Cayamo wrap-up, now that I’ve (sort of) got my land legs back
It’s been about 15 hours since I returned to Seattle, where it’s cold and drippy, where I write from a dive bar where I can have French toast and use the internet. “What’s New Pussycat” is on the speakers. I have a jacket on. It’s a far cry from the balcony of our mini-suite aboard the Norwegian Dawn. But reality can’t be a music cruise. It just can’t. If it were, we wouldn’t so appreciate the week which just passed.
We’ll just forget about the enormous swells and storm-force winds for that day or so, rocking of a boat so strong you lose your footing, and the seasickness I managed to somehow magically avoid – but which certainly took at least a few people out. Let’s just focus on everything else, shall we?
I’ll start with the final day, since I haven’t told you a thing of it. The whole cruise closed out with an outstanding set from Brandi Carlile. The seas had calmed about a half-hour before they took the stage, so they had the advantage of playing a set without even coming close to falling down. I’d heard a rumor that Samantha Crain had fallen thrice during rehearsal a day or two prior, and had watched Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett struggle with the motion of the boat during their shows. It was impressive that not a single artist cancelled a show due to not having their sea legs. I’m confident there were people in the audience who missed out. But I said I wouldn’t talk about the choppiness.
Back to the show.
Carlile opened with a beautiful rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Cryin’,” underscoring my wish that she record an album of country classics. The rest of the show was pulled largely from her most recent Give up the Ghost album, excepting a turn on John Prine’s “The Great Compromise” with Shawn Mullins, a rendition of Katie Herzig’s “I Hurt Too” (which also featured Herzig and most of her band), and a closing run on “Folsom Prison Blues” in time for Johnny Cash’s birthday. The latter has become a sort of signature piece for Carlile, and her rendition is hugely energetic and harder rocking, certainly, than the version the cover band did in the casino about an hour later.
The same day had seen an equally memorable set from “Buddy Miller and Friends”, where he welcomed just about every artist on the boat to the stage for a song or two. Most notable among them was another beautiful delivery of “Wide River to Cross” with Emmylou (never gets old) and George Jones’ “Why Baby Why” with Sean and Sara Watkins. Darrell Scott joined in for “That’s How I Got to Memphis.” Steve Earle took the lead for a version of Townes Van Zandt’s “Train A-Comin,” which he said he hasn’t played at all during his tour for Townes, because it requires a backing band.
Other sets which proved memorable that day came from Luke Doucet and Melissa McLelland, Lissie, Samantha Crain, and a special songwriters in the round, which I mentioned in a previous post.
There are some photos above, with more on the way, as well as interviews I’ll be dripping out in the coming days.
From this end of Cayamo, I have to say it’s quite possibly one of the best comprehensive music festivals I’ve yet experienced. Not surprising. The pairing of tropical paradise and fine music is pretty exquisite. Several of the artists noted it’s one of their favorite gigs, as they get to spend so much time collaborating with each other and catching up with other artists they don’t get to see as frequently off the boat.
The crowd was remarkably age-diverse and respectful of the artists both during shows and in the halls of the ship, which offered a nice, comfortable atmosphere for impromptu public jams featuring artists from various bands, as well as random shipmates and fans. Every venue was treated as a listening room – with so many places around the ship to hang out, drink, and be rowdy away from the music, people were intent on listening when they found themselves in the proximity of the music. It was great to see artists as new as Lissie receive the same level of attention and reverence as that of folks like Emmylou and Lyle Lovett. Everyone on Cayamo truly seemed to be there because they love songs and the people who make them. Everything else was just gravy.
The ports, in fact, felt almost tertiary to the rest of the experience on the boat. Someone mentioned about halfway through the cruise that they’d be happy to have no ports at all, and just be sailing around at sea for a week with these artists to entertain them. Belize City, in fact, left a bit to be desired, as there wasn’t much to do as a tourist with only eight hours to kill, unless you sprung for a boat-sponsored excursion (which we did not). The port at Majahual, Mex., was much nicer and eight-hour-tourist friendly. And, while I thoroughly enjoyed our excursion to the Chacchoben Mayan ruins, I was excited to get back on the ship and return to the music. Besides, I left the boat with a newfound interest in Blackjack (and $25 richer!).
In all, to say I’d recommend springing for Cayamo next time it rolls around, would be an understatement. John Prine will be on the bill next year, along with, no doubt, several of the artists who entertained us this time around.