Small Town Romance – (Cayamo Cruise 2012)
Jim Lauderdale, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Buddy Miller
Last week my hometown was battered in a contest to choose the coolest small town in the United States, so the best place to lick my wounds turns out to be an anticipated previous engagement- sailing the Caribbean on the fifth annual Cayamo Cruise.
As far as coolness goes this “town” is pretty much over the top. The cruise features six days of peace, music and all the amenities. With 2,383 passengers and 1,078 crew, the population is about the same as the town that earned first place in that lamentable contest.
This is of course a stretch. Despite the presence of a leisure class and a (presumably unexploited) working class, the ship isn’t really a town. And since we are sailing southeast of Miami it’s not even in the United States. Which led to the first little bump in the voyage, finding that the Super Bowl was available on a screen taller than the buildings where most people live, but the creative commercial cacophony was replaced by something more generic.
So those aboard had to console themselves with sets by the duo of Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt, John Prine, a smattering of other musicians and the promise that today was only the beginning. Lovett and Hiatt didn’t really perform together. One would play a song while the other politely watched, peppering the in between with sparkling repartee.
“It’s great being on a ship where you can meet all of your idols walking down a staircase and they can’t get away from you,” Lovett said. “You can meet Richard Thompson on an elevator and get way closer to Loudon Wainwright than he wants you to.” He then goes on to tell a story where he met Chuck Berry on a staircase, and is careful to point out that it wasn’t on this particular ship.
Good that he clarified, because even with this lineup attendees are swapping rumors that this person or that is hiding on board and ready to make a surprise appearance. While Lovett talked about how wonderful it was to be in the audience Prine covered the artist’s perspective, saying how great it was to meet old friends that he now only passes by in airports before bringing out Iris Dement to sing “Paradise” and “In Spite of Ourselves” (where she needed the lyric sheet to keep up).
Prine played for about an hour with no encore, despite the crowd’s call for more. This is different than your average show, with set length more resembling a public TV music show than a standard concert. Cayamo’s Chris Kappy, who has been on all five cruises, said the sets are kept short to keep things moving and preserve artist’s voices. Keep it short, I say. At this age (if the ship was a town it could qualify as a retirement community) you don’t want to sit through a marathon. I bet that a lot of folks on board would even want Bruce Springsteen to wrap it up so they can go home.
In Prine’s case I’ll be back on Wednesday, to see what could be a second set. Or the same songs done twice. Anything can happen. And it is later in the week when it promises to loosen up. Imagine that. Kappy said that every year there is an “artist party” on Tuesday where the performers forge alliances for the rest of the week. Farther on, he said, you see some really unusual collaborations. So Lovett and Hiatt, and Loudon Wainwright and Richard Thompson later in the week, only prime the pump.
The Norwegian line pushes a concept it calls “freestyle cruising,” where everything is available around the clock and no one is telling you what to do. The music is the same, a perpetual buffet of sound. You can snack on steak (Buddy Miller!) throughout the week or try some of the more unusual delicacies on board. While I’m anxious to renew acquaintances and wouldn’t pay the freight if there weren’t some big names, the benefit is will be to walk off the ship in a week with an expanded musical palate. Or palette.
One last thing. Aside from the music the ship recalls an earlier time, when food was cheap–free–and connectivity was a luxury. So my goal of putting up daily multimedia-rich post had to be scaled down. The pages take forever to load, so these posts look a little sloppy. I expect to clean them up in the future, and will post more pictures and things after my return.