Cayamo Cruise: A Day By Day Blog

Longtime Pollstar photo contributor John Davisson was lucky enough to hop aboard the Norwegian Dawn cruise ship last week for Cayamo Cruise: A Journey Through Song. Besides taking about a million killer photos, John documented his experience and shared it with us. (Man, gotta go on that cruise!)

I started my first day on the cruise with a set on the pool deck by Ken Block and Drew Copeland of Sister Hazel (although not billed, Ryan Newell of Sister Hazel was also there). It was wonderful sitting poolside with a nice strong breeze keeping the evening cool as their harmonies meshed and swirled into the evening air. Then I checked out the Stardust Theatre for the first time for a few songs by Indigo Girls, who played their set with an additional musician onstage. I heard later that Brandi Carlile joined them for a few songs, but festivals require choices and I was more excited about seeing Zac Brown Band for my first time.

Photo: John Davisson
Ken Block, Drew Copeland and Ryan Newell of Sister Hazel perform on the Pool Deck on the first day of the Cayamo Cruise.

Zac Brown Band was playing the Pool Deck for the first two nights of the cruise and I quickly learned that they were more exciting than I expected. Sure “Chicken Fried” is a great country single, but the band is more than just country, as I learned over the next couple of nights, with tunes that have elements of country, bluegrass, and reggae and a jamming sensibility that puts most “jambands” to shame.

I ended the evening by heading back to the Stardust Theatre to catch Lyle Lovett and he was wonderful as always. The third song was “If I Had a Boat” which was appropriate for the starting day of the Cayamo adventure. After Lyle’s set I meandered 30 feet down the hall to catch most of Aslyn’s set in Dazzles Lounge. Zac Brown showed up to join her for “Trying to Drive” (as on the recorded version). Her set was an impressive mix of originals and covers (including a cover of Queen’s “Somebody to Love”). Although I’m not familiar with her material yet, I was very impressed with her songs and her performance; She’ll be an artist to watch for.

The second day started with an afternoon set featuring the Indigo Girls and Brandi Carlile on the Pool Deck before a large crowd – some standing around the pool and some catching rays on the pool chairs.

After their set I wandered the ship exploring. The ship had 2 pools, shuffleboard, a basketball court, golf, and numerous restaurants, lounges and bars.

Next I checked out the Spinnaker Lounge with Ed Roland (from Collective Soul) who was getting over a cold but still played a nice set. He also asked for a volunteer from the audience to help him with a Collective Soul hit. In a minute he taught Tim Wagner how to play the song (a rudimentary guitar-playing ability was necessary, but it was easy – only one chord) and they pulled it off.

After a few songs by The Greencards on the Pool Deck (as the sun set over the ocean), I caught some more Lyle Lovett, who changed his set list a bit. Mitch Watkins, Lyle’s guitarist at the show, was shit-hot too.

I caught some music by Darrell Scott (nice country-inflected tunes) and Shawn Colvin (solo acoustic) before walking into an explosive set by Joe Ely (accompanied by Joel Guzman on accordian) in the Spinnaker Lounge. At one point the two of them had a rhythmic sound going that sounded just like a freight train. I ended the night with Mindy Smith in the same venue. She seemed a bit disoriented by the boat but still has the voice of an angel.

Photo: John Davisson
The Indigo Girls and Brandi Carlile perform on the Pool Deck on the second day of the Cayamo Cruise.

The third day of the cruise began with a nice set by Lyle Lovett in the main hall (his last set onboard) followed by some Tift Merritt in the Spinnaker. Tift was great as usual, switching between piano and guitar and singing tasty songs about…anything and everything. I stayed in the Spinnaker for sets by Glen Phillips (from Toad the Wet Sprocket) and Marc Broussard with his father Ted (who plays amazing guitar – his Chet Atkins-style tune caused my jaw to hit the floor) and Shawn Mullins.

The highlight of the evening though was the late night set by the Zac Brown Band. Their set included a fierce version of “Devil Went Down to Georgia” that was faster than the original. (Thankfully we kept the devil at bay.) Numerous guest joined in, including Darrell Scott, Shawn Mullins (who remembered Zac opening for him as a 14-year old), Wyatt Durette (who has written songs with Zac), Sonia Leigh, Aslyn, and Levi Lowrey. The set also included covers of “The Weight” and “I Shall Be Released” and lasted several hours. It was probably the best set on the cruise.

Day four of the cruise began with several songs by John Hiatt, who seems to be better every time I see him. I meandered over to the Spinnaker for another great set by Joe Ely (with Joel again), followed by a set by Mindy Smith, who was feeling better and played a nice set.

Brandi Carlile was next with an amazing set in the Stardust Theatre. She has such a powerful voice and her band which featured Josh Neumann on cello and the Twins (Tim and Phil Hanseroth) on guitar and bass provided a strong backdrop for her songs. Marc Broussard and Vienna Teng joined her for an encore cover of “Let It Be.” My night ended with a set by Glen Phillips. Luke Bulla (violin) and Jonathan Kingham (guitar, piano) accompanied him for some Toad tunes and some songs from his other project Works Progress Administration.

Photo: John Davisson
Joe Ely (with Joel Guzman on accordian) performs in the Spinnaker Lounge on the fourth day of the Cayamo Cruise.

On the fifth day of the cruise, I began with some Brandi Carlile and then caught a few songs by August, a Chicago band that won a contest to perform on Cayamo. Next up was Patty Griffin, accompanied by John Hiatt’s guitarist and her 600 pound Cabana Boy, who she requested as a condition for performing on the Cayamo Cruise. Cabana Boy is also known as Chris Kappy, a member of event producer Sixthman’s team. Kappy brought her grapes and figs and kept her comfortable.

Ed Robertson in the Spinnaker was next and his set was definitely the funniest onboard, with hilarious stories between songs. He played and took credit for (although his guitarist wasn’t so sure) “Careless Whisper” (yep, the Wham song). John Hiatt was up next with another great set that featured mostly songs he hadn’t played the night before. The night ended with some more Ed Roland accompanied by Lauren Bateman (from the audience) on guitar for the same Collective Soul song that Tim Wagner helped on.

Since day six was a full day at sea, I explored more rooms, including the production office (with an ocean view!), a room for reverb, a greening program, and an impromptu jam. I also caught an interesting seminar by a guitar luthier and a seminar by Sixthman (sounds like there might be a VH1 Classics Cruise or a VH1 Storytellers Cruise in the future). I also caught some music by Roddie Romero & the Hub City Allstars and The Greencards on the Pool Deck.

In the evening I caught a few songs by Shawn Colvin and one song by Drew Copeland with Ken Block and Ryan Newell (I was late because of Shawn). I managed to get a photo of Ken Block and his family too. I then caught a few songs by Vienna Teng in the Atrium before another great set by John Hiatt, who played some songs from the previous two nights as well as some he hadn’t played yet. After John I grabbed some food and then caught Patty Griffin (sans Cabana Boy).

Speaking of food, did I mention how great it is to be at a floating festival like this? Your room is only a few hundred yards away, food is included (unless you want fancy food, which can be easily acquired at other restaurants onboard). Most of the venues had comfortable seating and served alcohol (for a price). The only hard part was choosing between bands. I tried to spread the lovin’ around but still couldn’t catch everybody. I was still able to get plenty of performances. Shore excursions were available for a reasonable price, but I was enjoying so much music I used most of my port time to catch up on rest and work. I did make it ashore in Nassau Bahamas for some snorkeling, however.

Photo: John Davisson
The Greencards perform on the Pool Deck on the sixth day of the Cayamo Cruise.

The final day at sea featured the most collaborations, especially at the Buddy Miller Tribute in the Stardust Theatre. (Buddy had a heart attack shortly before the cruise and couldn’t make it, but he’s getting better.) Before the tribute, I caught Oakhurst with special guests Ed Robertson and Levi Lowrey on one song and Shawn Mullins on another song.

Webb Wilder and Darrell Scott played first at the tribute (with Webb taking over as MC). Ed Robertson played with friends, as did Shawn Mullins. Tift Merrit was joined by Kathleen Edwards. Ken Block and Aslyn joined together for a cover of Tom Petty’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” as both are from Gainesville. Brandi Carlile was joined by Shawn Colvin and Patty Griffin was joined by Shawn Colvin and Joe Ely (separately).

I ended my musical cruise experience with sets by Aslyn and the Greencards in the Spinnaker.

I’m not sure I can cope with dry land now (I’m even used to the sway of the ship). I wake up thinking I need to get to the breakfast buffet and then catch some music.