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A Jam Cruise Virgin No More!

Let me start by telling you what every other Jam Cruise virgin-no-more and all the veterans will tell you: SAVE YOUR MONEY! YOU NEED TO BE ON THE BOAT!

The long version of our Jam Cruise review starts shortly. If you want the Reader’s Digest version, try this:

Jam Cruise, with more than 90 sets of music and workshops, yoga and talks with the artists in a half-dozen locations, is just one big floating festival. You cannot get to everything. I know. I tried. I made it to all or part of 45 sets of music over the five days.

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So it’s possible that you or a friend was on the boat and saw the 40 music sets I missed. Everybody had a different experience. But I would like to highlight 15 unbelievably spectacular minutes if you don’t have time to read about the other 100+ hours of music, food, beverages, getting off the boat, NOT getting off the boat, and more.

To call the Nikki Glaspie Super Jam merely super would be a gross understatement. At one time or another we saw the likes of Skerik, Karl Denson, Ivan Neville, Tony Hall, Nigel Hall, Schmeans, and DJ Williams on stage. There was an awesome “Harvest for the World” (Isleys) earlier in the set. Things were hardly winding down, but time was running out.

The vocals were being handled by The Shook Twins, Shira Elias (Turkuaz), and Lyle Divinsky (The Motet). Nikki called for Adam Deitch to take the drum kit, and she went to stage front with the ladies to belt a brilliant and beautiful “Keep the Fire Burning” (best advice ever from Gwen McRae). And then. And then.

Nikki was bantering with Tony Hall (I think) about her favorite song, “Black Man.” Hall said it was his favorite, too. And what followed was the most incredible reading ever of that Stevie Wonder masterpiece, as sung by Cyril Neville.

I had my money’s worth in those 15 minutes. The rest? Pretty astounding as well.

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FRIDAY

What a trip getting to the Norwegian Pearl at the Port of Miami! Somehow, our crowd didn’t look like any of the other people at other cruise ships lining up. Because we were with family!

If I was looking for a harbinger of events to come, I couldn’t have asked for a better one than when we went to the buffet for an early dinner, or late lunch, depending on your point of view. We sat down next to two lovely ladies, the older of whom was strikingly beautiful with gorgeous white hair. Of course Donna immediately struck up a conversation.

It was right about the time when the older woman mentioned her son’s hair that I poked my nose into the conversation and said “Mike Dillon.” That led to a delightful half-hour conversation with Mama D, Mike’s mom, and his lovely sister, Mindy. Mike was not on board yet; he would meet us in Grand Cayman on Monday (more on that later). We ran into them several more times during the cruise. Mama D could write this review; she knows more about all these people than almost anyone!

We actually left port a little later than schedule, but when we saw the tons and tons of equipment being craned aboard, it was certainly understandable.

Turkuaz sets the bar for the rest of the cruise
Turkuaz sets the bar for the rest of the cruise

Speaking of Jam Cruise virgins, the band opening the cruise on the Pool Deck stage was Turkuaz. I don’t think I know enough sports metaphors to adequately describe the majestic performance that the nine-member band put on.They set the bar incredibly high for the remainder of the cruise. They just came scorching out of the gate and never let up. There was even an awesome avant section at one point.

Sammi Garett & Shira Elias
Sammi Garett & Shira Elias

Turkuaz is a colored band. And by that I mean that the baritone player wears purple, the tenor player wears red, the trumpet/keyboard guy wears black, and so forth. Visually, it is deluxe. And the key word about Turkuaz is: FUN. As Pat says, “Friends don’t let friends miss Turkuaz.” And the ladies on vocals, Sammi Garett and Shira Elias, were brilliant, and we got to hear the often throughout the cruise.

Todd Stoops & Cris Jacobs
Todd Stoops & Cris Jacobs

Next we hit Bar City, the piano bar, to see Todd Stoops, who also played later with Electric Beethoven. He began with an Animal Collective dedication to his wife, threw in a song by RAQ (just one of the bands he has played in), offered a nifty medley including “Paint It Black” and more. Later, Chris Jacobs joined him on guitar, as did Mihali Savoulidis (Twiddle). I’m not sure I had ever heard Stoops sing before; his voice reminded me of Pete Townsend.

The Soul Rebels
The Soul Rebels

Now it was time for the conflicts to pile up, with three or four performances going on at a time on occasion. We opted for The Soul Rebels out of NOLA in the magnificent Stardust Theater. I had seen them push well past what you might regard as the limits of the traditional brass band before, but this night was powerful, incredible jazz. They simply rocked, with Sousaphone, two trumpets, two trombones, a tenor player, a man playing bass drum an percussion and one playing snare drum and percussion.

They stepped right up to the Turkuaz challenge and were slammin’ the entire set. If that weren’t enough, later in the set they invited Nikki Glaspie to sit in, and that just shoved things through the roof. There was a great version of “I Shot the Sheriff,” a wicked Afrobeat tune, and they closed with “Mary Jane.”

Lebo & Friends
Lebo & Friends

Next we scurried up to the Spinnaker Lounge, another lovely smaller room, to catch Lebo and Friends. Lebo is Dan Lebowitz from ALO. We heard a nice cover of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” and some originals as well. His voice reminds me of Emmitt Rhodes (and I apologize for the obscure reference, but it stuck in my head). A female vocalist joined in on “This is What It’s Like to Be Alive.” And that would relate to my only complaint throughout the cruise: musicians were occasionally not identified (or I didn’t hear them).

The Revivalists
The Revivalists

Meanwhile, we missed The Revivalists and Chris Jacobs. But we damn sure knew where we would be at 11 — back at the Stardust for Kamasi Washington. When Washington’s three-CD debut The Epic was released late in 2015, it created a buzz in the jazz world the likes of which had not been seen in some time. Just today, in fact, at a local CD shop, the manager said that The Epic is his go-to recommendation if a customer asks what’s hot in jazz. The album’s name is entirely accurate.

Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington

After a short introduction, they lit into “Change of the Guard,” the first track on disk 1. It was stunning. No other word quite does it justice. Two drummers, keyboards, trombone, double bass (meaning upright acoustic), female vocalist and Washington. After they played “Final Thought,” Kamasi introduced the man who “taught me everything,” his father, Ricky Washington. He played flute and soprano throughout the remainder of the set.

Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington

On top of the incredible power of the band, several things stood out. Kamasi blew some absolutely amazing tenor, in league with any of the greats you’d care to name. Patrice Quinn on vocals has a voice that just soars, especially when she is in that choral mode (I’m sure there is a much better term for that); she was wonderful on “Malcolm’s Theme.” His trombone player was also superb.

For me, no other musician on the cruise was more impressive than Kamasi’s new bass player, Ben Williams. He rocked that double bass so hard, and its tone gave the sound a dimension that an electric bass just cannot match.

moe.
moe.

Overlapping the Kamasi set were moe. on the pool deck and Beats Antique (Live) upstairs. I headed for moe. Nobody was sure if Friday was Wild Animal dress-up night, but Rob Derhak (bass), Vinnie Amico (drums), and Al Schnier (guitar right) obviously thought so. Derek wore an elephant costume with enormous ears, while Schnier was… an aardvark? Anteater? Oh! Lambchop!

Lambchop
Lambchop

No matter. They were killing it. After a couple of songs, they invited the Turkuaz horns to join in on a glorious “Happy Hour Hero.” Shortly after, the Turkuaz ladies and guitarist Craig Brodhead joined them for a Talking Heads cover, and that was followed by “Moth,” featuring some outstanding keyboard work from guest Nate Wilson.

Jam Room
Jam Room

I was determined to hear Big Something with the late-night set on the pool deck, which turned out to be even later due to earlier sets running over and equipment changes, so I hustled up to the Spinnaker, doubling as the Jam Room, this night with DJ Williams (KDTU) as host. I remember only that Williams was blazing on guitar and Skerik on tenor sax as they romped through several really hot jams. Savi Fernandez joined the jam after I split. I ducked out just in time to hear Nick MacDaniels of Big Something welcome all the late-night revelers to their set.

Nick MacDaniels and Jesse Hensley of Big Something
Nick MacDaniels and Jesse Hensley of Big Something

What Big Something delivered was on an entirely different astral plane from the eleven shows I had seen before; they just tore it up! Jesse Hensley has always been a superb guitar player, but he too was in rare form, as was Casey Cranford, who plays alto sax and EWI. The set started appropriately with “Song for Us,” “Blue Dream” and “Waves.” When they hit “Love Generator,” the dance party was in full swing, and that led to “UFOs Are Real.” After a Cranford alto solo, he duked it out on EWI with keyboard whiz Josh Kagel. Bravo, boys! So pleased to see you on my first Jam Cruise (and hell YES I already rebooked for 2018!).

Break Science
Break Science

I missed Gabe Mervine (The Motet) hosting the Jazz Jam, Break Science, and DJ Soul Sister.

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SATURDAY

After raging so late into the night, it took me a loooong time to get vertical, into the afternoon, missing The Brothers Comatose, Percy Hill, Nathan Moore, and Love Canon. We also missed the epic bass-off between George Porter, Jr. and Tony Hall. You cannot do everything. Donna, on the other had, made it to Yoga with The Shook Twins. She said it was an amazing workout and that Katelyn and Laurie had angelic voices.

Karl Denson leads Ba Duan Jin
Karl Denson leads Ba Duan Jin

Jam Room
Jam Room

I did want to rally for Neville Jacobs, the quartet with Ivan Neville on keyboards, Cris Jacobs on guitar, Tony Hall on bass, and Brady Blade on drums and was very glad I did. Two or three songs in, the band really hit stride with “What Money Can Buy,” where they sang “Money talk, everybody else can walk.” That was followed by “Fire on the Mountain.” Later in the set, “Sledgehammer” blew up with the Lettuce boys, Ryan Zoidis and Benny Bloom, on tenor and trumpet. They also played an interesting cover of “For What It’s Worth.”

JAMily Feud!
JAMily Feud!

We witnessed the first round of JAMily Feud with moe. and Percy Hill, which was a riot. I really wanted to see more, but…

Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington

It was Kamasi time once again, this time on the pool deck. They came out smoking and got hotter as the set progressed. They kicked off with another great tune from The Epic, trombone and Kamasi both with mind-blowing solos — on the first tune! And Quinn’s vocals were again heavenly, as were her magnificent dress and wonderful dancing.

Papa Ricky came out early for “Askim,” sounding great on soprano and Quinn again wonderful on vocals. The next tune was a straight-up country honk tune that they just killed. “Cherokee” again highlighted Quinn’s vocals and a great piano solo. And there was Ben Williams. Again. Awesome. Believe the hype about Kamasi Washington and band.

Bass-off!
Bass-off!

Joey Porter & Nigel Hall
Joey Porter & Nigel Hall

It was piano room time, this occasion with Joey Porter of The Motet. It got a late start, with Gabe Mervine (also The Motet) on trumpet.Lyle Divinsky helped out on “Sailin’ Shoes,” featuring some deluxe stride piano. The Turkuaz ladies sang a blues number, and then Nigel Hall played synths as he sang “Uncle Remus” (George Duke and Frank Zappa). “Maker’s On the Rocks” was a funk trio with Garrett Sayers (more Motet) on bass and Nikki Glaspie.

JoJo's Slim Wednesday
JoJo’s Slim Wednesday

After dinner, it was time to see JoJo’s Slim Wednesday (see if you can figure that out), which meant I missed Twiddle. JoJo is JoJo Hermann, keyboard player for Widespread Panic. This was New Orleans all over. It was great to hear Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.) come out to singer “Stagger Lee” as only he can interpret it. I was delighted to hear “Down Home Girl,” first done by NOLA singer Alvin Robinson before The Rolling Stones put it on the map. And, yes indeed, we got our “Red Beans” cookin’!

Sunset over Cuba
Sunset over Cuba

We were intent on seeing Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, in the process missing The Suffers upstairs and Kamasi hosting the Jazz Jam, which everybody raved about. Also missing The Hip Abduction. The same as any festival, you can flit around and catch a smidgeon of this set and a fraction of that one, or your legs may tell you to chill for a bit.

Karl Denson
Karl Denson

Karl D and company came out roaring, including a great DJ Williams song in the first few. Will Bernard sat in on guitar for “Just Got Paid Today.” “Working So Hard” was hot, and Karl’s flute work was magical. “When I Get Home” featured a great sit-in by Roosevelt Collier on lap steel guitar and then a great back-and-forth with Collier and DJ Williams. And they played the Breckers’ “Some Skunk Funk,” Karl D on tenor and then flute. It was a WOW set, which KDTU manages every time they play.

Benevento Russo Duo
Benevento Russo Duo

I was able to get to hear the end of the set by The Benevento-Russo Duo (Marco Benevento and Joe Russo), and they were hot, hot, hot. After that, it was down to the Crystal Atrium for the first time to hear magicgravy, who looked (and sounded) suspiciously like Lebo, Sayers and Dave Watts (even more Motet). They were having a blast.

Dopapod
Dopapod

Back to the pool deck for Dopapod, those jamtronic folks with drummer Fro back in the fold after some time away. They delivered a funk-filled set of bouncy dancing music, pure jamtronic heaven to my ears. They strolled easily through pop, jazz, rock and funk. Rob Compa was his usually badass self on guitar.

Jam Room w/ Steve Kimock, George Porter, Jr., and Al Schnier
Jam Room w/ Steve Kimock, George Porter, Jr., and Al Schnier

I made it to the Jam Room in time to hear the end of the set from host Steve Kimock along with George Porter, Jr. and Al Schnier among others, with “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley” and “Sugaree” closing it down. No Lettuce, no DJ Drew Sayers.

SUNDAY

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We were docked at Ocho Rios in Jamaica when we awoke. Our friends from Short-Cut Camp had encouraged us to participate in the Positive Legacy program, and we were so glad we did. We took a bus 15 or 20 miles to Oracabessa, where our crew of about 100 worked on the Two Wheels, One Love BMX track for local children. Some moved lime rock (??) onto parts of the track that were really worn down, then using compressors to tamp the material down smooth.

Two Wheels, One Love BMX track
Two Wheels, One Love BMX track

Others helped to paint an enormous two-panel mural outlined by a local artist, and the rest helped to dig holes for some border shrubs. It was rewarding work, especially when we realized how many man-hours it would have taken for the few people who run the track to have done that.

Two Wheels, One Love BMX track
Two Wheels, One Love BMX track

Afterward, we drove down to James Bond Beach; it’s named that because Ian Fleming did much of his writing in the area (the airport is named after Fleming). We were treated to a great lunch and some great music.

Positive Legacy
Positive Legacy

Roosevelt Collier
Roosevelt Collier

During lunch, Donna and I sat down to eat with Roosevelt Collier. There were two women also at the table, and as the conversation progressed, we were thrilled to discover that the lady next to me was Art Neville’s wife and Ian Neville’s mom, Lorraine!

Positive Legacy
Positive Legacy

Love Canon was up first, a bluegrass band that covers rock tunes in very humorous fashion. We heard “Legs,” “Let’s Get Physical,” “Graceland,” and “Sledgehammer,” all in a row. It was a lot of fun.

Lebo and friend at Positive Legacy event
Lebo and friend at Positive Legacy event

There was more Grateful music on tap featuring Steve Kimock, Lebo, Todd Stoops, Matt Butler (drums), Vinnie Amico (moe., drums), Zdenek Gubb (Twiddle, low end), and Roosevelt Collier (lap steel guitar). The Shook Twins were on hand, as was local singer Lesli Grant. They began with “Bertha” before moving to “Forever Young,” Grant singing. “Eyes of the World” got a loving treatment, as did “Boogie On, Reggae Woman.”

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Lots of children were on hand, some playing soccer, others listening to the music as they ate lunch with us. The water was crystal-clear, the weather perfect, and the beer cold (and Red Stripe makes a stout!). Then it was time for the ride back to the ship and a shower before The Motet hit the Pool Deck at 5:30!

Lyle Divinsky of The Motet
Lyle Divinsky of The Motet

It was certainly the right place to be! The band lit it up immediately, Lyle Divinsky superb as vocalist and front man, looking like a mountain man, singing like a Southern preacher and dancing like a whirling dervish. An early favorite was “Back It Up” from Totem, the new album and first to feature Divinsky. Gabe Mervine had a fine trumpet solo on “Like We Own It.”

The Motet
The Motet

The Turkuaz ladies added the perfect backing for “I Keep Forgettin’” (the Michael MacDonald hit). And Joey Porter blew it up on the following instrumental. Chaka Khan’s “I Feel for You” also benefitted from the Turkuaz influence. Garret Sayers on bass and Porter had superb solos.

I’m not a gambler, but I’ll bet those who attended the Annual Ivan Neville Texas Hold ’Em Poker Tournament had a blast.

Ivan Neville and Nigel Hall
Ivan Neville and Nigel Hall

We missed David Shaw’s set at Bar City, but we did make the next event there. One of the mantras on board was “don’t miss Ivan Neville’s piano set.” We didn’t. Skerik joined him early on. Later, Neville honored Professor Longhair. After “Another Day’s Gone By,” Benny Bloom added his trumpet to a tender ballad. He even tossed in a loving cover of “Strawberry Beret.”  Bar City was packed for that set. No doubt.

Electric Beethoven
Electric Beethoven

Up next was one of my most favorite sets, this one from Electric Beethoven. I had not seen or heard them before, but my respect for Reed Mathis (bass) and Todd Stoops made my presence mandatory. If I told you their music is quirky, that might be off-putting. In this case, it means that, no matter where you thought the music might go next, it went to another great place. I’m struggling to describe it, but it was my perfect cup of electric tea.

Reed Mathis and Clay Welch
Reed Mathis and Clay Welch

Segues were great, hooks were irresistible, and talent overflowing. They hit funk, rock, jamtronica and more. They are the metal version of the Bonzo Dog Band. Mathis and Stoops did not disappoint, and I was excited to hear great guitar from Clay Welch and powerful drumming courtesy of Jay Lane.

Frequinox
Frequinox

Then we hopped around a bit. Frequinox was a band I had not properly researched — my big mistake. That is a NOLA superstar collective with Robert Walter on keyboards, Will Bernard on guitar, and Galactic’s Robert Mercurio and Stanton Moore as the rhythm section. The saxophone chair was filled by Skerik, and it was just as badass as you can imagine, brilliant fusion jazz.

Twiddle
Twiddle

The Meters
The Meters

That meant we only got a few minutes with Twiddle, sounding great in the Stardust Theater. We were gearing up for — head exploding — The Meters on the pool deck. The Original Meters: Art Neville, Leo Nocentelli, George Porter, Jr., and Zigaboo Modeliste. It was a magical experience hearing them play “Little Walter Rides Again,” “Cissy Strut” and so much more. Nocentelli was amazing all night, especially on “People Say.” Ivan Neville was in the background on keyboards to add to Art Neville’s Hammond B3. Porter sang an electrifying “Come Together” with Cyril Neville joining in. HELL YES.

Ara And George Porter Jr. reupping their vows -- 50 years!
Ara And George Porter Jr. renewing their vows — 50 years!

When they were done, we scrambled back to the Stardust for the last part of Turkuaz’s set. Once again, they were incendiary. How about the Bar-Kays’ “Holy Ghost?” They interspersed originals with dynamite covers such as “Slippery People” and “Don’t Do It” (and I had no idea that was a Holland/Dozier composition!). They threw down astounding funk, and I love Taylor Shell’s space bass. They got bluesy and then closed with Sly’s “My Lady!”

Dave Brandwein & the Turkuaz Ladies
Dave Brandwein & the Turkuaz Ladies

Gee, I wonder if Turkuaz will get invited back!

GRiZ
GRiZ

And I was done. Put a fork in me. I missed a lot. A LOT. Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) hosting the Jazz room, Ed Williams in the Jam room, the Shook Twins, Galactic, GRiZ and Adam Deitch’s DJ set.

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The other major event that occurred Sunday was extremely inclement weather blowing farther west in the Caribbean, which meant that we would not be going to Grand Cayman after all. That meant two things: a revamped afternoon music schedule and no Mike Dillon. He had planned to fly into Grand Cayman to meet us. When we saw Mama D and Mindy the next day, they were disappointed but did not let that get in the way of their having a wonderful time!

MONDAY

Grateful at Sea
Grateful at Sea

We did not rally in time to hear Twiddle’s Mihali Savoulidis and his early set, but we made it for a good portion of Grateful at Sea, a collective put together with Steve Kimock and Lebo at the heart. Joey Porter was at the keyboards. His funk twin George Jr. joined the fun for “Sugaree,” with the Shook Twins on backing vocals. Karl Denson delivered a soulful “West LA Getaway.” Kimock switched to lap steel for a truly emotional “Stella Blue,” with Joey huge on piano. Finally, they closed with “Shakedown Street.” I don’t know about you, but I never get tired of that!

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We missed The Brothers Comatose (again) while eating, determined to catch another Soul Rebels set. They picked up right where they left off, slamming funk, rock, hip hop, Al Green horn riffs and more. A delightful version of “Black Cow”was followed by a soul-melting take on “Now That We’ve Found Love.” Later, Stanton Moore joined the Rebels’ two drummers for a percussion riot. Cyril Neville was in there somewhere, and we enjoyed “Inner City Blues” and a hot vocal called “504.” And they closed with a more traditional NOLA tune.

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In the process, we missed Al Schnier’s solo set in the atrium.

Speaking of quirky, MOORE was playing in the Spinnaker Lounge. This was a project of Nathan Moore, a self-proclaimed folk singer who clearly does a lot more than that. It was a multimedia event. For starts, the stage was covered with white sheets, and what we could see were monochromatic silhouettes projected onto the screen from the rear. There was looping going on during the electric set, with all sorts of things going on. No idea how many musicians were involved; the only thing important was that the music was dynamic and dynamite. I sure hope I get to experience this again.

JoJo Hermann
JoJo Hermann

There were lots of overlaps now. We missed Nate Wilson but did hear part of JoJo’s Slim Wednesday set (including “Mess Around”) before heading to the pool deck for a second helping of KDTU. It was another amazing set with “Hang Me Out to Dry” an early highlight. During another great version of “Some Skunk Funk,” DJ Williams threw in a quote from John Scofield’s “A Go Go.”

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe

The set went through the roof with the last two songs. First was Denson’s Afrobeat classic “Elephants Are Big as Hell” (that’s the real name, shortened on The Bridge), soaring from start to finish. And they closed with Cold Blood’s amazing “Funky On My Back.” Oh Em Gee!

Neville Jacobs
Neville Jacobs

Lettuce
Lettuce

Then things got really jammed up, both schedule- and music-wise. I missed the Neville Jacobs set but caught Dopapod again with more jamtronic magic. From there, I did several Lettuce drive-throughs on the way to catch moe. again and Big Something as well. Lettuce is a Jam Cruise favorite as evidenced by the packed pool deck, and they were killing it start to finish.

moe.
moe.

moe. was in frenetic mode for “Give It All Away,” followed by a wicked “Timmy Tucker” with great vibes from Jim Loughlin. They hit jamtronic territory at some point, possibly because they invited Dopapod’s Rob Compa to join in the fun.

Meanwhile, Big Something was having another amazing set. These six men again made their presence known. Doug Marshall on bass and Ben Vinograd on drums were heard more effectively here in Spinnaker. They remembered David Bowie with a very solid “Fame.” Roosevelt Collier sat in on “Amanda Lynn.” Fro (Dopapod) and JoJo Hermann joined in on “Sympathy for the Devil” and “BBM Funk.” On the later tune, Patrice Quinn offered her beautiful voice. Big Something have truly arrived!

I’m glad my notes indicate I made it to the Jazz Lounge hosted by Stanton Moore. No help on players except for Dopapod’s Eli Winderman on keyboards.

The Motet
The Motet

Missed Break Science (again), which I regret. Sound clips sounded amazing. We headed to the Stardust for The Motet (I’m hooked). They were on fire again, instrumentals, vocals, Joey’s talk box and more. “Damn!” and Parliament’s “Handcuffs” were a clear indication of what was to follow.

We had no clue! Nikki Glaspie sat in on kit for “Getten to Know You,” and things, my notes indicate, “just got huge.” “Extraordinary High” was the best funk yet with a nasty Garrett Sayers solo. After “Nobody Does It Like You Do,” they dug back into Music for Life for some “Cheap Shit.” More? How about “(Not Just) Knee Deep?” And that morphed into the appropriate closer: “Closed Mouths Don’t Get Fed.”

The Jazz Lounge
The Jazz Lounge

A word about the Jam room with George Porter, Jr. This comes from Chris Sgammato, a Tampa musician in the band Displace, who plays alto sax, guitar and keyboards and sings lead vocals:

“That feeling when you’re playing a Jam Cruise jam set hosted by George Porter Jr. of The Meters – and he dismisses the band after the last song, then calls you back up for a BASS / SAXOPHONE DUET ENCORE TO CLOSE OUT THE NIGHT! Is. This. Real. Life?”

Video evidence suggests: YES!

TUESDAY

Day 5! I’ve never attended a five-day festival before. I was just hoping there was something left in the tank. We missed Love Canon, up first on the pool deck, but we were ready for St. Petersburg’s The Hip Abduction; we had missed their Saturday set. These boys truly have more bounce to the ounce, especially on “La Resaca,” the one where everybody on stage is bouncing up and down, which is contagious looking at the crowd… and myself. Their island-friendly beats, bouncy pop and reggae lilt were perfect for this cruise, and they made many new fans.

Passing through the atrium, we got to hear part of an interesting discussion with members of The Motet about Anatomy of a Song, very honest, humorous and revealing.

The Positive Legacy Celebration was going down in the Stardust with a cavalcade of stars led by Matt Butler in one fly white suit and top hat! The Shook Twins, Rob Derhak, Al Schnier, Shira Elias, JoJo Hermann, Lebo, Eli Winderman, Steve Berlin (Los Lobos, bass), Jay Starling (Love Canon, dobro), Mikey Carubba (Turkuaz, drums), Yahuba Jose Garcia-Torres (percussion), and Joshua Schwartz (Turkuaz baritone sax and vocals) were all there, and I’m missing somebody. Fittingly, they began with “Sail Away” and then “Tell Me If You’re Ready.” JoJo had to duck out early for Bingo with JoJo and Col. Bruce!

Jam Cruise 15 musicians!
Jam Cruise 15 musicians!

We had heard Schwartz’s strong vocals previously with Turkuaz in addition to his fine baritone sax playing, but he really got a chance to shine during the afternoon program. And another baritone player showed up who also had a curved-bell soprano. There were more songs with great messages including “We Got to Stand Up Together” (remember, we departed on Inauguration Day) and “Women Will Save the Day,” with Elias simply overpowering on vocal.

I got to hear several songs from The Suffers during their strong pool deck set featuring Kam Franklin, yet another powerhouse female singer. Cyril Neville was in the atrium with JAM Talks at the same time; we missed him, too.

Which brings us to the Nikki Glaspie Super Jam. Find a word better than super, because that’s what it was.

Jam Cruise horns!
Jam Cruise horns!

Speaking of jam, the remainder of the last’s night’s schedule was exactly that. We opted for JoJo Hermann’s piano set first before watching The Revivalists lighting up the Stardust with their infectious funky rock. Then food.

Kimock and Lebo were together in the atrium, but we went back to the Stardust for a second helping of The Meters. Naturally, they poured out another great set including “Africa,” “Cissy Strut,” “People Say” and “Doodle-oop (The World is a Little Bit Under the Weather).”

We missed GRiZ, Percy Hill (again, darn it) and The Brothers Comatose (again) but did head to the pool deck to check out Beats Antique (Live). By this time, I was toast, but they were awesome; I look forward to hearing them again on, say, day two of a festival!

Nikki Glaspie w/ Galactic
Nikki Glaspie w/ Galactic

Anticipating the early arrival and drive back to Tampa, we also passed on Galactic and Borahm Lee hosting the Jam Room, but did manage to get to the Jazz Lounge, curated this night by the Turkuaz folks. I only remember that Sayers, Joey Porter and Schwartz were in the mix for several superb songs before I yielded to sleep.

Of the many, many moments we missed on board, none was more talked about afterward than Nikki Glaspie raging “Killing in the Name of” during Galactic’s set closing down the Stardust Theater.

Nikki Glaspie w/ Galactic
Nikki Glaspie w/ Galactic

There was so much more: Meet the Brewers (Brews at Sea), Ba Duan Jin With Karl D, Repeat Offender Party, Mad Hatter Tea Party, Electronic Workshop with Break Science, Positive Legacy Silent Auction, Big Lil’ Baby Jesus Bowling Party (yes, bowling), Orange Day, Time Traveler Day, Poolside Games with GRiZ, autograph-signing, a Jam Cruise wedding, and screening of Here Comes Rusty (a movie featuring Col. Bruce).

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For us, Jam Cruise was a transformational, transformative experience. The opportunity to spend five days with friends, talk with musicians you admire, eat when you could fit that into your music schedule, and hear spectacular music almost non-stop was incredible.

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Save your money, kids! You need to be on the boat!

Photographs courtesy of Cloud 9 Adventures

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Scott Hopkins

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