It was around May 2007 that the Ironbath first read about a music festival that was being held on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. It all started when I checked The Duhks website to see if they were coming to the UK to play at any of the summer festivals. They weren’t but they were playing a thing called Cayamo. The Ironbath clicked the link and a turquoise web page popped up… Patty Griffin … Lyle Lovett … Shawn Colvin … John Hiatt – Wow!
And there were a dozen other artists that the Ironbath hadn’t heard of – oh and Shawn Mullins, who the Ironbath remembered from his ‘Soul’s Core’ album some 10 years previously.
A few years earlier the Ironbath had combined a trip to the Edmonton Folk Festival with a trip around western Canada, so was quite open to the concept of music tourism – But for financial reasons decided that a cruise through the Caribbean was a step too far.
The idea didn’t go away. It slowly marinated in the Ironbath’s mind and when I got a new job the following November, I bit the bullet and booked.
There were 3 months before the cruise. The Ironbath started using MySpace to research the artists… and also logged on to the Cayamo forum. It was a community filled with some wonderful people who seemed to understand the same music that the Ironbath loved. It was mixed with great humour and anticipation. No one knew what Cayamo would be or how it would work but the excitement was tangible.
February 2008 arrived and the night before the cruise we all met up in Miami. Walking into the pre-party was bewildering. I met someone I recognised from the message board, and then I saw Kitty walking around carrying the “Pink Sign”. The sign had been designed so that the messageboarders could identify each other, and Kitty was trawling the party shepherding people to one area. The noise level rose rapidly as the realisation dawned that this Cayamo thing was actually going to happen.
The next day we lined up outside the cruise terminal and the tingling was immense. There is an excitement about boarding a cruise ship that is unmatched by any other form of vacation. As I entered the vessel one hand was being shaken by the CEO of the company organising the festival and a glass or fizzy wine was placed in the other.
Then I saw the atrium. There is nothing on earth that can prepare you for the interior of a cruise ship. It is a shopping mall on steroids. It is a world where having a bright green ceiling dripping with crystals illuminated by 50,000 tiny lights is considered normal. Reality is suspended for the duration of the cruise.
I found my way up to the Lido deck – later to be referred to as the Libido deck. A stage had been constructed over a pool and as you opened the door to go outside you found yourself right in front of the stage. A singer called Adrianne was playing right in front of me. I wandered aimlessly until I found a group of people from the messageboard – and ended up with a cocktail in my hand.
That evening I saw Lyle Lovett play, then found the fantastical Red & Black lounge where first Chris Janson performed – joined on stage with his (then) girlfriend, Holly Williams – then the winners of the Paste competition, The Bowmans performed. Both sets were wonderful. The lounge was tiny, and many people were yet to find their way there. You could hear a pin drop and the quality of the music was amazing.
The Ironbath found his way back onto the Lido deck where The Duhks were performing under the warm Caribbean night sky. I first heard them a couple of years earlier at a festival and became hooked. This time they were playing without their band leader, Leonard Podolak – who had his passport stolen the previous week whilst in Scotland at Celtic Connections, and couldn’t get his US visa replaced in time. They also had a new vocalist, Sarah Dugas, who had recently replaced Jessee Harvey.
The set was incredible, Sarah Dugas has a vocal that could carve a canyon from solid rock. There was no chance that we’d be lost in fog as we cruised through the Caribbean! The Ironbath found himself right in front of the stage lifted up by the beautiful music. The Duhks play a traditional tune called ‘Les Blues De Cadien’ and since Sarah had joined the band they’d started to merge it into Led Zepplin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’. You wouldn’t have thought that a French Canadian fiddle tune would fit with a rock anthem, but both share a similar riff.
As Sarah was singing the chorus: “Gonna give you my love” at 8.1 on the Ricter scale, she was stood only a couple of metres from the Ironbath and was staring directly at him. May be it was the warm Caribbean breeze but he’d swear that he could feel her breath as she sung. Hairs stood up on the back of his neck, shivers cascaded up his spine and he fell in love with Sarah Dugas.
It was midnight and the Ironbath had experienced the most amazing musical experience of his life. Back inside a band called Gaelic Storm had just taken to the stage in the casino. They played an Irish stylised folk-rock, and put on a great show with a lot of audience interaction. By the second chorus of every song you were singing along as if you’d always known it.
1 am came and went, the music and dancing was unimpeded, 2 am passed, then eventually they announced their final song. An encore was inevitable and a new set started. Another encore, then around 3 am they announced “just one more!” and 45 minutes later they stopped playing.
Dizzy with lack of sleep and a voice lost somewhere in the Gaelic Storm set, the Ironbath knew that he had stumbled across the most amazing music festival in the world. A trip of a lifetime had become something that would be forever essential, something that would change the Ironbath’s life. February would never be the same again.