Jam Cruise 14
Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Cabinet - Paul Hoffman, Anders Beck, & Friends - Snarky Puppy - Lettuce - Con Brio
Not too much worse for the wear just yet, we arose, caffeinated ourselves, pulled our gear together, and got our slap-happy selves up to the pool deck to start the day with a little Cabinet action. This Pennsylvania-based string band was a mighty fine addition to this year’s lineup and we were very grateful to have them aboard. Their unique sound and energy was most certainly appreciated by the audiences they drew, from both bluegrass fan and non-fan alike. I do know that they killed it, however…twice in fact. But we’ll just focus on that first Thursday noon set, shall we? J.P. Biondo took to the mic for their first number, “A Smile”, which had a light and mellow reggae feel to it especially on top of the grooving bass line Dylan Skursky was putting down for us. Nice way to get things going underneath that warm Caribbean sun. Next up they gave us a personal favorite of mine: “The Dove” (or “Dub Dove” in this case) — also with J.P. on lead vocals. But, why not take a quick listen and enjoy?
They took this one directly into the funky instrumental “Mysterio” followed by another favorite, “Heavy Rain”. Love the amazing vocal harmonies in this Pappy Biondo-led one and definitely love them live best. Also dig on Todd Kopec’s fiddle style — it really comes out in this one and adds this fantastic dimension to the song. Later down the set came the track that made me a Cabient fan at DelFest a few years back: “Mr. Spaceman”. Filled with the electric guitar licks of Mickey Coviello, this rock’n’roll number is filled with tongue-in-cheek lyrics and super fun musical textures and lines all buoyed up by Jami Novak’s excellent drumming. “Hey, Mr. Spaceman, won’t you please take me along for a ride?” And what a ride this song takes you on! Fiddle, guitar, banjo care of Pappy…mando thanks to J.P. and all these things wrapped up in the central jam. Oh, and did I mention that they had Ron Holloway join them on saxophone for this one, too? Ron’s incredible sax stylings against Cabinet’s edgy string-band background? Pretty freakin’ unreal to say the least, everyone. The Cabinet boys finally brought their energetic set to a close with a superb “Susquehanna Breakdown” every foot in the crowd tapping or dancing right until the last note. If this was any indication of how Thursday was to go, then we were all of us in for a true treat. Many thanks to Cabinet for getting things started out just right!
Next up on the Lagunitas Stage on the pool deck was a special surprise, indeed. We all knew that Anders Beck and Paul Hoffman of Greensky Bluegrass were hired stringslingers for the duration of the cruise but when we saw five gents on stage vice the two we were expecting, we knew that we were in for something unique and wonderful. Joining Phoffman and Anders were Travis Book (The Infamous Stringdusters) on bass, Cris Jacobs on guitar, and Jay Cobb Anderson (Fruition) on guitar — not a bad supergroup, eh? Someone in the crowd shouted their name should be ‘The Heartthrobs’ and I think it kind of stuck. At least Phoff was heard to like it, however I am getting ahead of myself. They kicked things off with a lively “Frederico” (GSBG rep being the majority of the selections they played) and it was a perfect chance to see how this ad hoc ensemble of acoustic greats gelled together musically. Not that any of us had any reservations, that is. To the contrary…all this group did was live completely up to any and all expectations, exceeding many more. After “Frederico” they played “Fixin’ to Ruin” — we got up nice and close and personal for this one so we could share the magic with you:
These fellows sounds pretty durn amazing, huh? And they just kept laying down the heat, song after song. Then it was time for the soulful and beseeching “Windshield”, a current crowd favorite in the Greensky universe. It was fascinating to hear another ensemble besides GSBG playing this one…this sort of incredible but bizzaro alternate timeline Greensky backing Paul’s heartfelt solo replete with that oh-so iconic dobro line from Anders. Really glad that Anders and Paul decided to put together The Heartthrobs. (See? It’s sticking.) “Demons” was next in line for our musical delight featuring some really exquisite guitar stylings from Mr. Cris Jacobs — another place where it was of interest to see the difference between GSBG and The Heartthrobs especially when counterpointed by the familiar mandolin of Phoffman. And who doesn’t love a little reggae? And a little Bob Marley to boot? “Could You Be Loved” was an apropos cover for the tropical and cheery atmosphere all around the stage underneath that bright seascape sun. Cris and Jay decided to trade guitars on this one, thus furthering the differing sounds of this ensemble. Paul just nailed the solo here, too. Not to mention Jay on the back-up vocals…killing it. Really the whole thing sounded just marvelous. Thanks for that little gift, fellas! Later on down the set we got some more GSBG in the form of “Don’t Lie” which sounded pretty damn great. Again, I have to point out the funny play on the ears that this set threw down for us — Greensky songs played by some of the band with extremely talented friends sitting in. Surreal and supremely fantastic. One of my favorite sets on the entirety of Jam Cruise this year to be sure. Cheers to all five you skilled gentlemen and thanks for sharing!
Later in the day we found ourselves back up on the pool deck at the main stage for some funk love with Snarky Puppy. This was only my second time seeing them so I was pretty psyched to catch some more of their sound and style. So it was to be horns and funk and straight jamming out and I was more than ready for it. This was the perfect way to ramp up an evening scheduled for tons of funk. Their first song was full of nasty good rock mashed up with funk and it was an optimal way to get us all dancing where we stood on the packed, packed pool deck. In listening back through my notes, I was struck over and over by the interplay of horns and guitars and how incredible that sounds, all bolstered by some seriously tight drum work. And then there’s the keyboard skills of distinctive mention. All told it makes for one incredible ensemble sound with layered textures and lines that weave together one ear-opening tapestry of sound and energy. Looking forward to familiarizing myself with Snarky all the more in the future and very grateful that they found their way onto the Boat to be a part of this funk-laden voyage.
Lettuce was another band I was happy to see again as I’ve only seen them a couple of times before. Keeping the funk going loud and proud and adding a healthy dose of soul to the mix, Boston’s Lettuce always makes for a really great time, no matter your musical tastes. And who didn’t love the fact that there were so very many horns on Jam Cruise this year? Horns everywhere you looked. So much funk and New Orleans groove busting out at the seams. It was a brassy smorgasbord of sweet sonorous sound. And Lettuce were certainly no exception providing their own unique spin on the genre. They most certainly had everyone dancing and moving and kicking it to their funky bad selves bringing out guests like Nigel Hall to get down with them. And get down they did…like the bosses they are. Of mention is their penchant for trippy, space-jammy interludes that really grab the ear musically and aesthetically especially in the keyboard lines. Pretty wild stuff at times — gotta love it. Sadly, however, we cut our time with Lettuce a little short this evening in order to grab some much needed food. But that’s not Lettuce’s fault. Jam Cruise is a marathon of sprints, remember? As much as you hate to, sometimes you have to make sacrifices in order to sustain yourself. Then again, the best thing about Jam Cruise is that you usually have a second chance to get your dance on with a band you missed or partially missed. But we’re not done yet!
Con Brio was the big unexpected break out band on Jam Cruise for me this year. Based in San Francisco, this group specializes in “dance-heavy funk” and boy, do they ever. Frontman Ziek McCarter is a tour-de-force with a dynamite voice and some serious showmanship to be reckoned with. I’d place his sound squarely somewhere between Jamiroquai, D’Angelo, Michael Jackson, and Pharrell…but with a sound all his own. And the group? Incredible!! So much energy and what a great ensemble sound! Here is a bit of info taken from their website:
“In 2013, the longstanding rhythm section of keyboardist Micah Dubreuil, bassist Jonathan Kirchner and drummer Andrew Laubacher joined forces with incomparable guitar slinger Benjamin Andrews and McCarter: a Texas transplant who as a 19-year-old had already begun drawing crowds in his new hometown. Add in the fireworks of the Marcus Stephens on tenor saxophone and Brendan Liu on trumpet and you have the skill and confidence that comes from years of stage time and deeply-established musical partnerships with the thirst and energy of a rising star – a bright light who’s just getting started.”
I couldn’t agree more. Several people I spoke with stated that Con Brio was their favorite or a stand out band for them for all of Jam Cruise. I had no idea who they were before setting sail but I will certainly be seeking them out from here on. I would highly recommend these guys to you, my friend. If you love dancing to some funky great groove music, that is. Dirty, dirty good rock’n’roll funk dance music. You know, if you like that sort of thing. The band opened things up with a, surprise, funky one called “Paradise” and that is where we were all first introduced to Ziek’s powerful and beautiful voice. Not only a strong full-voice singer, he is also possessed of a fine falsetto which he uses with great aplomb. They followed this with “Sundown” and later down the set with a song called “Never”. My favorite song of their set had to be “Kiss the Sun” featuring some groovy keyboard work from Micah and some pure funk guitar from Benjamin. All of this providing the foundation for Ziek’s angelic crooning. Moral of this story? Go so this band. Seriously. Follow them and find them and go see this band. Trust me, you’ll be rather glad you did.
We finished out the evening with some more of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, catching the tail end of the set in the Pantheon Theater. A completely epic “Truckin’” dominated the few songs we saw, all members of the band firing on all cylinders. There is nothing like watching that band play that music in that way. That remarkable, one-of-a-kind way. And a great band to lead us into our late night offerings around the Boat, those small moments of magic and mayhem that can only be found in the wee hours of the morn aboard Jam Cruise. Another day was closing down but one more was yet on the horizon. Friday was anon but sleep called in it’s annoyingly insistent way. What a Thursday. What a Thursday, indeed! How couldn’t I look forward to Friday and all that Friday promised? And what a way to fall asleep…filled with gratitude and the fondest of fresh memories…
Friday inbound soon, my friends!!