Immediately after disembarking from my first Jam Cruise, I had a ton of friends asking me what my highlight was. Because that’s a loaded question full of many answers, the easiest answer I can give that sums up my maiden voyage is this: it was positively addicting. And trying to write my summary of the events has left me in a state of withdrawal, feeling somewhat less-than while sitting at my office chair looking back through the photos and wishing I had another fix planned before next year. Jam Cruise is just one big highlight rolled into one, where all types of memories and details come back to you and manifest themselves into smiles and fever dreams the size of the Atlantic Ocean. You start connecting one memory to another and it becomes the music trip of a lifetime. This is not an understatement. I don’t know if the musical potency aligned but it was some of the best jazz and funk improvisation I’ve seen all in once place — ever — from “The Spot” to The Jazz Lounge to the Pool Deck and all hot tubs in between.
Here’s all the ways it got me hooked:
15. “I’m on a boat in the middle of the ocean!”
The entire event takes place at sea. It’s basically a five-star hotel with five-star musicians and professional ragers all grooving across the ocean together. Your view for five days is the waves and reflections of the clouds smiling down at you. Sick of mother nature? That’s fine, just head downstairs to see George Porter, Jr. tear through some tunes in the Jazz Lounge. Each stage jams into the late hour and it’s certainly one of the most beautifully constructed shipping vessels (The MSC Divina, that is) I’ve ever laid eyes on. Everything is located all in one and your room is never more than 10 minutes away from the action, so it allows for unlimited music-seeing potential. If you can’t find impromptu music happening somewhere, you clearly haven’t left your room. That surreal buzz of knowing something unique is always going on within walking distance is what helps keep the energy alive for five straight days.
14. The Jazz Lounge
This was an added “stage” for Jam Cruise 13 and it was my go-to spot all week long. Dance floor, couches to lounge on, accessible bar and impromptu jams from 10p until 1am. It was just what the captain ordered. All festivals should have a spot like this. I really hope Cloud 9 keeps this Lounge going forward. Snarky Puppy, John Scofield, Adam Deitch, Karl Denson…all together now!
I’m already jonsing for more Lettuce. Upon returning to cell service, I immediately checked where they were scheduled to play next. Ask anyone who attended JC13 and they’ll likely mention something Lettuce-related as a musical highlight. The members Eric Krasno, Adam Smirnoff, Neal Evans, Adam Deitch, Erick Coomes and Ryan Zoidis were the unofficial house (boat) band for the week, playing great sets and guesting in several incarnations in the Jazz Lounge and Jam Room. How’d they get their band name? Coomes says they would go to parties and clubs and always say to the band on stage: “Let us play.”
12. Umphrey’s McGee’s Guest-Laden Show
Umphrey’s McGee played a show on the final night which included an awesome “Ocean Billy” and “Wappy Sprayberry”, but the real headline was 12 guests in total joined them throughout the show, including Cory Henry, Ivan Neville, Skerik, Mike Dillon, Jennifer Hartswick and Marc Brownstein. Everytime I blinked there was a new musician on stage. Thankfully I wasn’t taking down detailed setlist notes because my hand would have fallen off. People’s expectations were high for this set because the weather cancelled their Pool Deck performance the night before. Listen to this performance via Taper Joel on Archive.org; it’s so good.
11. The Atrium
The Atrium is centered on the boat with beautifully sparkling staircases and a piano at the bottom. It was there I managed to catch sets from both Ivan Neville and Nathan Moore, Mr. Hippy Fiasco himself. Moore’s included a brand new tune he wrote earlier that morning called “Boat Song #13” with the lyrics — “I’m coming home” — that really spoke to me at the time. Here’s a well-crafted video compilation Nathan uploaded that includes the entire song. This would make a great additon to the Surprise Me Mr. Davis catalog.
10. Dr. Lonnie Smith
The jazz Hammond B3 organist was a sight to behold. Anytime “The Turbinator” walked on stage the jam sessions reached a new level. Some would say GAME OVER — as in, no one can top what that man just did. His sit-ins were a recipe for instant success especially when he played with Snarky Puppy during their Pool Deck set. The reactions were priceless since most festival attendees didn’t even seem to know he was on the lineup until they saw him on stage. He was a very welcomed addition to the ‘Masters At Sea’ program.
9. Impromptu Jam Sessions w/ Fans
Random jam sessions like the video below happened all night and all morning long. I stumbled upon Jans Ingber of The Motet and The California Honeydrops right as I left my room on the 8th floor. The video’s energy speaks for itself. How could anyone skip a trip like Jam Cruise after experiencing moments like these?
8. “Eminence Front”
The entire M&M’s set (Medeski, Mali, Mercurio, Moore) from 1am to 3am was a keeper, but their cover of The Who’s “Eminence Front” sent the entire Pool Deck into a frenzy. Come and join the party. Dress to kill. There wasn’t a single soul standing still during that 10-minute rager. The Revivalist’s David Shaw guested on vocals for this version giving it a whole new level of energy. It was during this jam that I finally understood why my buddy Pete had been trying so hard to get me on Jam Cruise just once. He knew once I boarded, I’d always come back. He’s a smart man.
Upon entering the theatre and seeing Medeski’s organ on stage I was giddy with excitement. My addiction to this man’s music was a large reason I decided to attend Jam Cruise in the first place. The theatre was the best-sounding venue on the ship, especially in the sweet spot of the middle, ten rows up. He was invited on stage about mid-way through the set to a loud applause while Scofield told the audience of Medeski’s earlier involvement with the project in 2002 on the self-titled Uberjam. To hear Medeski play with Scofield was a dream come true.
6. Adam Deitch
Not only did he hold down Lettuce but he held down most of the groove in the Jazz Lounge and Jam Room. An unofficial count has him playing in 20-23 different sets on the boat. Bonkers. His drum beats were so infectious, and everywhere you turned it was odd seeing anyone else behind the drum kit. I’m in Deitch withdrawal right now.
5. Marcel The Tiger
This tiger saw more action than Adam Deitch — from the playground to sharing the stage with Umphrey’s McGee in the Pantheon Theatre. PETA may chime in soon after seeing this NSFW video.
4. Pretty Lights with Live Band
I’m not the biggest fan of electronic dance music. It’s very hit or miss for me but this set was a surefire shot to the veins. Pete and I were both floored; what we thought would be “a quick stop to see how it sounded” turned into staying for the whole damn show. It was Pretty Lights and a bunch of Jam Cruise funk vets as his back up band — Eric Krasno, Adam Deitch, Eric Bloom, Boraham Lee, Brian Coogan, and Scott Flynn! So yeah, Adam Deitch did it again. Mixed with an elaborate laser-light show, it was a full on dance party that had everyone in awe — especially my better half @SarahZeee who almost lost it during the Pink Floyd “Time Remix.” Definitely a set I went into with low expectations and came away with a new respect for what Derek Vincent Smith is trying to do.
3. Triangle Hash Browns.
Who needs fruit and orange juice for breakfast? Grab a plate of these hash browns in the dining hall and bring it back to your hungover cabin mates and become their MVP in a flash. This happened multiple times on the ship. The food wasn’t as bad as I feared. There were several rotating options, a serviceable salad bar and pizza at all hours of the day. If you were smart, the juice bars offered the perfect mixers and on the 6th floor there was a sit-down three-course restaurant.
This drink concoction is what kept me going all day long and likely the reason why I immediately came home and bought these four ingredients: Baileys, bananas, rum and pina colada mix. The potassium was essential, and by day four I had the bartenders adding a splash of mango to keep it interesting. It was my Jam Cruise cocktail of choice and worth every drink ticket.
1. The Costumes
About 90% of the attendees on Jam Cruise are all decked out in crazy pants, fake mustaches, pasties, flash tattoos, leggings…you name it. The costumes some people put together were so elaborate that sometimes it was more inspiring than the music. It was like Mardi Gras, Halloween and New Year’s Eve all in one, Every. Single. Night. I’ve never seen so much flair in my life. The theme nights were perfectly selected by Cloud 9 especially Metallic night and Animal night. Where else can you see two gorillaz having a dance off while Oteil Burbridge lays down the funk in the Jam Room? I went on the boat having some reservations about spending any type of effort dressing up. I didn’t want anything to affect the dance moves, but low and behold after some convincing, it turns out wearing a cape or an animal onesie actually HELPS the grooves. You win Jam Cruisers, you win!
Time to Pre-Book!
Consider me absolutely, unequivocally addicted to everything about Jam Cruise: world class musicians, impromptu jam sessions, eclectic costumes, smiling faces, all of it. All situated on one vessel with a festive community that I’ve been told rivals Burning Man. While writing this piece I actually HAD to pre-book for next year because the #FOMO was silently seeping into my consciousness and the withdrawal was too much to bear. I must know when and where I’ll be getting my next fix. Long story short, once you get on the boat you never get off.
Speaking of which, anyone want to help me design a cape for our next voyage? 11 months and counting…
Photos © Dave Vann and Chris Monaghan