There was so much to love on Cayamo, but musically, I think Richard Thompson left me with the most lasting impression. 5, 10, 15 years from now I bet I’ll remember my jaw dropped to the floor while watching his amazing performances, both solo and in a trio. During his one solo set, I sat pretty close to the stage, and I actually cried during “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”. I’ve never seen guitar playing like his…I’ve never been more impressed by a guitar player.
Thompson’s two other sets were with drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk. These three blew the roof off the theatre! I have to point out how many other musicians were in attendance for these performances. Sitting up in the artist area, I noticed James McMurtry, Loudon Wainwright III, Buddy Miller, and Greg Brown watching the Richard Thompson trio…I could even see Buddy Miller shaking his head at some of the guitar solos.
It’s clear that Thompson has an amazing ability on his instrument, and in my opinion, his deep, almost throaty voice is very unique and captivating. He also tells great stories, and somehow he makes a sea shanty seem cool! Richard Thompson was the artist I was most looking forward to seeing live on Cayamo and he blew my expectations away.
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]
I didn’t see more than maybe 5 or 6 songs from Keb’ Mo’ over the course of the week, but I was really delighted by what I did hear. He sat on stage by himself, surrounded by three guitars…he had very pleasant stage banter which had the audience at ease. He does primarily play blues music, but it’s lighthearted. This is another artist who will leave you with a smile or a hopeful feeling even when singing about tough subject matter. Highlights from what I saw were “Am I Wrong”, “Every Morning” and a duet with Maia Sharp off his latest album called “All The Way”.
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