EPIC PREVIEW: Jam Cruise XI, January 7-12, 2013

As the dust settles from one of the biggest music holidays of the year, New Year’s Eve, there are a few thousand people out there who have something else on the brain already: Jam Cruise 11.

Now in it’s 10th year, and embarking on its 11th voyage, Jam Cruise is the creme de la creme of events in the jam band world: the musical talent, the destinations, the surroundings, the activities, and perhaps most importantly, the Jam Cruiser community, are all simply tip top. As opposed to other destination events like Mayan Holidaze or Strings & Sol which focus exclusively on one musical genre, Jam Cruise is a gumbo of different musical styles: on one hand, you’ve got your New Orleans all-stars, your afrobeat, and your untz, and on the other you’ve got bluegrass, acid jazz grooves, and straight up funk. Let’s dive into some of the reasons (including my Five Can’t Miss Acts) I’m so excited to be hitting the high seas in just a few short hours!

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Jam Cruise really is the most fun you could ever have at sea; it’s a floating paradise for musical junkies like myself. Just looking at a list of the musicians on the boat is enough to make even the most jaded vet drool at the possibilities that can arise when you get this much talent together in one place.

Which brings me to the holiest place on the boat, and one of the changes I’m most excited about: the Jam Room, where magic consistently happens night after night. In year’s past, the Jam Room got started at midnight, which created numerous conflicts for fans and musicians alike that were still on stage elsewhere. This year though, the powers that be have wisely pushed back the start time each night to 1:30. The hosts this year? Karl Denson, The Motet’s Joey Porter, ALO’s Lebo, Pimps of Joytime’s Brian J, and everyone’s favorite vibraphonist Mike Dillon. What happens or who will show up in the Jam Room on any given night is anyone’s guess, the only guarantee is that everyone will be wearing s***-eating grins from ear to ear.

@PeteLikesMusic on Jam Cruise in 2012.  Photo from Jamcruise.com
@PeteLikesMusic on Jam Cruise in 2012. Photo from Jamcruise.com

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the legions of Jam cruisers, as they are truly what make the event as spectacularly fun as it is. I’ve seen more amazingly creative costumes on one night of Jam Cruise than I have in all of my Halloweens put together, and while the musicians give it their all every time they get on stage, the audience gives it right back. Everyone on board is a music fan of the highest order, aka a friend you haven’t met yet. Plus it’s always a joy to reunite with friendly faces that you’ve seen in years past that you only see on the boat.

A full list of all the activities planned for the boat (snorkeling with The Motet, anyone?) would take hours to list, so let’s stick to a few things that stood out immediately:

Al Schnier of moe. will be doing a special (solo?) acoustic set on the Magic Hat Wind Stage (formerly the Solar Stage — hopefully not an omen for the weather on this year’s voyage). Magic Hat will also be sponsoring this year’s Sail Away party, where free beers are promised to be in abundance. They really know how to start things off on the right foot!

LMB’s wildcard favorite Skerik has been promoted from panelist on The Gong Show to full-blown host. Which brave souls will dare to try and impress their fellow Jam Cruisers? Personally, I’m going to try my luck at Ivan Neville’s annual Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament and become a contestant on Jamily Feud after winning one of the grand prizes on last year’s Let’s Make A New Deal.

Tigger & Jamie Shield of The New Deal
Tigger & Jamie Shields of The New Deal

The theme night I was least excited about “Cirque du Funk“, has been given an unofficial house band in the form of March Fourth Marching Band, who will be taking over the pool deck to kick off the evening’s festivities following the Eddie Roberts Super Jam at sunset. This is an absolute no-brainer pairing that is sure to be a one of a kind spectacle that no one will ever forget. Kudos! The other theme nights are Blue Lagoon Bugaloo, (with famed Blue Man never-nude Tobias Funke gracing the schedule), and This Is Spinal Tap/Headbangers Ball on the final night. I assumed that moe. would be the centerpiece on this evening, but Bay Area faves ALO and Tea Leaf Green have been given the nod. It should be interesting to see if they embrace the theme or stick to their original material. Fingers crossed for “Sex Farm” or “Big Bottom”!

The newly formed supertrio Medeski Skerik & Deitch will only be performing one set, as it looks like the entire MSMW foursome will be sadly hopping off the boat after Night 2. While Eddie Roberts & Robert Walter will be on board all 5 days, their trio with Deitch will also just get one shot at glory. The same goes for Magic Gravy — guess you can’t win them all!

Also, congrats are in order for Big Gigantic, who have graduated from the sweaty confines of the Zebra Bar on Jam Cruise 9 to the majestic Theatro Carlo Felice, showing just how far this duo has come in two short years. They’re one of the few bands out there able to pull double duty on the MSC Poesia, as they’re currently at sea on Holy Ship!, the untz-ier musical cruise that Cloud 9 Adventures launched last year. You can also expect their sax player, Dominic Lalli, to do some extended sit ins with his former band The Motet, who will be performing one set of originals, and a special Funk is Dead set on the pool deck

Big Gigantic will play at the Theatro Carlo Felice.
Big Gigantic will play at the Theatro Carlo Felice.

Last but not certainly not least, Cloud 9’s philanthropic arm Positive Legacy has announced a day of service and celebration. The island of Grand Turk has been recovering from the damage wrought by Hurricane Ike for the last 4 years, and our visit will be an opportunity for Jam Cruisers to give back to this community as it continues to get back up on its feet. In addition to helping rebuild a neighborhood park there will also be a Community Jam featuring Hot Buttered Rum, George Porter Jr., Jeff Coffin, Tony Hall, members of March Fourth Marching Band, plus Dave Watts, Garrett Sayers & Joey Porter of The Motet.

FIVE Can’t Miss Sets (in no particular order):

1. Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood’s 2.5 hour pool deck set on the first night will feature virtuosity of the highest order

2. Eddie Robert’s Super Jam: if the last few Super Jams (reserved for the last night on the pool deck) which were orchestrated by Tony Hall and Maceo Parker are any indication, there will be 15-20 musicians on stage by the end of this set. With Eddie at the helm, I expect nothing but rip roaring funk classics.

3. The aforementioned Community Jam on Grand Turk

4. Medeski Skerik Deitch’s one-off performance in the Zebra Bar on Blue Man Night

5. Lettuce on the Pool Deck: ‘Nuff said.

Expect a full recap on Live Music Blog when I (@PeteLikesMusic) get back on land and put all the pieces of my brain back together. Jam Cruise sells out every year, so if you are planning on going, think 2014. You can prebook now to save yourself a spot; cabin selections are in May when the initial lineup is announced.