For me, one of the most memorable performers on Cayamo was Loudon Wainwright III. I had never seen him before and had no idea how insanely hilarious he is! His songs and his onstage banter had me (and everyone else) laughing so hard. What’s really interesting about a lot of his writing is that he can make you laugh and make you think in the same tune. His songs about family especially won me over…he seems to really have a handle on how intense yet special the family is.
Some of Loudon’s spirit and energy reminded me of my Dad. He seems like the type of guy that can laugh or smile in the face of anything. Of course, my Dad isn’t quite as raunchy! At times, Loudon makes off-color jokes that I can imagine some people might be offended by…but I see him as such a sweet spirit. I was amazed by his combination of pure comedy and thoughtful, beautiful songwriting. His performances were the epitome of ENTERTAINMENT.
Loudon Wainwright III
I was so glad I got the opportunity to see John Hiatt on Cayamo. I haven’t explored too much of his music, but what I have heard, I’ve really liked. Seeing him live just further proved what an amazing songwriter he is. To me, his songs seem to be from elsewhere…and they’ve just come through him and onto the page. You hear a lot of writers talk about that, saying that the songs just come to them, or the words are already there and they just uncover them. I feel like John Hiatt is a prime example of that. I was really drawn in to his storytelling and also very struck by what a nice guy he seems to be. He’d gladly take requests from the crowd and he even learned a new tune for a couple’s anniversary. I was glad to hear some familiar songs like “Drive South”, “Cry Love”, “Perfectly Good Guitar”, “Have a Little Faith in Me”, and “The Open Road”.
Heading into Cayamo, I wasn’t planning to check out Lucinda Williams, since I’m not a huge fan of what I’ve heard from her. But I did end up sitting and watching one of her sets, and by the end, she really grabbed me. She’s got a fierceness about her, especially in her voice. It’s interesting because it’s mostly her voice that I’m not a fan of. But hearing it live for an hour made me appreciate the power and uniqueness of it. Add in her dynamite band (and special guest Buddy Miller) and there was quite a buildup of energy over the course of the hour. Lucinda introduced almost every song, so I made note of the setlist:
“Car Wheels on a Gravel Road”
“Well Well Well”
“Concrete & Barbed Wire”
“Still I Long For Your Kiss”
“Out Of Touch”
“Changed The Locks”
“Get Right With God”
“For What It’s Worth” [Buffalo Springfield]
The few songs I had heard from Joe Purdy prior to the cruise were a bit poppy, but still quite lovely. I was looking forward to hearing more and I was happily surprised at how much I enjoyed his performances. His music is quiet, tender, thoughtful and personal. He sings with raw emotion – like he really feels it and means it. I was really impressed by his lyrics…I left both of the two performances I saw with a line or two in my head. Lines like, “I know that I love the rain the most when it stops” and “I’m gonna catch me a goldfish today, I’m gonna catch me some quiet today.“
A few people I met on the cruise mentioned that in the folk world, there tends to be a lot of sadness…folk songs can be depressing! So it seemed any sort of happier, upbeat music throughout the week was always very welcomed. What I found really nice about Joe Purdy was that despite any somber topics in his songs, there seemed to be a hopeful, uplifting positivity underneath. His music feels like sunshine after the rain…he was one of my favorite new discoveries on Cayamo.
Sarah Jaffe has the kind of voice that doesn’t need to be loud to completely blow you out of your seat. The control she has over her vocal dynamics is mesmerizing. I saw her perform twice this week and during both sets the audience would become pin drop quiet and hang on every word….hell, every syllable! Her guitar playing proved to be just as subtle yet powerful too.
The 26 year old talked a bit about her current single “Clementine” which she originally wrote for her old band (Tomahawk Molly). She said it took her a while to come around to the tune, since she wrote it quickly as filler for a gig the same night (hence the repeating verses). Along with her own material, Jaffe covered a Justin Beiber tune and “Hang With Me” by the Swedish singer Robin.
I was left with a very memorable impression of this young talent…the quiet power of her delivery stayed with me long after the performance ended.
Rhett Miller’s set in the Spinnaker Lounge was one of the first I wandered into on the boat. I couldn’t have shown up more than 3 or 4 songs in, but he was already drenched in sweat…
When a performer plays solo, I think you usually expect a certain quietness or calmness. I was amazed to see Miller completely alone onstage beating his guitar with intensity, rocking out, head banging, strumming like a mad man! After one of his songs he admitted - ”I’m a spaz. I dunno what to tell ya.”
As the front man of the Old 97s, I guess Miller can’t help but ROCK, even without his band.
There’s so much music happening on Cayamo at every turn, so it’s typical to bounce from performance to performance. But when you decide to show up early, get a prime seat and stay for an artist’s entire set, it’s well worth it. My first experience doing that this week was for Greg Brown’s performance in the Spinnaker Lounge.
Joining Brown onstage was guitarist Jason Wilbur, who also performed with John Prine that same night. Wilbur played with effortlessness, perfectly complimenting Brown’s loose, finger-picking style. Prior to the performance, I had very limited knowledge of Greg Brown so I only knew to expect an extremely low, booming voice and beautifully written lyrics. What I didn’t expect was his humor! He had us in stitches with comedic tunes that were almost like spoken word…he told us about an unpleasant woman named Annabel being dead and gone and the dangerous task of bringing a cup of coffee to his sweetheart first thing in the morning. He sang about being happy, happy, happy…ALONE, and about his “fat boy blues”. There were really tender moments in the set too…a beautiful song about his grandmother and another about his wife (Iris Dement – also performing on the boat).
All in all, Brown really showed off his talent as a writer, and his unique approach to performing. I walked away with a real sense of how poetic and clever he really is.
John Paul White and Joy Williams have been one of the most buzzed about acts on Cayamo. As the cruise began, these quickly rising stars were on everyone’s radar. And despite John Paul being seasick, causing one of their sets to be postponed, The Civil Wars certainly lived up to the hype.
The stars really must’ve aligned when these two artists met. Their voices are made for each other. Flawless harmonies ebb and flow in perfect sync and they both seem to really FEEL the music. Joy especially moves with every note…a playful dance that can really cast a spell on the audience. There’s something theatrical about this duo…I was surprised to see them wear the exact same clothes for all three performances – a kind of costume I suppose.
Add to their polished delivery a simply charming stage presence with delighful banter, and The Civil Wars are a must see. I caught all three of their performances and enjoyed songs from their debut album Barton Hollow as well as uniquely rendered covers…incluing Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love”, Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”, and my favorite – “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5.
The two expressed nothing but gratitude for having been invited on the ship and said they’d love to come back and perform again. John Paul promised he’d take plenty of Dramamine next year.
The Civil Wars
It seems impossible to even wrap my mind around all that I experienced on Jam Cruise, so it’s definitely not easy to wrap it up in a single blog post. But I have to move on from the experience at some point (on my blog at least). So I’ll try to express how special this cruise really is.
Any cruise is special. If you’ve been on one of these luxury ships, you know…the cabins, the lounges, the restaurants, the theatre, the bars, the pool deck, the spa, the VIEW – the MSC Poesia was certainly a nice place to stay for a few days! So imagine this ship (pictured above), and add 30 or so amazing musical acts and 3,000 cruisers ready to party. Now imagine there are about 75 scheduled performances in 6 different ‘venues’ on the ship all over the course of just 5 days. Jam Cruise is basically a huge music festival ON A CRUISE SHIP. Sounds fun, right?
But what REALLY sets this event apart from others is the fact that musicians and fans are experiencing the whole thing together. When I took my first ride in the elevator on night one, it was with George Porter Jr. and his wife. For my first meal on board, I sat behind Marco Benevento and his family (really cute kids!). And when I went into the gym to work out, I saw Brad Barr coming out of the sauna in a towel. These interactions add a sort of surreal feeling to it all. But what’s really special about everyone being ‘stuck’ on a boat together, is that musical magic is bound to happen. Over and over and over again. And fans and musicians alike are WOWed.
Surprise sit ins, jams, impromptu performances, unexpected covers, rogue sets all over the boat…and all night long. Nobody wants to miss these magical moments, so sleeping is not a priority. Theme nights encourage creative costumes, so everyone dresses however the hell they want! The energy on board is heightened, the attitude in general is extremely positive, and oh yea, it’s 75 degrees and sunny. Put that in a ship and sail it…Jam Cruise is really like nothing else out there. Everyone leaves thinking – did that just happen? And… it did!
As if I wasn’t spoiled enough on Christmas and my birthday this year (I was!), I’m about to be taken on an adventure like none other… a 5-day cruise stopping in Labadee, Haiti and Falmouth, Jamaica. That alone is exciting…now add 30 or so musicians and bands performing pretty much ALL NIGHT. Oh and there will be a couple thousand music lovers on the boat ready to party! as well as 3 theme nights where we’ll all dress up and run amok. JAM CRUISE. This will be my second Jam Cruise and I’m BEYOND excited!
Especially with the frigid weather finally hitting us these days, it’s so hard to believe I’ll be on Jam Cruise in just 5 days, but it all starts on Monday. Here are some of the acts I’m most looking forward to:
Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers
Keller & the Keels
Toots & the Maytals
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Surprise Me Mr. Davis
Like last time, I’m going to try to post updates from the ship…internet connection is spotty, so I’ll do as much as I can. And of course I’ll have much to report when I return!
Jam Cruise 10