Jam Cruise 2019 (The Ultimate Jam Experience)
It’s been one month since my first Jam Cruise and I honestly don’t knew where to begin with this review. Jam Cruise is indescribable and something that has taken sometime to think about. If you go to Jam Cruise and don’t come back changed, then you didn’t do it right! The entire experience is something that can only be topped by pre-booking and doing it all again in 2020. Seeing so much music; 6 days filled with so many bands that it will make your head spin and not to mention, all the collaborations and sit-ins, it’s hard to remember all or write about them here. I guess, I will break them down in different categories and not worry about which day they played. Bare with me, this one is going to get wild!
Miami, Embarkation and Ports
I began my adventure with a few days in Miami. Having never spent anytime there, it was interesting to see the Latin culture that thrives like a bustling, forgotten Spanish city. The people are flashy and money culture is everywhere. I saw more Lamborghini’s and Ferrari’s then I have ever dreamed of seeing or wish to see again. The food was unique and the beach was packed with the most beautiful people imaginable. I was excited and nervous to arrive at the Miami Port to embark on the Norwegian Jade. While I didn’t take any illegal or illicit drugs on board the boat, my butt was still puckered like a week old grape, as we all lined up while a dog sniffed our belongings and our person. From there, I explored the boat and got settled. This was my first cruise and I had no expectations. I would spend the next 6 days in music heaven, eating like a king and rubbing elbows with some of my favorite musical artists.
Porting in Belize, Cozumel and Progresso; Belize would be where my real adventure happened. My friends and I decided to take a tour to the Mayan Ruins of Altun-Ha, which was about an hour and thirty minutes away. We barely made it on time to explore these ruins, driving through Belize City and outskirts; learning about the local chickens and bread stores, tasting the local dishes and getting just a small taste for this English speaking Creole country. Cozumel and Progresso both had their charms but with only 8 hours at each port, it was hard to explore much.
All of the music onboard Jam Cruise was insatiable. There was not one band on this lineup that did not impress or entertain. While the new effervescent band Kraungbin, was probably the least exciting performance I saw, they were still technically proficient and after listening back, have a unique sound that just doesn’t do much for me live. Getting that out of the way, all the other performances left me mind blown and some without a mind to be blown. The music would begin with Matador Sounds, with members from The New Mastersounds funkin’ up the boat from the very beginning. For this performance, I found myself walking around every position and angle onboard, checking out each deck, finding new spots to hear the music while, watching the oceans waves crest and peak. I really enjoyed seeing the shows on the deck the most and we were blessed with great weather the entire weekend. There would only be one day that I could really feel the boat rocking and swaying. I would have to compensate walking back and forth, as not to stumble or fall down and I wasn’t even drinking.
Best On The Boat!
I had only vaguely heard of “Sweet Dick” Andy Frasco and his World Saving Podcast before getting on the boat and boy, was I in for one of the wildest experiences of my life. I have never witnessed such an orgy of musicians and wild onstage antics. Andy Frasco may just be the GG Allen of the Jam scene. My first time seeing Frasco on the boat, I was awe struck, jaw to the floor as he crowd surfed across the crowd all the way to the soundboard and back. A Jewish Dionysus who would talk about and ingest numerous substances while onstage, and have the crowd join in. I look forward to seeing Andy Frasco and The UN in Roanoke, Va on March 16th and checking out his new album “Change Of Pace” out now.
Both Kamasi Washington’s sets we’re technically and musically extraordinary. Kamasi is the closest thing we will ever see to legends like, Coltrane of Miles Davis. Kamasi seems to embody their spirit while taking jazz and these sounds to another level, a higher elevated plane. I sat across the table from him while I ate my food. I was much too intimidated to say anything of worth. He sat, stern and emotionless like a mountain. He holds his hands out in front of him, clasping his cane. He looked rough and mean but not a second later, a lady pushing a stroller with a baby comes by and Kamasi’s face lights up as he discuss how cute the baby is with everyone around him, smiling widely. I get up enough nerve then to say, “Great set Kamasi.” He responds with a deep nod.
Jam Cruise Most Valuable Performers:
This is a hard one but I would have to say DeShawn “Dvibes” Alexander followed closely by Brandon “Taz” Niederauer. DeShawn seemed to sit in with everyone on the boat this year and must have been hustling to show up in so many sets. During Andy Frasco’s second set, Dvibes would be lifted into the air, doing a handstand while playing a keyboard solo. This was definitely the most impressive feat on the boat. I think Dvibes should host his own jam on the boat next year as he is already playing with everyone anyway.
Brandon “Taz” Niederauer the 15-year-old guitar sensation, was also everywhere and at one moment while he sat in with Leftover salmon, I cried for the 3rd time at a concert in my life. The cool thing about jam Cruise is that I got to share that with him right after. Taz would sit in with almost everybody on the boat but the most memorable moments were with Spafford, Galactic and the Super Jam. The future of this music and guitar is in great hands. I just saw Taz tonight at 5 Points sanctuary in Roanoke Virginia with his very own band and was blown away! Perhaps Jam Cruise should book his entire band so, we can see what he does on his own.
It’s hard for me to really delve deep into all the amazing music and sit in performances on Jam Cruise 17 but some other stand out performances were from: Turquaz, Galactic, Hot Tuna, Everyone Orchestra, Skerik, The Cleaners featuring Marcus King, Everyone Orchestra, Nth Power played bob Marley, Space Kitchen was most impressive featuring, Marc Brownstein, Danny Mayer and many sit-ins from musicians like, Eric Krasno and Karl Denson. Melvin seals and JGB, Jennifer Hartwicks super jam was absolutely fabulous. Some of the cool experiences that I can share is coming across Melvin Seals talking with some friends about Jerry Garcia and actually being a fly on the wall while he discussed Jerry’s life and habits. Talking with Stanton Moore about New Orleans and my dream of living there one day. Walking around with Dvibes meeting everyone from DJ Williams to Andy Frasco himself. Talking with George Porter Jr and Vince Herman on various occasions. All the staff on board from Veneer our room steward to “washy-washy” made this experience that much better. It would be remiss for me not to at least mention or discuss the numerous accounts of people being jailed of put on house arrest. I personally don’t know any of the circumstances surrounding anyone involved. I did hear that the number of people that got in trouble was higher than usual. All I can say to that is, it’s international travel; be safe, be smart and leave the stuff at home or on an island.
Jam Cruise is a once in a lifetime opportunity, the ultimate Jam experience and musical improv “experience “ The cultivation of the scene and the people surrounding it culminates here and I feel more at home than ever on that boat. It’s taken me quite sometime to get my thoughts focused and delve into my favorites. I will definitely be returning next year to Jam Cruise 18 lineup unseen, because it truly doesn’t get any better than 6 days of music on the open ocean.
See you on the boat,
Jam Cruise Purist
New Year, New Life, New Orleans-(Thoughts on Galactic and more)
As I sauntered down Treme, reminiscing on the last time I had been to this city. While at the same time, dreaming of the past. Envisoning New Orleans in the 1800s. This city can feel like a ghost of your own past, a ghoul of memories, a haunt of time. Zombies or regular people, I can’t tell which, go about their daily tasks. Tourists careen the streets with their gawking expressions. Am I one of those? I don’t feel like a stranger here. I feel at home, an old home. I’ve been here before, in another life, in other lives. I returned to New Orleans only two months after my first visit (in this life.) Having heard Galactic had acquired Tipitina’s, I thought it only suiting to return to see them once again at the world famous venue. My thoughts have been consumed with New Orleans; I dream of it; fleur-de-lis as my eyeballs, penetrating my mind. I would see this symbol, adopted by the entire city, everywhere. Just seeing the fleur-de-lis will instantly remind you of New Orleans the birth place of Jazz but wait, just Jazz? No, I think not. All American music can trace its roots to New Orleans or at the very least, the southern area surrounding it. (Bluegrass may be the only exclusion but their instruments are obviously inspired by African culture ie. the banjo much like New Orleans music.) There is no other city in the entire world I would rather spend my New Years than The Big Easy, NOLA, The Crescent City. Shirts with “Fuck You, You Fucking Fuck”, plaster the shops off the streets with tourist traps tempting you with cheap objects. Everyone has a game in New Orleans. Are you willing to play? It’s always better to just have your own game. Cafe Du Monde can still be found coursing through my veins like some leftover virus that beckons for more.
Heading down Tchoupitoulas towards Tipitinas, I found an awesome parking spot right in front of a church with a neon glowing sign; a neon church of Jesus. I came to see Kermit Ruffins, expecting to hear some classic New Orleans songs done in a slurred authentic fashion. The house was packed, sweaty and humid for January. Kermit was obviously having himself a great time, drinking a few and letting other players take the lead. Many of the songs on the set list can be heard on the HBO series Treme like “My Ohh Poo Pah Doo”or “Iko Iko.” Getting to hear Professor Longhairs infamous song, “Tipitina” at Tipitina’s was truly something wondrous as I delve further into New Orleans history and Soul of American music. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!
I would sample many of the taste of New Orleans throughout my visit: Crawfish everything, etouffee, gumbo and, of course, Po boys. If you can fry it, you can get it in NOLA. I chugged my Cafe Du Monde while casting my gaze upon the foggy Mississippi River, imagining the history it must have seen; the people, the lives, the times. The Mississippi is the background music to the city itself, the mouth of America open for all to hear.
Returning to Tipitina’s for Galactic on New Years Eve, I already felt at home and comfortable with my surroundings. I parked beside the neon Jesus church and talked wildly singing, “Tipitina tra la la” at the top of my lungs until I reached the entrance. Everyone was dressed in their best clothes, looking colorful and eclectic in the New Orleans style. The opening act, Mr. Washington was true blues, polished and refined. His red jacket shone like Dorothy’s slippers as she clicked them together. Mr. Washington would round through numerous blues infused songs and bring out a few unknown guests.
Galactic would come on like a jet plane. My position in the crowd happened to be right in front of the PA speakers; my ears were foolishly unprotected and by the end of the night, my head felt like a bowl of jelly, but in the best way possible. I think I can still here the hum of the PA in my head now, as clear as those horns blaring from the boats on the Missippipi. Galactic was dressed to the nines in black and gold suits. Erica Falls beautiful dress was the disco ball of the evening and her voice shown even brighter than her outfit. Bringing out numerous guests, the original lineup was present and the slew of VIP on the side stage made me wonder who was who? Having just bought Tipitina’s, I felt as though this was a truly special show for Galactic and New Orleans as Tipitina’s gets another shot at redemption. We careened out into the streets after the show was finished; smoke em’ if you got em’, drink when you can. I found my way back to the electric Jesus and back down Tchop, swaddled with thoughts of musical bliss.
I wasn’t done with New Orleans yet and Frenchman street was filled with music that would pour out into the streets like a flood of sound. I could spend the rest of my days on Frenchman and feel satisfied musically and that’s saying a lot. The raw energy, the explosiveness of the music and the wildness of the city, all converge on Frenchman. Juxtaposing Frenchman with Bourbon is like comparing Time Square to The Village. Why even bother with the crowds and the fools? Just head down Frenchman and find yourself in numerous venues with great local talent. In just one night, I saw I 6 bands for free, some not my style but all talented. Frenchman is where names are made and dues are paid. Many of the bands would run out into the streets with their horns bringing in new patrons and always carrying their tip bucket. It’s the way of life in New Orleans, the art of the hustle.
New Orleans feels like home to me. As I write this in Virginia, I am still engulfed with visions and sounds of the city. I will be returning for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest and perhaps, I may never return and why should I? In my upcoming Jam Cruise review, I will discuss talking with a few members of Galactic about moving here and maybe one day, I will make it happen! Here is to a New Years in New Orleans; A new me, a new dawn, a new horizon, a new dream, a new opportunity, a new life, a new life in an old city.
New Orleans Purist
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Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.