on Jam Cruise 13, I watched Porter Jr. lead Mali, Kimock, John Gros and assorted others on a song the New Orleans bassist has made his own – “Sugaree.” Day Two is a full day at sea which means a day of music that starts at noon and rolls through sunrise. Come back tomorrow to read all about Wednesday’s action on the Divina.
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