THROUGH THE LENS: Floating Music Festival Cayamo Makes Joyous Return to Sea
Ruthie Foster - Cayamo 2022 - Photo by Brenda Rosser
Unlike many festivals, the Cayamo cruise only missed one year due to COVID-19 (it docked in 2020 just before lockdowns hit, and then skipped 2021). This year was not a given due to the close proximity that being on a cruise ship necessarily entails, but as no on-board outbreak was reported, it was, to coin a phrase, smooth sailing.
As with previous voyages, No Depression and Cayamo veterans Brenda Rosser and Larry John Fowler (fresh from covering the Outlaw Country Cruise) were aboard to report on the action. Here now is their joint account. If it does not want you to hop on board for next year’s cruise then I don’t know what will.
Celebrating and Remembering
This year’s cruise, the 14th, set sail from Miami with stops in St. Thomas and St. Kitts and seemed to have two themes: 1) mourning the loss of so many musicians in recent years, John Prine in particular; and 2) bluegrass music highlighted by the celebration of the 10th anniversary of The Bluegrass Situation.
The lineup was too vast and deep to list everyone, but a highlight right off the bat was the opening sail-away show on the pool deck by The Mavericks — it was so enthusiastic that the pandemic blues we all had been feeling were easily swept away. Here are a few more of our favorite moments:
Souvenirs: Songs of John Prine: Fiona Prine and son Tommy were joined by Prine’s final band members (Jason Wilbur, Fats Kaplin, Kenneth Blevins, and David Jacques) and Kristi Rose for several shows featuring Prine’s songs. Yes, tears were shed, but we also were cleansed by the enjoyment of Prine’s superb song catalog. Fiona Prine also had several interview sessions while on board.
The Bluegrass Situation’s “Party of The Deck-Ade:” A dream lineup of Sierra Hull, Punch Brothers, Madison Cunningham, Tommy Emmanuel, The Hogslop String Band, Dear Darling, Brittany Spencer, Robbie Fulks, Rainbow Girls, Aoife O’Donovan, Shook Twins, Kathleen Edwards, Jim Lauderdale, and Laney Lou and The Bird Dogs celebrated BGS’s 10 years. Wow.
Ruthie Foster: In her Cayamo debut, Foster’s mixture of soul, jazz, and even country was mesmerizing in every way. She kept everyone coming back for more.
Chris Thile’s “Secret Show:” Thile’s solo show was announced via electronic display late one night. He was joined briefly by Aoife O’Donovan, and the set included a humorous song about the 2016 election, “Elephant in the Room.” Oddly, the song, inspired by C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, was interrupted twice by a casino dealer announcing wins through the PA down the hall. Madison Cunningham sat in as well.
Wine and Cheese Tasting With Grace Potter: Potter’s knowledge about the wines from Tarpon Cellars of Napa Valley when noting their specific flavors was as noteworthy as her hilarious banter. To top it off she did a short song after each.
Songwriters in the Round: A song swap with Grace Potter, Emmylou Harris, Taylor Goldsmith, and Raul Malo exceeded expectations. I gained a new appreciation of Goldsmith’s songwriting as well as his ability to add wonderful spontaneous instrumentals into others’ songs.
Punch Brothers’ St. Thomas Sail Away: Sailing away from the stop in St. Thomas, Punch Brothers’ pool deck set featured the band wearing ship’s officer’s shirts and a nautical-themed set list. Mother Nature added a nice touch when a giant frigate bird began circling overhead mid-set. Thile nicknamed it Bert, and the music seemed to be following the bird’s swirls and swooshes. Fittingly, the next song on the set list was “Jungle Bird.”
There was also a Cayamo-themed bawdy rewording of The Lonely Island song “I’m On a Boat,” with a warning for those possibly offended by some of the language. (Sample verse: “Our curaçao is blue, our Girls are Indigo, And Miss Emmylou Harris has never looked finer, than when she’s singing on this m-f***ing luxury liner.”) The set ended with Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Gratefully, we did not meet the same fate.
Paul Thorn’s “Campfire Sessions:” Aided by Richard Thompson and Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, the songs were as fantastic as the humor-filled exchanges between them.
Guest jams: Morning and late-night guest jams featuring Tommy Emmanuel, Paxton, and Tom “Panda” Ryan, with Maple Byrne (“guitar wrangler” for, among others, Emmylou Harris) casually wandering by offering advice was utterly delightful. Byrne had his own show, “Six Questions” where he was interviewed by Sixthman artist relations manager Trae Vedder. It was a wonderful look back at his career and the many artists he has worked with.
The Mavericks & Friends: With a host of guests, this set closed the cruise in high style. Highlights included JD McPherson’s scorching version of Little Richard’s “Lucille”; Raul Malo and John Paul White’s duet on Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” and Malo and Tommy Emmanuel on Breakfast at Tiffany’s theme song “Moon River”; and when Nicole Adkins and Rainbow Girls brought everyone to their feet with a spectacular rendition of The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby.”
What a way to end the week, sending us home with happy feet, fingers snapping, and joy in our souls. Cannot wait for 2023.
Click on any photo below to view the gallery as a full-size slideshow.