Jam Cruise 9 departed from Ft. Lauderdale, FL last night and is currently sailing toward Roatan, Honduras. This year’s musical focus is firmly on funk as well as the music of the Grateful Dead.

Big Sam’s Funky Nation performed on the cruise’s poolside annual “Sail Away Party” and brought its set to an energetic climax with a cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” The Funky Nation also hosted Jam Cruise 9’s first official sit in when founding Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli emerged partway through Big Sam’s set. The collaboration marked Nocentelli’s initial appearance aboard Jam Cruise, where he is one of this year’s guest performers.

The true evening’s marquee poolside set, however, featured Scaring the Children, the trio of RatDog founders Bob Weir, Rob Wasserman and Jay Lane. Weir is the first founding member of the Grateful Dead to perform on the ship but not the last—both Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann will perform on the ship later this week with their Rhythm Devils project. Kreutzmann is already on the ship and could be seen roaming the halls and checking out different bands. Scaring the Children performed just after sunset as the ship left land and moved into the ocean.

Scaring the Children began its classic trio mode but soon expanded to a quartet with Steve Kimock joining in for most of his show. Kimock added guitar to such song as: “Walkin’ Blues,” “Fever,” “El Paso,” “Cassidy,” “Truckin’,” “Money for Gasoline,” Two Djinn,” “Sugaree” and “Touch of Grey.” Kimock, Lane and Wasserman also offered one of RatDog’s regular “stuff” improvisational segments.

Rob Wasserman performed on the first Jam Cruise and helped inspire the ship’s trademark Jam Room by participating in a “Jazz Jam” but has not performed on the ship in seven years. Another musician making his second appearance on Jam Cruise is Robert Randolph. Last year, Randolph performed with his super group The Word and, last night, Randolph returned with his own Family band for a show in the Carlo Felice theater. The pedal steel guitarist welcomed numerous guests throughout his set, including his longtime friend Eric Krasno, Ivan Neville, Big Sam and American Idol champ Taylor Hicks, who appeared on “Thriller” (Hicks actually attended Jam Cruise 2 as a fan before rocketing to international fame).

As the night progressed, several sets opened up into extended, funk-based jam sessions. According to the traveling festival’s schedule, Anders Osborne was scheduled to perform in the Carlo Felice Theater with his longtime bassist Carl DuFrene and Galactic drummer Stanton Moore. Instead, Osborne expanded his backing band to include the rest of Moore’s trio—keyboardist Robert Walter and guitarist Will Bernard—who toured with Osborne throughout 2010. In addition, Osborne’s recent guitarist Scott Metzger, saxophonist Skerik and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux all joined in the set. Meanwhile on the ship’s pool deck, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe anchored a family-style jam session that featured appearances by keyboardist Nigel Hall, Big Sam, Robert Walter, Will Bernard and Zach Deputy, who Denson cited as one of his favorite performers. Yet, the evening’s most intriguing moment took place around 2 AM when Weir, James Brown/P-Funk trombonist Fred Wesley and Skerik all stepped out with the band and special guest Hall for a funky improvisational sequence. Weir was timid at first but delivered several choice riffs while Denson and Wesley soloed. The set marked the second time in a week Hall has performed with a member of the Dead—he played two shows with Kreutzmann at New York’s Sullivan Hall earlier in the week.

The evening’s Jam Room officially opened at midnight with bassist Tony Hall (Dumpstaphunk/Trey Anastasio Band) serving as the evening’s host. As expected, the jam session morphed considerably as the night marched toward dawn. One collaboration brought together Hall, guitarist Ian Neville, drummer Raymond Weber, trombonist Big Sam and Gov’t Mule’s Danny Louis (the Mule keyboardist is onboard as a member of Stockholm Syndrome). Eric Krasno, Nigel Hall, Adam Deitch, longtime Tiny Universe bassist Ron Johnson and others also rotated at various points in during the wee hours of the morning.

Jam Cruise continues today with performances by Scaring the Children, God Street Wine, ALO and many others.