The second day of Jam Cruise is a day spent at sea steaming towards our first port. The schedule of music and activities starts at noon, just a few hours after the last notes had been played the previous night, and runs until early the next morning – and that’s just the music that’s been scheduled. My favorite part of Jam Cruise are the impromptu performances you won’t find on any schedules.
Northern California’s Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers opened the Pool Deck at noon and attracted a surprisingly large crowd considering the “early” hour. You may best known Bluhm and her band from the “Van Sessions” videos they’ve created which have went viral. Blumn has a sweet, gorgeous voice and was a vision with her long black hair swaying in the wind. Her band includes husband Tim Bluhm of The Mother Hips on guitar and piano and ALO’s Steve Adams on bass. Nicki sang Tumbling Dice with Steve Kimock on Day One of the trip, so he returned the favor on a cover of Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever. As much as I enjoyed the group’s covers, I was struck by The Band-like vibe of their original material. Bluhm has powerful pipes that just might make her a crossover star one day.
[All Photos by Dave Vann]
Greensky Bluegrass makes their return on Jam Cruise 11 after taking last year off (besides Anders Beck who was on as a special guest). With Greensky’s instrumental setup (banjo, guitar, dobro and bass) keyboards fit nicely when it comes to guests, so the band took the opportunity to welcome Kyle Hollingsworth of String Cheese Incident and Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s McGee to help out for a song a piece. Cummins dueled with Beck on a fiery Don’t Lie, but for my money the highlight of the set was GB’s arrangement of Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen. Bluegrass serves The Boss’s music well.
Right near the Pool Deck is a smaller stage called the Magic Hat Wind Stage. First up at the intimate outdoor venue was a solo set from Perpetual Groove front man Brock Butler. The “Wind Stage” was especially fitting on this day as gusts of wind ripped through the crowd and were so strong they moved Brock as he sang. Butler offered an impromptu version of The Mighty Wind in response. He was in fine voice as he delivered stirring takes on Holocene by Bon Iver, Paul Simon’s Boy In The Bubble as well as his epic It Starts Where It Ends.
J.J. Grey and Mofro are Jam Cruise vets at this point and after catching them on Jam Cruise 8, I decided to check out a few of the activities taking place around the boat. First up was “Jamily Feud” – a take on Family Feud hosted by Karl Denson. Denson had the ’70s game show host schtict down. You know it’s Jam Cruise because one of the answers given for “what’s the best rock and roll song ever” was You Enjoy Myself (which Karl Denson did not know at all). The activities are run well and those who attended had a blast.
This was also true of the second musical activity I stumbled across called “Musical Bingo.” Two of Jam Cruise’s late night heroes – Brock Butler and Nathan Moore teamed up to play covers of their own songs in an order they determined randomly. The songs they performed corresponded to bingo cards given out to those participating. For instance, when Brock covered Patience by Guns N’ Roses, anyone who had that song on their bingo card could cross it off. Eventually one of the audience members scored a bingo leaving Brock and Nathan enough time to play a few songs together. They treated the crowd to takes on Mother by Pink Floyd and The Honeydrippers’ Sea Of Love.
Besides activities there are also workshops put on by some of the artists. One I attended was dubbed “Between The Beats” which featured Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Wood taking questions from their fans. To hear Sco talk about performing with Miles Davis was enthralling as even his MMW band mates stood hanging on every word. Medeski also related a hilarious story. When he was approached about performing with Scofield in 1997, his response was “John Scofield’s still alive!?!?” A few albums later, the guitarist is most certainly still alive and it was a treat to hear him talk about his half-century in the music business.
When the lineup was announced I had my eyes on a set called “Funk Is Dead” featuring Colorado’s insanely talented The Motet. The group reworks Grateful Dead songs as soul-infused funk anthems in a way that reminds me of how Jazz Is Dead interpreted The Dead. These guys and gals played a They Love Each Other that would’ve made James Brown proud with its funk breaks and R&B horns. The crowd ate up every Dead cover The Motet kicked out. Even Stella Blue, a tune you’d think just could not be “funkified” was a revelation. Funk Is Dead was the talk of the boat for the rest of the night and a contender for set of the week.
Between eight and nine there was no music scheduled for a dinner hour of sorts. I sat down for a real meal (as opposed to my trips to the cafeteria for the 24/7 buffet) with some friends and dinner conversation touch on “why is Trey’s birth date wrong on his mugshot” and we couldn’t come up with an answer. The food seems better on this trip than on Jam Cruises past but wouldn’t win any awards.
As I mentioned yesterday, every night one of the keyboardists on the boats performs an unamplified set at a glass piano set up in the ship’s atrium. Nigel Hall got the call on Night Two and his set was a completely different animal than the one Kyle Hollingsworth offered the previous night. Nigel’s crowd was attentive and hung on every syllable. He mixed his own tunes with covers and ended the short set by welcoming Corey Glover (Living Colour, Galactic), James Casey (Lettuce, Trey Anastasio) and Ivan Neville for a beautiful cover of The Way Of The World by Earth, Wind and Fire.
Galactic stuck to a similar script as last year’s Pool Deck set as they followed Glover on Living Colour’s Cult Of Personality and tackled 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon. I took off fairly quickly to head to the Zebra Bar to catch ALO. ALO impressed me the most of any band on Jam Cruise 9 and it was a pleasure to watch them in action once more. They are a jamband that knows how to write a catchy tune and hours later I’m still singing their Pobrecito. ALO’s guests included Kyle Hollingsworth for a 30-minute segment and guitarist Scott Law. They also did absolutely spot-on renditions of two yacht rock classics – What A Fool Believes by The Doobie Brothers and Escape (The Pina Colada Song).
At 12:30AM I decided to take stock for a moment. ALO was tearing it up at the Zebra Bar, The funky METERS were giving a lesson in funk on the Pool Deck and Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Wood were exploring away in the theater. These are the tough decisions of Jam Cruise, but thankfully you couldn’t go wrong with any of these options. I ran to MSMW just to see them welcome out Ivan Neville on organ. Watching Neville and Medeski duel was a real treat, but the best Medeski experience was still to come.
Just 15 minutes after his set with MSMW finished, Medeski headed to the Zebra Bar for a set with the incredibly talented drummer Adam Deitch (Lettuce, Break Science) and saxophonist Skerik. The trio had only played one gig prior and it took place in New York City a year ago. Yet you’d never know these guys hadn’t been together for long. The instrumental, mostly improv’d set showed what a fantastic idea it was putting them together. The music they created was deliciously evil.
Later, I headed to the Pool Deck just in time to catch The funky METERS tear Cissy Strut a new asshole. Drummer Russell Batiste handled front man duties as Galactic drummer Stanton Moore got behind the kit. As a bassist, there’s nothing like watching George Porter Jr. show how it’s not about how much you play but how you play what you do play. He can play just two notes in a measure, but they are so perfectly placed that they carry the tune. Artist Lebo painting on stage as the band performed added another level of surreallness the proceedings.
Now we were nearing 2AM and I decided to take a visit to “The Spot.” As you may recall, two years ago troubadour Nathan Moore set up shop on the boat’s side decks with a few of his musical friends and would run through covers and originals until the sun came up. Last year more Jam Cruisers caught on to the impromptu sessions and after lots of ink, “The Spot” isn’t Jam Cruise’s best kept secret no more. This year, when I made my first trip to “The Spot” I saw about 50 people surrounding Moore and his musical friends. As the night went on the crowd would only increase in size. Unfortunately, many weren’t there for the music and talked loudly as the musicians tried to perform. Moore used this racousness to his advantage for group sing-a-longs on Second That Emotion, How Sweet It Is and It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry. “The Spot” was still going strong when I went to bed at six and had seen members of The Motet, Greensky Bluegrass, Tea Leaf Green and ALO take part on Night One.
Over in the Jam Room Brian J. of Pimps of Joytime was the evening’s host. He brought his Pimps band mates to hold down the stage until other musicians made their way to the room. The best jam I caught on Night Two featured the Pimps teaming up with Brock Butler, Wally Ingram and John Morgan Kimock for It’s Bad You Know. Later, Butler, Nikki Glaspie (Dumpstaphunk), Brian J., James Casey, Nigel Hall and Joey Porter laid into a bluesy Got My Mojo Workin’ that was also a highlight.
Right now I’m writing from Grand Turk in Turks and Caicos and feeling pretty good all things considered. It’s time to put the computer away and get right back to the music. Check back for a full report from Day Three.