Jam Cruise 17 Sets Sail with Performances by Umphrey’s McGee, Leftover Salmon and More
Photos by Josh Timmermans and Jason Koener, via Jam Cruise on FB
On Jan. 15, as most of the city went about their normal Tuesday afternoon, the Port of Miami was bustling with crowds of tie-dyed music fans, preparing for Jam Cruise 17.
Once everyone found their sea legs, the Norwegian Jade set sail. The Miami skyline was bathed in a gorgeous sunset as the ship hit the open seas, and by 6 pm the pool deck was packed ready to rock, as the crew from Cloud 9 toasted yet another voyage.
“6 days people, 6 days!” Jam Cruise Director of Artist Programming Annabel Lukins said with a raised glass, stressing how the event added an extra day of music this year. “To feel the energy that this event gives off its amazing,” she continued.
Then, Matador! Soul Sounds took the main stage by storm, led by New Mastersounds guitarist Eddie Roberts and Soulive drummer Alan Evans. “We are so honored to kick this off for you. This is gonna be the year babies!” Adryon de León proclaimed before she and fellow vocalist Kimberly Dawson dug into originals like “Too Late.” León also noted that despite their famous founders Matador! Soul Sounds are not a supergroup but a real band playing original music, with a rocking, soulful sound.
Star Kitchen and Matisyahu keyboardist Rob Marscher was next on the schedule, fusing together a wide range of covers for his freeform, synth-laden set in the ship’s Atrium.
Some of Marscher’s best moments came with he grouped The Flaming Lips’ “Sleeping On The Roof” with “Crest” by Tortoise and “Glass Eyes” by Radiohead. Phish fans in the room hollered when he dug up a portion of “Horn” and segued into “Mist” by Beach House. Later, Marscher invited his “super homie” Nick Cassarino of the Nth Power up to jam on an instrumental of Led Zeppelin’s “Rain Song.”
As expected, Vince Herman and Leftover Salmon got the party going in the ship’s Stardust Theater. Members of Andy Frasco & The UN sat in for “Midnight Blues” and artist-at-large Brandon “Taz” Niederauer added his guitar to a number of songs including “New Speedway Boogie.”
“Here’s to you Jam Cruise so good to be back,” Herman said before launching into Aquatic Hitchhiker cut “Sing Up To The Moon” with lyrics changed to reflect the cruise setting. (Some eagle-eyed fans may have noticed that Matt Flinner replaced banjoist Andy Thorn for these Salmon gigs; Thorn recently broke his leg in a skiing accident.)
By 9 p.m. Sister Sparrow and her Dirty Birds backing band took over the main stage, playing cuts from their new LP Gold as well as crowd-pleasing covers like Toto’s “Rosanna.”
Not long after, Lyle Divinsky and trombonist Big Sam joined them for a take on “Tell Me What It Is” by Graham Central Station and Sister Sparrow ended their set strong with their The Weather Below original “Sugar” as well as Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love.”
Big Sam was definitely feeling creative on this Tuesday night, as he also made an appearance with with Toubab Krewe in the ship’s Spinnaker Lounge.
As the clock struck 11:30 and the breeze picked up, the main event was going down on the pool deck. Umphrey’s McGee made their return to Jam Cruise following inclement weather in 2015 that forced them off the main stage. “The universe owes us this one, guys,” Lukins of Cloud 9 said as she introduced the band.
Slamming into their prog-jam repertoire, UM opened with a rocking “Remind Me” opener, followed by “40s Theme,” with guitarists Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger both getting plenty of licks in.
“We’ve all made some good decisions to be here,” keyboardist Joel Cummins remarked to the visibly excited crowd.
As UM launched into more originals like “FF,” The Motet held court in the Stardust Theater, while The Porter Trio was offering a tasty “Eyes of the World”> “Sugaree”> “Turn On Your Lovelight” segment in the Spinnaker Lounge, with additional instrumentation by sax player Skerik and guitarist Joe Marcinek. (The jam was also a nod to the evening’s unofficial theme of “Day of the Deadhead.”)
George Porter Jr. also played a new original dubbed “Police State,” from a forthcoming record that he said would be finished in February 2019.
Back on the main stage, UM closed their two-hour offering with a pairing of “Wappy Sprayberry” and The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” and encored by picking back up an “Ocean Billy” they had started earlier in the evening.
As Jam Cruise continued to push through the open seas, the festival’s late-night programming really took off. Alan Evans’ jazz set in the Bliss Lounge featured a sit-in by Karl Denson (who swapped his usual sax for a flute) as well as a jazzy take on The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life.”
While Sunsquabi held down the pool deck, Turkuaz packed the two-floored Stardust Theater for their 1:45 a.m. set, starting with an instrumental funk jam and then jumping into “If I Ever Fall Asleep” from their recent studio record Life in the City. “I forgot how crazy y’all are,” frontman Dave Brandwein said to the rowdy late-night crowd, adding that 2019 marks the multi-colored band’s third Jam Cruise appearance.
As of press time, Turkuaz continued to rock the boat, garnering a large majority of Jam Cruise’s inhabitants. In the Spinnaker Lounge, Chris Littlefield of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was just getting the ball rolling for his collaborative jam room set, and New York-based DJ subset was spinning records in the Bliss Lounge.
Jam Cruise 17 will continue through Jan. 21 with stops in Belize City, Belize, Cozumel, Mexico and Progreso, Mexico.