Jamcruise 11: Setting Sail on one of the Great Music Festival Experiences, Part 2

This is Part 2 of UpstateLIVE’s Jam Cruise 11 coverage. Check out Part 1 here and listen to a recap of Jam Cruise 11 on This Week on Lot with Steve Olker, Matt Hebert and Pete Mason 

Wednesday, January 9th

Having gone to bed at 8 am, Wednesday would have normally been a sleep in day, but as the boat was arriving at Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos, as I called it a night, I wanted to get out and see some island culture and life. So I struggled to get out of bed at noon, showered, dressed, ate a quick meal and got myself off the boat with Chris and Jason. You’d think that after 50 festivals, I would have learned not to overdo it one night and expect to be up and functional the next day, but this is Jam Cruise and you have five, count em FIVE days to spend on the boat, so pacing yourself and getting rest is wise in the longrun. A rookie mistake for me on my first Jam Cruise, but I wasn’t the only one, as evidenced by the late risers in the cafeteria. But still, Tuesday was fully worth it. You can’t do it at all at a fest, but it can be a lot of fun trying!

Walking off the ship and entering the port area, we were welcomed by giant letters that read WELCOME TO GRAND TURK. A nice touch, along with the Duty Free being the entrance to the island, as well as a Ron Jon Surf Shop and sadly, Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. We promptly walked through the eyesore to get to the local establishments for Turkshead Beer and fresh Conch Fritters. Hanging out near the beach, we were left with two options – stay here and drink and get a little sun on this overcast day, or venture out into the 7 mile island and get some culture. We opted for the latter because where we were was so touristy, we didn’t feel like we had gone anywhere. Plus, staring at the ship for 4 more hours wasn’t at all thrilling.

A downside to waking up late: all the bikes, mopeds, and scooters you can rent to roam the island were all rented for the day. So we got a $5 cab ride a couple miles into the island and stopped in an area with shops, food and people. Island life on Grand Turk was pretty chill and looking for souvenirs didn’t have haggle or hassle attached – it was nice and low stress while we meandered about the town. Tourism is on everyone’s mind here, and they promote positive attitudes to help with their image, as tourism is so central to everyone’s livelihood. There is even a philatelic shop where you can mail postcards and buy stamps in the port area, all for the benefit of the island life.

Looking South on Grand Turk
Looking South on Grand Turk

While on the island, I chatted for a bit with Seth Weiner, the Activities Director for Jam Cruise 11, who has been on all 11 Jam Cruises. Working activities, we discussed the different options that were available to the cruisers and how they continue to come up with enjoyable events for everyone to take part in outside from the music. Events this year included repeats such as the Jam Cruise wedding, Autograph sessions, Rockstar Karaoke, plus they took it up a notch with Gong Show, Musical Bingo, Jamily Feud and Air Guitar, which tied into the theme of the last night, Spinal Tap. They also brought in the Moog Foundation, which honors the legacy and impact of Dr. Bob Moog, creator of the well known Moog Synthesizer. There were workshops, discussions, sound therapy sessions and other gatherings that highlighted the like and work of Dr. Moog.We boarded the boat with time to spare and got a little rest after the half day on the island.

Dinner, we quickly noticed, was becoming an affair, with tables full of dressed up cruisers enjoying the hell out of their meals. There felt like a slight sense of urgency was in the air – we only had two days and three nights left! Jam Cruise was half over! It was time to step it up. Between the 3-5 courses served that night, we got going and prepared for a great Soul Train night. Donning Adidas Track Suits like a large contingent on the boat, I popped down to the Theater to see Greensky Bluegrass end their set with a cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry”, a truly awesome rendition by a jamgrass band with unique prowess and skilled vocals. I wish I caught more of Greensky, but headed up to the Pool Deck to catch up with Chris and Jason to see Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe for a funk filled set with some of the best horns on the boat. Karl stands about 5’7” but is ripped from what may as well be a 50 pound sax. He tears up every song he plays on, as noticed during “Rich Man’s Welfare” with The Motet horns and a broke out his flute for a cover of “7 Nation Army”, with the flute singing the lyrics.

Lettuce followed with a killer set, as did moe. in the Theater – this one people were talking about for the rest of the cruise, especially The Pit > Water > Recreational Chemistry and Billy Goat > Tailspin. Even though I turned in around 2 am, I didn’t consider it an early night for me, it was just a chill night. Tuesday and the day on the island were exhausting, so I made sure to rest up and get my fill on Thursday and Friday, and that is exactly what I did.

Nikki Glaspie of Dumpstaphunk
Nikki Glaspie of Dumpstaphunk

Thursday, January 10th

Unlike other music festivals which are two, three or sometimes 4 days long, Jam Cruise is a five day affair and nothing can prepare you for that. You’ll think it’s easy, that the extra day or two won’t matter, but they do. There’s no coasting through on the boat – that’s why this is for veteran festivarians, which I consider myself to be, especially after this festival. Next Jam Cruise, there will be no such early nights, but rather a paced experience to carry me through the entirety of the festival.

I started the day off in the Theater for a screening of the documentary Basically Frightened, profiling the life of mystic musician Col. Bruce Hampton. If you saw H.O.R.D.E. in the early 1990s, caught Widespread Panic down south, Phish at The Palace in Albany or with any number of bands in his nearly 50 year musical career, you were in the presence of greatness. Col. Bruce is a psychedelic, phophetic, poetic musician who has mentored musicians, had roles in films and otherwise been an enigma to bring out the best in those he plays music with. The trailer below was evidence enough for me and when it comes out in full release, be sure to watch it. I admire this man every time I see him play and still found myself more confused about him than ever once the film was over. When I approached him to tell him that, he said ‘good!’, and he meant it, a truly surreal moment.

I headed back to the autographs signing again, got the other half of the musicians on the boat to sign my prints and chatted with Kyle Hollingsworth from String Cheese Incident, Matt Butler of Everyone Orchestra, Natalie Cressman and Jennifer Hartswick, the Disco Angels of Wyllys’ New York Hustler Ensemble, plus half a dozen members of March Fourth Marching Band (there are around 20 of them)

March Fourth Marching Band
March Fourth Marching Band

On paper at the Magic Hat Wind Stage was set to be an Al Schnier solo set, but members of moe. slowly filed in to make it an impromptu full moe. acoustic set while many on the boat hung out in the pool. The set included She, Nebraska, Harder they Come, Shoot First and Haze, setting the tone for a day of big surprises all around the boat.

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