Around 6:45, the Cloud 9 staff led a toast and welcomed us all aboard. Big Sam couldn’t be a more enthusiastic front man and his band gave the throngs of cruisers ample dance time to work off the nervous energy that comes with starting a trip like this. As Big Sam’s Funky Nation started their set, the boat’s horn blew and just like that we were pulling out from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. We waited all year for this moment and it was finally upon us.
Most group’s performances have peaks and valleys, but Big Sam’s Funky Nation started at an 11 and at most dialed it back to a 10. At most times during the evenings on Jam Cruise there are four bands performing at once, but the action starts with the “Sail Away” band playing without any competition, so the Pool Deck was absolutely packed. Then again, “absolutely packed”‘ on Jam Cruise still offers plenty of nooks and crannies to find comfort.
Thanks to the intense energy of Big Sam and his action-packed set that included a Lady Gaga cover, I needed to take things down a notch and headed down a few decks to the lobby, where a gorgeous piano was set up for a quick set of solo keys by Joe Tatton of The New Mastersounds. Have you ever heard Whole Lotta Rosie by AC/DC done on piano? Me neither, but it was a brilliant arrangement. Tatton was joined by his girlfriend on vocals for a few tunes and even threw in an instrumental version of Georgia On My Mind to fulfill a request from one of the 40 or so folks gathered around the piano.
Next up for me was Bob Weir, Rob Wasserman and Jay Lane are Scaring The Children. I’m used to seeing Bobby in bigger bands and I enjoyed the sparse arrangements of Dylan covers (She Belongs to Me, Maggie’s Farm) and Grateful Dead classics. For the first few songs, Weir handled lead guitar duties in a rhythmic fashion but shortly after that Steve Kimock came out and performed on the rest of the set. Kimock was as relaxed as I’ve seen him and offered some impressive solos. Loose Lucy in particular was a hoot.
After checking out Bobby, I headed down to the Zebra Bar – the boat’s smallest venue – for Greensky Bluegrass. Each venue was filled by completely different crowds and I enjoyed the enthusiasm of the bluegrass fans who took in the endless solos by the competent ensemble. As I mentioned last year, I’m a bit ADD in my musical sensibilities, so I loved the ability to take in a song or two by one act before moving on to the next one.
Counting last year’s cruise and last night, I’ve never seen the theater as full as it was for Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Robert is clearly a part of the Jam Cruise Family and laid down a killer set of soul-infused rock.
One of the artists I was most excited to see on this trip was Anders Osborne and the New Orleans-based musician didn’t disappoint. The set was billed as Anders with Carl Dufrene(bass) and Stanton Moore (drums), but right off the bat Robert Walter joined the action on keys. Speaking of soul-infused rock, Anders’ shows are a spiritual experience as this man put his heart and soul into every note. You could feel his joy throughout.
Osborne tore through most of the songs from his latest album as well as a few from his earlier LPs. Skerik sat in for a tune offering a weirdly awesome counterpoint to the rest of the band. From there, guitarist Scott Metzger added a level of shreddiness to the proceedings. Stanton explained how Metzger, Anders and Carl – as well as Will Bernard – were touring as his trio, so since all those folks were aboard, they would take the rare opportunity to all play together. Will and Scott complimented each other nicely and even though there were three guitarists on stage, these guys didn’t step on toes. Featured artist Big Chief Monk Boudreau was the final guest of the set and was dressed to the nines in traditional Mardi Gras indian garb as he traded lyrics with Anders. Overall, this was the best set of music I saw last night on an evening filled with wonderful performances.
A quick trip to the Jam Room found Tony Hall leading most of his Dumpstaphunk band mates through various covers including Jimi Hendrix’s Hey Joe. Later in the evening, “Jam Cruise Mayor” Zach Deputy lent his skills to the action for what was one of the mellower nights in the Jam Room I’ve witnessed. Then again at 2AM, the long day got the best of me so I headed to bed. I can report from my roomie – and fellow scribe – Dennis Cook that Stockholm Syndrome threw down in the theater and dropped a number of tunes from their forthcoming album as well as North and Jacob’s Ladder for the many Panic fans in attendance.
I sure needed those Zs as Day Two is a full day of sets with the boat sailing through the Caribbean towards tomorrow’s port, Roatan, Honduras. Now I’m off to catch Cornmeal and to hear all sorts of tales of what I missed last night. I’ve learned you can’t see everything on Jam Cruise, but you can sure try!