Cayamo 2015: The journey, renewed

I’m heading out again soon to Cayamo, the Americana festival at sea that I’ve gone on and on about here. This edition will mark my third Cayamo in the last four years, and it probably has the strongest lineup of veteran performers of any festival I’ve ever attended, anywhere.

Take a look: Lyle Lovett, John Prine, Richard Thompson, Lucinda Williams, Brandi Carlile, Buddy Miller, Rodney Crowell, Shawn Colvin, Jim Lauderdale, etc., etc. And then, down in the lineup, you get such nuggets as John Fullbright, The Lone Bellow, Birds of Chicago, Michelle Malone, The Black Lilies, and on and on and on. And then there usually are several ‘stowaways’ who are slumming pros — I almost always run into Ruby Amanfu on these cruises, and I know that Lisa Mills, a recent discovery for me, is coming aboard as well. Last year, Lee Ann Womack showed up out of nowhere.

This alternative universe is so far removed from the real universe that it’s hard to explain. The temps here were in the single digits last night, but shortly, I’ll be standing in shorts and looking at the moon while some musician I love is playing a midnight set on a made-over pool deck, somewhere in the Caribbean. I’ll invariably be playing harp or guitar or mandolin and singing at 4 a.m. with a bunch of other people outside of a shipside bar, and if I’m lucky I’ll get to jam with some of the performers — always a surreal experience.

And Cayamo may be the only festival in the world where even the lesser-known or backup musicians are recognized on sight and have their own an cults (the cult of Luke Bulla must be experienced; last year, I bumped into a group of passengers who were having a conversation with Dave Jacques about his kid. And everyone knows Panda).

The guests who go on this ship are almost all music freaks (and a lot of them are bar band musicians like me) but most of them aren’t celebrity hounds and don’t get the vapors at the sight of a favorite artist. After a couple of days, this casualness melts a lot of typical boundaries, and suddenly you think nothing of bumping into Williams at the casino bar or Miller at the buffet’s pizza station or Carlile at the craps table (all Real Things that have happened to me on past Cayamos). And even the ship staff chills out and has fun when they realize that the Asshole Ratio is way, way lower on this cruise than almost any other cruise imaginable. At my first Cayamo in 2012, I thought we were thisclose to just steaming away from Miami on the last day and heading indefinitely into the Bermuda Triangle.

I’ll write about Cayamo again when I return. I always do.

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