While I prefer to think that my best days of 2010 are ahead of me, especially since the year is so young, the simple truth is that they are not. Not because I have a particularly glum outlook for 2010 - rather because I’ve just returned from the most amazing music event known to man, JamCruise.
JamCruise is the quintessential music festival, the pinnacle experience for a concert junkie, the crème de la crème of music themed parties. It is like being backstage at Jazzfest for five days straight with access to anyone and anything. A song from the 80s once opined that “heaven is a place on earth” and the writer must have seen into the future and known that JamCruise would one day exist because it truly is a music lover’s heaven.
Each January, Cloud 9 Productions packs the top gunners in the funk, jam and festival DJ circuit on a cruise ship with the most dedicated, die-hard, intense-partying music enthusiasts for what is best likened to a concert lovers nirvana. It is hard to fathom what it is like listening to artists at the top of their game in the middle of the Caribbean, under the stars, at 3 am in the morning – but you get that experience five nights in a row on JamCruise.
This was my fourth time on JamCruise, my third consecutive year in a row and the first time that the festival on the Caribbean was mixed with both business and pleasure. I am proud to report that it was the best one yet.
It all kicked off with Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave. on the Pool Deck for a sailing off brass infused bootie shakedown. Everyone held their glasses high, with smiles beaming as we cruised off into 5 straight days of paradise and debauchery. Later, I caught the infamous Maceo Parker for the first time and de-virginized my ears to the amazing southern rock soul experience that is The Word. The Word is just a super group comprised of Robert Randolph on slide steel, Jon Medeski on keys and North Mississippi All-Stars filling out the rest of the rhythm and guitar sections. It might just be the funkiest southern rock of all time. I capped my night off with Pretty Lights DJing in Disco – where he chopped and screwed all of my favorites, including an “I’m On A Boat” teaser of his thunderous remix that he unloaded several nights later under the stars on the pool deck.
The first night was a harbinger of the amazing funk and fun that was going to consume the next four days, but it really did not hold a candle to day 2 which introduced me to the rising star Zach Deputy, the much improved afro grooves of Toubab Krewe, and my most anticipated set, The Motet and Friends playing a cover set of Talking Heads. I posted a video on youtube of the set kicking off – which happened in pseudo-Stop Making Sense fashion. If that was not enough – I caught songs by The Word, Sound Tribe Sector 9 (playing February 12th @ The Wiltern), Galactic (playing at House of Blues in March) and DJ Logic before heading to the Jam Room, which was hosted all night by Will Bernard.
Mid-cruise was our first stop in Ochos Rios, and also the first night that Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe came out in full force. Karl, probably my favorite sax player, made stars collide on the pool deck – but he kept some gems in his back pocket for his set on the final night. From KDTU, I trickled to Adam Deitch’s Break Science – which was a great new break beat, electronic, hip-hop infused dance party.
The duo really keeps the party moving non-stop and the former Fugees drummer really explores blending hip-hop, house, electronic and jazz all into one crazy jam. They played The Roxy with Lotus (another JamCruise band) on October 6th, 2009…but hopefully they will come back thru town again soon. Break Science was followed by Eric Krasno’s Chapter 2 and the super-group, Dragon Smoke.
The second and final stop of the cruise was in George Town, Grand Cayman – a much nicer place than Ochos Rios. The beach had fine white sand, the water was crystal clear and it was a gorgeous day. It rivaled the gorgeous southern blues-rock music that came later from JJ Grey & Mofro as we sailed away back toward the U.S. That night the super group Fantastic 4, which includes b (drummer of Fugees, Jon Scofield Band, Break Science), Eric Krasno (guitarist – Soulive, Chapter 2, Lettuce), Robert Walter (keys – Greyboy All-Stars, Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, Super Heavy Organ, etc.), was missing the typical fourth member, saxman Cheme Gastelum. Standing in for him was George Porter Jr. on bass and a host of saxophonist’s from Jeff Coffin to Skerik to Karl Denson. It was absolute insanity on the pool deck.
George Porter Jr., Ivan Neville & Robert Walter
As Fantastic 4 funked out well past 1 a.m., the crowd brewed for the dance party that popped off when Pretty Lights took stage under the stars at 2 a.m. From Finally Moving to Sunday School to More Important Than Michael Jordan – he kept the crowd moving. But, no more so, than when he totally remixed and destroyed the Andy Samberg parody song “I’m On A Boat.” The way he chopped it up was so fresh the whole JamCruise crowd was begging for more – at the bar afterward all the way until the sun came up and there was a Boombox dubstep and Miike Snow dance party on the top deck. The collective energy amongst those rocking into the wee morning hours had one common theme – Derek Vincent Smith – please come back to this boat.
Pretty Lights – Derek Vincent Smith
The final full day at sea was packed full of music. I gladly got to see Zach Deputy continue to blow me away on the Solar Stage as I dipped my feet in the pool.
I then waited until George Porter led the Super Jam of epic proportions – where he flirted heavily with Funky Meters material. From there, I bounced over to Sexual Chocolate featuring Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe – where they played half KDTU material and half old school music. Of course, I had to catch Galactic‘s pool deck closing performance – which was absolutely spectacular – before closing out the most amazing festival in the world in the Jam Room with Fuzz of Deep Banana Blackout. Partying like a backstage groupie until about 5 am as we cruised into Ft. Lauderdale’s harbor – I knew it was going to be a bright and amazing year ahead of me.
Can’t wait to see everyone back on the boat next year and if you haven’t been – I highly recommend you check out the experience. You won’t regret it.