A Festival at Sea; Jam Cruise 8 | JamBandsOnline.com

A Festival at Sea; Jam Cruise 8

January 15, 2010

Article by A.B. Garrod

Photos by Jeffrey Dupuis

When I left frigid Virginia latenight on New Year’s Day, I was ready for a festival. My lady and I loaded up the car and drove all night, making our way to Fort Lauderdale to meet up with all of our best friends and embark upon yet another installment of the most impressive musical adventure out there, Jam Cruise. In its seventh year of existence, Jam Cruise is the culmination of a vision creator Mark Brown had while on vacation with his family. A music festival on a luxury cruise ship, complete with full-on professional staging, the best bands on the scene, and a couple thousand rabid music fans from all over the globe. Over the years, the ships and the crowd have gotten bigger, evolving from the 50-year-old 1,000-person capacity Imperial Majesty to the brand-new MSC Poesia. With a capacity of around 2,800 cruisers, this ship has everything to offer—room service, spa treatment, swimming pool, hot tubs, five restaurants, tennis/basketball court, and some of the most plush music venues I’ve ever seen.

Once in Fort Lauderdale, we met up with friends at the unofficial Jam Cruise hotel, the Bahia Cabana. The rowdy and brightly-colored Tiki Bar has won the hearts of many of us who like to lay a little low the night prior to the cruise. Not the case for many, as this year’s festivities started even earlier in south Florida with Phish playing four nights in Miami leading up to New Year’s Eve. Official pre-cruise shows followed, with The Word (John Medeski, Robert Randolph, and the North Mississippi Allstars) playing on January 1st in Fort Lauderdale and STS9 playing on January 2nd. Many cruisers were primed and in full form by January 3rd, and we were ready to get on the boat.

Embarkation procedures at Port Everglades are pretty standard…except when it comes to Jam Cruise. Cloud 9 Adventures offers a singles program on Jam Cruise for any cruisers who may not have friends or family with a spare thousand bucks lying around. This concept makes it easy to find new friends on the boat, but can make it difficult for the cruise line if anyone decides to sell their cabin at the last minute. In 2009, there were a lot of last-minute name changes that resulted in a 5+ hour “problem line,” which I can personally say put a hurting on a whole lot of feet before music ever started. Being an intelligent company who is willing to learn from mistakes and accept feedback from cruisers, Cloud 9 made one of its smartest decisions yet, cutting off all name changes December 24th. This great move enabled everyone to get on the boat quickly and get the party started. We dumped our luggage in our cabin, glanced out our balcony and made our way to the Pool Deck.

Walking out of the hallway onto the Pool Deck on Jam Cruise for the first time is an otherworldly experience. You push open the heavy wooden door and are hit with a powerful wind. Your hair blows back and a smile comes to your face—one that will not go away for days, even when you happen to sleep. The two semicircular pool bars are already humming with people laughing, giving hugs and high-fives. Folks are lounging on the upper deck, leaning on the rail watching the stage crew finishing up our dance floor. There are two swimming pools on the Pool Deck of the MSC Poesia, but only one has water in it on Jam Cruise. The other pool, situated in front of the full-size festival stage erected for the week, is covered by a reinforced clear plastic dance floor, and the pool itself becomes part of the light show, with multiple light rigs shining up from beneath. We milled about, reconnecting with old friends, talking to musicians, and keeping the bartenders busy.

The Powers that Be always pick a hot band with a ton of energy to kick off Jam Cruise, and this year was no exception. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue played the Sailaway Party, showing a lot of new fans how hard these young guys from New Orleans can rock. Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews is a 23-year-old multi-instrumentalist, switching off between his namesake and playing some amazing trumpet. His ability to use circular breathing in his playing is a rare and impressive talent, raising a solo to an intense crecendo…and holding it there indefinitely. The crowd was bumping, and we saw our first sunset from the Pool Deck. Jam Cruise was on, the night was young, and there was a lot of music to come.

With no official theme night planned, some dedicated cruisers came through. Touch of Class, a hardcore group of experienced Jam Cruisers planned the annual Touch of Class Prom, where everyone got to put on their fancy digs and glam it up a bit. So on our way to the next show, we stopped and put on our Jam Cruise best—a lovely evening gown for my girlfriend while I donned my Repeat Offender bathrobe (these robes  were given to only those who have been on Jam Cruise 4 or more times).

Next up on our musical agenda for the evening was one of the biggest superstars ever to come on the boat. Funk pioneer Maceo Parker played with James Brown in the 1960’s and was a member of Parliament Funkadelic in the 1970’s, and has lent his saxophone skills to countless other bands and projects. When it comes to funk, Maceo is a master and school was in. He played the first set in the Teatro Carlo Felice, a massive three-level indoor amphitheater with beautiful brass-inlayed wall hangings, plush seating and surreal lighting behind and above the stage. A setting that can be relaxed if you choose to have a seat, or just as easily intimate, as you can walk down in front of the stage to get a closer look at the talented musicians. Maceo and his band got the crowd pumped up and ready to bring in the beginning of latenight.

My favorite part of the musical aspect of Jam Cruise is a unique concept called, simply, the Jam Room. Located in the Pigalle Lounge in the back of the ship, the Jam Room starts at midnight every night and has no set end time. The Pigalle has low ceilings, sturdy glass tables and plush couches, reminiscent of high-class jazz clubs in big cities. Folks are free to lounge around all night, laughing and dancing or just relaxing on the couch, taking in the intense dance party on the marble dance floor. Musicians from any band on the ship are welcome to come and play, setting up unlikely and unbelievable collaborations by some of the most talented and improvisational players on the planet. This year there were nightly hosts—specific musicians who could orchestrate the free-form jams that formed as music flowed. This was yet another improvement to an already phenomenal idea, adding a little cohesion to the ultimate in imrovisational music. On this first night, we were in for a real treat. Our host was Garrett Sayers, a jazz bassist who has settled in Boulder, CO, has played with the Motet, magicgravy, and most recently with the Kyle Hollingsworth Band. On his first Jam Cruise, Garrett absolutely blew up the Jam Room on several occasions, and many of us were excited to see him get his chance to shine once again. His quick hands and creative musical style opened up some fast-paced jams that stretched out and got our feet moving. Garrett kept the groove going with Dave Watts, Joey Porter and Jans Ingber of the Motet, as well as Ivan Neville holding down the Hammond B3 for a funky rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman.” At some point George Porter, Jr. took the stage with Jeff Coffin and Brian Jordan, blowing through a huge “Funkify Your Life.” Eventually, bass duties fell into the hands of Mike “Bass” Ballard of Orleans Avenue. Mike would become a mainstay in the Jam Room throughout the week, providing an incredibly tight bassline perfect for booty shaking. Along with Nigel Hall, Brock Butler, Cody Dickinson, and others, the jam coalesced into one of the Jam Cruise staples, “Thank You (Fallettin’ Me Be Mice Elf Again).” Sometime around dawn the music came to an end and we made our way to bed, in hopes of recharging our internal batteries for our first full day at sea.

Monday mornings are dreaded in the real world, but this beautiful Monday morning on Jam Cruise began with all smiles on the Pool Deck. Winner of the Vote to the Boat contest, Ryan Montbleu and his band got the day off to a good start. While folks milled about and got warmed up, Montbleu sang us songs about breakfast and laughs. Zach Deputy, a Bear Creek Festival favorite and last minute addition to the cruise, took the first spot on the Solar Stage, which was powered entirely by wind and solar power. A one-man-band virtuoso, Deputy runs his own sound and controls percussion and guitar loops, all while smiling and singing originals and quirky covers…”Ghostbusters” stood out on this particular afternoon. Next up on the big Pool Deck stage was Asheville’s Toubab Krewe. Blending unique instrumentation with funky basslines and rhythmic drumming, Toubab has picked up quite a following recently. In true Jam Cruise fashion, their set featured sit-ins by Skerik and Ivan Neville. Following Toubab on the Solar Stage was the Josh Phillips Trio, another band that ended up on the boat due to overwhelming fan support. We stood up on the deck next to the Solar Stage, singing along with “Steam Powered Aeroplane” and laughing with the band, overlooking a smiling crowd while we waved at Cuba on the horizon. Railroad Earth took over the main stage and we had a Jam Cruise hoedown. Combining traditional bluegrass with a rock and roll backbeat, Railroad Earth’s sound is unique on the scene. Bass player Johnny Grubb couldn’t make the cruise, as his wife was expecting a child any day, so Keith Mosley of the String Cheese Incident brought his huge smile and his bass to fill in.

As the sun inched toward the sea, we donned our costumes for the evening’s theme: Superheroes and Villains. Yoshimi battled with Pink Robots, the Buzzkill Crew wreaked havoc and the WookBusters kept us all safe from…well, Wookies. A myriad of creative costumes could be seen getting down while the Motet played an entire set of Talking Heads music, Motet style. This formidable Colorado-based group, led by Dave Watts—formerly of Shockra—has a history of performing funky sets of music by other bands, from Herbie Hancock to Jamiroquai to Sly and the Family Stone. Jans Ingber did David Byrne justice, with fantastic vocals on “Life During Wartime,” “Take Me to the River,” and “Psycho Killer,” among others. It was a full-on dance party on the Pool Deck and the night was young.

While JJ Grey and Mofro played in the Teatro, I settled in up front for the most unique band on the boat, OHMphrey. Having listened to their recent studio album, I was interested to see how their sound would translate to stage. Featuring keyboardist Joel Cummings, drummer Krys Myers and guitarist Jake Cininger of Umphrey’s McGee, I knew that we were in for a tight, razor-sharp guitar onslaught. The wild cards in this deck were the two musicians onstage with whom I was unfamiliar: Chris Poland of Megadeth and OHM on guitar and Robertino Pagliari of OHM on six-string fretless bass. Cininger and Poland traded huge licks throughout, while Pag stoically chewed gum and wove through jaw-dropping bass solos. This heavy metal-laced fusion was enough to make anyone’s brain vibrate. Jeff Coffin came out and lent some dark saxophone to an amazing rendition of the blues classic, “Spoonful.” My mind was blown by this band, and as I stumbled to the Jam Room, I wondered if anything could top it.

The Jam Room on this night was hosted by Will Bernard, and when I arrived, his band featured George Porter, Jr., Stanton Moore, and Robert Walter. There were some onstage saxophone lessons going on, with Karl Denson, Skerik and Jeff Coffin showing young Clarence Slaughter how it’s done on Jam Cruise. One of the elders would blow a huge solo, then nod to Clarence, who would step up and lay down a solo of his own. They traded off for a while, then Clarence was left to his own devices and stayed onstage for the rest of the night. Zach Deputy made his way to the stage, and I was interested to see how he performed with a band. We were not disappointed. He locked in with Chris Ballard and Clarence Slaughter and the funk remained thick deep into the night.

When the morning came, many cruisers were disheartened by torrential rains over Ocho Rios, Jamaica, our first port of call.  A lot of folks chose to look out their porthole at the rain, give up on the day, and cover their heads. Not so for a bunch of Jam Cruise Forum members, led by my enthusiastic girlfriend, Hillary. For months, we had planned our own excursion—Kickball in Jamaica. We coordinated the trip with Ionie and Lewis McBeam, wonderful tour guides in Ocho Rios who do custom tours and were willing to accommodate our unusual request: all we needed was a field and somewhere to keep Red Stripe cold. The rain was almost enough to call the game, but when Hillary went down to the disembarkation area to notify the McBeams of the cancellation, she was greeted by a crowd of wet cruisers who were ready to play some kickball. Hillary returned to the ship, rallied some more players, the rain stopped, and the game was on. We stopped at a local grocery store to pick up refreshments and were taken to a run-down municipal soccer field. As our ragtag group of around thirty unloaded from the buses and set up bases of broken plywood, residents of the neighborhood began to climb on the stone wall surrounding the field to get a better look at this strange phenomenon. The rules were loose—three strikes, you’re out; three outs, change sides. After a couple innings, we invited a few local children who were watching from beneath a tree to play with us. Having no experience with the elementary school game, they were soon stealing bases like professionals. Later, the rain came back, we proclaimed Hillary the winner and called it a day. Muddy, soaking wet and totally elated, we returned from what was, by all accounts, the most fun any of us had ever had on Jam Cruise in a non-musical setting.

Post-kickball, we took a short nap. Eventually, you have to sleep on Jam Cruise in order to maintain some semblance of memory and physical stability. We woke up around 7pm and had a bite to eat. We attempted to see more music, but the seas were rough, the boat was rocking, and even the most seasoned Jam Cruisers were feeling a little queasy. After a short stop in the Teatro to see some Railroad Earth—we were there long enough to witness a great rendition of Tom Waits’ “Cold Water”—we decided to take yet another nap. The sweet sounds of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe wafted through our open balcony door, a fitting lullaby for a funky night at sea. I called the front desk and requested an 11pm wake up call so we could start our evening fresh. We left our cabin again around 11:30, fully refreshed and ready to rage until our batteries ran out.

While at dinner prior to our nap, we were talking to Garrett Sayers, who requested we attend his set with the Kyle Hollingsworth Band that night at 2am. At the same time as Garrett was playing with Kyle, another supergroup, Dragon Smoke—featuring Stanton Moore and Robert Mercurio of Galactic, Ivan Neville, and New Orleans guitarist/vocalist Eric Lindell—was playing in the Zebra Bar. Meanwhile, I was obligated to see Lotus on the Pool Deck, as their inclusion on this year’s lineup was directly attributed to the Jam Cruise Forum G-LOTS (Get Lotus On The Ship) movement which I helped start. There is a group of people who have developed a tight-knit community through the Forum, and Lotus playing latenight on the Pool Deck has been one of that community’s focal points for more than a year. In addition to these tough decisions, my favorite musician on the ship, Skerik, was hosting the Jam Room that night.

There is a malady worse than seasickness on Jam Cruise, and that is the heinous FOMS…the Fear Of Missing Something. This Tuesday night following our day in Ocho Rios is a prime example of FOMS. I’ve learned the best way to cope is just to pick a spot and be happy with it. As it turned out, the night was perfect. We hit the Jam Room at midnight and were delighted to see only Skerik and Mike Dillon onstage, performing some Dead Kenny G’s songs to a nearly empty room. Mike D’s aggressive jazz/metal drumming combined with Skerik’s insane saxophonics made for some intense fist-pumping, grinning madness. Robert Walter was invited to the stage for a take on Critters Buggin’s “Punk Rock Guilt,” or as Skerik sarcastically renamed it for the evening, “Jam Band Guilt.” Skerik then brought out Col. Bruce Hampton and Will Bernard for a long and psychedelic rendition of Sun Ra’s epic, “Space is the Place,” which eventually segued into the Mike Dillon tribute to the music business, “I’m Your Manager, I’m Your Pimp.” At the height of the intense crescendo, Mike Dillon kicked the entire drumkit over, standing up and stalking around the stage. Two cruisers—Cliff and Mark—were brought on stage to play with Skerik, a privilege earned by donating to the Greening Program on the ship. Greening has become a big part of our cruise, with passenger carbon offsetting efforts rendering Jam Cruise carbon neutral several years in a row. After the auction winners played, Skerik and Mike took a break. We took that as our cue to head to the Pool Deck, where Lotus was about thirty minutes into their set. As we arrived, we were pulled into the front row by the usual suspects—rabid Lotus fans from the Forum. The band was on fire, the crowd was pumped, and we danced and smiled until 4am. After the set, we rallied the troops and made our way back to the Jam Room, where we were in for perhaps the most energetic music yet. Zach Deputy and Brock Butler were on guitars, Garrett Sayers and Chris Ballard were on bass, Clarence was once again holding down the saxophone position, but the shining star of the Jam Room on this night was Louis Cato. Cato is the bassist for Eric Krasno & Chapter 2, but none of us were aware of his skills on drums. He was a madman on skins, playing with more energy and technical proficiency than any of us expected. Cato wove through complex beats, changing the tempo of any jam with a seemingly telepathic link to the rest of the players onstage. Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and a massive cover of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” kept the crowd hopping. A nonstop funk onslaught took us over the edge into the wee hours of the morning, when Deputy, Cato, and Clarence backed up Brock Butler on some old-school rap tunes. Eventually the Jam Room sound crew turned the lights on and we were forced to find music elsewhere. We were in for a magical morning.

A little bird told us Brock Butler would be playing some music on the Pool Deck, so we made our way up there. As we walked past the Mojito Bar, we saw Brock sitting in a wicker chair with his acoustic while a couple people looked on. Steve Kimock was lounging a few feet away, taking in the scene. When he got up, I promptly stole his seat to rest my weary legs. I pulled the chair up close to Brock and we made a little semicircle. He was accompanied by talented cruiser Ellie LaBar on violin. Having never played together, the two connected like old friends. They wove through covers of “Wildflowers,” “Black Water,” and even played Neil Young’s “Long May You Run” at my request, as well as a couple P-Groove songs and some material from Brock’s new solo record. The sun was coming up all around us, shedding beautiful light across a tropical sky. As we pulled into port at Grand Cayman, more than a few tears of joy were shed by those of us lucky enough to witness this amazing musical moment.

Brock and Ellie finished up their impromptu set and we scratched our heads, wondering what was next. We meandered to the other side of the Pool Deck and were pleasantly surprised to see the tireless Clarence Slaughter calmly playing his saxophone. We watched for a few minutes until he packed up his horn, then had a nice chat with him after he asked to borrow a lighter. He was itching to play some basketball, and we happened to have an extra kickball. We retrieved it from the cabin and four of us went up to the basketball court. A hilarious pick-up game ensued—40 mph winds and a lightweight ball make for a lot of missed baskets. We tired ourselves out, had a big breakfast of greasy bacon and powdered eggs, and eventually went to bed at noon. We used our afternoon at Grand Cayman as an opportunity to sleep without missing music instead of a tourist stop, a common occurrence on Jam Cruise.

I awoke to the thumping bass from the dirty southern sounds of JJ Grey and Mofro on the Pool Deck. We went to the cafeteria to get some dinner and recharge. On the way, we ran into Nigel Hall, vocalist and keyboardist for Chapter 2. It was Nigel’s first Jam Cruise and he was in full sensory overload. He asked me to bring a crew to his solo set in the Atrium, so I had a mission. I rounded up a bunch of friends and we watched Nigel sing his heart out to a group of about 200 spread over three levels of the Atrium. He ended his set and Annabel Lukins Stelling, our Cruise Director and fearless leader, chased him down the hall begging for another tune. He returned to the piano and treated us to a beautiful rendition of the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Thunderous applause followed, hopefully making Nigel feel at home.

Yet another Jam Cruise uniquity is the mass wedding. Our musical marriage was conducted by none other than George Porter, Jr. George was a great fit for the ceremony, having been married for 43 years to his amazing wife, Ara. We had a champagne toast on the windy hot tub deck and Jam Cruise had some new couples. Love was indeed in the air as Maceo Parker and his band took the stage. At the end of nearly every song, Maceo reminded us that “We love you!” causing the crowd to reciprocate with applause and smiles all around. Maceo made it funky with a cover of the Meters’ “Hey Pocky Way,” and slowed it down a bit with Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind” and a soulful and fitting rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On.”

The funky mood was in place for the next highlight, which took me by surprise. The Fantastic Four, yet another collaborative supergroup, features Eric Krasno on guitar, Adam Deitch on drums, Robert Walter on keys and Cochemea Gastelum on tenor saxophone. For some reason, Cheme couldn’t make the boat and we had heard rumors that he was going to be replaced by one of the band’s musical idols. With Maceo playing right beforehand, we assumed he would take over saxophone duties. So many of us were surprised when the fourth fantastic member of the band ended up being George Porter, Jr. It quickly became apparent that George would be leading the band, thumping the way through “Change/Reform” with Ivan Neville sitting in with Robert Walter on keys. This segued into Curtis Mayfield’s “Check Out Your Mind” as Nigel Hall took Ivan’s spot on the second keyboard. Stanton Moore came out for a little “Funky Miracle” and as Adam Deitch got back on the kit, the beginning notes of Bob James’s 1974 jazz tune “Nautilus” were teased by Robert Walter. Krasno looked hesitant, but dove right in. Being one of the most-sampled songs in history, many crowd members were familiar with the beat but blown away by the deep, dark groove the band fell into. Aided by Skerik, the Fantastic 4 took off into the stratosphere with “He Bite Me,” in front of an extremely psychedelic video montage on the high-end visual backdrop on the rear of the stage. Karl Denson shook his money maker on “For Granted.” An amazing moment transpired next, as Nigel Hall took vocal duties on Stevie Wonder’s “Love Having You Around,” bringing Annabel up on stage and serenading her while we all looked on with tears in our eyes. Jeff Coffin came out to lend a hand on “Cordova” and “Africa (New Orleans).” A big “Cissy Strut” ended the set and we practically floated away from the stage, grinning ear to ear and anticipating a big night in the Jam Room. We were rushed by Annabel as we left the front row, and I’ve never seen her so elated. “Was that the best thing that has ever happened on Jam Cruise or what!” Only on Jam Cruise can you give hugs and high-fives to the bosslady.

The New Orleans vibe would continue. When we entered the Jam Room, George Porter was holding court, flowing through obscure tunes with Krasno, Ivan Neville, Karl Denson, Skerik, Jeff Coffin, Chris Littlefield, and Corey Harris of Rebirth Brass Band on trombone…it was a star-studded trip into musical bliss. A raucous version of “Will it Go Round in Circles?” got the crowd jumping. Every time Porter would try to leave the stage, someone would start playing something that would tickle his fancy, he would re-strap his bass, and continue on the funk exploration. At one point he was singing to his wife, who was on the side of the stage, laughing and dancing. Quite an emotional moment in the Jam Room, I was moved to tears of happiness once again. Garrett Sayers played bass for a while, then Mike Ballard took over once again. Members of the Motet were onstage, JJ Grey was playing piano, Zach Deputy was rocking out solo after solo on guitar, trading licks with anyone who would take the stage. A take on Parliament’s “Flashlight” at about 5:30am made its way into an “Inspector Gadget” jam led by Deputy. The music didn’t stop until almost 7am, and we hit the sack, completely drained by yet another one of the best days of music possible.

FOMS woke me from colorful dreams around noon on our last day at sea and I crept out onto the chilly Pool Deck to catch the last half of Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes. A combination of horns and hard-rocking guitar licks got the crowd going early, while Dirty Johnny played drums wearing next to nothing. Johnny Sketch threatened the clouds with some heavy jamming as I staffed a recycling booth on my Greening volunteer shift. We took in the bluegrassy sounds of Hot Buttered Rum, who have picked up a solid percussionist in Matt Butler. Their sound has evolved a lot since their last visit to Jam Cruise. “Good Bye Grey Skies” did the trick, moving the thick clouds out of the way so we could bask in the warm sun. A cover of Nathan Moore’s “Summer of My Fall” was a pleasant surprise, and we were instructed by the band to give our loudest “boooo” once they finished their next tune—a rowdy version of the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha.”

Attempting to stay physically active on this cruise—as if 16 hours of dancing every day wasn’t enough—Hillary and some of our crew had devised a plan for an afternoon game of dodge ball on the tennis court. Ten or so of us met up on the top deck in the whipping wind and played a couple intense games. Our blood was pumping, our smiles were fresh, and it was time for more music. We got back to the Pool Deck stage in time for Skerik and Jeff Coffin to join Steve Kimock’s Crazy Engine for a funky version of the classic “That’s What Love Will Make You Do.” Joined for the whole set by former Steve Kimock Band member Robert Walter on keys, Melvin Seals took vocal duties while the horns added layers to the song previously unimagined. Tears were shed and hugs were widespread when Kimock laid down an instrumental version of Jerry Garcia’s classic “Stella Blue.”

We attended a surprise birthday party for Nate of Starr Hill Breweries—one of the long-time sponsors of Jam Cruise—with about 40 people in one cabin, an impressive turnout. Cold Starr Hill beers and party hats were distributed and our festive mood was turned up yet another notch. We left the party and were greeted by one of the most stunning sunsets over the Pool Deck while George Porter’s Super Jam began on the main stage. We were treated to yet another dose of the bottomless well of musical knowledge inside Porter’s head. “Dance to the Music,” “People Say,” “Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Again)” kept the crowd hopping. Maceo Parker himself came out for “Soul Power.” It was impressive seeing Maceo backed up by Denson, Coffin, Skerik, and Clarence. Quite the horn section. Finally, “Fiyo (on the Bayou)” turned out the lights on our last afternoon at sea. After donning our formal wear—a bathrobe and boa for me and a modified wedding dress for my lady—we went to see Josh Phillips’ set in the Atrium. Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora)” had the crowd bopping calypso-style. When the song ended, Josh noted “I forgot that I wanted to have a conga line for that song…maybe we’ll do one on the next tune. Who will start it, AB?” A pretty funny moment, it’s always nice to get called out from the stage. Back up on the Pool Deck, it was time for the Jam Cruise Awards Show. Always hilarious, the awards are in categories like “Highest Bar Tab,” “Cruiser Who Hooked Up the Most,” “Wookie of the Ship,” and the winner for cabin door decorations. I was honored to be a part of the winning crew of “Smilingest Cruisers,” and got to make my first trip on the big stage. Yet another unique and amazing moment on the best Jam Cruise to date.

Our last night on the boat was beginning, so the crew and I went to the Teatro to post up in the front row—our usual spot. Karl Denson and company had announced a very rare set for this cruise: the return of Sexual Chocolate, the house band from the 1988 Eddie Murphy movie “Coming to America.” Sexual Chocolate has made a few appearances over the years, but their debut on Jam Cruise was one of the most highly anticipated sets of the week. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe warmed up the Teatro first, inviting War harmonica player Lee Oskar—a surprise guest on the boat—onstage to play on a version of “Galaxy,” a War tune commonly covered by KDTU. Debrissa McKinney, lovely vocalist for the Josh Phillips Folk Festival, joined Karl for an irie “Mighty Rebel.” The stage was set for Sexual Chocolate, as Karl left to get in character. The spirit of Randy Watson was in the house, jheri curl dripping and booty shaking. Hilarity ensued, while the expanded Sexual Chocolate featured new members McKinney, Jeff Coffin, Jans Ingber, Liza Oxnard, and a special cameo appearance by Annabel Lukins Stelling for a lighter-waving version of “Sailing.”

We stuck around the Teatro to catch the closing Lotus set and were happy to see that their energy level had not dropped since their Pool Deck set two nights previous. Seeing Lotus play in such a classy venue is a sight to behold. Very high ceilings, ambient lighting, and cavernous space for sound to travel made this a very special Lotus set, not to mention the ecstatic crowd and the overall intense vibe on this last night at sea. During “Moonrise,” long tapestries hanging from the ceiling were used by two lovely professional aerialists, causing both band and crowd to crane their necks to see what amazing acrobatics were being displayed by the scantily clad performers.

When Lotus ended, we made our final bittersweet trip to the Jam Room, which was being hosted by Fuzz, formerly of Deep Banana Blackout. Fuzz was on the boat with the Motet and was shredding the Jam Room when we walked in. We were treated to a funky version of Neil Young’s “Down By the River” with George Porter, Jr., Dave Watts, Joey Porter and Ivan Neville. Zach Deputy made the scene, with Tim Carbone on fiddle, Clarence Slaughter, Jeff Coffin…at this point in the cruise I was beyond sensory overload, and the constant cavalcade of musical magicians escapes my memory. The sound crew pulled the plug at 4:30am, and the music was officially over.

The MSC crew woke us up by pounding on our door at about 8:30. We grabbed our bags and stumbled off the ship, giving high-fives and hugs on the way out. Another year on Jam Cruise came to an end, and the biggest question I’m left with is:

Is it January yet?


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