Within about ten minutes of boarding the MSC Poesia, I knew I’d be in for the experience of a lifetime. I’m on Jam Cruise 8 with about three thousand like-minded music fans who couldn’t be happier to be where they are. Outside of my favorite five bands, my music tastes are fairly eclectic and ADD. Jam Cruise gives you the opportunity to bounce around to any of the six stages in comfort allowing you to take in a little of each band easily.
[All photos by Dave Vann]
The day started around noon when the Poesia opened its gates. Embarkation couldn’t have been easier and I was having a frozen drink on the Pool Deck by 1. The look on fellow Jam Cruise Virgins’ faces was priceless as they took their first stroll around this humongous boat. We had plenty of time to settle in; the music didn’t start until 7PM. I took this opportunity to grab some grub. I had heard the food was awful, but that just isn’t the case.
Around 6:45, JC Cruise Director Julie McCoy took to the stage for a celebratory toast. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave. kicked things off playing their first notes as the ship left the dock. There were people getting down on every crevice of the Pool Deck, yet there was plenty of space and if you wanted to watch from the rail you could. Trombone Shorty has a much harder sound than I had imagined performing a solid mix of funk and hard rock. TS took control of the crowd early on and having a band with a animated front man open the festivities was a terrific call.
READ ON for more from Scotty about Jam Cruise 8…
About an hour after Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave.’s set came a three-hour Dark Star Orchestra marathon. Man, I knew Jeff Mattson sounded just like Jerry but it was truly eerie to hear Jerry’s signature licks played so perfectly. He fits into his new band perfectly as he has decades of experience performing with DSO’s Rob Barraco. We were treated to an orignal setlist filled with Grateful Dead classics like Loose Lucy, Eyes of the World and a rollicking One More Staturday Night. Mr. Charlie closed things out with a bang. Mattson seemed a bit hoarse, which was my only DSO complaint.
During DSO’s set, I took the opportunity to wander aound and check out parts of Maceo Parker’s and The Mother Hips’ sets. I was blown away by the creativity of The Mother Hips’ originals and the energy of Maceo’s band. All of the Hips’ songs sound completely different from each other and you could never pigeon-hole that band into any genre. I left their set jonesing for more and luckily I’ll get my chance later in the week.
Maceo and his band funked out the large theatre on the boat giving attendees plenty of grooves to dance to. During one of his many songs with funk in the title, Parker invited a British actress to the stage to deliver a Shakepearean sonnet, both confusing and delighting the crowd. I headed over to the famed Jam Room after a few tunes from Maceo and came across George Porter laying down Cissy Strut with Garrett Sayers, Jeff Coffin, and Dave Watt among others. They were so tight that you wouldn’t have guessed this was the ensemble’s first time playing together.
Late night on night one brought STS9, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes as well as The Word. The crowd in the theatre for STS9 seemed filled with die-hard fans of the band. The group laid down plenty of crunchy electronica grooves some of which originated from their laptops while others were actually played on instruments.
I only caught a little of Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes in the Zebra Bar, but I liked what I heard. The Word is my jam, so I quickly headed up to the Pool Deck to see the supergroup deliver a heady mix of rock, gospel and funk. Robert Randolph and John Medeski each took turns showing off their massive skills while Luther Dickinson is no joke either. If you haven’t caught The Word yet, you are missing out.
At this point it was 3AM and everyone keeps telling me “it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” so I retired to my room which was much bigger than I thought it would be. Everyone I’ve ever talked to who went on Jam Cruise raves about the experience and yesterday I found out why. This is as close to heaven as it gets for a jam fan. The beauty of it is…this trip has just started.