Written by Maria Ekaterina // Photos by Roger Gupta
Sailing from Miami, Florida with stops in warm and sunny Belize, Cozumel and Progreso, Mexico the incredible journey on Jam Cruise brought on some life changing experiences. This week rejuvenated us with feel good music, changed our perspectives on life and helped us see things in a new light. Highly organized Cloud 9 Adventures, added one extra day of sailing on Jam Cruise 17 but kept the amount of artists the same as in previous years. This allowed everyone extra time to listen and partake in the practically non-stop jamming aboard the Norwegian Jade. Live music, phenomenal on-board accommodations and a packed schedule from morning to night, naturally provided a glorious time for neophytes and repeat-offenders alike lucky enough to be boarding Jam Cruise for the next six days at sea. With roaring excitement buzzing throughout the boarding line, it’s easy to feel at home and with chosen family from the time your passport gets checked at port.
Departing from Port Miami on January 15th, the Norwegian Jade quickly filled up with jolly, jam-band loving individuals ready to make memories of a lifetime. The Jam Cruise experience is perfect for those who love traveling alone or with a group of friends. It’s a family affair and being welcomed on board is an entirely new, uplifting and ear-opening experience. Getting through layers of port security can take a while so checking large bags upon arrival is crucial to allow yourself an easier walk up the seemingly mile long switchback ramp to the boat. While some cabin rooms may not be readily available upon arrival, food is ready and there is plenty of it throughout the week at sea. There is something to eat for everyone at all times on Jam Cruise. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options are available in the buffet as well as throughout the numerous restaurant options on board. Sweet potato fries, ice cream and even tacos can be found as early or late as 4 am in the Garden Cafe on deck 12, right around the corner from the pool deck. Many tasty treats, incredible music and a phenomenal journey lie ahead.
With a bursting sunset backdrop over Miami, the Norwegian Jade operated by Norwegian Cruise Lines(NCL), pushed off into the open water. Quickly, the pool deck full of people grooving to Matador! Soul Sounds grew to cover the upper sundeck with Day of the Dead themed characters. As the sun disappeared, the breeze brought on an uplifting gust of wind and a small, possibly last, cold shiver exuded itself as Jam Cruise sailed south into the night. Although keeping warm was a breeze as access to hot chocolate and coffee was easily just a few steps away. While coffee and hot chocolate might be enough for some, there were also plenty of great beer options from craft brewers all over the country represented on board. Drinking beer is good, knowing the beer you drink is even better. Sharing their craft expertise, Breckenridge Brewery, Lagunitas, SweetWater, Ninkasi, New Belgium, Devils Backbone Brewing Company and others held events such as Meet the Brewers on day 2, Lagunitas Workshop on day 4 and a Brews at Sea Fest on day 6 & brought more insight into the delicious beverages offered on board and where we can find them on land.
Getting acclimated to the lay-out of the boat can be equally as difficult to navigating the paths we move through on land. Those who have been on the Norwegian Jade before are happy to help those experiencing Jam Cruise for the first time and need a little help from a friend. Being a friend is easy when everyone on board is ready to show you how to be one. The funky costumes inspired by official and unofficial themes kept coming night after night. With quick access to a shower or a nap, everyone kept up their clean appearances without a problem. Cloud 9 has thought of many numerous details to make each person on board feel special. Arriving to the freshly made cabin, Jam Cruise 17 goodie bag awaited each person packed with useful and memorable items like a Hemp Bar, Good Natured Selects Veg-ables, Breckenridge Brewery Cozy for your drinks, chap stick, an embroidered Jam Cruise 17 Lagunitas luggage tag, Emergen-C pack, CocoLectro pack and Smash Mallow snacks to keep us hydrated and energized.
Those who continue making Jam Cruise their special destination have attained additional perks like “Repeat Offender” Robes and special access passes. It’s easy to wander from one place to the other while bumping into a little jam packed adventure on the way. Elevators, halls and especially “The Spot” on the 7th floor Promenade, were found to be a highlight of these random jam-packed moments. The first few hours flew by, squeezing the feeling of an entire festival weekend in a single day. The Spinnaker Lounge held one of the smaller stages on board but was able to host some of the biggest bands in an intimate setting starting with night one from The Porter Trio and Toubab Krewe . The first night set a pretty high bar for music when Umphrey’s McGee, Sister Sparrow, SunSquabi and Leftover Salmon each took the stages raising the bar higher and higher. With each momentous act taking the stage there was a new vibration echoing through everybody on board.
After a long night of dancing in the elevators dressed as skeletons & rose wearing ladies in red, waking up on Jam Cruise is glorious & snuggled in clean sheets for a few extra moments before jumping into the shower and getting the day rolling. A quick breakfast of pancakes, coffee, OJ and even a chocolate cake desert is allowed here on Jam Cruise. No one is judging how you roll.
Day two was off to a phenomenal early start with Yoga sessions and artist signings. It was great being on board with these phenomenal musicians but to have a chance to sit down and eat or have a drink with Sammi from Turkuaz or Lyle from The Motet or Jack Casady from the legendary Jefferson Airplane was above any music experience to be had on land. After getting merch signed by Taz, The Motet, Karl Denson, Melvin Seals&JGB and members of Monophonics, Meet the Brewers was the place to be. Brews from Devils Backbone and Hi-Wire put most people in a great mood on their first full day at sea. The back of the boat was packed with people trying new brews, attaining brew shirts and swag all while learning more about the tasty drinks they’re enjoying.
Venturing through the majestic Jade was a high class experience. The NCL staff aboard the ship were very friendly and incredibly quick to tend to needs of guests. The Atrium was a central hub for great music throughout the week, simply because of it’s stellar set up. The sound felt like it absorbed into the body when standing anywhere within this expansive space spanning two decks. Lyle Divinsky from The Motet was one of the first ones to welcome us there on day 2. While we already love the way The Motet rocks our souls during their sets on land, Jam Cruisers heard a new version of them in the Atrium throughout the week. This Atrium swaddles music lovers in its bodacious acoustic vibrations throughout the week gently getting people to move with the sway of the boat.
Everyone is VIP on Jam Cruise. So when TAUK had a short session called “Coffee and Talk with TAUK” where they interview George Porter Jr, everybody was invited to listen in. Matt Jalbert, guitarist of TAUK got George Porter Jr to talk about the change he has seen in the music scene during his time. The conversation continued with Alric “A.C.” Carter (keyboards, organ) asking Porter Jr. “On that note, I also ask; who are the musicians or artists you feel, that are taking music in the direction that you think it should go, or in the positive direction? Like, who do you listen to? Who do run into that you listen to, that you respect?”
“You know I get to see more of the younger bands today, on Jam Cruise, than I do at home. I mean, I’ve been sober almost 31 years. I just don’t go out anymore, you know? And so, at Jazz Fest I might get to play some dates and see some younger players. Not bands, just younger players. But man, I’m loving the music. Even on Jam Cruise where every time I’m like ‘who is that?’ I just don’t know anyone anymore and that’s my fault, you know. I chose to become a hermit.”
– George Porter Jr.
A loud laugh wave ruptures as Jalbert jumped in with another question. “But you’ve also lived a life where you’ve had great opportunities to play music with a lot of people. A lot of people…What’s been something that’s stuck out to you? A musician or a favorite collaboration you have done?”
“My favorite guys, once again would be the older guys. Typically New Orleans… Vintage,” Porter chuckles. “The Earl Kings and naturally I really do like Keith Richards and then you know. I enjoy playing in fact, I spent New Years Eve with Bill Kretuzmann and Bob Weir. It was a fun weekend, you know? I’ve had a wonderful life and a career musically. I don’t think I’m saying I’ve missed a lot. I probably have. Everything I’ve done so far a cross, I’m having fun. That’s all I can say.”
-George Porter Jr.
“That’s what it’s all about, right?” Matt Jalbert answered before they all took the stage for a groovy Jam session.
How often after a festival do we say “I spent all day in the hot tub listening to great live music on a Cruise”? This adventure is unlike any other. You may want some endurance as there is something to do at every minute of the day or night. A short R&R in the room can certainly suck you in for an hour or two, especially if you have a seat or rest on the comfortable bed. and sleep? Well, we can all sleep when we’re dead. Being spoiled by a clean cabin to come back to after a long day is a great, simple way to refresh at anytime. Having a hot shower available in your room and laundry is luxurious.
However, having music playing throughout the halls easily pulls a person out and back to a nearby stage such as the beautifully appointed Stardust Theater. Melvin Seals and JGB, Umphrey’s McGee & Fruition had the Stardust Theater filled to the top during their sets. A highlight set of Day 2 was Star Kitchen on the pool deck playing to a sea of people dressed in Dr. Seuss characters. It was all around Jam Love when bouncing from stage to stage on Jam Cruise. The Spinnaker Lounge was packed and grooving to the max at 2 am with Dave Watts, Lyle Divinsky of the Motet and Alric “A.C.” Carter, keyboardist of TAUK partnering up to sweetly make everyone on the floor feel like they’re part of the action. There is a laid back atmosphere amidst the people on Jam Cruise 17 and a rocking soul energy on every stage.
Brandon ‘Taz’ Niederauer was a regular guest on most stages throughout the week on Jam Cruise. This mid-teen rock & roller plays guitar like a rock and roll legend. Taz sat in with Melvin Seals and JGB, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, The Cleaners and rocked our souls with ‘New Speedway Boogie’ during a sit in with Leftover Salmon. The music schedule throughout the week proved to be stacked to the max. The collaborations were so frequent on Jam Cruise it almost felt like the band scheduled to play, was only hosting that time on stage while inviting friends and legends to be part of the fun.
ALO had a blast during their prime time set around midnight on Saturday night in the Stardust Theater as they closed out their regular set with a favorite, ‘Maria’. In a high manner of energy Andy Frasco & The U.N. kept the party roaring throughout the ship. Frasco enthusiastically hosted a Yoga session in the Atrium, was spotted dancing in the elevators, crowd surfing in the Stardust Theater at 3 am and creating new jenga rules with with Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon and led lengthy energetic conga lines throughout the boat. Jam Cruise was full of moments like these. With so much high powered energy throughout the ship, Vince Herman sucker punched the weekend with another crowd surf in the Spinnaker Lounge.
From sit ins on board to a day on shore, there was more to do than time to do it in. Land excursions were a perfect way to explore, relax or give back to the local community through Cloud 9’s Positive Legacy.
The Belize City, Belize stop required a short ride on a tender to land, before choosing the adventure on shore. Exploring on land was relatively easy as guides and taxi cabs were available upon arrival to take people wherever they wanted to go.
In Cozumel and Progreso, Mexico it was an easy walk right onto the dock from the ship. While back home, Winter storms were a-brewing, Jam Cruisers were soaking in every ray of sun on the beach. From chilling and relaxing by the water to lending a helping hand in Progreso, Mexico, it was a day well spent. Dr. Sarah-Jeanne Royer contributed her knowledge and expertise to the onshore Conscious Cruiser Eco Adventure in Progreso.
Learning more about what we can do about our environmental impact was accompanied by an on-shore rocking performance from Turkuaz. Getting to party and give back in the same trip is a great balance. While off shore excursions offer many opportunities for a way to give to a charitable cause; there were plenty of opportunities on Jam Cruise to do the same. Positive Legacy’s Charitable Auction provided an equal opportunity for all aboard during the Saturday night silent auction accompanied by The Sweet Lilies. Autographed photos, concert tickets, even some colorful outfits from Shira Elias and Sammi Garett from Turkuaz were being auctioned off. While working hard and giving back to the community on board and on land, it was appropriate to blow off some steam celebrating the great accomplishments this week with Everyone Orchestra in the Stardust Theater. Their set took the positive and turned it up a few notches when members like Tikyra Jackson, Sunshine Becker, Sammi Garett, Leslie Mendelson, Shira Elias, Steve Kimock and many others, took the stage to create a sweet piece of momentous magic on Jam Cruise 17.
While each day on board built more love in our hearts, it also reminded us that these moments will soon be only memories. Sunday morning was a bitter sweet time that involved lots of “if I don’t see you later, I’ll give you a hug now.” moments between new and old friends on board. Melvin Seals and JGB invited Karl Denson to join them on the pool deck stage for a few songs one of which included the time appropriate “I’ll take you there”. Sunday afternoon brought a universal groove on board as the rocking of the boat brought on a natural sway to moving around. Throughout the week, Jam Cruisers experienced, created, witnessed and felt some deep love through the music, actions and the experience we’d all been needing away from the frosty weather. Under the bright red-tinged total lunar eclipse, Sunday night with Spafford on the pool deck felt like a smooth evening out in the middle of summer. Spafford invited Taz to join them in rocking “America” then closing out the Pool Deck on Jam Cruise with Chris Sgammato, Chris Littlefield & Ernie Chang covering “Cleaning Windows” by Van Morrison.
It’s exciting to smile thinking about how these six quick days aboard the Norwegian Jade have come and gone leaving us full of memories, new connections and a higher level of appreciation for the bands and music we all love. We lived this once in a lifetime experience and helped create it.
Jam Cruise 17 holds a very special space in our hearts and lives. It shows us how incredibly lucky we are to be able to experience this mind-blowing week at sea. The jamily love is strong and very much thriving on Jam Cruise 17. Finding the right words to describe this thrilling event can be a high order. But maybe it’s not about explaining and defining this week; maybe it’s about seeing the way this experience opens us to the things we never imagined. Between the music, the dancing, crowd surfing, food, warm breezes and memories we brought home with us, Jam Cruise was all a music lover can ask for and the perfect recipe for all your menacing aches and pains. The soulful music throughout the week with high accommodations for personal needs allows this to be a week where giving back is as easy as living it up on a sunny beach in Mexico.
While we’ve all made our way back home or to our next adventure, this week will live on in our hearts and minds. With gratitude to Cloud 9, Norwegian Cruise Lines, the staff on board, Chefs at sea, Jenna Bee, event medical, brew masters, all artists and participants on board, repeat and first time offenders, without whom this week would not have been possible. With endless ways we can sow division into our daily lives, Jam Cruise is the pinnacle reminder that life is a celebration of our collaborations.
Pre-book for 2019 here: https://www.jamcruise.com/pre-book
Full Photo album of Jam Cruise 17 by Roger Gupta:
Sailing from Miami, Florida January 15th with stops in Belize City, Belize and Cozumel & Progreso, Mexico. Jam Cruise – January 15th -21st, 2019.Photos by Roger Gupta