Jam Cruisers awoke to the sight of crystal blue water on Jan. 8, as the ship made its first stop at the private island of Ocean Cay, Bahamas.
And while organizers chose to alter the music schedule slightly – an impending storm forced Keller Williams’ island set onto the pool deck at 3 p.m. – both Ryan Montbleau and Brock Butler managed to get some performances in on dry land. (The latter opened his set with “Time to Move” by Tom Petty and later offered versions of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and “Summer’s End” by John Prine.)
Once cruisers had enough of the island’s sun and surf, they embarked the MSC Divinia once again for the aforementioned Keller Williams Grateful Grass set, which pleased both Deadheads and twangers alike.
Artist-at-large Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz made his first appearance of the day, playing guitar on Williams’ entire set, which kicked off with “Feel Like A Stranger.”
During the “Lets get on with the show” lyric, Williams was sure to add some island flair with an extra, “Vámanos. Let’s go.”
“What an honor to be on the stage in the sun with these beautiful people,” Williams added following a nice pairing of “Scarlet Begonias” > “Wharf Rat.”
Later, Montbleau joined in to sing a duet version of “Dupree’s Diamond Blues” before sticking around to sing “Friend of the Devil” with the entire collective.
Grateful Grass ended their set with two Dead favorites “Eyes of the World” and “Bertha.”
Afterwards – as the late afternoon sun bobbed and weaved through blue skies and clouds – some fans stretched out on the back deck doing yoga to the tranquil sounds of sacred steel expert Roosevelt Collier, drummer Michaelangelo Carubba (Turkuaz) and bassist Matt Lapham of Collier’s band.
Meanwhile, Samantha Fish and Walter “Wolfman” Washington explored the “Art of the Blues” in the ship’s Jazz Lounge.
Highlights included Washington’s take on Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” Fish’s version of The Cineemas’ “Never Gonna Cry” and a nice back-and-forth blues jam between the two guitarists in the key of B minor.
Naturally, as the sun went down, Voodoo Night began to take hold of Jam Cruise, as demons, voodoo dolls and Dr. John look-a-likes roamed the halls and concert venues onboard.
Ivan Neville’s intimate Atrium set had many of his musical friends coming out of the woodwork. A cover of Dave Matthews Band’s hit “Crash Into Me” included Tony Hall, Karl Denson and Cris Jacobs, and was followed by an Neville/Jacobs duet on “Landslide.”
Neville yelled sidestage for Marcus King to join the party, and sure enough – red telecaster in hand – King was prepared and played on a killer version of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” with Robert “Sput” Searight of Ghost-Note on drums and Hall on bass.
The most emotional moment of the set came when Neville invited George Porter Jr. to pay tribute to their fallen friend/family member Art Neville. Rounding out the jam was Dumpstaphunk guitarist Ian Neville – Art’s son – as Ivan sang The Neville Brothers’ “Sitting In Limbo.”
Back on the main pool deck stage, Circles Around The Sun tapped into their Dead-inspired sounds, with newly-enlisted guitarist Eric Krasno.
“Hey everybody. I have one request, just leave it all out on the floor… no regrets,” bassist Dan Horne told the crowd.
As previously mentioned the theme of the night was Voodoo Night and Cloud 9’s Annabel Lukins was sure to bring that NOLA connection while introducing the following main-stage act Galactic.
“New Orleans is a huge part of the heartbeat of Jam Cruise and this band is a huge part of the New Orleans music scene,” she said.
“I feel like I’m in New Orleans right now, I ain’t gonna lie to you,” featured singer Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph later added.
Undoubtedly, the most talked about moment of Galactic’s set was Montbleau singing lead vocals on Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me,” with a special guest verse by Chali 2na.
“Can we do that again?” Montbleau said with a laugh, before staying onstage for “Domino,” a track he recorded with the band on their 2015 album Into The Deep.
Down in the Pantheon Theatre, moe. picked up on the NOLA energy with a mid-set take on “House of the Rising Sun” and hammered home the cruise’s ongoing tropical atmosphere with “Buster” to close out the set.
As things got hot and steamy for Eric “Benny” Bloom’s Golden Jazz Bar jam – with appearances by the Philly Horns, Eric Krasno, Mike Dillon and more – Pigeons Playing Ping Pong enjoyed the breezy pool deck stage for their late-night set.
“They’re def one of the most popular bands that have ever played Jam Cruise,” Lukins said of PPPP in her introduction, and singer-guitarist Greg Ormont echoed that gratitude, saying, “We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. Since our last cruise [in 2018].”
A “Porcupine” opener led into a Philly Horns sit-in for “Whoopie,” but the best sit-in of the set was probably Lebo channeling his band ALO as he added his acoustic guitar to an impressive “Julia”> “Plastic Bubble”> “Julia” segment, fusing together original music by both bands.
The band then welcomed internet sensation Saxsquatch to play on “Water” and eventually fused together The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” for an uptempo rave.
The Philly horns returned one last time for PPPP’s “F.U.” closer, and as the clock neared 4 a.m. Jam Cruisers headed to the Jam Room – hosted by Robert “Sput” Searight – for music until dawn.
“We’re Pigeons Playing Ping Pong and it’s a dream to be back on the boat,” Ormont said in closing.
Jam Cruise continues through Jan. 11.