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Best of Jam Cruise 17, Day 2: Khruangbin, Southern Avenue, Kamasi Washington and More
The S.S. Jam Cruise continued its journey on Jan. 16, with a full day at sea and a packed schedule of live music. There was something for everyone on Wednesday’s Jam Cruise lineup and, as usual, acts were ready to collaborate with one another at the drop of a hat. Below, we pulled together some of the day’s best performances from first-timers to returning favorites.
The Sweet Sounds of The Sweet Lillies
As the first act of the day, the jug-band sound of The Sweet Lillies filled the pool deck with good vibes and a country sensibility. Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon joined the band on mandolin for most of the set, filling the spaces between the Lillies’ guitar, washboard, fiddle and upright bass on covers like “Sirens” by String Cheese Incident as well as cuts from their 2018 LP A Lighter Hue, which was produced by fellow Leftover Salmon veteran Vince Herman. Herman, in fact, was spotted laying down, catching some rays on the pool deck during The Sweet Lillies’ early set, and was called up to the stage by the young band to jam. “Back to work, Vince!” joked Sweet Lillies percussionist Melly Frances. Herman obliged and replaced Emmitt on mandolin for the sentimental cut “Nevada City.”
Southern Avenue Rock The Boat
Several bands made their Jam Cruise debut this year, including Memphis-based five-piece Southern Avenue. As the sun shined down on the Norwegian Jade pool deck, vocalist Tierinii Jackson showed her impressive range, from a powerhouse performance on “What Did I Do” to the sentimental waves of “It’s Gonna Be Alright.” Electric guitarist Ori Naftaly was also sure to get some licks in on his gold-top Les Paul, as Jackson danced and moved like the second coming of Tina Turner. An undisputed Southern Avenue highlight: a “Use Me” cover that was so on-point the song may as well have been their own.
Getting Down with Lyle Divinsky
“I’m a fan of doing songs no 33-year-old man should attempt,” Lyle Divinisky of The Motet joked to the packed crowd in the Jam Cruise Atrium, before launching into SWV’s 1992 R&B track “Weak.” For many Jam Cruisers, Divinisky’s 3 p.m. set in the Atrium was a unexpected highlight, with surprise backing vocals by Shira Elias and Sammi Garett of Turkuaz and Kim Dawson of Matador! Soul Sounds, and smile-inducing covers of classic acts like Prince, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5.
Sunset with Khruangbin
As the sun slowly set over the Atlantic Ocean, Khruangbin made their Jam Cruise debut with cuts from their two lauded LPs The Universe Smiles Upon You and Con Todo El Mundo. “The way the jam music scene has taken to this band is like wildfire,” Cloud 9 director of Artist Programming Annabel Lukins commented before the Houston trio’s set. “It’s nice to be with the freaks,” guitarist Mark Speer later added, as orange-tinged clouds hovered overhead. There were also plenty of famous faces in the audience, ready to take in the band’s experimental sounds. Here’s just a few confirmed Khruangbin fans: Eric Krasno, Kamasi Washington, Vince Herman, Umphrey’s McGee’s Brendan Bayliss and Duane Trucks.
The Gospel According to Kamasi Washington
“The most beautiful thing about this world is all the wonderful differences,” saxophonist Kamasi Washington sermonized from the main stage on Wednesday night. “We don’t need to be the same to be together.” From there, Washington led his band on “Truth,” a complicated, yet harmonious composition that manages to layer five melodies simultaneously. The song, Washington argued, is a living metaphor, showcasing his desire for unity in the world. This type of bold thinking and song craft has earned Washington praise in many music circles, from jazz purists to jamband fans, and he continued to gain fans on Jam Cruise. With an epic, set-closing take on “Fists of Fury” off his 2018 LP, Heaven and Earth, Washington certainly made his mark on Jam Cruise 17.
The Cleaners Get Steamy
As evidenced by the hordes of people squeezing into the Spinnaker Lounge, supergroup The Cleaners (featuring Eric Krasno, Marcus King, Duane Trucks, Kevin Scott and DeShawn Alexander) were another highly-anticipated set. In fact, at one point, there were so many bodies it was difficult to see the stage. “Somebody make some fuckin noise!” King trumpeted to the sweaty crowd, before laying down a slew of high-octane rock and blues. The group left their mark on jam favorites like “Fire On The Mountain” and “Red Hot Mama” and even invited vocalists Leslie Mendelson and Mary Corso for a set-closing take on “The Weight” and “Them Changes.”
Take Two with Umphrey’s McGee
After a hard-hitting prog-rock set on night one, Umphrey’s Mcgee showed their jammier side on Wednesday night in the Stardust Theater. At one point, a “Nuthin’ But A G Thang” tease had the crowd going wild, with the band segueing into a “Higgins” jam, containing a fair amount of tropical/reggae flair. The Turkuaz horns dropped in to jam on “Booth Love” as well as Herbie Hancock’s “Hang Up Your Hang-Ups.” “Every time we’ve played with these guys its been fucking fantastic,” UM guitarist Brendan Bayliss said between tunes. The band had a couple more guests up their sleeve, though. After a rocking “Hajimemashite,” saxophonist Skerik added his horn to “Bad Friday,” with percussionist Mike Dillon popping in as well.
Star-Studded Star Kitchen
While bassist Marc Brownstein earned Jam Cruise “lifer” status this year (meaning he’s attended nine of the seafaring festivals), Wednesday night marked the first performance for his new Star Kitchen band. Guests for the late-night set included Eric Krasno, Karl Denson and Big Sam. “This is basically my whole dream right here,” Brownstein commented to the crowd with a grin. Shira Elias of Turkuaz was Star Kitchen’s final guest, and the vocalist slayed a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Livin’ For The City,” which had the entire pool deck moving and shaking into the early morning hours. Star Kitchen’s final tune nodded to their New Jack Swing influences, as they put an instrumental twist on Bell Biv DeVoe’s classic “Poison.”