Jam Cruise 14 got off to a less-than-perfect start yesterday as news broke that the ship would no longer be making a stop in Belize City, Belize as originally intended. Due to circumstances beyond the event’s control, the boat would now be making its way to Costa Maya, Mexico instead. Additionally, George Porter Jr. was forced to cancel his appearance at the last minute, though he was replaced by bass virtuoso Oteil Burbridge.
While not ideal, the news didn’t seem to phase too many of the music lovers that filed into the MSC Divina as the sold out ship prepared to leave Miami. Most of them were just happy to see old friends, make new ones and embark one of the most exciting musical adventures around.
With thousands of giddy—and occasionally costume-clad—revelers on board, the MSC Divina set sail to the sweet sounds of Dumpstaphunk, who headlined the event’s opening set on the pool deck’s main stage. The New Orleans funk powerhouse was augmented by the Steeltown Horns for the duration of their show, adding another layer to explosive songs like “Dancing to the Truth.” One of the night’s highlights came early in the set, when special guests Cris Jacobs (who recorded an album with Ivan Neville as part of their Neville Jacobs project) and Amy Helm (daughter of the late, great Levon Helm) joined the fray for a cover of The Band’s “Don’t Do It.” Funk trombone master Fred Wesley also sat in for a take on Earl King’s “Street Parade.”
Fans that wanted something a little more low-key were in luck too, as Nigel Hall delivered a few tunes from behind the grand piano in the ships gorgeous, sparkling atrium. Guests for that set included Hall’s Lettuce bandmate—and fellow New Orleans resident—Eric “Benny” Bloom, among others.
Over at the main stage, Dumpstaphunk’s performance was followed by a set from New Orleans favorites Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. The band’s first song featured guest percussionist Weedie Braimah, while Ivan Neville took up the keys for most of their show. Shorty and Co. worked through plenty of original material, as well as a cover of The Meters’ “Ain’t No Use” and a rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “Sunny Side of the Street” that saw Wesley return to the stage.
Next up was Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, an all-star Grateful Dead cover act featuring Joe Russo, Marco Benevento, Scott Metzler, Tom Hamilton and Dave Dreiwitz. The group’s high-energy take on the Dead repertoire was a huge hit with the Jam Cruise crowd, whose ranks—unsurprisingly—include more than a few Deadheads. The band was even joined by singer Nicole Atkins, who sat in for “Dancing in the Street” and “Franklin’s Tower.” JRAD was then followed by a late night performance from jazz trio Soulive, who closed out the mainstage around 3:30am.
On the other side of the boat, bluegrass staples The Infamous Stringdusters got things started in the Pantheon Theater, an indoor venue that undoubtedly hosts much less exciting forms of entertainment when Jam Cruise is not in session. The band’s consummate finger-picking was followed by a set from Jazz Fest favorites Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, who added another dose of funk to the night’s festivities. California jamband ALO then closed out the room with their message of peace and love as an assortment of colorful balloons bounced their way around the crowd.
While many of the night’s sets turned into impromptu jam sessions in their own right, there were two officially scheduled moments of improvisation on the bill. Stanton Moore led the first one in the ship’s Golden Jazz Bar, a room whose purple and orange facade is as funky as it is distracting. The Galactic drummer was helped by numerous friends, including Bloom and percussionist Mike Dillon.
The night’s other jam session didn’t even begin until 2am, when New Mastersounds guitarist Eddie Roberts curated a rotating cast of characters that kept the Black and White Lounge grooving into the wee hours (Roberts was called up at the last minute, as Porter was originally scheduled to lead the late night jam session).
Jam Cruise will continue today with sets from Galactic, The New Mastersounds, Lettuce, Lotus, Snarky Puppy, the Southern Soul Assembly, JJ Grey & Mofro, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead and more.
All photos by Jeffrey Dupuis.