There were clear skies and big smiles in every direction as Jam Cruise made its way to Costa Maya, Mexico yesterday. The weather was a fortunate turn of events, but the smiles were more or less expected. This is a boatload of musicians and music fanatics sailing through the tropics in the middle of January, after all.
The cruise-festival’s first full day at sea began with a pool deck set from rising bluegrass act Cabinet, as well as a yoga class from guitarist Will Bernard and a Ba Duan Jin exercise lesson from Karl Denson. Other early performances included Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, as well as a rare duo gig from Greensky Bluegrass’ Paul Hoffman and Anders Beck. The early afternoon also featured a couple of workshops, with a number of cruisers heading to the Pantheon Theater to get a few drumming and concert photography pointers from the pros.
The pool deck really began to fill up when JJ Grey & Mofro took the stage around mid-afternoon. Southern rock fans were delighted to see North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson sitting in with the band for much of their set, which also featured a guest appearance by saxophonist Ron Holloway (Dickinson is a member of the Southern Soul Assembly with JJ Grey).
Next up was progressive music powerhouse Snarky Puppy, whose old school jazz prowess provided the perfect foundation for their forward-thinking fusion of instrumental rock, jazz, world music and more. The group also got some help from from percussionist Weedie Braimah, who delivered a rousing drum jam with Snarky P percussionist Nate Werth and drummer Larnell Lewis.
With the sun now decidedly over the horizon, attentions turned to “Level Up,” the night’s video-game inspired costume theme. Hundreds of music lovers dressed as characters from the worlds of Atari, Super Nintendo (think Pac Man and Mario) could be seen scattered around the pool deck, where Lettuce was cooking up another one of their supremely funky sets. Over in the Pantheon, things stayed a little more low-key as Anders Osborne, JJ Grey, Marc Broussard and Luther Dickinson teamed up to form the Southern Soul Assembly (the group even got some help from Osborne’s bassist Carl Dufrene for a few tunes).
The night’s most exciting party was likely the pool deck set from Galactic, who—in keeping with their storied Jam Cruise history—welcomed a bevy of friends to the stage throughout their performance. Mike Dillon joined in for the entirety of the show, while the band’s current touring vocalist Erica Falls joined the fray for much of the set as well. Surprise guests included guitarists Leo Nocentelli, Will Bernard and Vernon Reid, along with Johnny Sansone, Bernard Purdie, Ivan Neville, Ron Holloway and Con Brio singer Ezekiel McCarter.
Over in the Pantheon Theater, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead were busy with their second show in as many days. The Grateful Dead tribute act even got some help from singer Nicole Atkins—who took up the role of one-time Dead backing vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux—and singer Amy Helm, who sat in for the cruise’s second rendition of The Band’s “Don’t Do It” (Helm also joined Dumpstaphunk for the song the previous day).
British quartet the New Mastersounds then brought their smooth brand of funk to the pool deck for a late night set, while Lotus kept the party going in the Pantheon Theater. The jamtronica mainstays may have been the only band to musically reference the night’s costume theme when they worked in a cover of the theme music from the classic video game series Zelda.
As is tradition, last night featured a pair of official jam sessions on opposite ends of the boat. The relatively early (midnight to 2am) jazz jam was led by New Orleans resident Eric “Benny” Bloom, while his Lettuce bandmate Adam Smirnoff curated the after hours (2am to whenever) jam in the Black and White Lounge.
Jam Cruise will continue today with a stop in Costa Maya, Mexico, in addition to performances by Dr. John & The Nite Trippers, Lettuce, Electron, Dumpstaphunk, Soulive, Stanton Moore Trio, The Infamous Stringdusters, Zach Deputy, The Werks, Marco Benevento, Rayland Baxter and many more.
All photos by Jeffrey Dupuis.