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Published: 2009/01/08

Jam Cruise Day 4: Simon Says Live Karaoke

One quality that differentiates Jam Cruise from almost any other festival
is that there is virtually no dividing line between artists and fans. So
on any given day you may find Chris Wood playing ping pong next to you on
the pool deck, Bill Nershi eating at an adjacent table in the cafeteria or
most any musician sitting nearby at one of the ship’s many bars throughout
the night and early morning.
That also means that as the comfort level naturally rises over the course
of the five-day event, Jam Cruise’s various fan-musician activities take on
an even looser, more fraternal feel. After the ship departed from Costa Maya,
Mexico on Wednesday afternoon, the New Mastersounds led a group of fans in a
giant game of Simon Says in the ship’s rooftop pool. A bit later, an ALO-led band
also featuring Ron Johnson (Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe), Joel Cummins
(Umphrey’s McGee) and Jackie Greene and members of the New Mastersounds
served as the backing band for a round of live karaoke (during
one particularly endearing moment the New Mastersounds’ wives and
girlfriends took the stage to sing with their mates as the ‘supergroup’
W.A.G.).
Likewise, Bill Nershi, Keith Moseley, Drew Emmitt and Andy Stone
hosted an open pickin’ party where passengers could bring their
instruments and play with the jamgrass all-stars on sing-a-long versions
of campfire favorites like ‘Not Fade Away’ and ‘Will the Circle Be
Unbroken.’ Both Joel Cummins and ALO’s Zach Gill also followed John
Medeski’s lead by entertaining fans on the ship’s glass grand piano. The
latter musician’s 30-minute performance culminated with a fitting cover of
Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ that saw fans singing the song’s chorus in unison
while hunched over multi-levels of the atrium’s exposed balcony.
The ship’s various musician cliques also meshed more and more with each
other as the vacation progressed, leading to some of the week’s most
interesting collaborations. Michael Franti boarded the ship in Mexico with
a skeletal band of guitarist J Bowman and bassist Carl Young (Spearhead)
that felt consciously designed for sit-ins. A number of familiar
faces rounded out the trio at various points in the evening and, at one
point, Franti even invited up some passengers for a quick jam. Two
particularly noteworthy sequences saw Eric Krasno, Jeff Sipe and
Brock Butler (Perpetual Groove) all sitting in with the Spearhead leader
on an extended version of ‘Everyone Deserves Music’ and both Butler and
Kris Myers (Umphrey’s McGee) riffing on ‘I Got Love For You.’
The day’s confirmed entertainment also offered some surprises. As the ship
set sail from Costa Maya, Bonerama entertained fans on both the MSC
Orchestra and a few hundred passengers on a neighboring vessel who sat on
their ship’s deck to watch the festivities. George Porter Jr., Brian
Stoltz and Robert Walter all took the stage at various points throughout
the set and all three musicians appeared on a funky version of Jimi
Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ (Porter and Stoltz later reciprocated by inviting
out the Bonerama horns and Eric Krasno during their late night set).
Nodding to ALO’s San Francisco family reunion a night earlier, Tea Leaf
Green invited Jackie Greene onstage for a cover of Crosby, Stills and
Nash’s ‘Wooden Ships’ and Tim Bluhm for a tribute to the
Kinks. Shortly after, the New Deal brought out fellow Wetlands regular
Scott Metzger to play guitar early in its set and later swapped Ryan Stasik
in on bass for its penultimate jam. In the funk realm, Karl Denson grooved
onstage with Garage a Trois and no less than Big Sam, Bonerama and Denson
appeared onstage with Lettuce.
As Wednesday segued into Thursday, most of the ship’s musicians made their
way into the Jam Room for an extended night of improvisation. The
festivities hit their stride early on with a trio comprised of Marco
Benevento, Dave Dreiwitz and Stanton Moore and later morphed
into a Bay Area-based combo featuring Brian Jordan (Tiny Universe)
and Jackie Greene, as well as ALO’s Zach Gill, Steve Adams and Dave
Brogan. Things then unfolded into an open jam session that found both
groups of musicians weaving on and off the stage along with Bluhm, Josh
Clark (Tea Leaf Green), Jamie Shields (New Deal) and the Nocturnals. The
night’s festivities finally wrapped up around 7 AM with a assortment of
musicians onstage exploring the space between New Orleans and New York
funk.

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