Jam Cruise Journal: Cirque Du Funk

For each night of Jam Cruise there’s a theme that dictates how many cruisers will dress. Past theme nights included Super Hero Night, Green Night and Disco Party. Thursday’s theme was “Cirque Du Funk” and I’d say about 80% of those on board dressed in costume. In the four years I’ve done Jam Cruise, I’ve never seen as many people dress up as they did on Thursday which made the experience of walking around the boat even more surreal than usual.

The schedule for this year’s cruise is a little different than in years past. Previously the final full day on the boat was spent at sea after two visits to ports. For Jam Cruise 11 we visit The Bahamas on the final full day making Thursday our second full day at sea of the trip. The music started at noon and ran past sunrise.

[All Photos by Dave Vann]

Options for those getting up at noon included a screening of a documentary about Col. Bruce Hampton, a set from California’s Brokedown In Bakersfield and yoga lessons on the Sports Deck. I hit the ground running for the second set of the day which featured Steve Kimock teaming up Bernie Worrell, Wally Ingram, John Morgan Kimock and Andy Hess. Hampton made his first appearance of the trip during this set when he came out for a Space Is The Place rap. Other highlights of Kimock’s set were a jam on Get Up, Stand Up, a nasty take on Come Together (The Beatles) that put a sheen of ’60s R&B on the familair tune and a gorgeous version of Tangled Hangers. Earlier on the cruise at Steve’s first set Bernie Worrell “sang” Naive Melody by the Talking Heads which just sounded weird because Worrell more talks the lyrics than sings them. This was the case again on Thursday when the legendary keyboardist handled vocals for Burning Down The House. Let’s just say, perhaps those tunes should’ve been performed as instrumentals.

First up on the smaller outdoor stage this year known as the Magic Hat Wind Stage was Al Schnier. The moe. guitarist decided to make full use of his band mates and after only one solo song the set turned into a full-on moe. acoustic set. What an amazing surprise to see the headliners offer cruisers an extra set under the bright sun of the early afternoon. It was amazing to watch the members of moe. embrace Jam Cruise as they each mention how special the trip was. For me, there’s nothing like lying in a lounge chair and watching moe. work their way through Nebraska, Harder They Come, Shoot First, Moth and Haze as I tried to screw my brain back on after three full days of magical music.

While nearly all the bands on Jam Cruise focused on western style music, Femi Kuti and Positive Force offered something completely different. Kuti, the son of afrobeat legend Fela, exuded so much energy as he happily delivered each multi-layered, dance-friendly song. Positive Force is a large band with a full horn section and two hype dancers dressed in full African garb. Femi’s contageous smile as he bopped around stage is an image I won’t soon forget.

Nathan Moore closed out a short day of activity at the Magic Hat Wind Stage, where he performed a selection of his well-crafted original tunes including Hollow, Plain As Day, Do You Believe In Ghosts and Under Stand Under. It was weird seeing Moore during daylight hours as I’m used to hearing his music in the middle of the night at “The Spot.”

Eddie Roberts of The New Mastersounds led this year’s “Super Jam” and he recruited a vast array of talent for the set including the Lettuce Horns, drummer Stanton Moore, Art Neville, Jans Ingber and Joey Porter of The Motet, Nikki Glaspie and Mike Dillon to run through a set of funk and soul classics. He even turned over the show to Tim and Nikki Blumn for a few tunes.

A few years back I missed Zach Gill of ALO’s solo atrium piano set and I regretted it. Everyone I ran into who was in attendance raved about Gill’s performance. This year I didn’t make the same mistake. Unlike past solo atrium sets, a full PA was set up so we could hear Gill’s voice. There was a large contigent of ALO fans aboard and they voiced their requests at every turn. The keyboardist mixed rare ALO material with plenty of covers over the course of 90 minutes. Nothing will touch his version of Scenes From An Italian Restaurant though the Sweet Child Of Mine singalong came close. Zach brought out Umphrey’s keyboardist Joel Cummins for the Gill original I’m Your Handyman and a cover of Purple Rain that brought the house down.

On Wednesday I was blown away by the inventive sound and spectacle that is MarchForth Marching Band and I liked their Pool Deck set on Thursday even better. Jam Cruise organizers made MarchForth’s performance a centerpiece of Cirque Du Funk night as the band fit the theme perfectly. There’s something so different about MarchForth than any other band on the boat and it has more to do with their style and sound than the fact that they boast 20 members. With an instrumentation similar to that of a high school marching band, M4 mashes cajun music with ragtime, funk, soul, a hearty dash of gypsy music and plenty of rock. The group was so excited to be on the boat and their appreciation came through in their music. Many of the sets aboard Jam Cruise were great, but this one was extraordinary.

moe.’s Pool Deck set was scheduled for three hours, so there was question as to whether the performance would include a set break. Instead, moe. handled it in their own signature way by having Galactic take over the stage for three songs in the middle of the jam titan’s set. The Upstate New Yorkers stuck with classic material for the most part over the three hours of powerhouse rock. Cummins came out towards the middle of the set for an outrageous Happy Hour Hero and a cover of Cissy Strut that led into the full band segue shenanigans with Galactic. Cissy Strut was a weird choice considering The Funky Meters were performing on another part of the boat and like clockwork, twenty minutes after moe., The Funky Meters did deliver a Cissy Strut (with Jeff Coffin, Bernie Worrell and Mike Dillon) and I bet you can guess which one was better.

I took a quick lap around the boat during moe.’s Pool Deck set and had the pleasure of catching Kyle Hollingsworth of String Cheese Incident sit in with Nikki Bluhm and the Gramblers at the Zebra Bar while in the theater The Funky Meters were jamming with Mike Dillon, Roosevelt Collier, Nigel Hall, Ian Neville, Ivan Neville and Bernie Worrell. I made it back to the Pool Deck just in time to hear moe. finish with the ridiculous combo of Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ with Karl Denson on sax followed by Spine Of A Dog > Buster and Rebubula. As if that wasn’t enough, moe. returned for an encore with Hollingsworth in tow for an outstanding rendition of Up On Cripple Creek by The Band.

As I’ve tried to explain music takes place in any and all the nooks and crannies of the boat. For example, my pal JRapp opened an elevator to find Greensky Bluegrass in it. He entered and yelled “Freebird.” Greensky was only happy to oblige and played through the whole tune as the elevator went up and down. This is another example of just not knowing what’s around the next corner musically.

As late night turned into morning, I alternated trips to “The Spot” where Nathan Moore was leading acoustic performances and the Jam Room where host Karl Denson was holding it down. One amazing song I caught was Denson teaming up with Nigel Hall, Kyle Hollingsworth, KDTU’s bassist, a full horn section, Stanton Moore and singer Kim Dawson of The Motet for an outrageous cover of Lovely Day by Bill Withers.

Back at “The Spot,” the crowd was mellow for the first few hours but as each venue let out the crowd around the musicians grew by leaps and bounds until at 5AM over a hundred cruisers surrounded the artists. Nathan Moore, Bryan Elijah Smith and Jay Cobb Anderson led the tunage for a while until Tea Leaf Green’s Trevor Garrod stopped by. Garrod played a melodica for a bit and was happy to oblige when Anderson asked if he’d like to take over on guitar for a few tunes. Things changed when Garrod strapped on the acoustic guitar and we were treated to bit of a private Tea Leaf Green concert. Highlights included Earth and Sky, What A Wonderful World and Sitting On The Dock Of The Day.

It’s now Friday morning, the beginning of the last full day on the boat, and we’re docked at Coco Cay in The Bahamas. Your faithful reporter is off to catch a beach concert, but I wanted to thank you for following along my adventures. I’ll have much more from Jam Cruise in the coming days and weeks.

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2 thoughts on “Jam Cruise Journal: Cirque Du Funk

  1. Tigg Reply

    Love reading every word Scotty! I’ve seen M4 several times and they always put on a show! Glad to see some love for my friends Tim & Nicki Bluhm as well! So jealous!!

  2. Papa Reply

    Thanks Scotty. Freebird in an elevator greensky style gave me a huge smile!

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