Jam Cruise Hits Open Waters

January 4, 2010

A look back at Jam Cruise 2009 – photo by Annabel LukinsThe seventh annual Jam Cruise set sail last night from Ft. Lauderdale, FL (this is the eighth Cruise as two took place the first year). As in years past, the traveling festival will both showcase a striking music of musical styles – from electronica to funk to gospel and Grateful Dead-inspired psychedelic-rock – and spotlight musicians from a number of the jam-scenes geographic micro-communities – from New Orleans (George Porter, Galactic) to New York (Eric Krasno, Robert Randolph), to San Francisco (Hot Buttered Rum, Mother Hips) and Boulder/Denver (Kyle Hollingsworth, Pretty Lights). While in years past passengers have waited in long lines to board the ship, this year entering the sold out Jam Cruise was relatively easy.

Trombone Shorty officially kicked off Jam Cruise’s musical festivities at 7 PM last night with the destination event’s annual Sail Away Party. Most of the ship’s passengers and crew assembled on the MSC Poesia’s rooftop pool deck for a public toast and bon voyage party. During his set, Trombone Shorty’s brass band simulated the ship’s embarkation calls with their horns and nodded to the trombonist’s time in Lenny Kravitiz’s band with an instrumental cover of “American Woman.” Fellow New Orleans native Ivan Neville officially christened the sit in portion of the four-day event by playing keyboards with the band on a cover of the Black Eyed Peas’ “Let’s Get It Started.”

After a short dinner break, passengers dispersed to a number of different stages. The current incarnation of Dark Star Orchestra – with Zen Tricksters’s Jeff Mattson on guitar – paid tribute to the Grateful Dead on the pool deck with covers of early numbers like “Mr. Charlie” and “The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion),” while The Mother Hips played its first show on Jam Cruise in Zebra room. Though this the Mother Hips’ initial year on the cruise, frontman Tim Bluhm attended last year’s festivities as a guest of Jackie Greene and decided to return in an official capacity.

Longtime James Brown and Prince saxophonist Maceo Parker officially opened Jam Cruise’s largest theater space, the Teatro Carlo Felice, with his eight-person backing band. One of the most established names on this year’s Jam Cruise, Parker offered a slightly different – at times lighter – variation on jazz/funk that placed a particular emphasis on showmanship. He seemed to enjoy his time on the ship so far, however, and declared at the end of his set: “I like jazz but I like to play something funky too.”

STS9 also performed to a packed house at the Teatro Carlo Felice from 1-3:30 AM. The quintet brought its full instrumental setup onboard, mixing traditional instruments like guitars, bass, drums, percussion and keyboards with computers, samplers, synthesizers and other modern effects. The highlight of the group’s high-energy set was the euphoric “Circus.” Meanwhile, recently reunited The Word – the supergroup featuring Robert Randolph, John Medeski and the North Mississippi Allstars – closed the ship’s pool deck entertainment with a two-hour set from 1:30-3:30 AM. With the exception of Medeski, the members of The Word were largely unknown when they first came together in the early 2000s and, even though the band has only played a handful of shows in the past seven years, the musicians have individually gone on to play with some of the biggest names in rock. So it is no surprise that The Word’s trademark brand of pedal steel-fueled gospel is now sharper, harder and more intense than on the band’s inaugural tours – with Randolph at times playing a bright, shinny red electric guitar.

Of course, Jam Cruise is known not just for its marquee performers, but also for its unique collaborations. A few years ago, the ship put an official open Jam Room on the schedule and, in an attempt to get the Jam Room festivities started a little earlier in the evening, anointed an official Jam Cruise host for each evening. Garrett Sayers – the bassist who first made his name playing in the Miracle Orchestra and currently tours nationally as a member of The Motet and Kyle Hollingsworth’s backing band – hosted the Jam Room’s opening night with a revolving cast of musicians. The early portion of the evening featured a number of funky covers like Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman” and guests like Lettuce’s Adam Deitch and The Motet’s Dave Watts. Shortly after 1:30 AM, George Porter Jr. – the musician most associated with the Jam Room – took over on bass, anchoring another revolving cast that included Watts and Flecktones/Dave Matthews Band saxophonist Jeff Coffin.

Elsewhere on the ship, Col Bruce Hampton, Eric Krasno and DJ Logic could be seen together in the casino, while ship artist LEBO live painted with DJ Future Banana. Pretty Lights closed the day’s festivities past 5 AM in the ship’s S32 Disco.