Photos by Dave Vann
It was a Wednesday in New Orleans in early December when I really started my Jam Cruise. I was looking for costumes for the official and unofficial themes, plus supplies for my door decorations.
Starting early is always a good idea as you might have to order things that will have to be shipped, and that takes a lot of time to do so. A huge part of Jam Cruise are the people putting forth such a great effort to make the experience that much more worthy for each and every person on the boat. This includes employees of MSC, musicians and any other lucky cruisers.
Jam Cruise started just over 10 years ago and has evolved over the years and expanded onto larger ships and multiple ports. It now resides on the Poesia, the flagship of the MSC fleet. Using the same boat for the last 3 years, we have started to call it home.
Cloud 9 Productions are the folks putting this great festival on the sea with starting payments up for grabs the previous April and following payments due July and September.
MSC is an Italian cruise line with great staff from all over the world. Most of the staff is Italian and Indonesian. They love us and look forward to seeing us every year. I have been on the last four cruises, so I am now known as a “Repeat Offender”, or someone who has done 4 cruises or more. After your fourth year, you receive the coveted 6k$ navy blue bath robe (6K$, because when you consider it costs approximately $1500 per cruise…well, you can do the math). You will wear this robe with pride and other cruisers compliment you on your robe throughout the voyage.
This year’s cruise was number 10 leaving from Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades and visiting two ports ; Labadee, Haiti and Falmouth, Jamaica. The ports are visited only for les than a day, but still it is enough time to have some fun or do something good for the community.
Positive Legacy is a group on and off the boat that cruisers can become part of to help the countries visited while in port or by carbon offsetting. The group helped Haitians with over 10,000 pairs of shoes and socks, plus they planted 10,000 new seedlings. The group was also behind bringing hula hoops to Jamaica. Jam Cruise does its part to be eco-friendly and green over each stop that it makes, which is more than I can say about other cruises…not that I go them.
Now back to the costume shopping…This is serious business when you are a repeat offender.
The folks on this ship know how to put forth an effort. They like to make all the themes a real reality. The only way to describe the camaraderie on the boat is like a large family aka your “jamily.” The official theme nights of Jam Cruise 10 were Yacht Club on the first night, Green theme on the 3rd night, and Mother Ship Masquerade on the last night.
There are also unofficial themes during the cruise. These are listed in the unofficial fun guide. If you actually find a copy on the pool deck, you will find extra themes, crews, and the unofficial guide to your neighbors on the boat.
First night unofficial theme was German Sparkle Party. Just “You Tube” it and you might get an idea of what a real sparkle party is like…two words; “Hard Core”.
2nd night was Zebras come out to play at Orgone in the Zebra bar.
On Green Theme night, the added idea of a Jam Cruise Pets Meet-up, on the pool deck was a bonus to watch.
Wonderland Tea Party was the last unofficial theme on the 4th night.
After getting through all red tape of getting on board the boat, I was ready for the first band and beer at the sail away party. This year was the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Sweet Water Brewery was giving out free brews on the pool deck for the toast. All aboard, cheers, and we are off. Now give me more horns! Dirty Dozen gave us a classic set of New Orleans brass funk.
Stretching out the dancing feet for the first part of the cruise is always good, but you must pace yourself, as this is a marathon not a sprint. Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers were sounding magical and then George Porter Jr. sat in on a tune. This was on an old song they did a while back together or so the Bruce banter went.
As it’s impossible to see everything on the cruise, I only made it to some sets and unfortunately missed a lot on the boat, so with that said I am sorry if I missed it. I am not happy about missing anything on this ship.
Shpongle, a DJ from across the pond, had trouble with a visa or getting into the country, so Lettuce had to fill in at the last-minute for this guy, so we were not upset that we had to watch the whole set in the Zebra bar. It already gets really hot in the Zebra bar and this was smoking from the funk.
This was the first time a Jam Cruise Lettuce show had Neil Evans on keys, because he always had Nigel Hall or Ivan Neville fill in for him on past cruises and since Soulive was on the boat for the first time since Jam Cruise 5, it was an easier accomplishment to make happen.
With Lettuce on fire in the Zebra bar, I needed air, so I headed for the pool deck. Umphrey’s McGee was playing that stage and raging many songs that you know. They put forth excellent covers that everyone can sing. “Shine on you crazy diamond” is one of many that happened.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was throwing it down in the Theatre from 2am to 4 with a couple of people sitting in. Robert Walter and Ivan Neville on keys for a few, and Big Sam gave us some added trombone.
George Porter’s Runnin’ Pardners opened the pool deck right before noon the next day. I enjoyed my coffee while listening to Porter do some recently recorded old Meters’ songs off of the new Pardner’s CD. What a great way to start the day with “Happy Song.”
70 plus degree weather…cruising on the open ocean…good music…all a check.
The first evening show kicked off with a set of Sly & the Family Stone. The band consisted of mostly Dumstaphunk members. It was only fitting that the rain storm started after the ‘It’s a Family Affair” cover.
After singing that back to the room and having dinner soon after that, we were ready for the rest of the night to unfold. Galactic on the pool deck was oh so nice. The rain stopped just in time for the music to start.
Ryan Montbleau sang an unreal version of “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” with Galactic, and then Anders Osborne sitting in playing slide guitar on “Jet Airliner.” Big Sam was crushing some horns on a few tunes as well, which made this a great set to start the late night.
Orgone was welcomed to the boat for the first time in the Zebra Bar and it was the unofficial Zebra night. Everyone was out in full force, sporting their stripes and dancing up a storm. It made this set that much more sweaty and crazy. They threw down with a few guests sitting in, but I couldn’t see who they were. It was too much fun just dancing with all the zebras.
I managed to break away to catch the last of The New Deal in the theatre. It was great to see one of their last encores, as the band called it quits after the cruise was over. One of the first bands onto the electro-organic scene, it was sad to see them perform one of their last two shows.
It was electronic heaven for a few more moments before it was time to start heading to the Jam Room to cap off the night. Eric Krasno was hosting for the evening and Lettuce was killing it again. Damn you Lettuce!! Why are you so good?
Only on Jam Cruise does one have to walk away from such shows, but it can and will be done. In the jam room at the moment was an entourage of musicians. Zach Deputy was singing some improvisational lyrics over intense rhythms of funk and reggae.
After a mind-blowing hour there, it was time for a hot donut and bed. That’s right, you can eat any time you want…it’s a cruise. Pizza? Thank you very little!
We were docked at port in Labadee, Haiti when I woke up and It was a time for the beach party With Zach Deputy followed by Toubab Krewe on the beach.
It was the normal cruise line controlled areas with shops and bars set up for tourists and the 1/2 mile zip line over the ocean was pretty nice. It was just great to get off the boat and stretch the legs even though you still feel like you are moving.
After a quick nap, it was already dark and onto the next run of sets starting on the pool deck with Omega Moos, a mixed group with some of the guys from Umphrey’s McGee playing 80s covers. One that I had to keep singing was “Sunglasses at Night.” “Take on me” and “Whip it” were some others they played.
This happened to be the set on the pool deck for Jam Cruise pets to meet up. I saw a couple of stuffed animals on leashes and a few dancing like puppets. It was Green Theme Night and everyone was covered in green from head to toe. Green wigs to the right and green swords to the left. I had a blinking green cup for the evening which carried my frosty beverage from aft to bow.
Dressed in green and ready for battle, I headed to the Repeat Offender party. A couple of photos with some free brew and it was time for some music. 7 Walkers was on the pool deck for a great set of jamming and many covers in between…Grateful Dead fans rejoice.
Dr Klaw in the Zebra bar was another example of a hot messy funk with a dash of “say what?” Nick Daniels was leading the band in and out of jams with many horn players sitting in. Big Sam was on stage at one point and I missed some of the other guests, but I know y’all were there.
Now…a stop by Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue at the pool deck with Dirty Dozen Brass and Big Sam sitting in for a horn section only a “Nawlins krewe” can do.
Shorty got the crowd moving into the wee hours of the night and then the Jam Room had Karl Denson, Robert Walter, and Big Sam with a few other guys, and were just blowing my mind with improve funk, when I realized it was one of my cruise moments…It’s a point when you just have to dance really hard, no talking, just dancing! You want to stop and talk about it with people around you, or a friend, but all you can do is give an omniscient look of knowing. This is verified only when another person near you, gives you a nod of approval. Yes my friend, I feel it too!
Pete Shand, the bassist from New Mastersounds closed out the Disco that night and that was my final night-cap around 5 am before Falmouth, Jamaica…another usual cruise port with small shops surrounding.
It is quite a different world on the other side of the fence. I signed up for the jungle river tubing excursion, which was about a 30 minute drive from the port. We were on crazy Jamaican roads ending up at a built up food and bar area rally point. We took a different truck over to the starting point. It was a rough road, bouncing all the slap happiness right out of me and the rest of the hung-over cruisers. “Don’t worry Mon, be happy!” Jamaicans love to laugh and make jokes and that is was we did the entire trip.
Floating on the Martha Brae River, we coasted for about 45 minutes until it was time for Jamaican Jerk Chicken, a Red Stripe, and a powerful rum drink. They like to use 63% rum to top off the mixed drinks at this spot and let’s just say you can light it on fire if you want to.
All aboard for Toots and the Maytals for the last sail away party. Unless you are playing poker with Ivan Neville for the Hold’em tournament, let’s get are reggae on?
I would like to suggest that Cloud 9 ask for a different captain. After recent events off the coast of Italy, it would be a wise move. Witnessing our captain hit the pier leaving the Jamaican port and hit, and then sink an orange sign marker, made me think it could be us. This was about the same time as the incident in Italy. Something must have been in the air that night.
After dinner was Karl Densons Tiny Universe again. They played mostly songs off the Rolling Stones Album “Sticky Fingers” with a few guests like Anders, Mike Dillon, and Ivan.
Ozomatli in the Theatre took it out into the crowd (as they always do) to end off their last set on the boat. EOTO was throwing down the Dub-step electro and then it was time for the New Mastersounds in the Theatre. Jessica Lurie, along with a few other horn players, added another layer to the New Mastersounds deep pocket funk grooves. Then Zach Deputy came out with some Darth Vader type hooded cape and Ivan Neville was helping Joe Tatton out on keys.
The Runnin Pardners with Tony Hall helping George Porter out on the bass was a great way to end out the night of scheduled sets. “Sneaking Sally through the Alley?” Indeed sir.
Adam Deitch was hosting the jam room for the evening, but when I was there, it was Jamie on drums from The Heavy Pets, Zach Deputy, and a few other folks spread out on stage, then it was bedtime, and that’s all I have to say about that.
Railroad Earth gave us a great bluegrass jam session on the pool deck with the sunshine still pouring down. Tony Hall had the rights to be the Super jam captain this year. He led the way on many old covers from Sly to Kool and the Gang. It was slightly epic with a taste of “funk yeah!”
Dinner time with the awards show to follow, I didn’t win door decoration this year, but I got close, or so I heard, but a couple of cool awards were given out, like a new bike, some of Lebo’s art and bragging rights for a year.
Toots set in the Theatre had Anders Osborne sitting in, which was kind of a treat. The Heavy Pets was laying down the heavy rock/funk rhythms in the Zebra bar. It felt like they went into a Pink Floyd sound and then took it back into rock jam….great new sounds from a new band to the Jam Cruise scene.
Galactic always closes out the cruise on the last night, which they have done for all of them I have been on. They had all the Dirty Dozen, Big Sam, Orleans Ave horn section, and Kris Royal playing on one tune that was just insane. Chali 2na with Corey Henry did some rapping over the funk grooves as we danced into the last night of the cruise.
The Jam Room on the last night can only be described as a shit show. “Shit show, party of 400…your Jam Room is waiting!” Eddie Roberts from the New Mastersounds was the host. Members of Toubab Krewe, Jessica Lurie, Kris Royal, Pete Shand, Big Sam, and few others were just blowing it up as we had to call it a night at 4am.
We ended up going to the Disco to finish out this cruise. DJ Logic was making everyone dance for their last few hours as we sailed for Florida. I pulled the rip cord at 6am.
One thing that most people talked about on their way off the boat the next day was pre-booking. What’s there to talk about? It’s my jamily; I will see y’all next year.