A music fan such as myself is always in search of transcendent moments and on Jam Cruise that’s like shooting a fish in a barrel. I’ve had some amazing days on Jam Cruise over the three years but yesterday goes down as one of my all-time favorites.
It started after five hours of sleep, which on a normal night wouldn’t be enough for me but on Jam Cruise it’s plenty. Who wants to miss anything? I bounded out of bed excited for what lay ahead. Wednesday was the first port call of the trip as the MSC Poesia docked in Labadee, Haiti. I know what you’re saying…Haiti? HAITI?? Believe me, I thought it was a weird choice too, but the compound where we docked was a private section of the island owned by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. There’s a 25-foot wall that separates Labadee from the rest of the extremely poor country.
[All Photos by Dave Vann]
If you were able to put aside what loomed over the wall, Labadee was a perfect stop for Jam Cruise. It consists of six beaches, a natural amphitheater, a half-dozen bars and water sports galore. Zach Deputy kicked off the music at Labadee and his island-infused groove-rock fit the setting perfectly. This one-man-band was utilizing a looping machine to fill out his sound. The weather in Labadee was hot, but there was plenty of shade and the most gorgeous crystal blue waters for swimming. Once Zack was done with his set he took advantage of the swimming and headed out for an impromptu swim with Bill Kreutzmann.
The African-tinged sounds of Toubab Krewe was up next and the North Carolinians invited a native Haitian dance group to get down while they performed. Toubab also welcomed Black Nature of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars to freestyle over their jams. Many Jam Cruisers just headed for the beach and soaked up some rays while recharging their batteries for the night ahead. You could walk from the boat to the amphitheater in five minutes, unlike some previous ports where you had to take a tender to shore. All in all, this was truly “Jam Cruise on Land.”
Over at another part of the Labadee compound, dozens of Jam Cruisers had gathered for a Positive Legacy event. We’re so blessed to have the wonderful vacation we are having, so it was nice to give back to the local community with donations of socks and school supplies as well as a demonstration of local culture.
When we got back on the Poesia, I headed to the Artist’s Lounge – the only part of the boat accessible only to artists, staff, media, etc. – to watch John Oates perform a song for Honest Tune and Relix. Oates played a tune off his new bluesy solo album and it was a thrill to watch one of my childhood heroes play essentially a private show – and it wouldn’t be the only private show I saw by the time the night was through. Once Oates finished his performance I spoke with him for an upcoming Hidden Track feature. I will say that when I asked him about what he thought of the trip, he responded, “I didn’t know what to expect. Part of me thought I’d need to lock myself in my room the whole time. It’s been the exact opposite. The people have been so wonderful and I’ve enjoyed bouncing between venues. My wife drank the kool-aid, she wants back on in the future. It’s just been amazing.”
Around 4 PM it was departure time and Latin rockers Ozomatli took the Pool Stage first. Best described as a more groove-oriented Los Lobos, the Los Angelenos threw a two-hour dance party that ended with the band parading through the deck and leading the crowd in chants of “Ole! Ole! Ole!” and a round of the Hokey-Pokey.
The Omega Moos combine Ryan Stasik and Brendan Bayliss of Umphrey’s McGee with Jamie Shields and Darren Shearer of The New Deal. The Moos play ’80s covers and tack untz-fueled guitar/keyboard jams to the end of most songs. Overall, the band drew a huge crowd as they ripped through such classics as She Blinded Me With Science, Rebel Yell, Sunglasses at Night, Ricky Don’t You Lose That Number, Take On Me and even the tender as fuck True by Spandau Ballet. Whip It featured a Bayliss-led guitar jam and it was clear something was different about how the band was being lit for that song. I turned around and looked at the lighting console where I saw Phish LD Chris Kuroda. Kuroda lit just that one song and it’s truly amazing the difference between his work and the other songs – he has such a distinctive style. I’d imagine this was his first time lighting a cover of Whip It.
A magical moment came at the end of the Moos’ set when Shearer welcomed John Oates to the stage. Oates led the group through outstanding versions of Maneater, Out of Touch and No Can Do. Each member of the Moos couldn’t hide their enthusiasm, sporting wide shit-eating grins.
Around the time the Moos were killin’ it on the Pool Deck, an activity called Rock Star Karaoke took place in the theater. A pick up band featuring Nigel Hall, Jessica Lurie, Andy Farag, Matt Hubbard and Simon of the New Mastersounds were joined by cruisers who were able to sing or play any song from a list of about 100 tunes backed by this incredible one-time band. Highlights included a blissful Angel of Montgomery and a smashing rendition of Use Me.
Over in the Pigalle Lounge, which hosts the Jam Room each evening, Bruce Hornsby put on a clinic called “Off The Record.” Bruce mixed solo performances with questions from the crowd and took plenty of requests. Of particular note was an outstanding version of Fortunate Son and an explanation of how his new “bluegrass” version of Mandolin Rain came together.
Unfortunately I missed Nigel Hall’s solo piano set near the ship’s lobby, but I made up for it later in the evening. Over in the small venue, The Zebra Bar, That 1 Guy performed for a small crowd. Real name Mike Zimmerman, That 1 Guy is known as a mad scientist who uses unconventional instruments and plays goofy songs. It was not my thing at all, so I quickly moved on to the theater where Soulive was holding court.
At first the traditional unit of guitarist Eric Krasno, drummer Alan Evans and keyboardist Neal Evans tackled complex jazz grooves with aplomb before welcoming a two-man horn section of Ryan Zoidis and James Casey. Towards the middle of their outstanding set, Soulive played a string of Beatles covers that were to die for including Come Together, Something, I Want You (She’s So Heavy) and a ridiculously good Eleanor Rigby that zigged and zagged in just the right places.
From there I headed up to the Pool Deck to catch a bit of 7 Walkers, a band featuring George Porter Jr. on bass and Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead on drums as well as Papa Mali. The group offers a bluesy take on Dead tunes as well as originals. Steve Kimock, a guest for the whole set, brought a more psychedelic edge to the proceedings. Keyboardist Robert Walter joined them for Smokestack Lightning, while the highlight of the set was an outstanding Eyes of the World featuring Karl Denson and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band horn section. Back in the Zebra Bar I had a chance to watch a bit of Break Science featuring Chali 2Na and drummer Adam Deitch put on a clinic as he came up with one powerful and inventive groove after another.
Keller Williams left the boat today in Jamaica as he has another gig, but before he left he had one more performance with The Keels in the theater. The group worked a mix of Keller’s originals with a few Keels tunes and kick-ass covers of Pumped Up Kicks by Foster The People and Sex and Candy by Marcy Playground featuring Greensky Bluegrass members Anders Beck and Paul Hoffman.
At this point I had some time to kill before Perpetual Groove went on in the theater at 2 AM so I decided to take a stroll across the boat. Jam Room host Colonel Bruce Hampton had the place rocking with a huge band that featured Jessica Lurie, George Porter Jr. and members of his Runnin’ Pardners as they tackled a few Sun Ra tunes such as Space In The Place and the rock standard Let The Good Times Roll, which saw Hampton and GPJ trade verses.
As much as I wanted to stay, something was calling me away from the Jam Room. On the seventh floor, where the Jam Room is located, there are outdoor corridors that line each side. You never know what you’ll find in these corridors and when I opened the door on the port side I stumbled upon one of these transcendent moments I’d been looking for. Surprise Me Mr. Davis mates Brad Barr and Nathan Moore had just sat down with their guitars along with Katie Benevento. Barr and Moore played and sang together both originals and covers. Moore told Katie and me that his father had recently celebrated his 64th birthday so we all sang When I’m 64 together. I knew this was a moment that about 10 particular people on the boat would kill to see, so I literally ran around the boat collecting them. By the time I had finished a circle of 25 people had formed around the pair as well as a bassist and publicist Dave Weissman on mando.
I’m a recent convert to the church of Brad Barr, so I really appreciated watching him work his instrument at such close proximity. He even used a few toys and a mini-amp to add spice to his tone as the pair sang Paint It Black, Sloop John B, Sittin On The Dock of the Bay and plenty of Moore’s originals. If you had a request, the two would play it – it was that causal. Hoffman and Beck wandered by and played a few tunes with the pair. Sooner than I thought it was 2 AM and I didn’t want to leave, but PGroove was about to go on and this was to be one of their first gigs with keyboardist Matt McDonald.
Perpetual Groove is one of my favorite bands and anyone who has read past Jam Cruise Journals knows how much I enjoyed solo sets by the group’s guitarist/singer Brock Butler. The rest of PGroove wasn’t on the last two Jam Cruises, so this was my first opportunity to see the band on the boat. When McDonald’s addition was announced the members of PGroove promised a new sound and boy did they deliver on that promise. The jams were much darker than previous PGroove explorations and McDonald has added a number of computers and synths to his rig. There were a several points when McDonald and Butler seemed to disconnect, you could tell they were rusty, but as the show went on they started to gel. McDonald thrived during the PGroove original Robot Waltz, while Butler led the band through a nasty cover of David Bowie’s I’m Afraid of Americans.
All in all, I was left a bit underwhelmed with the set until the last two songs. The group’s romp through LCD Soundsystem’s All My Friends and the original Sweet Oblivious Antidote (w/ Gary Paulo on sax) were off the charts good and showed the promise the current lineup holds. We’ll see what the Pool Deck set holds this evening.
By the time PGroove had finished it was 4 AM and I was beat. Thankfully I sucked it up and went to the Jam Room where Nigel Hall was throwing down one soul cover after another including Let’s Groove Tonight and Rock With You. Hall has such a powerful voice and did a great job of leading a group of musicians who hadn’t performed with him before through these tunes. On my way back to the room I passed by Moore who four hours later was still in the same spot singing songs. At 5:30 AM the Jam Room and the sides of the boat were rocking, no one wanted this incredible day to end. But alas I needed some sleep. There are still two more days to go!