What I most love about the cruise isn't the music or being on a really big ship (a weird experience in and of itself) . . . it's the connecting with some wonderful people who have become very good friends. Don't get me wrong, the music is very important, but the experience wouldn't be the same without the returning cast of characters that I've become part of.
This is Flaire and I mugging for the camera with Matt, Stephanie and Marlene - three people who were among my very first cruise friends back in 2001. Three people that I've forged delightful friendships with over the years. (actually, I knew Matt casually from when he lived in Portland back in the early 90s - but that's part of another story about my first cruise).
It was cool that a very good friend from Portland, Dave Johnson, decided to go this year. All week he was was never without a smile -- couldn't believe the music he was hearing and the people he was meeting. Cruise virgin. It reminded me of how I felt on my first. But being on my seventh, the feeling is a bit different - there's a familiarity and comfort to the entire experience. What now stands out are the small things - bits of conversations, sharing a meal with friends, a particular performance, some sun at the pool, a moment with my sweetie (Flaire unfortunately spent half the trip sick, but tried very hard to keep up, trooper she is). The highs aren't quite so high anymore, but that's okay with me. It's not about the novelty (if so, I would have stopped going after 3 or 4).
What performances stood out? Who did I hear that was new to me? James Hunter was a real surprise - British r&b singer with a crack band and a soulful sound. Reminded me of Sam Cooke. So how do the Brits do it? When he spoke, I thought I was in the middle of Guy Richie movie, but when he sang . . . bang . . . I'm in Memphis with a voice as timeless as the delta . . . Wow.
One of the disappointments of the trip was that Stephen Bruton had to cancel due to illness. But he sent his band with Austin singer Malford Milligan to front it. Powerful vocalist. Amazing energy. They did some of Malford's tunes and Stephen's . . . . and the band was just cookin' . . .
I had my first opportunity to hear Raul Malo perform. I guess this was the year of new vocalists (for me), as the former lead singer of the Mavericks showed why, as one reviewer put it, he could sing the phone book and you'd want to listen.
As usual Delbert, Teresa James, Jimmy Hall and Marcia Ball did solid performances - Delbert's first show of the week was killer and I don't think Teresa is capable of doing a less than stellar set.
Amazing pipes. One of the highlights performances for me was during the final show of the cruise (a general jam of everybody) when Jimmy and Teresa did a soul-drenched duet of Stand By Me. Mingo Fishtrap, Al Anderson, and Paul Thorn turned in crowd-pleasings sets all week. The Mingo horns seemed to be working with everyone, too. And it was a pleasure to have Portland's own Lloyd Jones return after a few years hiatus.
His good time funky blues connected with the crowd in a big way - people were really happy Delbert invited him back. Me too!
There was even more - jazz from NY drummer Mike Clark, cajun from Jo-El Sonnier, the songwriters sessions (always packed), Fred Eaglesmith (don't know if there's a more insightful or funnier social critic masquerading as a country singer from Ontario), jump blues from Big Joe Maher with a cruise all-star pickup band, late night jam sessions, etc . . . .
The week flew by, and way too quickly we we're saying our goodbyes and back on land in San Diego. We're not sure if we'll be back next year. Frankly, the biggest part of that decision is that the route will be very similar. I really would prefer the Caribbean to the Pacific coast of Mexico in January, so it might be wait until 2010 and see if we'll return to the warmer east side waters.
So an end to the boring missive . . . . I'll put up a link to my edited cruise photos when I finished . . . . but next some recommendations for music this weekend . . .