Words: Tim Kelly | Photos: Michael Lepek
It’s that magical time of the year when the musical aquatic traveling circus know as Jam Cruise sets sail for destinations that (::checks notes::) truly no one cares about when booking. I don’t believe I’m alone when asked where is the cruise going, and I answer “I’m not sure...”. Specific Caribbean ports don’t matter with Jam Cruise. It’s all about the music, the people and the incredible vibe that is described as "Peace, Love, and Jamming".
This is the 18th annual voyage, and my second trip. Your number of voyages is a number thrown around with as much reverence as the number of Grateful Dead, Phish, Panic (and so on) shows you’ve seen. At four voyages, you are considered a Repeat Offender worthy of an official cruise robe. They are quite sharp and are worn as a badge of honor. Ten trips earn you the title of Lifer and includes many privileges such as early entry, specially designated areas, and early dibs on merchandise.
As you can guess, launching a boat with 3,000 people and their luggage which also includes about 500 musicians/crew and their equipment is quite an endeavor. Well, imagine what happens if the boat is twelve hours late in arriving... That was the rumor surrounding this year's trip, and it caused a lot of scrambling. Instead of starting the check-in at 1:00, voyagers stood outside in line in the sun for about 2 hours before we began to board. However, in typical Jam Cruise fashion, lemonade was made from lemons. We began meeting each other with a little story-swapping, and sharing drinks and food while waiting to board. I personally didn’t hear a single complaint. Where does that happen? Just lots of laughs and new relationships created.
Unfortunately, our boarding delay wasn’t the only issue. The crew were also delayed in converting a traveling vacation vessel into a traveling concert venue. Stages had to be built, sound systems created, and the main pool deck boarded up and turned into a dance floor. This led to the schedules being pushed back just a bit. All pool deck and Pantheon theater shows got pushed back 90 min.
In my case, this was a blessing in disguise. There is bound to be overlap in acts you want to see. One of my favorites, Mihali from Twiddle had been scheduled against the Claypool Lennon Delirium. The schedule adjustments allowed me to catch both!
The first day’s music went like so.... Due to a luggage misplacement situation, I found myself at the reception area next to the Atrium and caught the opening of Robert Walter’s solo act. It sounded like the theme song to Welcome Back Kotter (which was later confirmed). Anything sounds beautiful in the Atrium and Walter on the grand piano was no exception.
No sign of my luggage, so I headed to the pool deck for the “main launch” even though we had already pulled out... As tradition calls for, Annabel Lukins, our cruise director and co-founder of Jam Crusie, along with the infamous Caption Toast made the toast, popped the champagne and away we went. Lettuce kicked us off and with Jesus standing center stage, the band didn’t waste any time by launching straight into the funk.
I stuck around for about 30 minutes and then headed to the Golden Jazz Room for my “bonus” Mihali set. He is quite "Keller-esque" in his looping through a solo set. He set was a mix of solo stuff, Twiddle hits, and great covers including the Counting Crows “Round Here.” The highlight was when he invited Matt Butler – Everyone Orchestra’s creator/conductor - to sit on drums for ALO’s “BBQ” into Jack Johnson’s “Girl I Want To Lay You Down” back into “BBQ.”
Then it was back to the pool deck for one of the Cruise headliners with The Claypool Lennon Delirium. Powerful, dirty, loud, psychedelic are all words that came to me. They were like a cross of late Beatles early Pink Floyd with a little Phish "What’s the Use" thrown in. Covers of “Astronomy Domine”, “Court of the Crimson King”, “She’s a Rainbow”, and “Tomorrow Never Knows” confirmed my description. You could tell the camaraderie between the two musicians. Not only musical, but personally as well from the banter between songs. The biggest thing I came away with was what a good guitarist Lennon is. He was shredding as well as creating feedback that would make Jimi Hendrix (as well as his father) proud.
The next hour brought a trip back to the Golden Jazz lounge to watch Steve Kimock playing with George Porter and Robert Walter. Took a quick trip to the Pantheon theater to catch Lotus’s last song which was a wicked version of the Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime”. Back to the Golden Lounge where Kimock was still playing, but now Reed Mathis has replaced Porter and they added a trombone player.
Pool deck again for an hour of Turkuaz. This was my first experience with this band, and they are just plain fun. And tight. What really makes these guys special is the dynamo duo of Sami Garrett and Shira Elias singing back-up. Their voices are amazing, and their dancing is mesmerizing.
If you can make it, most nights will end in the Jam Room where a different musician is given the task to host each night from 2:00 until who knows when. They gather comrades in arms to show up and it is an improv free for all. George Porter hosted night one, and I walked into him playing “Don’t Go Squeezing My Heart” by himself with his bass. After about fifteen minutes, one by one up walks Joe Marcinek, Ivan Neville, a sax player, a drummer, and another guitar player I didn’t recognize. Each joining in seamlessly until a full-blown band is jamming out. This is the magic. And also the time I needed to go to bed...
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