To Jam (musically) is to improvise without boundaries.
To Jam Cruise is to be a captive participating audience exposed to boundless musical improvisation while being on a ship.
As you can see there is no definition that can concisely put into words the spectacle that is Jam Cruise. Thus, those of us who are lucky enough to be “Repeat Offenders”, have resorted to just saying “Happy Jam Cruise!” Which in and of itself is more than sufficient for most situations, much like the word Aloha! If you are a lover of good music and good musicians, then Jam Cruise is the place you need to be. And Jam Cruise 9 was definitely the place to be!
This year we left to warm balmy weather from Fort Lauderdale aboard the MSC Poesia. Many of the cruisers coming from parts of the country requiring respite from a particularly harsh winter, shaking off the snow and chills as they made their way up the gangway. It always amazes me to see the pent up anticipation in the Cruisers as they patiently wait through the boarding process. With eyes bugging out and shit-eating grins, you can feel that something special is about to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it. Cloud 9 Adventures keeps upping the ante and out doing themselves every year, where I now come with no expectations and just know that I will be blown away.
Perhaps the most important performance on Jam Cruise is at the Sail Away Party. The artist chosen for this coveted spot sets Jam Cruise in motion. This year it was none other than Big Sam’s Funky Nation that got everyone dancing. Pulling away from the port to Big Sam’s slide trombone and foot stomping on the Pool Deck stage, you instantly knew you were in the right place. You could feel the 11 months of Jam Cruise separation anxiety melt away. As parkas and long underwear made way to miniskirts and shorts. And this was only the beginning.
Bob Weir and the Rhythm Devils were the headliners on the boat, although not at the same time. As one got on, the other got off. So there was no hope of any on-ship reunion. But for a Dead Head it was a treat none-the-less. As Bob Weir played the first night, a comment to me was “Where did all these hippies come from.” My response “They were always here, they just need the right circumstances to come out.” Well both Bob Weir and the Rhythm Devils did just that…they brought out the hippies in all of us. A rousing reminder of the days of innocence and adventure, as we sang along to those songs we knew and loved. The Pool Deck Stage has this intimate small club feel with plenty of space to dance. You always feel as though it is some secret show that only people in the know were invited to. And our ice cream cart is stationed stage right, smack dab in the middle of it all.
My only qualm with Jam Cruise is stacking artists against each other. Having to choose between performances is probably the most agonizing thing you will do on the boat. Do I see Robert Randolph on the Pool Deck? or Anders Osborne in the Theater? or The New Mastersounds in the Zebra Lounge? or George Porter, Jr. in the Jam Room? Luckily the artists play two sets, so at some point you will have a chance to catch them. Otherwise just stay at one performance long enough and a lot of those artists will come through and sit in with whichever band you are watching. For example having Corey Glover from Living Colour belt out “Purple Haze” with Robert Randolph or Taylor Hicks blowing a mean harmonica with Jo Jo Hermann’s Mardi Gras Band. Yes. I said Taylor Hicks. He surprised me as well as everyone else, as he definitely held his own playing with Jam Cruise heavyweights. Taylor was like a kid in a candy store in total awe and amazement as he roamed the ship.
As you wander the boat music oozes from around every corner. With the likes of Zach Gill and Jo Jo Hermann playing the grand piano in the Atrium to Nathan Moore holding court on the deck outside the Jam Room. At some given point you will walk into something that will draw you in and make you a believer. That for me was Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, and The Newmastersounds as I roamed the ship with Tami and a cooler full of ice cream, providing late night treats to those in need. You don’t need to have any knowledge of the artist, just an open mind and you will be pleasantly surprised.
The days at sea we slung ice cream on the Pool Deck, enjoying the likes of ALO, Maceo Parker, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, and The Pimps of Joytime in the tropical sun. It is a rough job, but those Jam Cruisers need their ice cream. This year our port stops were at Roatan, Honduras and Costa Maya, Mexico. When in port we always participate in the outing put on by Positive Legacy, the Jam Cruise charity. This year we visited the Sandy Bay community on Roatan. Where Jam Cruisers donated school supplies, including 8 laptops, were dropped off for the kids in the community. Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis, Nathan Moore, ALO, The Pimps of Joytime, and Matt Butler of Everyone Orchestra came along to perform for the community. The great Miami artist Lebo painted a wall mural for the community to display, which I am thrilled to say I had a chance to add a few brush strokes. We were treated to a local lunch of chicken stew, coconut rice, plantains, and fresh coconut water. After which we had the opportunity to sling 450 ice cream to the kids in the community. Nothing like a smile on a kid with an ice cream. I highly recommend the Positive Legacy outings if you are on Jam Cruise.
As soon as Jam Cruise started, it seemed as though it was ending with close out performances by Robert Randolph and Lotus. Jam Cruisers left nothing on the table as they stumbled back to their room, or if they had something left found their way to the final Jam Room being hosted by Steve Kimock. Once again we were honored to be slinging ice cream on the boat. Many thanks to Mat “Camino” Wenthe for running the ice cream cart, Tami “Bayou Lena” Broussard for running around with the cooler, and Tom Zinn for the photography.
As the days fade into night and back into day, our time on Jam Cruise seems ephemeral yet eternal. Like a good dream that you don’t want to end, but it does. The great thing about a good dream is that it can keep you going through the rest of the year. Until you wake up on Jam Cruise next year. Happy Jam Cruise!
P.S. We do have a poster of the Pool Deck Stage at sunset available here for $15. Part of the proceeds will be donated to Positive Legacy. It is a great reminder of where you need to be every January.
Also we have some cool time lapse videos: