What follows is a report from a “virgin” cruiser, experiencing his very first Jam Cruise. All I can say is I am now hooked! Hearing other people’s descriptions for years now simply does not do this experience justice. As I arrived at port on January 3rd to await my turn to board the majestic MSC Poesia, the excitement could be felt like the charged air before a lightening storm. The hour and a half wait in line afforded me time to meet several people around me, and for me to receive a small glimmer of what was in store for me over the next five days. Upon finally getting my bags into my cabin, I took the next several hours before the ship left port to explore my surroundings and get acquainted with the vessel that would host this amazing festival. With beds, showers, swimming pool, hot tubs, casino and 24 hour dinning, it was clear that this was a step above your usual festival. Watching the stage crew set up the main stage on the pool deck of the ship, it was clear that this was like a reunion for many people. I watched as cruisers who hadn’t seen each other since the last Jam Cruise, embraced each other like long lost brothers and sisters.
As the ship finally disembarked from Ft. Lauderdale, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave started the party off right with an amazing set on the pool deck. The sweet sound of horns helped set the tone for the entire trip. This performance was followed by Dark Star Orchestra, The Mother Hips, and The Word. By this point, its was almost 4am and this happy cruiser sought out his cabin with its warm bed. The next day seemed to pass by in a blur. With outstanding performances by Railroad Earth, in which Keith Moseley filled in on bass for Johnny Grubb, followed by The Motet plays The Talking Heads and then OHMphrey, the night started off with serious dancing on the pool deck. Galactic took over the late night duties in the Teatro Carlo Felice Theater at the bow of the ship, ending their 3 ½ hour set at 4am. With the anticipation of arriving early the next morning in Ocho Rios, Jamaica to go river tubing, I once again made my way to my cabin.
Upon awaking the next morning, I discovered rain to be dumping out of the cloud laced sky. I decided that tubing down a river in the pouring rain did not sound like any fun and resigned myself to remaining on the ship. After an hour or so the rain let up enough that I decided to go check out one of the local beaches. I was not the only one with this plan as the beach I arrived at was filled with fellow cruisers. I spent the next few hours lounging on the beach and venturing out into the water on a rented jet ski. As the rain started up again, it was a mad dash back to ship, with many people using their towels as umbrellas. Once the ship left Jamaica, John Brown’s Body began the night’s festivities on the pool deck, followed by another amazing Railroad Earth set, this time in the beautiful indoor theater away from the slight rain that still lingered around the boat. As luck would have it, this precipitation disappeared before Lotus took to the main stage for an intense 3 hour set. Knowing that Lotus would be playing again, I ducked out early in order to catch the single performance of one of my personal favorites, the Kyle Hollingsworth’s Band. Kyle’s Band played to full audience, where fans danced the night away into the early hours of the morning.
I was once again determined to take advantage of the excursions that the cruise ship offered and upon arriving to a beautiful sunny day in the Grand Cayman Islands, disembarked for a Rays and Reef snorkeling trip. Fellow cruisers and I where taken off shore to beautiful sand bar where we got to hand feed sting rays as they swam around our feet. Once I was back on the boat, I headed to the Zebra Bar, where members of Railroad Earth and Hot Buttered Rum where hosting a Pickin’ Party, in which cruisers who had brought their instruments with them for the voyage where invited to all play together for an acoustic set. The highlight of the night was defiantly seeing Zappa plays Zappa tear down the minds of eager listeners with their faithful reproduction of the legendary Frank Zappa’s work.
The last day at sea was once again filled with wonderful music coming at you from all directions. Steve Kimock’s Crazy Engine helped to wake me up from my slumber, after which I headed to the Everyone Orchestra hosted my Matt Butler. It was an awesome sight to behold, seeing so many musicians on stage at one time, from all kinds of different bands, being directed by Butler. As an added benefit, this was a ticketed event in which the proceeds went to offsetting the carbon emissions from the various forms of travel that people used to arrive in Florida for Jam Cruise. The ending of this show lead to a parade of drums, fans and musicians marching up 6 flights of stairs to the pool deck for a huge group photo of all the artists who participated in Jam Cruise. As the stage cleared, George Porter hosted a super jam that had an amazing line up of guest musicians sitting in. This was followed another set from Zappa plays Zappa and Lotus closing out my night.
As the ship heads full steam back for Ft. Lauderdale through the middle of the night, I can’t help but feel sad that this journey is coming to an end. The past five days have seemed to just fly by, with each day bringing more fun, friends, and good times than the one that came before it. I think that a large part of the magic that is Jam Cruise is the exclusivity. While the high price tag will deter many from being able to come along, those who saved and worked hard for their tickets received far more than what they had to pay. With every location offering spectacular views of the stage, and with musicians’ just wondering around the boat meeting and interacting with fans left and right, it seems like you were given a backstage pass to a huge festival where all your favorite bands are playing. I am now hoping the next year fly’s by as I can not wait to be waiting in line once again to board the boat for the wonderful adventure that is Jam Cruise.