Some final thoughts on Cayamo 2012

It’s 4 a.m. The Norwegian Pearl is north of St. Barths, heading back home to Miami on a two-day voyage. At a bar near the stern, I’ve been jamming with a half-dozen guitarists of various skill sets, along with Brian Buchanan of Enter the Haggis, Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek and (lately) The Decemberists, a couple of Irish musicians who are fantastic and apparently famous in their home country, and a husband-and-wife team on guitar and dobro who ducked out before I could find out who they are — a development that I will regret forever because I was hoping they were from my neck of the woods and we could form a band.

My wife, who has watched me play since the mid-1990s and is amused by all of this, has been sitting at the bar nearby and reading a paperback. But what she’s really been doing is chatting up the other passers-by and listening like a good journalist. She comes over to me.

“Walk around the corner to the staircase right now,” she says. I do what I am told.

At the landing of the enormous aft staircase is Sean Watkins (Sara’s brother and a really good musician in his own right) along with Joe Purdy. Sitting on the steps are various hangers-on, along with staffers from the company that chartered the ship and freaks like me who are still out at this hour. David Ryan Harris tries to sneak by, apparently on his way to bed, but the entire crowd chants “DA-VID! DA-VID! DA-VID!” until he joins Watkins and Purdy on the landing. And they all play.

Stairwell jam

Watkins nods to Purdy, who asks the small crowd what they want to hear. “Play a guilty pleasure!” someone yells. Purdy launches into “Like A Rolling Stone.” After the second chorus comes around, I pull out a harp and start playing the solo in there. People really seem to like it, although it’s a long song and I don’t want to annoy people with too much harmonica from someone who’s not a performer on the boat.

The jam goes on, covering some Creedence here, some Stones there, a little bluegrass, a little soul. I get to sing a little and play a little at times. And finally Watkins says he’ll do one last song, and the whole group launches into “The Weight,” the old chestnut from The Band that almost everyone on board could sing by heart. We kick around a few verses out of order, and then a crowd member starts singing verses from other songs that fit perfectly. One example (and again, remember that this verse was set to the melody of “The Weight”):

A little ditty ’bout Jack and Diane
Two American kids doing the best they caaaaan
Jackie’s gonna be a football star
Diane’s doin’ time in the back seat of Jackie’s car
Take a load off, Fannie…

And on and on and on. And that was the highlight of Cayamo for me.

I cruised for more than 2,000 miles on a megaship, visited the Dominican Republic, St. Maarten and St. Barths, listened to dozens of folkies, old rockers, country people, Americana and alt-whatever artists, watched the final concert from The Civil Wars before the duo flew off to L.A. mid-trip and picked up two Grammys, finally got to hear John Prine, Iris Dement and James McMurtry after all of these years, wondered how I missed out on Shawn Mullins for so long, couldn’t figure out why I never thought of Chuck Cannon as anything other than a songwriter, sidestepped most of the sets from the sensitive-folk-women-with-guitars, which is just not my thing (addendum: see the comments), saw Lucinda again, thought the Ryan Montbleau Band could smoke most of the musicians on board and watched the Belle Brigade kick 12 kinds of butt. I also played some blackjack, tossed around the dice a few times and ran up a scary bar tab.

But it was that moment, as I sat on the staircase of the ship at an hour when I usually get up and go to work, that will stick with me forever.

I hope to go back to Cayamo some day. It’s an expensive vacation, even for a music freak like me, and it’s a lot to ask of my not-music-freakish wife to go along for such a pricey self-indulgence again. But I’ll never forget this week ever, ever, ever. And if any of the musicians I met need a harp player…well, look me up.

Update 2/28: If you are a Facebook member, you can see a nice slice of the jam here. And below is how the jam started, with Sixthman staffer (and Atlanta musician) Sonia Tetlow hitting some very cool guitar riffs…and then Sara Watkins walks up…and things just went from there:

Previously: Cayamo: Did that just happen? | Hokum home



  1. Randy, you described EXACTLY what I experienced that same magical night. We might have shaken hands and introduced each other — I was playing the Martin with all the autographs on it. I’ll post a video of us jamming with Buddy, Sean, Jim, Willie and whatever the Dobro players name was?

  2. Sure, Don, I remember you — and I remember that guitar. Because of where I was sitting, I don’t exactly remember some of these people showing up (grin). I really wish I had done a better job introducing myself to that dobro player — I really liked her.

  3. Randy this sounds fantastic. This really does sound like something that is worth saving up for. Great post as always. Thanks.

  4. I missed your jam that night but I was up late for many other ones earlier in the week. In my opinion you missed out on Shawn Mullins for so long because he is just not a big talent. Notice he just strums away on guitar with essentially no feeling? And though he wants to project himself as a Woody Guthree traveler who hangs with the bums on the street and the little people, he ain’t no Woody. If you do cruise Cayamo again you will undoubtedly see him again…because he is a sixthman bud from Atlanta they invite him over and over every single year. I have to disagree with you about Chuck Cannon as a performer too…I had heard good things and I had high hopes, but I just could not find his songs to be very well crafted at least the ones he performed on the pool deck (I think that was Friday) and his stories were a total bore about life among rednecks – he did everything except waive the confederate flag. Perhaps I am biased because I seldom can find the southern singer/songwriters from Atlanta and Nashville to be very intreguing and if they compose or perform country songs (about trailer life/love, their dog or truck) then I leave the room…except when it is Buddy Miller who I do really like or Holly Williams who I think will have a second really good album judging from her new material she performed on Cayamo. Seems to me that Austin is the only place in the south where the good singer/songrwriters live. Still I loved the cruise both times I have been on it now and I certainly will go again. One of the “sensitive” women you must have missed is Antje Duvekot and even though it was absurd to put her in the noisy atrium, her solo set was great…now there is someone who can really write and is also an excellent muscian on guitar and lately on keyboard too. I am surprised that as a guitar player you did not mention Richard Thompson and Keb Mo who were my overal favorites on the cruise.

  5. Well, first of all I’m not a guitarist (I’m a harmonica player, although I do play a little guitar). Different strokes for different folks, I guess. I’ve seen RT numerous times over decades and he’s always good; I’ve basically come to accept a certain standard there that he met again on the boat. I really enjoyed Keb Mo and saw him again and again on the boat, not just in performance…my wife got his autograph at one point; he walked into the bistro in Gustavia where we were hiding out; etc., etc. I’m sure he’ll be back.

    I enjoyed Shawn a lot and strongly disagree with you about Chuck Cannon. They keep coming back, BTW, because they keep getting mentioned in the guest surveys that are distributed after the cruise. And if you think Chuck was just singing redneck anthems, you heard different shows than I did (his commentaries on wealth were particularly stinging on a boat that had a lot of affluent people on it).

    Finally, the typical folkie-woman-playing-acoustic-guitar is just not my thing. That’s not a criticism as much as it is an acknowledgement of what moves me and what doesn’t. You can respect this genre, as I do, without particularly wanting to listen to much of it. Plenty of people on the boat loved these performers and they clearly are part of Cayamo.

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