January 11th, 2020 was the fifth and final day* of the luxury sea-cruise of groove that is Jamcruise, and with a rare full sleep under my belt I tried to make the most of it. I started the day with a little yin-yang: a workout up in the gym followed by an hour munching on croissants and cheese in the cafeteria. It’s all about balance.
M’lady got up and about and we had omelettes in the back of the boat where it was nice and peaceful. We followed up breakfast with a private Ivan Neville concert/Q&A downstairs in the Masters Club At Sea, where Ivan expounded on the different playing styles required when bouncing between a Hammond organ, a Fender Rhodes, and a Wurlitzer and proved his pudding by kicking out some serious jams with his makeshift backup band.
Next up was the George Porter Jr. masterclass, which was also part of our Master’s Camp upgrade. George obviously had no idea what to say or do, but Eric Krasno sat down beside him and saved the day by effortlessly pulling endless stories and even more insane grooves from the grand-daddy of funk bass.
It was so good that after his private workshop (and after failing in my only attempt to take advantage of Brews At Sea, which ended up being a string of much-too-long lines on the main deck that slowly led to much-too-small Dixie cups of free beer) I raced down to the Atrium to hear him talk again in a set that was open to everyone called “Jamtalks with George Porter Jr.”. It was the same thing with different stories and songs (in other words, it was fantastic). This time Porter was alone but at the same time he was obviously emboldened by how well his previous session had gone. I even asked him a question.
“You mentioned that you started on guitar and as a matter of fact the first time you gigged with Art Neville you did so on guitar, yet you describe yourself as a frustrated guitarist. If you had such a hard time with guitar, how is it you managed to become so proficient on the bass?” Not a bad question, huh?
“Because they paid me to play the bass!” was his answer, which got a good laugh. Seems a little chicken-eggy to me but I’ll take it.
Anyway, I ducked into the final Masters Camp At Sea happy hour and loaded up on a few free IPAs before launching into the night proper, which would include a very impressive Super Jam hosted by the equally impressive young guitar slinger Marcus King. He hosted a superb lineup of guests from throughout the five days of performances in a theatre set that was nothing short of ethereal in it’s musicianship. Everyone on stage just seemed so happy. I really hope a recording of it gets released someday.
We stopped by for a taste of Samantha Fish on the Pool Deck but were drawn away to the Jazz Bar where Charlie Hunter played a solo show that proved to me what I had been quickly finding out: That this guy was quite possibly one of my favourite living guitar players and that I should really be following his career a whole lot closer. My gosh, Charlie Hunter was just so, so good.
Speaking of so, so good, we went next to a solo Holly Bowling set in the Atrium which was anything but solo, as the hotshot pianist invited one guest after another onto the tiny stage to join her in a set that was almost exclusively duets. With each passing guest the show only got more divine. I had been really impressed after seeing her band Ghost Light a few nights earlier and this solidified it: Holly Bowling is a talent to be reckoned with.
I think I saw a bit more of Karl Denson out on the pool deck but if so it was just a diversion between the final Chefs At Sea midnight meal (which was southern barbecue and by far the best of the three nights I went) and a killer Galactic set back in the theatre. And somehow through it all we managed to use up every last one of our pre-purchased drink tickets.
We ended the night with a relatively short visit to the Black & White lounge to see an act I had been looking forward to, Roosevelt Collier. It’s not like I had heard of the guy or anything, but I’m a sucker for the pedal steel guitar in all forms, and it turns out Colliers form of pedal steel guitar is rip-roarin’ barroom funk and roll. He was cooking up the grooves to a packed house and it was hot!
It was so figuratively hot in there that I couldn’t imagine leaving but it was so literally hot in there that I couldn’t possibly stay. So, sweating profusely and grooving to-the-ground I stayed, swayed, sweated, and pondered. Soon I realized that my exhaustion was an elephant-in-the-room as my head was nodding off from atop a standing, dancing body so I got myself out of there – with nary a protest from my similarly sleepy sweetie – and to our welcoming bunks we did go.
One thing I can report as a truism: Jamcruise is one of those rare things that not only lives up to the hype, but easily surpasses it.
And I can also add that it made for a heck of a Honeymoon.
*Okay, there was one more partial day on the ship if you include the wakeup and disembarkment that occurred on the 12th, which should definitely be included (if only as a footnote), as eventful as it was. We had to be out of our berth by 8am so m’lady and I crawled out of bed at the all-too-soon hour of seven ante meridiem and dragged our carcasses through the shower and past our respective toothbrushes and cobbled together our mostly-packed bags and readied them for travel. Stumbling out of our room I saw none other than Charlie Hunter careening along our hallway. As he passed us it occurred to my underslept brain to clarify something I had been wondering about since his truncated workshop a few days earlier in the Masters Camp At Sea. “Hey Charlie, is it GCF-CFBb?” I asked. “Yeah,” he answered, turning around.
“Think of it as the lowest three strings of a guitar and the highest three strings of a bass, all tuned up a minor third,” he added with a wave before continuing on his early-morning journey. At least I think that’s what he said. He definitely told me something to make the tuning easier to remember and it mighta been that. It works, so there’s that.
Anyway, I had just noticed that our final bill was attached to the outside of our door, and it had a couple of mistakes on it. Specifically: the one time m’lady and I bought coffees they charged us for it twice and-a-half times; one double charge and one half charge.
Now, disembarking is no easy task. Those with anything more than just carry-on luggage (which is almost everyone) must wait until their section is called before joining the line to leave; a line that only grows longer as more sections are called. A fortunate side-effect of our mad dash to get down to Miami in the first place was that we had left most of our luggage at home and were travelling with only carry-ons. So this meant we were free to leave the boat as soon as we had our breakfast, when the line would still be nice and short.
Except if I wanted to argue my $17 overcharge. To do so meant to go down to Customer Service and wait over an hour in line, but you know I did. And it’s a good thing too, for a few reasons:
1) I got to spend a long time observing the many and varied dramas that were a constant occurrence at the front of the Customer Service line. I mean I heard every happenstance imaginable, including one tear-stricken girl who claimed that her boyfriend had taken off with her credit card (to where I couldn’t imagine) and left her with a $150 bill that she couldn’t pay but that she had to get off the boat RIGHT NOW because her mother had cancer and was going to die and how could anyone not believe her as she was, after all, working towards the Nobel Peace Prize? Not everyone was like that (and likewise, not everyone was told they had to wait for the police to arrive), but everyone at the front of that line had a story to tell, that’s for sure.
2) I didn’t think I was going to have much of a story, with my friendly MSC Customer Service Representative Carmen on the job, but I ended up being quite wrong about that. Sure, Carmen managed to reverse our coffee charges after only two phone calls and a five minute wait, but when she handed me the revised bill it was almost $100 more than before she took off the $17 overcharge! Well, it turns out that someone had charged fifteen beers to m’lady’s account just hours before at 5:40am when the two of us had been sleeping soundly. This when a) we were told that after 10pm on the final night we would not be able to charge anything to our accounts, and b) the charge was made without any signature, without a swiped room card, and without any authorization whatsoever (according to a slip that Carmen showed me that I foolishly did not photograph).
So, another thirty or forty minutes waiting at the front of the line (and another dozen or so unthinkable overheard dramas) later Carmen finally confirmed to me that I would definitely be getting credited the $90US but as the bar staff were so busy at that time I would have to do so by contacting the cruise line after disembarking. I made the mistake of believing her, and it would take a total of seven half-hour phone calls and nearly a month before I was finally told they would be sending me a cheque, which arrived in late June.
Anywho, I gave Carmen a big smile and a bigger thank-you and wished her well on what was obviously going to be a very long day and joined my waiting lady. Together we went upstairs where we found an absolutely prodigious line to get off the boat. I mean it stretched the long way from one side of the boat, though the casino, around to the other side, and finally back along half the length again of the enormous vessel, and with nary a drink ticket to be had. We were close to two hours getting through that line and off the boat, where we breezed through customs and straight into the first cab lined up outside.
We went to the airport and boarded a shuttle bus bound for Tampa, where we were met by my brother and his wife who drove us north to my mom’s winter home in New Port Richey. M’lady stayed for two nights before flying home to Newfoundland while I stuck around for a few extra days to visit my mom. The day I was supposed to fly home was the day Snowmageddon hit the island. The biggest snowstorm in the history of St. John’s dropped three feet of snow on the city with 100mph winds to push it around. My flight was delayed three times, keeping me poolside at mom’s place for six extra days.
And while I sure did appreciate visiting with my family that whole time, I sure do regret not being at my new home to experience such an astounding storm. People ‘round here will be talking about it for years, and here I missed the whole darn thing.
But yeah, Jamcruise is amazing.