Stealth moe., Galactic, Femi Kuti, Super Jam and More on Day 4 of Jam Cruise
Photo by Dave Vann
Jam Cruise spent the day at sea as the MSC Poesia moved toward Coco Cay, Bahamas. With no stops on the schedule for Thursday, music went even later than usual on Wednesday night. For the first time this cruise, Perpetual Groove guitarist Brock Butler treated fans to a surprise sunrise acoustic set on the ship’s Pool Deck, a staple of years past. Meanwhile, as the members of Lettuce held court in the freeform Jam Room, guitarist Eric Krasno moved over to bass to demonstrate the skills he has perfected playing in the Nigel Hall Band.
Thursday’s musical festivities officially started with a set from Brokedown in Bakersfield on the cruise’s Pool Deck stage. Dedicated to only playing covers and originals that recall the Bakersfield, CA country rock sound, the West Coast group consists of guitarist Scott Law, The Mother Hips frontman Tim Bluhm, Gramblers singer Nicki Bluhm and three members of ALO (bassist Steve Adams, guitarist Dan Lebowitz and drummer Dave Brogan). The band’s repertoire includes Merle Haggard, Buck Owens and Gram Parsons covers. Elsewhere on the ship, Karl Denson led a Ba Duan Jin class, passengers watched the Col. Bruce Hampton documentary Basically Frightened and lined up for Jam Cruise’s popular artist signing event.
After Brokedown in Bakersfield’s performance, Steve Kimock took the stage with an all-star group of his own. Like most of his recent tours, Kimock’s band featured P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell, Stockholm Syndrome drummer Wally Ingram and former Gov’t Mule/Black Crowes bassist Andy Hess. As with his Jam Cruise performance on Monday, Kimock also expanded his Pool Deck band to include his son John Morgan on a second drum kit. The musicians riffed on Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” on two different occasions during their set and offered an instrumental reading of The Beatles’ “Come Together.” On Monday, Worrell revisited his time with Talking Heads by covering “Naïve Melody” with Kimock, and yesterday the keyboardist led the same group through another Talking Heads classic, “Burning Down the House.” Col. Bruce Hampton also sat in with the band on Sun Ra’s “Space is the Place.”
Perhaps the cruise’s biggest surprise took place after Kimock’s set on the unassuming Magic Hat Wind Stage, a balcony performance space that overlooks the ship’s pool. The afternoon’s 3PM spot was billed as an Al Schnier solo set. The moe. guitarist opened his acoustic segment with a solo take on “Smoke,” but then brought out moe. bassist Rob Derhak on a turned down electric bass for his next song, “Moth.” moe. drummer Vinnie Amico quietly joined his bandmates during the song’s jam. Then, the rest of moe. took the stage for a stealth, acoustic moe. set featuring “Nebraska,” Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come,” “Shoot First” and “Haze.” According to Schnier, the band decided to play at the last minute and borrowed equipment from acoustic players like Scott Law and Brock Butler. Acoustic music could be heard elsewhere on the ship as well. In the Zebra Bar, members of Hot Buttered Rum and Greensky Bluegrass banded together for the week’s official Pickin’ Party; their set consisted entirely of Beatles tunes. After moe.’s surprise show, Nathan Moore took command of the Magic Hat Wind Stage at sunset.
Meanwhile, the ship’s marquee Pool Deck stage offered different strains of funk. Afrobeat heir Femi Kuti and his 10-person group The Positive Force played for a sprawling crowd. Kuti thanked a Nigerian airline for helping get his big band to the US and moved between keyboards, saxophone and the vocal mic during this 90-munute performance. Then, he handed the stage over to New Mastersounds guitarist Eddie Roberts, who was tasked with organizing this year’s official Super Jam. The round-robin session drew in most of the ship’s funk performers at various points, including the members of Breakestra, Lettuce singer/keyboardist Nigel Hall, Greyboy Allstars keyboardist Robert Walter, Trey Anastasio Band trombonist Natalie Cressman, The Lettuce horns, percussionist Mike Dillon, members of Pimps of Joytime, saxophonist Karl Denson, Femi Kuti’s horn section, Lee Boys pedal steel player Roosevelt Collier, Galactic drummer Stanton Moore, Dave Matthews Band saxophonist Jeff Coffin and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe/Greyboy Allstars bassist Chris Stillwell, among others. The members of The Motet served as Roberts’ backing band as musicians moved on and off the Pool Deckstage. A few unexpected guests joined in as well. Americana-loving couple Tim and Nicki Bluhm—who met Roberts while living in the Bay Area—appeared on a few songs, including “Who’s Making Love.” Meters keyboardist Art Neville also took the stage to play keyboards for one of the set’s final jams. Roberts remarked that this was his “favorite Jam Cruise” and says that he met some of the players who appear on his new solo album West Coast Sounds in the ship’s Jam Cruise during a previous trip.
Though the Super Jam led into the ship’s official dinner break, two keyboardists entertained fans in different parts of the ship. Ivan Neville led his annual Texas Hold ‘em Tournament in the disco while ALO keyboardist Zach Gill played a solo piano set in the MSC Poesia’s multi-story atrium. Gill—who could have a second career as a piano bar lounge singer—ran through a mix of songs from his solo album Zach Gill’s Stuff, rare ALO tunes and sing-along covers. Select highlights included his original “Family,” Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” Guns ‘N Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” which he was inspired to cover when his daughter danced to the song during halftime of San Diego’s Holiday Bowl. He also pulled Umphrey’s McGee keyboardist Joel Cummins up to the piano to duet on the Gill original “Handyman” and Prince’s “Purple Rain.” In the end, Gill’s solo set ran almost twice its scheduled time.
Music resumed around 8:45 with the MarchFourth Marching Band on the ship’s Pool Deck stage. The Burning Man-inspired, 24-person brass band fit in well with the evening’s official Cirque Du Funk theme. The collective’s stilt walkers also proved their balancing ability by moving around the stage as the ship gently tilted side-to-side. A little later, Walter, Roberts and Deitch played an organ-driven funk-heavy set in the Zebra Bar. A few additional players sat in at various points, including Nigel Hall, The Lettuce Horns and Motet singer/percussionist Jans Ingber. At one point, they honored funky Meters drummer Russell Batiste Jr. by playing one of his songs. A few steps away in the Teatro Carlo Felice, JJ Grey—who has been sick while onboard—returned to the stage with Mofro for a 90-minute set. They offered a few songs from their forthcoming album, which is due in April, and brought out Collier for a spirited sit-in. Grey remarked that the pedal steel player sounds like “a human voice—way past playing.”
For many the evening’s main attraction was moe.’s three-hour headlining set on the ship’s Pool Deck stage. The band ran through a number of their best-known songs, including “Akimbo,” “Timmy Tucker,” “Spine of a Dog,” “Buster” and “Rebubula.” About halfway through their set, they brought out Cummins to play keyboard on “Happy Hour Hero” and the Meters’ “Cissy Strut.” During the latter tune, a New Orleans staple, the members of Galactic emerged for one of moe.’s trademark full band swaps. The two bands performed together, before the members of moe. filed offstage for their set break. Galactic’s two-song mini-set included a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” The collaborations did not stop there—during moe.’s second set, Denson played saxophone on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” and The String Cheese Incident’s Kyle Hollingsworth played keys on the lone encore of The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek.”
Oddly enough, as moe. riffed on “Cissy Strut” on the Pool Deck stage, seven floors below, the funky Meters were running through a set of New Orleans classics of their own. Mike Dillon played percussion throughout their set, and Dumpstaphunk bassist Tony Hall emerged early in their performance. Later, Worrell joined the group on a second keyboard, marking the first time in over 15 years he has performed with fellow funk keyboard architect Art Neville. Other highlights included appearances by Coffin, Hall and Collier—the latter on a spontaneous cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”—and both Ian and Ivan Neville augmenting their family band on “Ain’t No Use.” Funky Meters also offered a reworked version of Stephen Stills’ “Love The One You’re With.”
As Thursday night’s segued into Friday morning, musicians were performing throughout the ship. Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers welcomed Denson, Steve Kimock, ALO’s Zach Gill and Dan Lebowitz, Scott Law and Kyle Hollingsworth to the stage at various points throughout their Zebra Bar performance. In the Jam Room, Denson performed with a few different combos, including The Soul Rebels, Hollingsworth, Hall, Andy Hess, Wally Ingram and members of the Tiny Universe. A few feet away, Nathan Moore’s daily songwriter troubadour sessions had started to swell as fans filtered out onto the ship’s outdoor walkway. Back inside, Coffin, Hall and The Lettuce Horns has filed onstage with Dumpstaphunk in the ship’s theater, and both Kimock and Worrell—on melodica—were improvising with Magic Gravy, a trio featuring Lebowitz along with The Motet’s Dave Watts and The Motet’s Garrett Sayers.