Jam Cruise Journal: The Final Countdown, Pt. 2

Yesterday I started to recap my adventures on the final day of Jam Cruise 11, so today I’ll pick up from where we left off. For the final evening, the Pool Deck was taken over by three outstanding bands from California – Tea Leaf Green, ALO and Hot Buttered Rum – while Jam Cruise stalwarts Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and Galactic were set to close out the action at the Teatro Carlo Felice.

[Photo by Matthew Hebert]

Friday night was “Spinal Tap Night” in keeping with the cruise’s theme of “This One Goes To 11.” On Jam Cruise costume nights most people dress up, but on this particular evening it seemed as if I was the only one who didn’t don heavy metal-esque gear. That also applied to the musicians and the big screens behind the band and at the far end of the pool deck which flashed images of hair bands and of the Spinal Tap logo.

Hot Buttered Rum was the first of the California bands on the Pool Deck. They quickly showed the close nature of the three Cali acts by welcoming members of both ALO and TLG to join them at various points. I didn’t think HBR’s covers of Where The Streets Had No Name and You Make Me Feel Like Dancing could be topped, but the set-closing rendition of Turn On Your Lovelight was a barn-burner thanks to frenetic lap steel work from Roosevelt Collier. Even TLG bassist Reed Mathis got in on the act by playing percussion during the Bobby Bland cover.

I fell hard for the music of ALO during Jam Cruise 9, but after Jam Cruise 11 I’m a full-on ALOphile or whatever they call their hardcore fans. The band’s Zebra Bar set was ridiculously good, but I think the Pool Deck set was even better. Al Schnier of moe. teared up the fretboard when he joined ALO for a rendition of their original Try, bassist Steve Adams took a turn as front man on Falling Dominoes while Mathis held down the bass and all these days later I still can’t stop humming the earwormy original Plastic Bubble. Other guests included Collier, Gramblers guitarist Deren Ney, Steve Kimock and his son John Morgan Kimock. The high point of the set was when ALO brought out bassists Mathis and George Porter Jr. for a killer rendition of Big Bottom by Spinal Tap.

[Photo by Matthew Hebert]

I spent most of my evening on the Pool Deck watching the California bands, but I did make it down to the theater to see KDTU jam with Robert Walter, Neal Evans and Eric Bloom and then later for an amazing version of I Am The Walrus performed by Galactic who apparently brought out The Soul Rebels for a bit as an intermission of sorts. I look forward to hearing both Galactic and KDTU’s sets in their entirety when official recordings come out via CruiseTunes.

Tea Leaf Green drew a decent crowd to the final Pool Deck set of the trip, especially when you take into account that the theater was jam-packed with funk-loving cruisers, which was the majority of the boat, for Galactic. Those assembled hung on every note and were clearly very familiar with the band. What struck me most about TLG’s current sound was how important Reed Mathis has become to the band. There were many times he put a heavy dose of overdrive on his bass and became a lead melody instrument in the mix. The band welcomed a slew of guests including keyboardist Bernie Worrell for The Garden Pt. 3 and Roosevelt Collier. Every member of ALO sat in on a ridiculous version of Zoom, Zoom that benefited greatly from the extra musicians.

As much as I was enjoying Tea Leaf Green’ set, I wanted to see who Wyllys put together to round out his New York Hustler Ensemble for the final performance in the Zebra Bar. The turntablist did not disappoint as he augmented his Disco Angels (Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman) with guitarists D.J. Williams (KDTU) and Adam “Schmeans” Smirnoff and Erick “Jesus” Coomes (Lettuce), Joel Cummins (Umphrey’s McGee), Jeff Coffin (DMB) and uber-talented drummer Nikki Glaspie (Dumpstaphunk). While Wyllys dealt with some technical difficulties at the start of his set, the members of his crew flexed their improvisational muscles by turning in a disco-flavored funk jam. Once the DJ was set up, he led his band on a number of nu-disco jaunts some of which were better than others. There were moments of magic and moments of disorganization but overall it was a win.

[Photo by Matthew Hebert]

Over in Jam Room one of the most talented keyboard players on the boat, which is saying a lot, Joey Porter of The Motet, hosted the evening’s festivities. Porter was joined by a bevy of a his Motet band mates, Robert Walter, Eddie Roberts and members of Lettuce when I stopped by for a scorching rendition of Higher Ground. Later, Porter gave way to a band that wasn’t officially on the boat though all of its members were – Dr. Klaw. This funk-heavy ensemble featured Adam Deitch on drums, Nigel Hall on keys, Ian Neville on guitar, Nick Daniels on bass and Eric Krasno on guitar. Dr. Klaw took over the room for a while and extremely impressed me with their virtuosity and soul. At 4:45, singer Jans Ingber announced that the Motet-heavy ensemble with Nigel Hall that took the stage after Dr. Klaw had one song left to close out the Jam Room and launched into a tune that had the fitting chorus of “Shake Your Booty On The Dancefloor.” As the tune ran long, members of the room’s production team cut the sound giving those on stage the message that it was time to bring the action to a stop. Porter and The Motet obliged shortly after a bit of a Flashlight jam as the clock neared 5AM and the lights of Fort Lauderdale came into focus.

Outside of the Jam Room at “The Spot,” Nathan Moore, Bryan Elijah Smith and Jay Cobb Anderson, along with members of Greensky Bluegrass, ALO and Tea Leaf Green weren’t finished and continued to treat a merry band of cruisers to acoustic delights. The trio aimed to end an incredible week at “The Spot” with a rendition of Sailor’s Lament, a song they wrote on the first day of Jam Cruise, but obliged with a Dylan cover which I believe was Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right as the Poesia docked at Port Everglades but you’ll excuse me if my memory is a little hazy from what went down at that point. I headed back to my room, packed, chugged a five-hour energy drink and made it off the boat and to the nearby airport at 7:30AM.

[Photo via Sanae Harashima]

Both embarkation and debarkation were a breeze this year which made the final morning less painful. As I waited for my flight to New York and was surrounded by “straights,” the whole trip seemed so surreal. Had I really just experienced an incredible musical marathon for the past five days? I got used to walking around and passing legendary musicians and friendly faces. The return to reality was rough, but thankfully it was over 50 degrees in NYC when I got off the plane.

It’s so hard to compare one Jam Cruise to another, especially when you’re in the midst of one, but a few days later I feel confident in my assertion that Jam Cruise 11 was the best trip yet. Over the past few days I’ve read other reviews and talked to other cruisers who filled me in on a lot of the music I missed. That’s right, for the 10,000+ words I’ve written about the event, I still missed plenty of magic which just goes to show the sheer volume of amazing music that took place on the MSC Poesia from January 7th to the morning of the 12th.

Stay tuned for photo galleries, lists and more as we wrap our coverage of the unforgettable Jam Cruise 11.

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