THROUGH THE LENS: Cayamo 2020 – Roots Music on a Caribbean Love Boat
Rachael Price of Lake Street Dive - Cayamo 2020 - Photo by Boom Baker
I don’t know how it keeps happening, but the annual Cayamo “Journey through Song” cruise just seems to get better and better. As evidenced by the narrative below by Brenda Rosser and Boom Baker, as well as their photos and the photos of Larry John Fowler and Mike Hammer below, there was lots of love on this edition. The love in the music, of course, and everyone’s love for the music, but significantly there were several married couples who also perform together, including Over the Rhine, The Mastersons, Allison Moorer and Hayes Carll, and Steve Poltz and Sharon Daddi, who were married on the ship.
While it is apparent from the photos that these couples’ love for one another is palpable, there were other duo collaborations that were replete with love and respect as well, including Moorer and Rodney Crowell’s set, where they shared songs and excerpts from their written memoirs, and Buddy Miller’s duo sets, which had a full backing band.
Those are just tips of the Cayamo iceberg as collaboration, planned and unplanned, was the norm of the week. It is truly working without a net. Speaking of which, here are Brenda’s and Boom’s reports.
This, the 13th Cayamo voyage, might as well have been called the “Love Boat,” as the voyage was marked with positive vibes and love from appearances by the incomparable Mavis Staples, an abundance of musical couples, the surprise nuptials of Steve Poltz and Sharon Daddi, and a little “Love & Mercy” from Brian Wilson. And unlike the connotations with the number 13, we were the lucky ones.
Staples’ sail-away show set the stage for high quality performances and a call for love and action. Jeff Tweedy (her “Tweedy sweetie”) dropped in at her first show for a duet of “You’re Not Alone.” I just wanted to stand next to her and absorb the positive energy.
Brian Wilson brought an 11-piece band including Matt Jardine, son of fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine, and Blondie Chaplin. Their tight performances with those sweet vocals and smooth sound were much appreciated. When “God Only Knows” was performed during the Laurel Canyon show, Wilson watched from the front of the stage.
Steve Poltz has become a beloved performer on the ship. This year he brought his sister and his 89-year-old father with him. His shows were unique, with one finding him inventing a song mid-set based on a woman, Marcy, who was in front of the stage, only to interrupted when he recognized a passenger as “My friend who is kicking cancer’s ass” with a leap to the edge of the stage and hugs. His final show was complete with slides and his life history. And then, to top it all off, he got married in a ceremony open to passengers and with music from The Quebe Sisters, Molly Tuttle, and The Mastersons.
Buddy Miller’s Musical Chairs show always exceeds expectations, with Buddy’s band switching off instruments and musical guests sitting in. This year’s guests included Ashley Monroe, Molly Tuttle, Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley, Rick Holmstrom, Dieta Duncan, Allison Moorer, and Hayes Carll.
The Well Rounded Women show featured Ashley Monroe, Allison Moorer, Eleanor Whitmore, and Dar Williams singing country classics and originals. Williams’ “February” brought tears.
The Cayamo Is for Lovers show featured married couples Over The Rhine, The Mastersons, Allison Moorer and Hayes Carll, and Ellie and Drew Holcomb for songs and Q&As, and much laughter.
The Tribute to Laurel Canyon show refreshingly featured more women artists than the movie did. Joni Mitchell songs were highlights: Madison Cunningham doing “California” and Emily Scott Robinson and Soren Staff on “Both Sides Now.”
Shawn Mullins’ Variety Brunch featured a stageful of guests in their bathrobes or PJs. You must see the photos to believe it.
Brady Blade’s joyful Drum Clinic brought in a variety of guests performing with guest drummers, including passenger jammers.
Sunday’s Gospel show featured Drew and Ellie Holcomb, The Wailin’ Jennys, Emily Scott Robinson, a surprise Mavis Staples appearance, and Wilder Woods. Wilder Woods’ backup singers (The Wives) performed a song on their own that had Staples jumping out of her chair, asking, “Who ARE they?”
In addition to the great music, this self-contained festival on the ocean has other attributes as well: You are no more than five minutes away from music, food, and your cabin. There were two port days (St. Croix and Antigua) where you can relax on the beach, take an interior excursion, or just stroll around town, all of which serve as palate cleansers and ways to recharge your batteries.
I usually do not use the word “cruise” when explaining Cayamo because, unfortunately, the first thing that comes to mind for some folks is a boat full of people with different agendas. Not so on Cayamo: Everyone is there for the music, enjoying a community of like-minded people who just want to have fun enjoying the music festival on the open sea.
It is a week of witnessing wonderful collaborative performances that you will not get to see anywhere else, such as Buddy Miller with Jeff Tweedy, Steve Poltz with The Mastersons, and Mavis Staples with Lake Street Dive. A particular standout was a tribute to Willie Nelson, hosted by The Quebe Sisters, that featured a most magical moment: Raul Malo doing “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground.”
Every year we get to vote for new artists to come onboard. This year the three groups that were voted on were Della Mae, Them Coulee Boys, and Emily Scott Robinson. Afterwards, Them Coulee Boys posted on social media, “Cayamo family! Thank you so much for accepting us as one of your own. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we sure didn’t anticipate all the love we felt last week.”
Cayamo 2020 was yet another year of dreamy reverie filled with wonderful music, lasting memories, and a community joined in love for music and one another. I will miss the unlimited self-serve soft ice cream and mounds of bacon for breakfast. This was my 10th consecutive year on Cayamo and I don’t see myself ever not going.
Now, those glorious one-of-a-kind photos.