Jam Cruise was abuzz Wednesday afternoon, as attendees eagerly awaited the first notes of their five-day musical vacation. After settling into their rooms, tasting the boat’s selection of bites and brews, and watching a mandatory safety seminar, the S.S. Jam Cruise (also known as the Norwegian Jade) hit the seven seas, beginning a journey that will eventually take music fans to Roatán, Honduras and Grand Cayman Island.
“[Jam Cruise] is a community, a lifestyle, a way to take each day and realize how lucky we are to have this family,” said Jam Cruise co-founder Annabel Lukins, before The New Mastersounds officially kicked off the festival’s first set. With an orange sunset burning in the background, the UK funk-soul quartet wasted no time, getting funky from the get-go by welcoming Pimps of Joytime vocalist Kim Dawson to the stage for a version of “It’s Your Thing” by The Isley Brothers. Frontman Eddie Roberts then dedicated a cover of James Gang’s “Funk #49” to his wife, who he was celebrating an anniversary with. Later, the band invited percussionist/Jam Cruise special guest Mike Dillon onstage to show off his prowess on the congas, especially during a drum section on Kool and the Gang’s “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight” wherein Dillon and drummer Simon Allen found and explored a killer groove.
Inside, fans looking for a change of pace were treated to an intimate John Medeski set at the seventh-deck Atrium lounge. Over 45-minutes Medeski stitched together avant-garde piano compositions as ambient overhead lighting that pulsed with his playing. The short set acted as a musical appetizer for the full Medeski Martin Scofield and Wood set later in the night.
Greenville, SC’s own Marcus King enjoyed his first Jam Cruise last night, performing his first of two sets this weekend in the Stardust Theater. Playing his cherry-red Gibson guitar he took center stage early, but through his performance the 21-year old took time to meld his sound into his band’s, making it all the sweeter when his Southern-rock solos reemerged. Highlights included a tease of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” and a cover of CSNY’s protest anthem “Ohio” and a venue-wide singalong of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.” King also played a new tune he co-wrote with Eric Krasno, entitled “So Cold.” As lovelorn anguish wailed through his guitar, King sang, “What’s done is done/ move on move on.”
Back up on the seventh deck, Holly Bowling played a duo of the Dead’s “Lost Sailor” and Phish’s “Divided Sky” which had fans in attendance hooting and hollering despite the Atrium’s more restrained atmosphere. She also played her original composition “Proxima B” which led to another Phish interpretation, “Free.” Dan Lebowitz of ALO also joined in on acoustic guitar and sing vocals on “Bird Song.”
Meanwhile, legendary saxophonist Maceo Parker, who played with James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic and Prince, kept things funky. Eight years since his last Jam Cruise, Parker nodded to his past with George Clinton, playing “P Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up).” Acting as a conductor as much as a bandleader, Parker led his battalion of musicians into funkified territory, also being sure to show off his own skills, blowing into his gold-plated sax.
Ironically, on a night with the unofficial theme of “Purple Rain,” the weather took a drizzly turn for Medeski, Martin, Scofield and Wood’s first headlining set. Cold wind and mist delayed their performance by 15 minutes, but eventually the quartet got the crowd dancing, and nobody seemed to mind the weather. In a dynamic, jam-oriented set Medeski, Martin, Scofield and Wood played originals like “Miles Behind” as well as covers like instrumental takes on The Doors’ “Light My Fire” and- in John Scofield’s words- a “very appropriate” version of Bob Marley’s “Legalize It.” The horns from Afrobeat collective Antibalas joined the party for some reggae-infused tunes, before they ended their set around 1:15 a.m.
As music went into the early morning hours, fans had a choice between a collaborative Naughty Professor/Chali 2na set, the jamtronica stylings of Lotus or a superjam hosted by the legendary Meters bassist George Porter Jr. DJ Logic also held down the decks at the Bliss Lounge supplying beats for fans eager to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. As of press time all four sets were rocking in their own ways: Naughty Professor played a number of songs from their new LP Identity, Lotus explored their own spacey compositions, and George Porter Jr., a Jam Cruise regular, was given a warm welcome by musicians and fans alike.