I must say, the relative lack of the internet and cell phones on the MSC Poesia for Jam Cruise 10 has been extremely refreshing. Outside of filing these reports I’ve done my best to ignore the world that lies beyond the boat. We’re in our own little world here and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Of course, it’s much easier to miss a key moment because you can’t text your friends. Luckily, we’ve figured out a few ways to keep each other posted on what’s going down.
[All Photos by Dave Vann]
When we awoke on Day Four the boat was docked in Falmouth, Jamaica. Many cruisers took the opportunity to catch up on sleep while others went ashore and partook in a variety of activities. Once the boat left Jamaica the first act was reggae legends Toots and the Maytals – a more than fitting choice. Toots and his band raged through material from throughout their career such as Pressure Drop and Sweet And Dandy as well as a fantastic cover of Louie, Louie.
Down in the Zebra Bar, the boat’s bluegrass musicians gathered for the annual Pickin’ Party. The main band for this workshop consisted off three members of Railroad Earth, The Keels and Greensky Bluegrass’s Paul Hoffman and Anders Beck. Anyone with an instrument was welcome to join in and jam on standards including Freeborn Man. At 7:30, Ivan Neville performed near the ship’s lobby on the huge piano set up there. These solo piano sets always draw big crowds, but Neville drew the biggest of the trip. He’s so well known for his keyboard skills, yet it was his voice on display during the 45-minute set. Neville led the crowd through singalongs of I Would Die 4 U, In Your Eyes and Little Red Corvette by the time he finished.
My favorite performance of the trip so far was Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe on the Pool Deck thanks to an all-star team joining them to play Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones in its entirety. Guitarist Anders Osborne and percussion player Mike Dillon were on stage for the whole LP and Denson would bring out different musicians for each song. Highlights included Neville’s delivery of Wild Horses, a full-on ten-minute rain storm that broke out during an absolutely smokin’ Can’t You Hear Me Knockin, Roosevelt Collier’s lap steel work on Sister Morphine and drummer Stanton Moore bashing his way through the end of Moonlight Mile. If you haven’t seen KDTU and Anders tackle Sticky Fingers, you really should.
Over in the theater Ozomatli offered a dance party of a different sort as they were joined by Bruce Hornsby’s guitarist Doug Derryberry for most of their set and once again ended with a parade into the crowd. A few yards away in the Zebra Bar, Michael Travis and Jason Hann’s EOTO got their wobble bass on in a surprisingly entertaining way.
If you read my Day Three journal you know I was underwhelmed with Perpetual Groove’s theater set. Well, the Georgians’ Pool Deck set was outstanding and was everything the previous day’s performance was not. The band was all on the same page as they raged through top shelf material. Even the sit-ins were impressive with saxophonist Gary Paulo and Ivan Neville coming out for a cover of Sail On by The Commodores and Umphrey’s McGee keyboardist Joel Cummins, bassist Adam Perry’s wife Conley and Paulo and Under The Porch guitarist Michael Blair filling the stage for a take on Wake Up by Arcade Fire that was just sensational. Keyboardist Matt McDonald hopped on guitar for that one as Brock Butler put his down and showed-off a stage presence that had been nowhere to be found the previous night. I also must put a word in for the quartet’s take on TTFPJ featuring Paulo, which was ridiculously good.
I wasn’t sure what to hit next, so I figured with drummer Adam Deitch as the host it was Jam Room time. I’m very happy I made that call. I entered to find a makeshift band consisting of Brad Barr and Ozomatli’s Raul Pacheco on guitar and Mario Calire on drums, Zach Deputy and Alan Evans on vocals and members of Toubab Krewe on stage jamming every little bit out of a psych-y Latin groove. Nigel Hall hopped up on keys and Eric Krasno worked over the bass for a soul cover that came next. Krasno is an insane bassist, better than probably 75 percent of the four-stringers on the boat. Every fill he played was a revelation. Trombone Shorty hopped up and worked the crowd into a frenzy with a hard-nosed solo. This 20-minute segment was the first truly outstanding improv I heard in the Jam Room and my favorite until what happened next.
Lettuce took over the stage with a horn section featuring Ryan Zoidis on sax, Trombone Shorty and Big Sam for a take on their New York Knicks anthem Madison Square. This instrumental is such an energetic song that everyone on that stage (not to mention the crowd) bounced three feet up in the air. What was so interesting was Trombone Shorty, who has turned down many guest spots on this trip, picked up on the horn line instantaneously…and it’s not exactly easy. Everyone who was in the Jam Room at the time will talk about what they saw at 1:30 AM on Day Four when Lettuce and friends came, saw, and conquered the venue.
Next up was The New Mastersounds and they paid tribute to Jamaica by covering an Ernest Ranglin tune. Among their guests were Anders Osborne, Ivan Neville, Zach Deputy and Jessica Lurie. The Leeds funksters drew the biggest crowd of the cruise to the theater and for good reason. TNM continue to improve and diversify their particular brand of funk each time out.
On my way to the theater for the only Garage A Trois set of the trip, I passed by Nathan Moore and Brad Barr singing songs in their spot on the boat’s exterior corridor. After running around the Poesia all night, I figured this was a perfect time to take a load off. Nathan and Brad have an undeniable chemistry as they jammed and harmonized together. There may have only been six people watching, but it didn’t stop Barr from laying down one dark and twisted riff after another.
I arrived at the theater to hear avant-garde jazz-rockers Garage A Trois performing band member Marco Benevento’s catchy instrumental Real Morning Party. Skerik has made himself fairly scarce this week, so it was particularly nice to watch him work over the sax for a while. And how about a set closer of No Quarter (Led Zeppelin) > It’s Gonna Be A Long Night? GAT is known for musical freak outs and there were certainly moments along those lines, yet I was thankful for less dissonance and more straight-forward rocking.
It was bittersweet to head up to the Pool Deck for The New Deal’s last set. This wasn’t like the 20 previous final shows, this was truly the end for TND as we know it. The jamtronica pioneers announced they were breaking up nearly a year ago and have spent most of the past few months playing shows, so they were tight. Many musicians wanted to watch the Canadian trio’s going away party and filled in among the crowd. Umphrey’s bassist Ryan Stasik was front row center as were The Heavy Pets and Michael Travis. Drummer Darren Shearer guided us through the dance party and gave a few inspirational speeches. Unlike many of the Poesia’s other venues, the Pool Deck has a HARD 4 AM curfew. The New Deal were the first band I saw who broke curfew as they jammed until 4:30 AM. Before starting their final song, TND worked a bit of I Feel Love by Donna Summer into the sonic mix to huge applause. After a round of thank yous and several long hugs, a major part of the jam scene was no more.
As tired as I was, I had a few more trips around the boat in me. First up was a trip to the Jam Room where Zach Deputy was holding it down with Nigel Hall on bass and Deitch on drums. From there, I headed back to Nathan Moore’s “spot” where one more transcendent moment lay ahead. Ryan Montbleau had joined in Moore and Barr’s fun and the mix of their three voices was magical. Just when I thought it was time for bed, Brad Barr started up Let It Bleed. At this point about 50 people were gathered around the musicians and as you can imagine everyone sang along. I took that moment to take in my surroundings and shook my head in disbelief. It was 5:15 AM off the coast of Cuba as the sun was just about to rise. Here I was on a boat surrounded by friends and many of my favorite musicians. Sleep can wait until I return home.
With each passing year, event organizers hone the ideal mix of musicians who embrace the boat’s ethos. These acts truly enjoy sitting in with each other and doing the little things to give cruisers once-in-a-lifetime moments around every corner. As I’ve said, there’s so much going on that every cruiser experiences it differently. With one day left to go, I’m ready to say this was my favorite Jam Cruise yet. We’ll see what the final day at sea holds, but I’ll be traveling tomorrow so give me some time for that entry. Thanks for reading and I hope my joy has come through over the past few days. Major props to DaveO and Andy Kahn for running Hidden Track this week and we’re eternally grateful to Dave Vann for allowing us to run his photos.