Day Two of Jam Cruise is a full day at sea which translates to an all-you-can-eat buffet worth of incredible music. In the past I’ve embraced the ADD nature of the vacation by bouncing between the ship’s four venues, but yesterday I tried a different approach and caught three full sets – something unheard of me for me in previous years. By the time the clock had struck 5AM and I finally headed to bed, the musical buffet had left me stuffed and extremely satisfied. With so many superbly talented musicians on board, each act tries to top each other leaving a big mark in the win column for Jam Cruisers.
[All Photos by Dave Vann]
The action started early as George Porter Jr. and Runnin’ Pardners took the Pool Deck stage shortly before noon. The funk legend came out swinging with a groovy version of the fitting Sailin’ Shoes. GPJ knows his crowd and had the audience in the palm of his hand throughout the 75 minute performance in 75 degree weather under sunny skies. As we approached the coast of Cuba, Runnin’ Pardners launched into one of the best renditions of Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley my ears have ever heard.
Next up was Fat Mannequin on the Solar Stage and I’ll admit it, I had never heard of the group. Once I saw them I realized that FM was a Heavy Pets side project featuring the band’s two guitar players and their bassist. Whereas The Heavy Pets’ set didn’t capture my attention, the acoustic trio was just my speed. Guitarist Jeff Lloyd has such a distinctive voice, different from anyone within our scene and while previously I had a hard time seeing the common comparison between the Dead and Heavy Pets, in this stripped-down setting the band’s roots were much clearer.
During “Day At Sea” mornings and afternoons there are two stages going – the large Pool Deck and the smaller Solar Stage. Once a band would finish on the Pool Deck, a different group would play the Solar Stage so there was constantly music to hear. Following Fat Mannequin, Keller Williams and the Keels performed on the Pool Deck and I was incredibly impressed by the chemistry and camaraderie between the husband and wife Keels and KDub. Guest artist Anders Beck brought out his lap steel for a few tunes and took a few frenetic solos that added spice to the trio’s songs.
Nathan Moore was the MVP of Day Two as he showed two completely different sides of his talent during a solo show and the first-ever Surprise Me Mr. Davis set on Jam Cruise. Moore’s a storyteller of the highest degree and knows how to connect with a crowd, regardless of its size or familiarity with his work. Bruce Hornsby returned to the Pool Deck as the afternoon made its progression to evening and once again Steve Kimock joined the piano legend’s band – this time for the whole set. Hornsby got such a huge kick out of having Kimock on stage with him that he made space for a guitar solo in nearly every song. Artist Lebo painted a huge canvas with bright vivid colors as Bruce offered a mix of his best material including Tango King, Mandolin Rain and Space Is The Place as well as impromptu versions of Who Knows and Big Boss Man. Overall, Hornsby was a great booking though I wish he made a trip to the Jam Room at some point.
The weather had been wonderful up until the end of Hornsby’s set when a storm approached. Bruce left the stage a little early as the rain picked up and most cruisers headed inside for a few of the indoor activities organizers had lined up. “Let’s Make A New Deal” was such a fun event. The New Deal keyboardist Jamie Shields was our host and has the Wink Martindale-esque banter down. Shields’ tND band mates provided the soundtrack along with Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s McGee as cruisers won prizes by picking the correct box or making a particularly good deal that scored them Jam Cruise merch.
One of the activities I was particularly looking forward to was the “Get Lit Up” workshop featuring Phish LD Chris Kuroda and Umphrey’s LD Jefferson Waful – and it didn’t disappoint. Activities Director Seth Weiner moderated the event as Waful and Kuroda kicked off the seminar by telling their stories. I’ll never get sick of hearing about how Kuroda won himself the job by pitching relief for Phish’s last LD when he went to the bathroom. Waful had the line of the night when he said he doesn’t drink anything until setbreak as he is familiar with the Kuroda legend and doesn’t want to lose his job to a replacement. No fears, Jefferson, I think my light design days are behind me after pressing a few buttons on the console during Day One.
Kuroda and Waful took questions from the audience and I asked about how the design for certain songs has progressed over time, specifically Puppet Strings from UM and Steam for Phish. CK5 said there are only a handful of songs for which the light design doesn’t change such as David Bowie, Reba and Punch You In The Eye (with the exception of the jams of course). In discussing Steam and the Phish New Year’s Prank, Kuroda mentioned he put in over 50 hours of practice to pull it off as he felt the pressure once Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio pulled him aside and said, “you need to make sure EVERYONE in this room (MSG) sees this.” In other words – “don’t fuck this up.”
Following the Q&A segment, which didn’t wander too far into technical territory, Kuroda gave a demonstration of a lighting move he worked up for Simple. Chris then gave a lesson about how to make a lighting cue to a lighting newcomer and explained it in a way that anyone could understand. By the time the workshop was through I had a new appreciation for what goes into creating and operating a big-time light show. I also appreciated Kuroda’s openness as he invited anyone in the crowd to chat with him during the trip, “we’re on a boat together, don’t be shy. Come find me and I’ll show you how to work the light board if the timing’s right.” I hope to take him up on that offer before we get back to Fort Lauderdale.
The members of Dumpstaphunk and Soulive came together in the evening for a Tribute to Sly and the Family Stone. Karl Denson and Big Sam lent horns to the festivities as the new ensemble tore through the best songs in Sly’s repertoire including Dance To The Music, Stand and Hot Fun In The Summer Time. Unfortunately the approaching storm finally hit in a big way about an hour into the Sly set leading organizers to end the set a half-hour early. Big Sam and a sax player took the opportunity to march around the boat in the tradition of New Orleans’ second lines. Nice work by the trombone star turning lemons into lemonade.
The time between 7:15 PM and 9 PM was a rare break from music on the Poesia. I used the down time as a chance to grab a full meal in the dining room with friends. This was only the second time I’ve done a sit-down meal as it’s usually so much easier and quick to grab a fast bite in the cafeteria. The food was sooooo much better in the actual dining room and it was wonderful to have an unrushed experience catching up with friends about their trips. Jam Cruise is truly a “Make Your Own Adventure” vacation and everyone has a different story about what they saw and what they liked and didn’t like.
Between 9 PM and 11 PM I popped between the venues for Galactic on the Pool Deck, Dead Kenny G’s in the intimate Zebra Bar and Railroad Earth in the two-story theater. I thought I had seen enough Galactic to last me a lifetime but I was enthralled by their set. Corey Glover of Living Colour and trombone wiz Corey Glover were once again the band’s guests for most of the set with Glover belting out Kashmir counted among the highlights. Also of note was Ryan Montbleau singing 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover and Anders Osborne trading verses with Glover on a killer cover of Jet Airliner.
Dead Kenny G’s was perfect freak out music as that band refuses to conform to any usual standards. Mike Dillon is a beast on drums and percussion and the group’s music gives Skerik plenty of chances to blow the weird and trippy solos for which he’s known. Big Sam and Dan Oestreicher (Trombone Shorty) were among DKG’s guests.
Later in the evening I settled into the theater. The theater is the boat’s nicest venue as the seats are plush and huge. There’s never enough people to fill the venue, so it’s as spacious and comfortable as a music venue gets. Railroad Earth was up first and kicked off their set with three songs featuring Roosevelt Collier of The Lee Boys on lap steel. Lap Steel accents RRE’s music perfectly, which I’m sure the group realized as Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass came out later for more pedal steel bluegrass-y goodness. This was my first time watching Andrew Altman play with the band and I was impressed with the “new” bassists skills on the four-string bass.
Up to five acts play at venues across the boat at night, so if you want to keep your crowd you need to come out strong, which was just what Umphrey’s McGee did for their theater set. Over the past two years I had dreamed of watching UM at this cozy venue and had such a huge shit-eating-grin as the sextet kicked into the gorgeous instrumental Glory. Among my favorite song in the group’s catalog I took the moment to look around and take in where I was and what I was seeing. I couldn’t do much more than shake my head in amazement.
Set: Glory > 1348 > Bright Lights, In The Kitchen (w/ Darren Shearer), Domino Theory, Booth Love (w/ John Oates), Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’, Jake Instrumental > Ocean Billy, Divisions
[There may be a song after ITK and before Domino Theory]
I noticed a lot of folks that weren’t particularly familiar with Umphrey’s and nearly all of them were in full rock out mode by the end of the set. Umphs did a nice job of making their performance accessible for all, regardless of your level of fandom. The New Deal drummer Darren Shearer replaced Kris Myers behind the kit for In The Kitchen and Shearer performs with so much energy and strength that I thought he’d leave a few holes in Myers’ drum set. The set’s other guest was John Oates, who sat in with the group at a 2011 gig in Aspen and at last year’s Mountain Jam. Oates added gnarly leads to the funky Booth Love as that song fits his style like a glove. When Oates left without playing any Hall & Oates songs there was disappointment in the air, but I’d imagine John will tackle some of his classic H&O tunes during the Omega Moos set.
Umphrey’s cover of Can’t You Hear Me Knockin got everyone up on their feet and rocking out. I love the restraint Myers shows in emulating Charlie Watts. For their final song of their final Jam Cruise 10 set, the sextet performed one of the best versions of Divisions I’ve seen. The lyrics hit me hard and once again I made sure to look around and take in this magnificent moment in my life.
From there I headed to the Zebra Bar for Surprise Me Mr. Davis. While I’ve seen The Slip, Marco Benevento and Nathan Moore before, this was my first time seeing them together as SMMD. It was also their first Jam Cruise appearance. While the crowd was light, it was filled with journalists and other musicians who knew what was up. I must admit for the first few songs I was like, “these guys are good, but I don’t understand all the love they get.” By song number five I knew why as the group plays with such honesty and emotion, and on a boat filled with fun and boisterous performances, this shit was serious. I was anti-social during the set as I wanted to really listen with all of my being. Moore mixed stories with kazoo work, though unfortunately we didn’t get any of the magic tricks he’s been known to work into SMMD performances. Birthday Boy Neal Evans sat in on keys, the set’s only guest spot. There were at least 20 other musicians in the audience and each of them seemed as taken by SMMD’s set as I was. In an alternate universe, the music world would appreciate the greatness of Surprise Me Mr. Davis in the same way The Band was embraced decades ago.
At this point it was nearly 4 AM and not only were my feet tired but my ears were tired. I caught an intense The New Deal song and watched The New Mastersounds with a five-piece horn section for a while before calling it a night. As I’ve said, you can’t see it all on Jam Cruise, but I’m sure happy with what I did see.