One Week at Sea, Through the Eyes of Fans
This week, I’m featuring Cayamo’s Journey through Song, a week-long floating music festival on the Norwegian Pearl.
As you can read in the Southern Rambler’s articulate review of this year’s cruise, for many attendees, Cayamo is a musical family reunion — about 70 percent of its passengers return each year. The release of the schedule is a highly anticipated event, and some frequent attendees develop spreadsheets to see as many acts as possible. I know quite a few of these voyagers as I see them at other festivals throughout the year and keep in contact. This week, my column is for and by them.
Many of these folks have provided the photographs and the narrative below by Brenda Rosser, who lives in Georgia and has been on six of the nine voyages. Here, then, is Cayamo through her eyes:
While there are ticketed, assigned-seating shows and general admission shows, there are also special shows, some of which are collaborations. This year’s special shows were Unlikely Trio: Foy Vance, Angaleena Presley, and Paul Thorn; Unlikely Duo: Lucinda Williams and Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff; the Buddy & Jim Radio Show; a pool deck Grateful Dead tribute show at midnight; and Moonlight Revival: an around-the-campfire rotating guitar pull on the final night.
The Sailaway show on day one was Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, in fine form in the beautiful Miami weather. Jason remarked that it was a little odd to be singing all these sad songs in such an atmosphere but that he realized that “these people party sad!” John Prine’s first show was that same evening, and was a highlight for many.
Monday morning for many began with Tai Chi on the deck, led by Jim Lauderdale, before we all waded into a jam-packed schedule. Cayamo’s schedule often presents one with hard choices, as there are shows in the main Stardust theatre as well as pool deck shows, and three other smaller venue areas: the ship’s Atrium, the Spinnaker lounge or “Spinny,” and the Great Outdoors on the 12th deck. There are other events in the Bar City area such as guitar clinics with Jimmy Galloway, sand art with Kacey Musgraves, and wine and whiskey tastings hosted by Kate York & Joe Pisapia and Maren Morris, respectively.
There are impromptu passenger jams on the boat as well as some by performers. Shawn Mullins and his band scheduled one at the last minute and if you stayed up very late, you were bound to catch something special. There was a late-night karaoke show, in which some paid performers — who shall remain nameless — participated to great comic effect. The evidence has all been buried, in keeping with Cayamo tradition.
Here’s a day-by-day list of highlights of what I saw:
Unlikely Trio of Foy Vance/Angaleena Presley and Paul Thorn, with much laughter. At one point Presley remarked to Vance, “I have your spit all over me, and I love it,” after a particularly passionate song. Thorn dedicated one of his first songs (“I’m Still Here”) to a passenger he met who was recovering from cancer. I saw John Hiatt’s Stardust show, with his full band — a tight and great mix of old and new music. I enjoyed Doug Lancio’s masterful guitar and mandolin solos.
Robert Ellis played show in the Great Outdoors. The sun set over the back deck, and he wore a white suit with a pink print shirt with green flamingos. Obviously hot, he said there was no reasonable explanation for how he was dressed. He admitted he was seasick and that he would try not to throw up. After tossing off his nerdy seabands, he delivered a beautiful set of material from Lights from the Chemical Plant, along with other selections.
There was a Midnight Grateful Dead tribute show, featuring appearances by David Bromberg, Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale (for “Friend of the Devil”), Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams (for “Black Muddy River” and “Attics of my Life”), Steve Earle, Sam Lewis (for “Mississippi Half-Step Toodloloo”), and Robert Ellis (for “Touch of Grey”). “Attics of My Life” was incredible, with beautiful, tight harmonies by Campbell and Williams, and bandmate Jeff Hill.
I saw Amanda Shires in the Spinnaker with Jason Isbell accompanying. She played her quirky songs with excellent fiddle, delivered with much humor.
John Fullbright and also The Black Lillies pool deck shows. Both delivered tasty songs with some new material from Fullbright. The Lillies were performing with borrowed gear after having their trailer of gear stolen in Houston last weekend but it was clear that the support they received from many in the audience buoyed their spirit. They delivered a very lively set.
Jason Wilber (John Prine sideman) played a solo set in the Atrium, wihch was a delightful mix of original material and covers. He brought the crowd to pin-drop silence with his rendition of Leon Russell’s “Song for You.” Also well received was his cover of David Bowie’s “Oh You Pretty Things.”
Unlikely Duo: Lucinda Williams and Alynda Lee Segarra was a musical mutual admiration society, with two politically aware songwriters at their best. They swapped verses on Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home in This World Anymore,” with last stanza about Old Man Trump included, and closed the show with Williams’ “People Talking,” which Hurray for the Riff Raff regularly performs.
Paul Thorn played a pool deck show. A schedule swap put this one in mid-afternoon, in perfect Carribbean weather, and his tight set with the full band was warmly received by a capacity crowd. He came down into the audience for “Get You a Healing” and won himself many new fans.
Buddy & Jim’s Radio show: a perennial favorite. Tickets to this bonus show are always in high demand. Guests this year were Sugar & the High Lows, Maren Morris, and Slaid Cleaves (with Chojo Jacques). Larry Campbell was part of the house band for the show and did a demonstration of how to work a pedal steel.
Newcomers to the boat who were a big hit were the Bros. Landreth, American Babies (who acted as house band for Grateful Dead show), Johnnyswim, Foy Vance, and Sam Lewis. Lewis was joined in two of his shows by Chris Stapleton.