The Ironbath’s blog is back from his February break!
It is very hard to explain or review Cayamo. In basic terms it is a big boat in the Caribbean filled with over 45 artists ranging from The Civil Wars, Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Lucinda Williams, Keb’ Mo, to musical legends like John Prine, Buddy Miller & Richard Thompson, festival stalwarts like Shawn Mullins, Sara & Sean Watkins, James McMurtry and wonderful musicians that you just haven’t heard about yet such as Native Run, Sarah Jaffe, Aurora Belle, Joe Purdy & Levi Lowrey.
In 7 days there are over 150 shows – far more than you’d probably ever see in a year at home; but this is just one element of an overall package that instills a wonderful feeling of community amongst the artists and passengers. Even the crew of the NCL Pearl relax a little and thoroughly enjoy the week.
It was the fifth Caribbean boat ride, and with such a high retention rate it felt like a family reunion. Without exaggeration I’m sure that I know 200 people on the boat. Even Shawn Mullins has transcended ‘the guy who had a hit with Lullaby’ to become ‘just one of the guys that I go vacation with’.
One of the highlights this year was Frank’s Place: an open stage where passengers could perform original material in a non competitive environment. It was so humbling to be so utterly surrounded by tremendous musical talent wherever one went.
Back on the main stage the highlights were Lucinda Williams who played 3 great sets featuring a blazing finale with Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale (a stowaway); The Civil Wars who are the band of the moment and had to leave the boat early so that they could pick up a couple of Grammy’s; Richard Thompson’s incredible guitar playing both solo and with his Trio; and the spectacular Buddy Miller headliner show that featured Jim, Regina McCrary & the finest drummer I’ve ever heard, Brady Blade.
On the other stages people were talking about Sarah Jaffe’s cover of Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby‘, Native Run’s Rachel’s passionate drumming, the amazing vocal performances by Aurora Belle & Sarah Dugas, Levi Lowrey & Joe Purdy’s sensual performances, Callaghan (another stowaway) singing with Shawn Mullins off mic, wonderful collaborative performances from WPA/Sara Watkins/Watkin’s Family Hour, and a humbling performance of ‘Amazing Grace’ led by Rhett Miller.
Then after the official music ends at about 1 AM the nightly unofficial jams spring up around the boat. They often featured Sean Watkins who has become a hugely influential artists over the 3 years that he has joined the boat. Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale joined one of his amazing late night performances – with Buddy wearing one of the broadest grins seen on a very happy boat. Another apparently featured a Shawn Mullins & friends rendition of ‘Copperhead Road’ featuring bag pipes courtesy of Enter The Haggis. Sara Watkins joined in an impromptu performance in the stairwell with Sixthman staffer and accomplished guitarist, Sonia Tetlow. That jam would continue until just before the sun rose and feature Sean Watkins, Joe Purdy & David Ryan Harris.
There is an unbridled joy felt by the musicians who all love their participation on Cayamo – and this is displayed in their music. There are no regular shows on Cayamo. Every show features a collaboration or a song that you wouldn’t normally hear. Musicians are so relaxed and the level of audience participation is far beyond what you’d normally expect. And when the music starts the audience shuts up and listens.
Unlike other festivals with great line-ups, Cayamo is held in relative luxury. No camping out, no field toilets, no need to drive home. It was quite possible for anyone to get tickets to any show that they wanted to see – although quite often you wanted to be in 2 or 3 places at the same time as there was an embarrassment of riches.
The boat did even go places – apparently! Cayo Levantado (Dominican Republic), St Maarten’s & St Barts, although the Ironbath only stepped ashore for an hour or so on St Barts. Even then he missed an Aurora Belle show that with hindsight he’d had rather seen. Some people can cope with the extra stimulation of shore excursions but the Ironbath needs some rest time during the week.
Still, I feel I haven’t adequately described this boat. The sum is far greater than its parts. Some have described Cayamo as the closest that they have to a religion. To me it is better than anything else I’ve experienced in my life. It is all about the music – but the music is just the cohesive force that holds together the Cayamo Family.
Thank you, Sixthman.
There will be more about Cayamo 2012 on this blog in the weeks and months to come!