Robert Walter back on Jam Cruise 7

Jam Cruise 9 is currently en route from Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Roatan, Honduras. While at sea, almost all of the ship’s performers used the travel day to collaborate on one of the ship’s six stages. The cruise also offered several non-musical activities, including the ship’s annual “Jam Cruise Wedding” and a spicy cooking competition that pitted Widespread Panic keyboardist JoJo Hermann against Col. Bruce Hampton (the latter performer won).

Chicago newgrass outfit Cornmeal officially kicked off the day’s entertainment on the outdoor pool deck stage for “early risers” at 11:45 AM. The former New Groove Jammy winner brought its high-energy performance to a climax with a cover of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” that moved into part of the Grateful Dead’s “Terrapin Station.” Umphrey’s McGee keyboardist Joel Cummins—who is onboard as a roaming performer—joined in on the unique selection. Immediately after, guitarist Brock Butler opened the sun and wind powered Solar Stage with his annual acoustic set. As in year’s past, Butler’s set nodded to modern indie (a Phosphorescent cover), as well as his band Perpetual Groove and his hero Paul Simon (“Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes”). Meanwhile, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars marched across the ship’s deck to take the stage on the Pool Deck performance space.

One of highlights of Jam Cruise is the unique ensembles that the roaming musicians assemble from the ship’s scheduled performers. Trey Anastasio Band’s Jennifer Hartswick was one of the artists to put together a special group for her Jam Cruise set on the solar stage, performing alongside her Van Ghost partner Michael Berg and Butler. After offering some selections from the Van Ghost catalog and a tasty Dawes cover, she also brought out members of the New Mastersounds for the second part of her performance. Likewise, after delivering a few solo tunes on the Solar Stage, Zach Deputy invited out both Karl Denson and Cummins for portions of his outdoor show (Deputy sat in with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe a few yards away a night earlier). Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk also performed a late afternoon set on the Pool Deck stage that boasted cameos by Lettuce keyboardist Nigel Hall and Meters bassist George Porter Jr.

Later in the day, the all-star Jimi Hendrix tribute band Some Cat From Japan hosted Wednesday’s most eclectic jam session on the Pool Deck. The new project—which features bassist Ron Johnson, drummer Eric Bolivar, guitarists Will Bernard and Scott Metzger and keyboardist Nigel Hall—opened its set with “Freak Out,” “Who Knows” and “Manic Depression.” The parade of guests started with Bob Weir, who emerged to sing and play guitar on Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” Guitarist/singer Eric McFadden appeared next on high-energy versions of “I Don’t Live” and “Little Wing” while Tony Hall took over on vocals for “Them Changes.” Percussionists Mike Dillon and Wally Ingram, bassist Nick Daniels, keyboardists Robert Walter and Joel Cummins and members of the Lettuce Horns also sat in at various points throughout the set.

Marco Benevento performed a solo acoustic set on a grand piano set up in the ship’s grand three-level lobby. As his children ran around, Benevento presented material from his various projects—ranging from the Benevento/Duo’s “Sunny’s Song” to his trio’s “Real Morning Party” to the Led Zeppelin covers he performs with Bustle in Your Hedgerow. He also drew from his recent cover album Me Not Me with a take on My Morning Jacket’s “Golden.” Oddly enough, Benevento’s set overlapped with the first part of his Surprise Me Mr. Davis bandmate Nathan Moore’s solo set in the Zebra Lounge. Moore performed a set of solo acoustic songs and magic tricks while accompanied by a Brobee doll from the show Yo Gabba Gabba! Near the end of his set, Moore invited out Bryan Elijah Smith, who co-wrote, produced and engineered his new studio album Dear Puppeteer. The paired performers also previewed a new boat-themed song they wrote while onboard.

Jam Cruise’s night offerings featured a mix of New Orleans-inspired funk and San Francisco jambands. The Zebra Lounge hosted back-to-back sets by ALO and the New Mastersounds. ALO jammed with Lee Boys’ Roosevelt Collier and Pee Wee Ellis while New Mastersounds brought out Maceo Parker, Ellis and members of the Greyboy Allstars (who cancelled their official set but are still onboard with their various other groups).

A room away, Bob Weir, Rob Wasserman & Jay Lane Are Scaring the Children headlined the Teatro Carlo Felice. Steve Kimock sat in with the group for the second day in a row. The guitarist performed throughout the almost three-hour show, which included songs like “Friend of the Devil,” “KC Moan,” “It’s Alright Now Baby Blue,” “Me & My Uncle,” “New Minglewood Blues,” “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” “Easy to Slip,” “Jack Straw,” “Ashes & Glass,” “Help on the Way,” “Slipknot,” “Iko Iko,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “The Other One,” “Franklin’s Tower” and “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad.” Though some of Jam Cruise’s headliners have kept to themselves on past cruises, Weir has embraced the ship’s collaborative spirit. In addition to his own shows and sit-ins with Karl Denson and Some Cat From Japan, Weir also joined the recently reunited God Street Wine in the Teatro Carlo Felice for three songs around 1:30 AM: “Book of Rules,” “Dark Hallow”, “The Race Is On” and “Dear Prudence.” As Weir took the stage during a jam, GSW guitarist Lo Faber jokingly described the guitarist as “one of the rising stars of the jamband scene.”

Likewise, the ship’s Pool Deck stage also hosted some intriguing New Orleans jam sessions. Galactic—the only band to appear on every Jam Cruise—played a two hour set that featured appearances by Fred Wesley, Corey Glover, Corey Harris and Mike Dillon, among others. The set came to a powerful close when American Idol star Taylor Hicks, Karl Denson and Will Bernard all emerged for a final jam. Soon after, Widespread Panic keyboardist JoJo Hermann performed with his Mardi Gras band. As its name suggests, JoJo’s Mardi Gras Band pays tribute to the Big Easy, and the group’s show featured appearances by New Orleans heroes George Porter Jr., Ian Neville, Anders Osborne and Big Chief Monk Bourdreaux. A less obvious guest was Hicks who—despite his mainstream fame—considers himself a core part of the jamband community. He even played in a Widespread Panic cover band in college.

As of press time, music was still taking place in the ship’s all night Jam Room. Percussionist Wally Ingram served as night two’s curator and countless musicians moved through the stage as the evening rolled on. One particularly interesting jam session summed up the day’s activities, bringing together Ingram, Kimock, Tiny Universe guitarist Brian Jordan, Brock Butler, Roosevelt Collier, Porter and Stockholm Syndrome/Gov’t Mule keyboardist Danny Louis.