Unlike Day Three in Jamaica, the weather in Grand Cayman for Day Four was amazing. The sun was shining and those who made it onto the island generally spent the day on the beach. When we returned to the MSC Poesia, the first activities included a “Pickin’ Party” in the Zebra Bar – which could be the coolest room on the boat. Led by the Hot Buttered Rum and the Railroad Earth guys, the Pickin’ Party was a giant bluegrass jam session.
Not only were there Jam Cruise musicians on stage, but plenty of folks in the crowd brought their instruments to play along. HBR’s Nat Keefe would call out the changes and invite folks on stage at random. From the start of the Pickin’ Party, Laurence ripped it up on his viola. It was so amazing for me to see him shredding with a slew of talented musicians. At one point there were four fiddle/viola players on stage and they made a fiddle train with each of them taking a quick four bars to tear shit up before the next player took a shot.
Next up for me was a trip to the Grand Piano in the lobby of the boat where Nigel Hall played a sweet soulful set of solo music. This guy has pipes and delivered a stunning version of Yesterday. Hall is just one of many artists whose music I’d like to explore after Jam Cruise.
The 9PM time slot brought me one of the few major conflicts – Maceo Parker vs. Ryan Montbleau Band vs. Zappa Plays Zappa vs. catching a Kyle Hollingsworth podcast recording for Relix. It was like Sophie’s Choice, but I made a schedule and tried to catch as much of each performance as possible. Maceo funked up the Pool Deck as only he can, Montbleau impressed the singer/songwriter types and Zappa Plays Zappa will be as close as I will ever get to catching a Zappa concert.
Luckily, all of the venues aren’t far from each other and by Day Four I had worked out my routes from venue to venue pretty well. Hollingsworth’s podcast was beautiful as he was joined by SCI band mate Keith Moseley for a stunning Sometimes a River. As if Kyle’s performance on the lobby piano wasn’t cool enough, Umphrey’s keyboardist Joel Cummins stopped by for a duet. At first Kyle worked on the melody while Joel comped and then they switched positions mid-jam. There were only about 30 people watching this go down, one of many private shows I’ve been treated to on this boat.
I was so into the Kyle podcast that the only part of the second half of Zappa I saw was the encore, but what an encore! They started with Cosmic Debris and followed that up with Willie The Pimp, Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow and Muffin Man – truly four of my all-time favorite Zappa songs. I’ve been so lucky to catch peak moments with each movement I’ve made across the boat. Dweezil’s Willie The Pimp solo was insane and included jams on Led Zeppelin’s The Ocean, The Twilight Zone theme song and My Sharona. These guys are so incredibly tight and I can’t wait to catch their whole Pool Deck set later this afternoon.
Fantastic 4 brought the funk to the Pool Deck as the clock struck midnight. To be honest, I was a little funked out and decided to hang out with some friends before the late night shows. I know I’ve been focusing on the music, but one of the main stories of this boat is the people. Everybody is so nice and I’ve met the most amazing people that I know I’ll be friends with forever. Before I came on this trip, I worried that Jam Cruise would be the worst elements of the scene and it’s the exact opposite – everyone isn’t only looking to have a good time but they are looking to make sure everyone else is having a good time. Outside of some asshole who took a Sharpie to the wall, the residents of Jam Cruise have been extremely respectful of each other and the boat.
Time goes quickly on Jam Cruise and soon it was time for the late night sets. I started with Dark Star Orchestra and danced my ass off to the Shakedown Street opener. It was clear pretty early on this was an original setlist as they went from Next Time You See Me to Stir It Up in the course of two songs. While I miss John Kadlecik’s voice, new guitarist Jeff Mattson has the Jerry tone down.
From DSO I headed to the Pool Deck for my first taste of Pretty Lights. I’m not generally a fan of the DJ/drummer setup but Derek and the drummer kicked ass and took names. I couldn’t stop moving and was extremely impressed by both the music and the production – it was the perfect late night set. My favorite part was a Midnight Rider/ After Midnight mashup during which I met up with Laurence. We just kept shaking our heads unable to process what an amazing experience we were having and just how far we came from that Wait Hall dorm room at Skidmore.
We were moving past 4AM so we decided to head to the Jam Room where George Porter Jr., Eric Krasno and Stanton Moore were holding court along with Jam Room host Ivan Neville. I told Laurence to get his axe and was a bit confused when he didn’t return. Luckily, a friend grabbed me and told me there was something I needed to see. He dragged me down the hall to the Lobby where I found Laurence performing with Trevor Exter of Steve Kimock’s Crazy Engine on Cello. Exter played that instrument like it was an acoustic guitar and his voice sounded just like Bill Withers.
This was yet another magical Jam Cruise moment – a private show for those lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. After about hour of this moving performance that I enjoyed on a couch with my feet up, Laurence and I headed back to the Jam Room. At this point Joey Porter was on keys, Jam Room MVP Zach Deputy was on guitar and Dave Watts on drums. Laurence wanted to jump up there but was being a little timid. I pretty much dragged him to the sound guy and got him up on stage.
Laurence finally jumped on stage and was quickly joined by a few of his Ryan Montbleau Band mates include Yehuba Torres and James Cohen. I caught some actual tunes in the Jam Room from night to night, but on this night it was pretty much all improv. Ryan Montbleau came on stage to sing a few adlibbed lyrics about Jam Cruise and wanted to rock Deputy’s guitar but I guess the king of the jam room wasn’t leaving the stage for no man. Eventually Montbleau just took a seat on stage and ate a banana – a pretty funny site.
At about 6:15AM the lights came on in the Jam Room and the musicians left the stage. I had always wondered how the Jam Room ends and finally got my answer. After a quick tour of the boat to make sure I wasn’t missing anymore sunrise sets, I went to bed a happy camper. We’ve reached the final day of our trip but there’s still plenty of music to go today. I’ll be traveling tomorrow but aim to get a final day recap up by the end of the weekend.