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Jam Cruise 16 In Review: 10 Standout Atrium Set Moments

JamBase - July 12, 2018

Jam Cruise 16 set sail from Miami last month aboard the NCL Jade packed to the gills with musicians and cruisers. In addition to four main stages, Jam Cruise also hosts more intimate performances in the ship’s Atrium. At first, these sets featured piano players but over the years the offerings have been expanded to include guitarists, picking sessions and more.

For this installment of Jam Cruise 16 In Review, here’s a look at 10 standout moments that took place at the Atrium during the trip:

1. Ivan Neville Covers “Takin’ It To The Streets”

Ivan Neville, a keyboardist who has performed with The Neville Brothers, The Meters, Keith Richards and many others leading up to his current role leading Dumpstaphunk, gets an Atrium set each Jam Cruise. Neville proved why he deserves the honor during the penultimate day of JC16 by presenting a guest-filled mix of songs he’s written and a bevy of covers. One of the many highlights of Ivan’s set was a wonderful rendition of The Doobie Brothers’ 1976 smash “Takin’ It To The Streets.” Lettuce’s Nigel Hall provided lead vocals, Tony Hall played bass, Eric Bloom added trumpet blasts, Shira Elias of Turkuaz and Galactic’s Erica Falls sang harmony and Alvin Ford Jr. laid down percussion on the Michael McDonald-penned tune.

2. Ryan Montbleau Performs “Call Your Mother”

Singer-songwriter Ryan Montbleau was aboard the Jade as an Artist-At-Large. In addition to many guest appearances, Ryan also was given a 75-minute slot to perform in the Atrium during the first full day of the trip. The current Vermont resident’s set went up against Voodoo Dead, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Aqueous and more. As such, my plan was to stop by for a few minutes to see what Ryan was up to these days. Seventy-five minutes later I was there when the set ended. Montbleau’s set was so engaging I just couldn’t leave. He’s a marvelous songwriter and incredibly witty. He cracked up most of those gathered to watch his set with the hilarious “Call Your Mother,” a song he wrote with Hayley Jane for their Yes Darling project. The tune is one many can relate to with advice about keeping in touch with your mother, but not telling her about things like your nitrous epiphany, how scared you were while driving through the snow and all the drinks you had.

3. Holly Bowling Welcomes Jennifer Hartswick, Lebo & Natalie Cressman For “Soulshine”

Pianist Holly Bowling played two strong sets in the Atrium including one the night Jam Cruise departed Miami. Holly’s first performance aboard JC16 came to a climax with a soul-laden rendition of Warren Haynes’s “Soulshine.” Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman of the Trey Anastasio Band provided both lead vocals and trumpet and trombone solos respectively. As if that wasn’t enough, Dan “Lebo” Lebowitz of ALO added guitar and harmonies.

4. John Medeski Tackles “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child”

John Medeski was on the boat with Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood, but he was also given the honor of kicking off the Atrium action with a rare solo piano set. Medeski’s set was highlighted by a spine-tingling rendition of the spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.” The only disappointing aspect of the set was the number of cruisers talking as John played. I was amazed in a negative way that those folks either weren’t engaged by Medeski’s performance or didn’t have respect for their fellow cruisers.

5. Steve Kimock & Jeff Chimenti Team On “Tongue & Groove”

Two of the stars of the Voodoo Dead sets played during Jam Cruise 16 were guitarist Steve Kimock and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti. Steve and Jeff have spent plenty of time performing together including as RatDog band mates. Kimock and the Dead & Company keyboardist were given a 45-minute set on the Thursday of JC16 and made the most of the time. The pair’s “Dark Star” was a master class in dynamics, but for my money the standout moment of the set was the rendition of “Tongue & Groove” they played. Steve made a joke about the Philadelphia Eagles having never won a Super Bowl, which now is dated. However, Steve Kimock then pledged his allegiance to the San Francisco 49ers and smiled brightly when a member of the team’s front office presented him with her business card at the end of the set. “She’s a Kimock fan!” the guitarist mentioned to his wife after the encounter.

6. Kenneth Crouth & Sean Fote Pair For Impromptu Set

It was about 5 in the morning on the final night/morning of the trip as the Jade was pulling into Miami and I needed a breather. The two scheduled musical options were a little too high-energy for how I was feeling. I happened to pass by the Atrium, where I came across Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe keyboardist Kenneth Crouth and Sean Fote of The Hip Abduction duetting on piano. Fote was aboard the boat as a crew member, while Crouth wowed during his first Jam Cruise appearance. The pair were just playing for fun as they covered jazz standards and some of Stevie Wonder’s most-beloved songs. It was just what I needed at that moment and an example of the magic of unplanned performances aboard Jam Cruise.

7. Vince Herman Mashes Up “Rocky Top” & “Hotel California” To Surprise Of Musicians

Leftover Salmon co-founder Vince Herman was an Artist-At-Large and led a Bluegrass Jam in the Atrium during the third day of the trip. Herman welcomed members of the jamgrass acts aboard the boat including The Lil Smokies and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades as well as some of those unfamiliar with the genre such as Andy Frasco. The highlight of the set came when Herman led an assembled ensemble on what seemed like “Rocky Top,” but instead starting singing “Hotel California.”

8. Ryan Montbleau Wows With “Ships In The Night”

There were so many memorable moments from Montbleau’s aforementioned Atrium set, but in addition to the hilarious “Call Your Mother” special mention must be made of “Ships In The Night.” While “Call Your Mother” was funny, “Ships In The Night” was incredibly solemn, which shows off how wide-ranging Ryan’s music is. Each lyric hit with more power than the previous one as the audience watched in silence and you could hear a pin drop. Also, credit Ryan Montbleau for discussing his annoyance with those who chatted during John Medeski’s solo set the previous night.

9. Tom Hamilton Guests With Holly Bowling On “Terrapin Station” > “There There” > “Terrapin Station”

Holly Bowling will soon debut her new band Ghost Light, which includes guitarist Tom Hamilton among others. Bowling and Hamilton gave a little taste of their musical chemistry to close the pianist’s second of two Atrium sets. Tom and Holly delivered an absolutely stunning cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Terrapin Station” and impressively worked “There There” by Radiohead within.

10. Ivan Neville Closes Set With “Big Chief”

As mentioned, Ivan Neville’s Atrium sets are always a highlight of the Jam Cruise experience, but he really took it to another level this year. Ivan ended the performance with a run of Don Henley’s “The End Of The Innocence,” Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain,” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U,” Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” Sly Stone’s “Everyday People,” The Doobie Brothers’ “Takin’ It To The Streets,” the Eagles’ “Life In The Fast Lane,” his own “Not Just Another Girl” and the NOLA classic “Big Chief.” Neville’s set spanned over 30 minutes beyond its allotted time, but no one was complaining. Towards the end of the performance Ivan called for George Porter Jr., yet no response came. Jam Cruise staffers tracked down the legendary bassist, who was attending Jam Cruise without his wife (who passed away recently) for the first time, and Neville bought some time while GPJ headed to the Atrium. George Porter Jr. received a hero’s welcome as he emerged for the riotous “Big Chief.”