Seven days and nights of music with over 40 performers on a cruise ship.
Sunday, 2.5.12: As we boarded the ship for the 7-night journey through song, we were treated to the music of Beth Wood performing. WPA played their first of three scheduled shows. Glen Phillips noted that this cruise is really the only gig WPA plays and that their genre of music is “sad”. Willie Watson (Old Crow Medicine Show) and Rhett Miller (Old 97’s) also joined WPA which included Sean & Sara Watkins, Sebastian Steinberg, Jerry Roe and Greg Leisz (who was much in demand throughout the week to play dobro and pedal steel with many other artists). Luke Bulla was not on the cruise, but WPA still performed a couple of his songs. I briefly went to see Levi Lowrey perform and he mentioned being on board in 2009 with the Zac Brown Band. He went looking for a slot to play and that he was honored to be back on board again. Next, it was a Rhett Miller solo set. Miller really puts his whole body into his performances, swaying and sweating through his shirt by the end of the hour. I was amazed at the depth of his songwriting, he looks too young to have written so many songs in his growing catalog of music. His most recent release is a cover CD The Interpreter: Live At Largo and he performed quite a few tracks in his sets including American Girl and the Wilco song California Stars. We caught a little bit of the married couple Sarah Lee (Guthrie) and Johnny (Irion)’s set as well as a couple of tunes by Sarah Jaffe. The evening of music ended for us with 90 minutes of songwriter Chuck Cannon (introduced by Shawn Mullins), whose latest CD Symphony of Scars was only available on the ship for now. Cannon was joined by Shawn Mullins and Nashville based country singer Sarah Buxton.
Greg Leisz, Sara Watkins & Glen Phillips - WPA
Monday, 2.6.12: Our first day at Sea. The music began at 12:30 pm and probably went well past 2:00 am, as we sailed into the Atlantic time zone. Winterbloom (Antje Duvekot, Anne Heaton, Meg Hutchinson & Natalia Zuckerman) started out on the pool deck, but their set was shortened due to the windy conditions. I went to get a seat in the lounge early for Shawn Mullins’ first performance. Mullins does not travel with his full band on the road (Patrick Blanchard, Gerry Hansen, Davis Causey, and Tom ‘Panda’ Ryan), but they sounded very tight especially on the extended Beautiful Wreck jam. He was also joined by the talented British singer-songwriter Callaghan (Mullins produced her CD Life in Full Colour to be released on 5/1) who headlined her own show later in the week. Mullins shared a few new songs She Completes Me, Hold on Love and Sunshine, which sounded just great. He talked about 3-chord pop songs and how his songs do not often end on a chord, instead they fade out with a deceptive cadence. Meanwhile, Mr. Barb went to see Sara Watkins first solo show then to see the Ryan Montbleau Band. After Mullins, I stayed to see Edwin McCain and Maia Sharp perform. They each took a turn signing one of their songs, often co-written by the other. Great stories - Sharp talked about her song Red Dress turning into an Irish drinking song thanks to a male fan that was familiar with it at a past show and started singing along. Sharp has a new CD coming out in the summer. I met Mr. Barb in the atrium where we saw the end of Joe Purdy’s show. I also went to check out Bobby Long (definitely resembles Rhett Miller). Holly Williams has noticeably improved as a performed since her first cruise in 2008 (she also relayed the story of how she missed getting back on the boat at a port stop, when she didn’t change her watch to ship time and learned a valuable lesson that she wanted to pass along). It was our first time seeing James McMurtry and it was quite an upbeat rocking set of long songs. After that set it was another show from WPA. Sarah & Christian Dugas (The Duhks) hosted a throw down jam with musical guests that extended into the early morning hours. Shawn Mullins covered a Kris Kristofferson song, while the Watkins’ sang a Linda Ronstadt song.
Tuesday, 2.7.12: Cayo Levantado. We stayed on board the ship. A nice discovery for us was Willie Watson, who had his own set. He commented that he was on board with WPA, then saw he was given a solo slot. He did a variety of songs on the banjo and guitar; joined on stage at times by Greg Leisz, as well as Sara & Sean Watkins. Mr. Barb stayed in his seat and saw Angie Aparo (he has quite a vocal range and uses one of those microphones that amplifies his speaking voice). I went out on the pool deck for Enter the Haggis. It was evident they fully absorbed all they could on their first voyage the previous year and took what they learned and put it into their current release Whitelake. Panda from the Shawn Mullins band joined them on saxophone & bass. Mr. Barb was really looking forward to seeing Iris Dement and he made sure to catch all of her shows as well as those of her husband, Greg Brown. I again went to see Edwin McCain and Maia Sharp – they were joined by Rhett Miller, the Watkins’ and the Dugas’. McCain and Sharp recorded Uncharted in a Holiday Inn on Sharp’s laptop, liked that version and put it on McCain’s Mercy Bound release (it sounded great live). We then enjoyed another set by the Ryan Montbleau Band. Afterwards “The Time Bandits” (the Shawn Mullins band with multiple guests) jammed in the atrium into the early morning hours with covers such as Ophelia, Statesboro Blues, Easy and Dreams.
Wednesday, 2.8.12: St. Maarten. Philipsburg is a beautiful city, we really enjoyed walking around. It was warm and sunny, in the upper 70’s, with a breeze. Once back on the ship, it was our first opportunity to see Mr. Buddy Miller. His guest was Jim Lauderdale, who wore an Elvis Presley like red sequenced jump suit and performed with Miller three George Jones songs. We saw the end of Shawn Mullins’ show on the pool deck, then went to see David Ryan Harris (who is simply captivating). I checked out Shannon McNally and Bobby Long (he tells great stories and is quite a developing young talent), while Mr. Barb stayed to see Greg Brown. In the midnight hour, I went to see songwriter’s talk about their songs and perform them. It was a stellar line up that could have gone on for hours. Edwin McCain was the host and he was joined by Rhett Miller, Angie Aparo, Joe Purdy and Jim Lauderdale. Miller told a story about trying to get Waylon Jennings to pronounce the word elixir correctly. McCain did an impassioned version of White Crosses. You could see the respect they had for each other and it is always interesting to hear the stories behind the songs. Mr. Barb went to see the duo of Aurora Belle.
Thursday, 2.9.12: St. Barts. One of the most beautiful port cities we have visited – where they speak French, use the Euro and tolerate visitors from a cruise ship walking around their village of Gustavia. It rained briefly, which only added to the ambience. I had to balance my time between seeing Edwin McCain & Maia Sharp (on keyboard & guitar) then to the final WPA show. We had two more Buddy Miller shows. At one show he had the drummer from Lucinda Williams band and Miller also had the upright bass player from the John Prine band accompany him and of course Greg Leisz on pedal steel. He had Richard Thompson as a guest at his last show – Mr. Miller was in awe of Thompson’s guitar playing. We caught a bit of Chuck Cannon’s show in between the Miller shows. We saw Sarah Buxton (married to a great guitarist, Tom Bukovac –who also sat in with Chuck Cannon and others). The evening ended with Enter The Haggis playing in the atrium into the morning.
Friday, 2.10.12: A day at sea. The music started at 12:30 p.m. and went past 2:00 a.m. We went to the pool deck to see the Ryan Montbleau Band. Hard to categorize their music, but we like it. I attended a beer tasting hosted by Glen Phillips. I learned a lot about the different types of beer with Phillips sharing some trivia and he even performed a song. Next it was to a very interesting songwriting workshop hosted by Shawn Mullins and Chuck Cannon (who did a signing in the merch store afterwards), while Mr. Barb was seeing Iris Dement. As we were walking into the main theater for a seat, we were treated to Loudon Wainwright III singing Dead Skunk (in the middle of the road). We found a seat and finally got to see Keb’ Mo’. His special guest was Maia Sharp – she co-wrote All the Way on his current CD The Reflection, which they sang together. I have yet to hear a song by Keb’ Mo’ that I did not like. While Mr. Barb stayed to see Greg Brown, I went to see a Glen Phillips solo show (his guest was Ruby Amanfu, who can be heard on the new Jack White (solo) track Love Interruption). Then to see parts of shows by Bobby Long, and Sarah Buxton, before wrapping up the evening with The Watkins Family Hour - hosted by siblings Sara & Sean Watson. They normally do not perform the Watkins Family Hour outside of Largo, so this was a treat. Special guests included Buddy Miller and Glen Phillips, among others.
Saturday, 2.11.12: Another day at sea with well over 13 hours of performances scheduled on the last full day of the cruise. We began on the pool deck with Chuck Cannon. We had front row tickets to see Shawn Mullins in the main theater. It was a highlight. Rhett Miller’s pool deck show got moved inside to the atrium, due to rain, so he just picked up where he left off on song #6, and guests included Sarah Lee & Johnny and Sarah Jaffee. Mr. Barb went to see another solo Sara Watkins snow. Enter the Haggis was the last show of the cruise on the pool deck. Mr. Barb went to see Iris Dement again. I caught a little bit of Antje Duvekot and then we saw Michael McDermott – who only did two shows – he is definitely an artist that we would like to hear more of. We attend Native Run’s last show – the trio singing Luke Brindley’s Wrecking Ball being a highlight each performance. Then to check out Anne Heaton followed by Levi Lowrey. The final show on the cruise was with David Ryan Harris, Edwin McCain and Angie Aparo each talking about and singing their songs and that turned into another jam session as guests joined them.
Shawn Mullins with his band
It was smooth sailing with wonderful weather and beautiful port stops. With over 40 performers and collaborations, these journeys through song continue to amaze us. The amount of talent on board a ship for 7 nights would be hard to fully duplicate on land. The performers seem to enjoy the cruise as much as we music fans do – since they normally do not get to see each other and perform together due to touring and recording. Saying it’s amazing does not seem to fully capture the experience. You get to interact with the performers – who you are in awe of and they are in turn in awe of the other performers on board. The artists say at their shows that it is an honor to be a part of this journey through song with all of us.
Barb S.- Sunday Mix Host