Jam Cruise 14
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Sail Away - Dumpstaphunk - The Infamous Stringdusters - Joe Russo’s Almost Dead - Soulive
So, there we were in Miami, lined up, waiting for that special moment. The moment we get to set foot on “The Boat” once again and sail away into the briny blue on a musical adventure like no other. Embarkation always takes longer than you’d like, but, believe-you-me, all the seeming hassles are worth the end game: Jam Cruise. Once aboard we made our way to our staterooms ready to decorate doors, settle our stuff, grab some costumery, and prepare for this infamous “marathon of sprints” to begin in earnest and soon. One thing Jam Cruise doesn’t waste a lot of once it gets going is time. And that can be both a blessing and a curse. Time management flies right out the porthole and FOMO sets in almost immediately. But that is all part of the frenetic, chaotic, lovely, wonderful craziness that is Jam Cruise. Needless to say with such an ambitious schedule every cruise it is well-nigh impossible to see every act, or even a part of every one. However, always boasting a very eclectic mix of musical genres from the jam universe and with most bands performing twice, one can assemble quite the hearty and hefty musical buffet during the course of the five night run. And this is precisely what we did…beginning with Dumpstaphunk throwing down at the traditional Sail Away Party on the pool deck of the MSC Divina, our proud mistress of the seas and loving home for the better part of a week. After the customary toast thanks to our intrepid leader Annabel Stelling it was time for the music to begin!! So let’s do this, shall we?
What more perfect a way to begin a cruise based solely on music than with some funky grooves care of New Orleans’ own Dumpstaphunk? It was straight funk out of the gate with a wailing instrumental piece from the boys in this awesome band. Soulful and just down right nasty, horns a-blazin’ away and with massive amounts of energy to kick things off. The hot and humorous “Gassman Chronicles” was their next offering, played at a fast clip after a dirty good opening on keys from Ivan Neville. “Do you smell that?” was his questioning intro to the song. Well…“they [do] call him ‘funk-alot’” after all. And there was so much funk in this one — better than album greatness going on. And then how about a tasty cover from the boys and some featured guests? How about The Band’s “Don’t Do It” with Amy Helm and Cris Jacobs? How about this video of how it all went down for your viewing pleasure?
Not bad at all, am I right? Some seriously amazing music going on already. And we were just getting started. Having the Steeltown Horns sitting in all set was pretty amazing in its own right as well. Funk plus horns is always a great idea in my opinion. “Dancin’ to the Truth”, a favorite of mine, was also a big crowd favorite amongst the gathered throng of happy Jam Cruisers. Nothing like singing along to some of your favorite funky jams. But then, as if we’d barely had time to get our groove on, it was time for some bluegrass pickin’ with The Infamous Stringdusters down in the Pantheon Theater. Thus began our first “music rush” of the week…the belief that if we hurry fast enough we can always catch the last note of music with one band and the first of another in a different venue. Well, all I can say is: the struggle is real.
Changing gears completely it was time to trade up keys and horns for strings with the Stringdusters. It also makes for an interesting transition moving indoors for the secondary stage. Kinda gives you the feelings of an outdoor and an indoor festival all-in-one and on a boat to boot. Variety is the spice of life after all, right my friends? And nothing like an opening cover of the Dead from the Dusters — “Big River” was a big hit and started things off in a big way. Not only was there some great harmony in the vocals but we got quite a nice banjo solo from Chris Pandolfi and a mighty fine one on dobro from Andy Hall as well. Helluva good way to kick things off. The Dusters lads took things right into a tasty instrumental next with “Cluck Old Hen” giving the growing crowd exactly the fast pickin’ they wanted. But why take my word for it when you can see for yourself, right?
Just fantastic. Every time I see this band play they are just that much edgier, that much more intense and focused and it always reflects in their sound and their playing. This Jam Cruise set was no exception. Later on down the set Travis Book stepped up to the mic for a gritty “Get It While You Can” crooning his soulful advice out to the audience. Mr. Jeremy Garrett threw down an exquisite fiddle solo for us during this one. Much appreciated for that, good sir! Friends and guests Paul Hoffman and Anders Beck of Greensky Bluegrass joined in for a sizzling “Small Axe”. Paul took lead vocals on this one and the sound of double dobros was one to be relished and savored. Holy goodness how much amazing music on one stage!! And that is the very magic of Jam Cruise…all the guesting in and collaborations. Andy Hall and Anders just killed it together. Damn, was that good!! The biggest climactic moment of the set came later on during the “Sugarfoot Jam” — my stars, my friends. You’ve rarely heard such an electric buildup of bluegrass energy and explosiveness. And it melted scores of faces in that theater. Such incredible musicianship. So fast. So much. Wowsers. Next up, Nicki Bluhm joined the Dusters on stage for some more Grateful Dead love. This time “Not Fade Away” was on the docket. Really lovely version of this song. Nicki’s voice alongside the strings of the ISD made for a really moving rendition. And one which the crowd certainly enjoyed, singing and clapping along. Later still down this fabulous set the boys took “Heady Festy” directly into “Jack-a-Roe” with Travis on vocals. I’m sensing a theme to this set maybe? Great guitar work from Andy Falco on this one for us. Always love watching that man work…he makes fast pickin’ look so easy. Finally, they brought this steam engine of a set to a close with “LLD” taken directly into “Gettin’ Down the Road (Hillbillies)”. My goodness…I believe I was gettin’ the vapors. What a set! So freakin’ happy the Stringdusters were on the Boat this year! It is so important to have the bluegrass vibe on board and these fine gentlemen most certainly helped to fulfill that need. Thanks for an incredible first set and such fun, my good men!! Bravi!
Then it was back up the elevators to Deck 14 and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead on the pool deck stage. So excited to have these fellows on Jam Cruise this year. By far, my current favorite in the Dead arena in terms of amazing energy and incredible musicianship. The extreme amount of special they bring to their approach to the beloved music of The Grateful Dead is really something wonderful to behold. Provided you love superb music, that is. Opening up with a long instrumental intro to “Not Fade Away” filled with lots of jamming drums from Joe himself as well as some sweet, sweet shredding on guitar from Scott Metzger and American Babies' Tom Hamilton. “Not Fade Away” is always a good opener and this was our second offering of the cruise already. Honestly, it was really interesting to hear the two versions so closely back-to-back, one being strings and soulful diva singing and the other being a jumped-up interpretation of an old favorite. Made me all the more interested in the remainder of the set. They followed this lengthy monster of a “Not Fade Away” with a bright and lovely “Rubin and Cherise” with Tom on lead vocals. A great little dance number to which the audience responded with grooving feet and smiling faces. Not to mention the ridiculous and huge jam in the middle replete with tons of fantastic keyboards care of Mr. Marco Benevento and lots of sizzling drive to it. A highlight of the evening’s music thus far to be sure. “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” was another crowd pleaser in a host of crowd pleasers. A slamming version of this song, it brought the audience to even further life out under those beautiful stars. The boat rocking back and forth underneath as if to the music itself. But why not get a little taste of it yourself?
Not feeling bad after that one, are you? Nope! That’s what I thought! And a little later down the set we kept the party rolling with one incredible “Tennessee Jed”. It’s almost impossible to write anything but stellar reviews for these adept individuals and their special musical relationship with the music of the Dead. And they just kept rocking us and rocking us and rocking us all the more! Like with the myriad solo-laden “Shakedown Street” the band offered up to us, which melted several faces in my immediate vicinity. Including my own. Every member of the band took this opportunity to show their stupendous stuff, showcasing their immense talent and skill on their respective instruments. And Joe always there in the background, the miraculous eight-armed man, keeping those beats of insanity and perfect tempo. And always seeming so casual about the whole affair. Astounding. The band invited the extremely talented Nicole Atkins up to sing back up on “Franklin’s Tower” and she completely nailed it to the wall. What a great combination, this band and this lady! Bravi on all fronts to all involved…what a version of this song! Not to mention the phenomenal instrumental work as well. Then all this fell right into a huge “Viola Lee Blues” encore complete with a “Chalk Dust Torture” tease at the very beginning. Amazing. And they sounded just supremely good right up to the last note. What a terrific set! No notes at all, my friends…and thank you so much for the wonderful tunes!!
After floating around the ship for a little while and grabbing some much needed pizza and french fries (two of the major food groups on Jam Cruise) we got back up to the pool deck in time to catch a little of Soulive’s late night set. The energy was that of funk and groove and guitars and keys and bouncing electricity. An apropos situation for continued dancing and moving to the music to say the very least. We walked in on a high-stepping instrumental piece that immediately had us grooving to the beat. Just excellent. They slowed things down for a truly soulful “late night” number next, bringing things to a mellower area. Take a nice, long listen for yourself…you’ll be glad you did:
The brought the energy back up to the frenzied levels of before with their next tune, horns blasting and keys resonating out into the night air. Guitar licks left and right funking the whole situation up. A great way to close out the main stage music for the evening!! Many thanks to Soulive for their unique brand of awesome.
Then, as the narrative of most nights on Jam Cruise goes, we began our late night creep all around the Boat, finding music here and there and everywhere. The Jam Room was thumping late into the night, as to be magically expected. The Spot hadn’t quite yet developed (more on that later). Nighttime munchies and elevator conversations. Wandering and checking out door decorations and the crazy late vibes that permeate the ship from stem to stern. All-in-all a marvelous first night of Jam Cruise 14 - and just barely scratching the surface, too! That is the crazy part of it all!!
Thursday inbound soon, friends!!