As the S.S. Jam Cruise headed back to Miami, attendees soaked up all the music they could during the roving festival’s final 24 hours. At noon, fans sprawled out on the pool deck for the bluegrass stylings of The Lil’ Smokies. The five-piece string band kept things fun in their hour-long set and closed with a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way.”
Afterwards, in the Bliss Lounge, Lettuce trumpeter Eric “Benny” Bloom led his “Really Early Jazzish Show,” featuring special guests like bandmate Nigel Hall, Natalie Cressman and Kenneth Crouth of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. Bloom did a fine job as bandleader, joking with the crowd and playing into a lounge singer shtick that peaked with a hammy performance of “The Love Boat.” Other musical highlights included versions of “Hallelujah I Love Her So” by Ray Charles and “Swingin’ at the Haven” by Branford Marsalis.
Then it was time for Ping Pong Madness. In no time, the Jam Cruise staff quickly converted the Bliss Lounge into a ping pong arena, with three tables and a tournament that featured fans as well as members of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong and The Main Squeeze. After a competitive match, a trophy and a signed Jam Cruise poster were awarded to former Pigeons Playing Ping Pong drummer Dan Schwartz.
A little after 3:00 p.m., Matt Butler’s Everyone Orchestra took the stage at the Stardust Theater. The EO lineup was a veritable who’s who of Jam Cruise 16, with a roster that included Steve Kimock, Tom Hamilton, Holly Bowling, Jennifer Hartswick, Natalie Cressman, Corey Frye of The Main Squeeze, percussionist Mike Dillon, Pete Shand of The New Mastersounds, Shira Elias of Turkuaz, Robert Mercurio of Galactic and many more.
Meanwhile, Keller Williams was up on the pool deck performing solo, with his signature looping technique, layering guitar, bass, vocals and drums. “It’s an honor and a pleasure to be a part of Jam Cruise,” he said.
As day turned into night, Robert Randolph hosted a superjam on the pool deck. During Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” the pedal steel guitarist welcomed a slew of fellow Jam Cruise musicians like artist-at-large Dan Lebowitz, Con Brio frontman Ziek McCarter and The New Mastersounds guitarist Eddie Roberts. George Porter Jr. jumped in on bass for James Brown’s “Gonna Have A Funky Good Time” along with trumpeter Jennifer Hartswick, vocalist Kim Dawson and guitarist Marcus King. The entire set was a revolving door of Jam Cruise artists, and it ended on a high note with a dual tribute to fallen music legends Tom Petty and Col. Bruce Hampton. First, Randolph and company played a cover of Petty’s “Free Fallin’” with vocals by Ivan Neville (Neville played the same song the day before during a stripped down solo set). Finally, the large group of musicians all joined together for “Turn on Your Lovelight” to honor Col. Bruce, with additional lead vocals by Marcus King. “That was one of the most spirited superjams I’ve ever seen,” Jam Cruise co-founder Annabel Lukins said afterwards.
Following Robert Randolph, fans moved indoors to the Stardust for a funkified Lettuce set. The band opened with their original “Mt. Crushmore,” and later treated fans to a lengthy, cerebral jam on Soul Vibrations’ “The Dump.” Then, keyboardist Nigel Hall sang lead on a version of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” They closed the packed set with “Purple Cabbage.”
By 9:00 p.m. saxophone legend Maceo Parker was funking up the pool deck. Midway through his set, the former James Brown and Parliament musician was joined by George Porter Jr. for a funky call-and-response number before eventually making his way to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” Though he’s known for his skills on the sax, Maceo showed off his jazz flute skills during a cover of ‘60s R&B standard “Stand By Me,” before closing with The Isley Brothers’ “Layaway.”
When Gramatik had to pull out of Jam Cruise because of a lingering ankle injury, the festival tapped Electron to fill his slot, and the quartet’s closing set at the pool deck did not disappoint. The band warmed up with songs like “Plan B,” and kicked things into overdrive at the stroke of midnight with a 15+ minute jam on the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street.”
“We’ve just gone and had another best week of our lives out here in the middle of the ocean,” bassist Marc Brownstein said, before thanking Cloud 9 productions. The band then jumped into Pink Floyd’s “Time,” before playing “Grass is Green” and then another Pink Floyd tune, “Fearless.” The covers kept coming with the Dead’s “They Love Each Other.” Brownstein, guitarist Tom Hamilton, keyboardist Aron Magner and drummer Mike Greenfield were then joined for an epic finale of George Michael’s “Freedom,” featuring Ghost Light’s Raina Mullen, Turkuaz’s Sammi Garett, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong’s Jeremy Schon and Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Maurice “Mobetta” Brown.
And while the main stage was officially shut down, the late night jams were just getting started. Galactic closed their final Jam Cruise set with “Quiet Please” as fans shot confetti into the air, and the Jam Room was rocking into the early morning hours, with host Michelangelo Carubba of Turkuaz toasting the crowd and assuring them the party wasn’t quite over yet. As of press time, Carubba’s bandmate Shira Elias was grooving to the 90’s R&B hit “Love Like This,” backed by Lettuce’s Adam Deitch, Aqueous’ Mike Gantzer and Karl Denson keyboardist Kenneth Crouch.
In total, Jam Cruise 16 was a weekend of iffy weather, but guaranteed fun. It continues to be a music festival anomaly, egalitarian in nature and equally welcoming to first-timers and repeat offenders alike, both of whom disembark with visions of returning to the festival-at-sea.