Jam Cruise 8: The High Seas

jc-title.jpg

Jam Cruise has been called many things by many things by many people. Some have coined it the “best festival at sea,” not wanting to simply call it the best.

Others have dubbed it the “Festival for Uncle Fester” with obvious implication.

However, this year a virgin (cruiser), watching the sun rise from the back of the beautiful MSC Poesia, spoke into the distance of the Caribbean Sea and may have summed it up best when stating “(Jam Cruise) is like a whole shitload of us got together, raised a mill or so and decided to throw the biggest party with a focus on never losing intimacy.”

On Jam Cruise 8 [January 3 through 7, 2010], there is no us & them. The environment that has been set up by Cloud Nine truly embodies the notion that we are all only ordinary men. In so doing, they have created an experience of utopian proportions for jam aficionados on so many levels that trying to recognize them all one by one would be impractical and frankly too daunting of a task.

jc-1.jpgPicture this: Standing in the open air, the sea breeze whisking through the crowd while Karl Denson, Ivan Neville, Jeff Coffin, Mike Dillon, Adam Deitch, Eric Krasno, and George Porter Jr. radiate a free form jam that sends shivers down your spine in 80 degree weather.

Maybe that experience would be enhanced from the hot tub or pool. No problem. Hit it up!

Then if that’s not enough, sign up to play 5 on 5 hoops with those same musicians the next day.

Year after year, Cloud Nine puts on one of the friendliest gatherings around, where escape from the ordinary is inevitable, imagination is necessary, debauchery is acceptable, hedonism is a way of life, positive vibes are pure and uncut, and music reigns supreme. It is a festival where you can dance your ass off next to David Murphy of STS9, play blackjack with Lotus, and stumble to your room just steps away – a room equipped with an actual bed and shower.

This festival is for the well-trained and conditioned live music enthusiast. It is a sprint from start to finish. Sleep deprivation is welcomed.

SUNDAY

Sunday on Jam Cruise is always a time of celebration. Each and every year, the sail away party is what has predicted the tone for the remainder of the week. Thankfully, this year cruisers were met with Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue.

jc2-shorty.jpg

This sextet is led by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. At the ripe old age of 23, this young man plays with precise technique and unmatched fervor. Following the traditional toasts offered by the Cloud Nine crew, his band came marching through the ravenous Pool Deck crowd in typical New Orleans fashion and graced the stage with an explosive set of raw and emotional vehemence. The crowd began to sway as they got their sea legs and the sways quickly turned to full-on grinding dancing as though there was not a week of this left. If this Jam Cruise was to hold true to form and Shorty was to set the pace, the $1200.00-per-Jam Cruiser price tag would certainly be the blue light special buy of the year.

jc3-motherhips.jpgFrom there, it was time for a little famous hot dog pizza. Yes, as the pork worked its way into my empty stomach, I knew that this was not a dream and that, yes, it was Jamuary once again. And after locating a well known hypochondriac cruiser and downing some Rolaids, the party continued on the Pool Deck with Dark Star Orchestra. By this time, music was in full swing with The Mother Hips in the boat bar and Maceo Parker in the beautiful theater. Hence, the crowd had thinned somewhat for DSO.

It would be insincere to say that the DSO set was one that was looked forward to since John Kadlecik (Jerry Dude) was recently “called up from the minors to play with the big boys” in Further, as a friend put it. This being said, it was a pleasant surprise as Zen Trickster Jeff Mattson held down the fort rather nicely. In the end, fuck it, we got to hear some Dead, so in that sense there was little room for complaint.      

jc4-sts9.jpgThe thought crossed my mind that now would be as good a time as any to sit down and take a breather, but then the compulsive side of me proved to be victorious as emotion was in full swing and intellect had no chance against the emotions that were reeling. So I sat…in the casino for a quick donation to MSC cruise line with a cohort in crime, Brock Butler of Perpetual Groove, and then it was now time for a little STS9 action in the theater.

As I entered the theater, I gazed upon scantily-clad dreadlocked beauties and a guy dressed as what appeared to be Pippy Longstocking. The STS9 show was simply par, but while a par show from these guys is a force to be reckoned with in and of itself, one expects something extra special when on Jam Cruise and STS9 really did not fulfill the expectation. Their jams were solid and concise, but they seemed to plateau. Certainly there were moments where it was suspected that mind would leave body, but again, it did not.

jc5-luther.jpgIt is worth noting that the stage in the theater could not contain this massively equipped outfit and that there were some technical issues. Certainly there was some booty-shaking, but all in all, it was a letdown. Midway through the set, I made the clutch decision to make it up to the Pool Deck for The Word.

Wow. This set smoked. With John Medeski on keys, Robert Randolph doing his thing, and North Mississippi Allstars Luther (guitar) and Cody (drums) Dickinson and big Chris Chew on Bass, the outfit that began as a concept album has fully bloomed on the stage. As the wind blew, the music entwined. The cosmos of all that is right bestowed itself in the dead center of the salt-filled night air. It was a satiating set of music that spewed creative freedom and downright fun.

After this, one may think that it was time to hit the hay. That one has no business on Jam Cruise because on this night, Pretty Lights was in the cruise disco bar that is meant for probably no more than a hundred patrons. The E-tards and spunions were out in full force to the tune of probably 300. Body heat gave the room the feel that something colossal was about to happen. It did, when 90 minutes into the two hour set, the sub was blown. Did that stop us? Hell no! On to the jam room….{mospagebreak}

MONDAY

God rested on the seventh day and presumably that would be Sunday. I, on the other hand, chose to rest on Monday. This choice was made for me as the alarm clock, wakeup call, and phone all botched their jobs. Being responsible has never been a strong suit. However, I realized that the Gods of jam had smiled upon me that afternoon because it was time for Railroad Earth on the pool deck.

jc6-rre.jpg

This set was going to be a treat. This six piece acoustic band plays music with an art of service that is rarely replicated. The beauty is found in intricate simplicity. There is no leader and there are no followers within this crew. Jam Cruisers were out in full force and were pleased to see that Keith Moseley (SCI) would be joining in, despite the fact that former bassist Johnny Grubb was definitely missed. Simply put, Railroad Earth delivered.

jc7.jpgFollowing a brief but always beautiful set by Brock Butler in the rain came the sleeper, The Motet Plays the Talking Heads, which finally brought some female presence to the stage with Liza Oxnard and Carrie Sangiovanni. From “Girlfriend is Better” to “Naïve Melody,” this set raged. It quickly became a highlight, as potential energy was being spewed from the stage while the crowd was the proverbial kinetic enforcing pool stick, turning it into an eight ball in the corner pocket. Smiles were abound on stage and the force emitted. It was a good night to be a cruiser and it was going to be an even longer and stranger night as it progressed.

Speaking of strange: Megadeth and Umphrey’s McGee?

This sounded somewhat suspect to me. Seriously, another Umphrey’s offshoot? However, OHMPhrey were on the pool deck, and required passing by on the way for you guessed it, more pizza. I was hungry and on a fat man’s mission and I stopped dead in my tracks.

Let me say that I am not a true fan of Umphrey’s. There is no real reason for this. They just never rang my chimes. Well, this outfit was ablaze with pure heat, crunchy bass and tasty lick trading between Jake Cinninger (Umphrey’s McGee) and Chris Poland (OHM, Megadeth).

jc8-ohm.jpgIt was clear that Jake held Poland in a place of esteem simply by the seaming of the jams, wherein interplay would ensue until a red carpet was laid out for Poland where he would deliver a Mortal Kombat fatality of an ending. Then, a break in the jam heavens split when Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Lenny” was played to end the set. This is the classic example of how one must board Jam Cruise: throw out preconceived notions, open your mind, and your feet will follow.

Afterwards, I found myself in a conversation about the environment and healthcare with a horse, two ladies dressed as bumblebees, Fartman, and Shera. For any kiddies who were not around during the Grayskull era, Shera was He-Man’s twin sister who gave an occasional assist in the battle to keep Eternia safe from the woes of Skeletor.

No I was not on hallucinogens.

jc9-costume.jpg

It was “Super Hero and Villain” night on Jam Cruise. These nights are a force with which to be reckoned. They come second only to the door decorations wherein one may pillage the halls of the ship in gut busting laughter at things as simple “Your Mom’s Room” or a twister game in the floor with participants abound. On these notes, I hit the sack, because Jamaica and a full day lay ahead.{mospagebreak}

TUESDAY

Tuesday brought us to Jamaica, which was basically a wash due to the rain, but I did manage to get in a Sea-Doo ride in the Caribbean while other cruisers played kickball. We made it back in time to take a nap that I knew would be much needed. This evening it would be on with sets by Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Eric Krasno and Chapter 2, and finally, Lotus.

jc10-kdtu.jpgKarl Denson is as big of a repeat offender as one can find. He has been on every Jam Cruise since its inception and it shows. Karl D works the boat like a kid in the lot with one exceptional characteristic – he is a bad ass on all instruments you can blow into. He is obviously admired on the ship and respect is shown by the onslaught of musicians whoshow up to take the stage with “Cosmonaut Denson,” as Les Claypool called him on Jam Cruise 6. The set was predictably sound and as always and the cruisers absolutely ate it up.

Giving it up to G-LOTS (Get Lotus On The Ship), Cloud Nine got the message from the forum and booked the boys from Philly. I suppose it is safe to say that if your acronym makes it from the Jam Cruise Forum into the Urban Dictionary, wishes will be granted.

From here it was on to the Jam Room, an improvisational music devotee’s wet dream where free-form music flows like the River Jordan from some of the best in the business. Put it like this: I walk in, look toward the stage, and see Nigel Hall, George Porter Jr., Ivan Neville, Skerik, Brock Butler, Liza Oxnard, and Keith Moseley. Seriously.

WEDNESDAY

jc11-hoops.jpgWednesday brought us to Grand Cayman and the weather was stunningly beautiful…so I am told. I arose just in time to catch the basketball tourney, which featured some of the whitest of the white giving it nothing but their honest and hardest effort. Imagine Zach Deputy in a dress that had to be made at a big and tall factory blocking Mike Dillon’s skate shoe-wearing layup attempt. It happened and it was freaking awesome. I wanted to get out there and show them some skills but I spared….myself. From there, it was off for you guessed it, pizza with dessert courtesy of the kind folks with Ice Cream Man. Tasty goodness makes a big guy smile and I was grinning from ear to ear.

With remnants of Mickey’s chocolate ear in my beard, I attended the nuptial ceremonies and then it was time to see Frank Zappa live on through Zappa Plays Zappa, led by the legendary musician’s son, Dweezil. This set was such a treat. Dweezil has truly mastered his father’s creation. The band is freaky enough to keep the tradition, energetic enough to keep up, and talented enough to keep true.

THURSDAY

Thursday is always bittersweet. It is the last day and everyone is already looking forward to next year. However, Thursday is also notorious for being a rage-a-thon. By this time, cruisers have suffered blown out backs; some are even on crutches. A few can’t get out of bed. However, most are still standing as the music courses through their veins like a stimulant.

jc12-kimock.jpg Steve Kimock paid tribute to our plight with a spiritually purifying and chill-inducing instrumental “Stella Blue,” his slide touching that place of musical ecstasy like few can. Kimock set the pace, as a subtle beginning to an evening that would bless us until next year.

Thursday came complete with a Brock Butler sunset set that segued into George Porter’s Super Jam, a literal orgy of all-star talent that even broke off a little “Cissy Strut.” From here it was off to what became the highlights of the Cruise for me – KDTU’s Sexual Chocolate and Lotus in the theater.

As many know, as a young lad Mr. Denson played in the band Randy Watson’s Sexual Chocolate in the 80’s classic, Coming to America . “Damn, that boy is good” could be heard throughout the theater as Karl and his Tiny Universe donned soul-glo infused wigs and treated us to such gems as “The Love Boat.” It was beyond hysterical, but staying true to form, Karl was not interested in simple hilarity and the grooves were tight and spot-on. This was just one of those moments in show attending history that will go down as something that will never be forgotten.

jc13-lotus.jpgThen, staying true to Jam Cruise’s diverse format, the next act was Lotus. It’s tempting to review this set as a whole.

It was that good.

It came complete with “Umbilical Moonrise” featuring two cruise contortionist entertainers dangling from the ceiling of the theater on massive tapestries.

Lotus brought their A-game and pulled out all stops as the theater shook and vibed to the beats of both classic tracks like “Tip of the Tongue” and newer instant rotation makers like “Marisol.”

This was the absolute way to wrap up Jam Cruise 7 for me.

FRIDAY

As Friday got deeper into the morning, the inevitable happened, Cruise Director Julie McCoy came over the intercom in her usual chipper manner telling us that it was time to get up and begin the disembarkation process. The proverbial moan could be heard throughout the ship. Finally we sleep, and now we have to get up – a slacker’s worst nightmare, but one that we all knew would come.

jc14.jpgAs I lugged my baggage from my cabin certain that I was leaving something behind, and made my way to the lounge that was designated as my waiting room, the scene had changed dramatically. The same chick who was bouncing all over the boat less than four hours previous was now passed out on her boyfriend’s lap. At this point, we were all worthy of Chewbacca status. With glitter in my beard and the sandman on my mind, retrospection was in order.

Another year was in the books.

More magic had taken place than I will ever be able to recall.

Satisfaction took its place in spite of the grog that filled my head. There was only 364 more days to go until next year and Jamuary will once again be. Optimism now set in rightfully.

Arriving back in Atlanta, Brock Butler and I attempted to get to our luggage after a necessary cigarette break. Reminiscing about the week, we completely blew by baggage claim. Yes, Jam Cruise truly is a state of mind and I had already had enough with this reality business. See ya next year!

Click the thumbnail for more shots from Jam Cruise!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *