I began my 2011 year of music as I’ve done the past four years – with a business trip to board Jam Cruise. Making its ninth voyage, Jam Cruise is like Bonnaroo on a boat or late night Jazzfest on a boat, or more likely something in between those two and being backstage. Its like a long extended recess for adults that love music. Its like dying and going to heaven if you love funk music.
Departing out of Ft. Lauderdale on Tuesday January 4th – it seemed I’d sail through the first week of the year in a funky festive atmosphere on Jam Cruise 9. Big Sam’s Funky Nation were scheduled to open up the Cruise Kick Off Party on the Pool Deck at 6 pm as the sun set.
However, the trip didn’t start off all fun in the festival sun. Waiting for the 2,000+ paying customers preparing to board the MSC Poesia at Port Everglades were Broward County Police, Drug Enforcement Agents and Border Patrol officials, along with a handful of drug and bomb sniffing dogs. While I thought it was a beefed up response to the six arrests they made of people disembarking last year – it turns out a passenger’s ex-girlfriend ratted him out and the authorities were out in full force on the disgruntled mates tip-off.
The upset girlfriend didn’t just get her ex boo thrown in the slammer – in total 15 would-be Jam Cruise passengers were arrested at the port for possession of mostly “small quantities” of various types of substances. Thankfully, I did not know any of them. Canines did not board the boat (unlike what had been reported) – but canines did confront passengers as they brought their bags through the customs facilities and suspicious people were vigorously searched.
After the customs riff-raff and the arrival of baggage, passengers again got comfortable and Cloud 9 Adventures staff and MSC crew prepared us for life on our supremely oversized floating funk-raft.
Big Sam’s Funky Nation inaugurated these years festivities with some masterful trombone and a personality that felt as large as the boat.
Robert Randolph & The Family Band followed up the Funky nation in the Teatro Carlo Felice – for the first indoor show of Jamcruise 9. Rocking amazing Randolph tunes and a submarine funk level version of “Thriller” – The Family Band made sure Jam Cruise rookies got an early taste of the boat’s magic.
Although I was not torn about missing Scaring The Children (Bob Weir, Rob Wasserman & Jay Lane) – when I had to pick between Pimps of Joytime and Anders Osborne with Stanton Moore and Carl Dufrene, it was a battle. A brief stint at Pimps ended when I heard the easily distinguishable Stanton Moore stand-up snare hit. Osborne, the gritty bearded Southern-rock impresario, and Galactic’s Moore channeled the nights energy into very flavorful southern funk rock anthems with support from Dufrene and friends, including George Porter Jr.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe closed out the night on the Pool Deck – playing tunes from “Brother’s Keeper” and earlier albums. Before hitting the cabin for the night, I did give a peep at Stockholm Syndrome and Dave School’s heavy bass.
Day 2 started with the faint tunes of Cornmeal‘s bluegrass creeping through my balcony window. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it up to the deck until Perpetual Groove’s Brock Butler took stage – displaying his signature singer freestyler jam songwriter swagger. Standing tall above the crowd in the pool – Butler delivered 45 minutes of solid tunes until Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars paraded through and carried his crowd away with them.
Sierra brought a pretty tribal element of music that has not often been heard on board the Jam Cruise voyages. It was a pleasant shift on a gorgeous bright day. Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk followed the All Stars – reminding everyone that the boat may be a place to discover new musicians and new types of music, but it has been and always will be captained by funk.
Guitar heroes and fans got a special treat in the early evening as Zach Deputy played during sunset bleeding right into the supergroup, Some Cat From Japan on the pool deck. Opting out of seeing more shredding, I chose to go to the Atrium to see Marco Benevento lay down some improvisations on a grand piano. The keys specialist did not disappoint. Benevento’s fluidity made me forget I was taking an interlude for food before Galactic, The New Mastersounds and Lettuce.
Of the three – Lettuce definitely brought things the hardest. The botched version of “Move On Up”
Lettuce had me so funked up, I needed to go to sleep and get ready for our arrival in Honduras the following day.
Day 3 began on the island of Roatan, Honduras. I’m not sure what Roatan is known for – but I’d been once before, checked out the beaches and was happy to just meander through town to a very close beach and enjoy the sand. So did some other Jam Cruisers. I sat by the bay, looked at the sky and avoided thinking about the work that was undoubtedly piling up back home.
From a beautiful day in the sun, I watched the MSC Poesia sail away for what I thought would be the best night of music on the boat – Stockholm Syndrome, Lettuce, Big Gigantic, Garage A Trois, Lettuce, Lotus, Big Sam’s Funky Nation. All capped by George Porter Jr. playing host in the Jam Room.
Day 4 our port was Costa Maya, Mexico. Opting for the adult recess activity – I played no holds barred kickball with a handful of other Jamcruisers. 3 strikes and you’re out (w/ foul ball rules). 3 outs you switch sides. Anything else goes – tackling, moving bases around, stealing shoes, etc. Oh yeah, and no limit on the number of people in the outfield and NO limit on the number of drinks. You can imagine how much fun we were having. It was team Sleepers vs. Team Up All Night.
Against better judgment I tasted from the handle of tequila being passed around and before I knew it I was doing 40 on a golf cart on a Mexican highway. I guess that’s why they only let us dock in Costa Maya for 7 hours…
Sailing away to the sounds of Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears put me in a delightful mood – which was only perpetuated by Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and The New Mastersounds. Unfortunately, all the day drinking activity and pool deck fun had me tuckering out early and after some Big Gigantic and a little bit of Jam Room – I was captain toast.
Jam Cruise 9′s final day at sea brought a full day of music, kicking off with The Pimps of Joytime on the pool deck.
As the day went on , there as a lapse in the funk (during ALO and Nathan Moore), but then Anders Osborne took stage with George Porter Jr. and Johnny Vidacovich - and ultimately being joined by Leo Nocentelli. The powerhouse of jazz greats continued as their southern rock funk session bled into overtime before Maceo’s Super Jam.
From the Maceo Parker led Super Jam, I went to the casino and then on to see my favorite super band, Garage A Trois go jungle punk funk at the Zebra Bar. GAT left no stone unturned – bringing out massive music from their three albums and a handful of covers too.
As Garage A Trois finished – I darted to catch the final hour of Robert Randolph & The Family Band on the pool deck. I’m so glad I did because I stumbled on Cornmeal doing a cover of Talking Heads’ “Naive Melody” on the way.
When I finally did get to Randolph, not only did Randolph do his best rendition of Hendrix, but he also remarked about how the boat was the best trip he had ever taken in his life. Each year a musician says that, and it warmed my heart to hear those words come from Mr. Randolph’s mouth. Even cooler that I was hearing the music while tossing one back with Eric from Lettuce!
Disembarkation luckily did not have as many procedural issues as boarding, nor was there as massive of a customs presence. The less intense re-introduction to society was necessary after 5 days of backstage festival mayhem. The looks on all the departing passengers faces showed a mixture of emotion – but all had one constant – a look like they couldn’t wait to do it again next year.
Jam Cruise 10 pre-booking is available through http://www.jamcruise.com