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Jam Cruise Journal: Day 5 – The Grand Finale
The final day of Jam Cruise is an intense one. As the MSC Divina motored back to Miami, organizers presented a full day of music that spanned from 11 a.m. until just before the boat arrived at 6 a.m. For me, sleep could wait until I returned back to NYC as I wanted to experience as much of the magic as possible.
San Francisco’s Con Brio, the soul/funk outfit that won themselves many new fans over the course of the trip, provided the soundtrack for a Yoga Session held on the Pool Deck. The Yoga Sessions were attended by many more cruisers this year than past events, a trend I expect to continue moving forward. The weather fully cooperated throughout the trip as Sunday was another gorgeous day in the Caribbean, at least until a brief rain shower just after midnight. A new Jam Cruise tradition may have been cemented with the presentation of the first “Reggae Brunch.” A number of musicians including Zach Deputy, Todd Stoops and Ashish “Hash” Vyas treated fans to an hour’s worth of reggae classics including “Simmer Down” as the sun shined down on the Divina.
Vermont quartet Twiddle counted many die-hards among those who witnessed their Pool Deck set on Sunday, at least from the looks of all the Twiddle t-shirts and flatbrims of those in attendance. Twiddle opened with “Gatsby The Great,” complete with “Big Country” (Bela Fleck & The Flecktones) teases, a fine choice considering the day’s theme was “The Great Jamsby.” More so than ever Jam Cruisers dressed to impress for theme nights as it seemed more folks wore costumes than didn’t, making for fantastic people watching opportunities. Todd Stoops sat-in on “Every Soul,” a song from Twiddle’s latest studio album to which the keyboardist contributed, as well as “Lost In The Cold.” Cabinet’s Pappy Biondo made a guest appearance on “Hattibagen McRat,” while Twiddle dedicated “When It Rains, It Poors” to Dino Dimitrouleas and The Werks family who were dealing with the loss of Norman Dimitrouleas. The Werks were so excited to finally make their Jam Cruise debut and after a mind-blowing set received word Norman, Dino’s brother and The Werks’ former keyboardist, had died. It was a heartbreaking turn of events for a band who should’ve been on top of the world.
Just before ALO kicked off their Pool Deck set, the “Brews At Sea Fest” gave Jam Cruisers a chance to sample beers from the many microbreweries that were represented on the boat. ALO’s set was highlighted by guitarist Eric McFadden sitting in on a cover of Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” as well as a well-jammed “Shapeshifter” and version of “BBQ” dedicated to Twiddle. Keyboardist Zach Gill told the crowd “all you dream about is another band covering your song and we’re honored Twiddle covers ‘BBQ.’” At the same time as ALO’s set, conductor Matt Butler was leading a killer Everyone Orchestra lineup that included Amy Helm, Nicki Bluhm, Paul Hoffman, Jans Ingber and Ron Holloway through an improvised performance based on cues in the theater.
The afternoon was filled with interesting activities including Vyas providing the score for another yoga session, Deputy judging a “Mystery Jam Wing Challenge” and Dr. John sitting at the piano in the atrium to tell tales of his legendary career as part of the “Jam Talks” series. Jam Cruise’s final evening started with sacred steel specialist Roosevelt Collier leading a Super Jam that featured contributions from Joel Cummins, Holloway, Stoops, Cory Henry, Will Bernard, Reed Mathis, Hoffman, Anders Beck, Fred Wesley and many others. The various ensembles performed such songs as Jimi Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic,” The Temptations’ “Standing On Shaky Ground” and Herbie Hancock’s “Spankalee.”
Ivan Neville’s intimate piano sets at the boat’s atrium have become can’t miss events. Neville’s atrium set on Sunday was no exception as he told the stories behind notable tunes and welcomed a handful of musicians to join him throughout the performance. Singer-songwriter Cris Jacobs, formerly of Baltimore’s The Bridge, is another artist who won himself many new fans this trip. Jacobs paired with Ivan on the beautiful “City Rain” from their NevilleJacobs project. Neville then showed his penchant for unusual covers by performing “Boys Of Summer” by Don Henley along with Eric Krasno on guitar for the biggest atrium crowd yet, and brought the set to a close with a stunning take on Stevie Wonder’s “Joy Inside My Tears” featuring the all-star lineup of Trombone Shorty, Stanton Moore, Nick Daniels, Eric “Benny” Bloom, Karl Denson, Nigel Hall, Cory Henry and Dan Oestreicher.
Neville hustled up to the Pool Deck after his set to perform as part of Anders Osborne’s band. Eric McFadden also sat-in for the entire set just as he (and Neville) did earlier on Jam Cruise 14. Osborne was in fine form showing off the licks that have earned him the “Cajun Hendrix” moniker on “Burning On The Inside” and other AO classics. Guitarist Scott Metzger added to a near 15-minute cover of Neil Young’s “Down By The River” that stood as the highlight of Anders’ set. I caught a little of The Floozies set in a packed Black & White Lounge (the boat’s club-like venue) and was very impressed by the pair’s electronic focused music. Lettuce’s Eric “Benny” Bloom sat-in during the few minutes of the set I caught before heading to the outdoor Brews At Sea Stage for Marco Benevento’s set.
Marco had been off Jam Cruise for a few years and displayed what cruisers had been missing throughout the journey not only with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead but with his own band and the many sit-ins he made all week long. Benevento’s Brews At Sea Stage set was another standout performance including guest spots from Col. Bruce Hampton on “Turn On Your Lovelight” and vocalist Nicole Atkins on “I Just Want To Make Love To You.” Next up on the Pool Deck Stage was Electron’s Pink Floyd tribute which turned out to be one of the best sets of the entire adventure.
The Divina moved through a quick storm during the Electron set, but the wind and rain only helped provide a wild visual along with a slew of lasers and other lighting elements. Bassist Marc Brownstein, guitarist Tom Hamilton, drummer Mike Greenfield and keyboardist Aron Magner were joined by American Babies guitarist Justin Mazer for the duration of the two-hour performance. Electron focused on the most beloved Pink Floyd material to the delight of those on hand who witnessed spot-on renditions of “Wish You Were Here,” “Have A Cigar,” “Run Like Hell” and more. Benevento turned up to add to “Fearless,” while Ron Holloway provided sax on “Us & Them.” Here’s hoping Electron brings the Pink Floyd tribute on the road so others can experience it. Brownie & Co. should be applauded for concluding the Pool Deck Stage action on a high note.
Meanwhile, at the atrium, Keller Williams played a guest-filled “solo” set. I caught stellar versions of “Deal” featuring Nicki Bluhm, “Doobie In My Pocket,” Zach Deputy and the More Than A Little vocalists contributing to Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and Keller leading “Women Are Smarter” backed by Reed Mathis on bass and Mike Dillon on vibes. Keller brought his A Game for his final set of the trip.
I ended Jam Cruise 14 by bouncing between the Jam Room and The Spot. Once again troubadour Nathan Moore provided cruisers an oasis from the funk during his unofficial late night sets at The Spot that generally started at 1 a.m. each night and ended when the sun rose. Moore and his crew were joined by musicians who would pass by The Spot and lend their talents and on this night the performers included members of Cabinet and The Infamous Stringdusters as well as Joel Cummins and Nicki Bluhm. Around 4 in the morning word started getting around the boat that David Bowie had died. An hour later, as the Miami skyline came into view, Nathan thanked all the revelers who stopped by The Spot, the musicians who participated and shared the news about Bowie. With that, the musicians closed out The Spot with “Space Oddity.”
The final night in the Jam Room was hosted by bassist Reed Mathis. Mathis started the action by jamming with drummer Adam Deitch and keyboardist Robert Walter – talk about an insanely talented trio. Only a dozen or so people were around when the Jam Room started but it would be filled to the gills just a few hours later. I was blown away by the Mathis, Deitch, Walter trio and that would wind up being my favorite performance at the Jam Room on Jam Cruise 14, though it was nearly topped just a few minutes later when Reed teamed with Stanley Jordan, Deitch, Nate Werth and Holly Bowling for another killer jam session. Later in the night bassist Tony Hall relieved Mathis for a 20-minute P-Funk medley.
One of my favorite aspects of Jam Cruise are the cruisers themselves. In such a party atmosphere you’d expect a number of assholes to ruin it for everyone, but thankfully that hasn’t been the case. Everyone I met was so nice and so happy to be aboard. It seemed there were more newcomers this year than usual for the sold-out event as word gets out on how special Jam Cruise is. The one exception came in the Jam Room on the final night, when a terrible female guitarist and vocalist tried to hijack the stage. Thankfully, Mathis cut her off quickly. Other than that, Jam Cruisers enjoyed themselves to the fullest while keeping it classy throughout.
Jam Cruise 14 spanned five nights and four full days. There were once-in-a-lifetime musical pairings around every corner and the only issue was the hard decisions cruisers had to make about what to catch with so many incredible sets taking place at the same time. Organizers Cloud 9 Adventures have the trip down to a science – so much so that it is easy to forget how much work went into making the event seamless. I’d like to take a moment to thank the Cloud 9 Team and MSC Cruise Line for all the hard work they put into Jam Cruise. I don’t know how they top themselves each year, but Jam Cruise 14 was the best one yet. I’ve already started counting down the days until Jam Cruise 15.