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Cayamo Cruise 2011: A Week of Folk and Collaborations

Cayamo Cruise 2011 proved once again that it wasn't the destination that

mattered, but the journey to get there. Along with more than 2,000 partying passengers and three dozen

outstanding artists over the course of February 13 - 20, I felt

fortunate to be there for the third year in a row, documenting every exhilarating moment. That meant much of the time was spent darting madly

between shows on the pool deck, the atrium, Bar City, the Bliss Lounge,

the Spinnaker Lounge and the 900-seat Stardust Lounge, home to the

headliners. Indeed, with an artist roster that included Steve Earle,

Buddy Miller, the Indigo Girls, Brandy Carlile, Patty Griffin, John

Prine, Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright, Allison Moorer, Scott

Miller, Works Progress Administration, Ellis Paul, Shawn Mullins, Lucy

Wainwright and ex Men at Work mainstay Colin Hay, there was plenty of

scurrying to be done.

Consequently, when the boat set sail on Sunday, the music began in earnest. Shawn Mullins, a perennial Cayamo favorite, kicked things off on the pool deck with a set of songs that included highlights from his excellent new album, Light You Up. The crowd, already stoked, greeted the set warmly, and when Brandi Carlisle, an icon adored by the Cayamo crowd, made the first of several cameo appearances, the audience predictably roared its enthusiasm.

That afternoon in Bar City a talkative and charming Lucy Wainwright held court with a walk on appearance by her dad Loudon. roots rocker Shannon Whitworth, one of the cruise's more promising newcomers, followed and successfully upped the ante on energy. Sunday ended with a performance by Work Progress Administration, or WPA, the indie super group featuring Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket), Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek), and Luke Bulla (Lyle Lovett). With special guest Dan Wilson, ex member of Semisonic, sitting in it provided a perfect way to end the day. And that was only day one!

Monday being Valentine's Day, the ship was festooned with streams of hearts. There was much love shared that afternoon as we crowded into the Bliss Lounge with several hundred other new friends to witness a dual appearance by Scott Miller and Will Hoge, two excellent Tennessee singer/songwriters who swapped songs and stories for a session recorded for World Café. Our first show in the Stardust took place that night, featuring the great John Prine who offered his enduring signature songs "Angel from Montgomery" and "Hello In There." The crowd responded appreciatively, aware that they were witnessing a venerable old master at work. Ellis Paul, up in the Spinnaker, provided another tender touchstone, his expressive vocals and tight two-piece backing band adding poignancy to a remarkably revealing set of songs. Keith Sewell, a one-time member of Lyle Lovett's touring band and Ricky Skaggs' former foil, provided an ideal musical nightcap with a rousing set of Bluegrass revelry.

Tuesday's highlights included a much-anticipated afternoon show by Richard Thompson in the Spinnaker. Droll as always, Thompson offered severa highlights from his repertoire - "Misunderstood," "Turning of the Tide," "Walking on a Wire," "Wall of Death," "Feel So Good," "Misfortune," a searing take on "Vincent Black Lightening" and an emotional "Who Knows Where the Time Goes," penned by his late partner in Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny. Scott Miller followed, charming the crowd completely with his down home delivery and stirring Americana anthems. That night found us enjoying a double header in the Stardust, beginning with a rousing show by the Indigo Girls. Brandi Carlisle joined her two gal pals for "Galileo," providing the set with an anthemic end. Steve Earle followed next and proved as incendiary as ever, thanks to a band that includes wife Allison Moorer, dBs drummer Will Rigby and a husband/wife duo dubbed the Mastersons. Riveting renditions of "Copperhead Road," "Guitar Town" and the incendiary "The Revolution Starts Now" kept the crowd humming.

The night concluded with a hilarious set by a rubber-faced Loudon Wainwright. "I'm Steve Earle's half brother," he declared, eliciting a roar of laughter. He referenced his role in the film Knocked Up by announcing, "You're looking at Katherine Heigl's gynecologist!" Songs about over enthusiastic fans, prescription medications and the inevitability of aging, as well as ongoing pleas to snatch up his offerings at the merch table kept the crowd convulsing with laughter.

Brandi Carlisle headlined in the Stardust on Wednesday, affirming her ability to incite a crowd with her rock 'n' roll revelry. At one point, she turned the stage over to "The Twins," the gawky, baldheaded Hanseroth brothers who are at the core of her backing band. They performed a note perfect rendition of "Sounds of Silence," after which Brandi asked, "Isn't that the creepiest, most beautiful thing you ever heard?" Later, we caught a reprise of WPA in the Spinnaker and stuck around for Kevin Kinney's Truck Stop, which, its banner aside, proved to be a surprisingly tender slate of rotating performances from Will Hoge, Shawn Mullins and Ellis Paul.

Thursday's first poolside performance featured the Celt combo Enter the Haggis, who were stirring up a storm on the pool deck. Indeed, the waves were rising and the boat is rocking - literally as well as figuratively. Patty Griffin, the evening's headliner, makes note of the rolling motion during her first set later that night, declaring, "If I fall over, I'm going to keep on singing." Having just been accorded a Grammy the previous Sunday, she didn't allow her serious stature to get in the way of some silliness. "Whenever I find myself in a precarious situation," she says, referring to the tossing and turning, "I find it helps if you just go 'wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee'." The crowd takes the cue, and from that point on, her show is punctuated by "wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee's" throughout.

Friday's first highlight was Allison Moorer. With hubby Steve Earle's band in tow, she put in a blazing set that included the stunning "Alabama Song," Crows" and "Hard Place to Fall." As Earle waited in the wings, she recalled her Oscar nomination the "The Horse Whisperer" soundtrack, an album he contributed to as well. "He's still waiting on his nomination," she said gleefully. Colin Hay played later that day, offering newer songs along with reworked renditions of old Men at Work standards. A second Steve Earle show, possibly even more stirring than the first, followed in the Stardust. The evening was capped by Buddy Miller, accompanied by a band that featured Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars on drums, Joel Guzman on accordion and Patty Griffin providing harmonies.

Saturday, our final day was a full one, thanks in large part to the pair of alumni shows that teamed Richard Thompson and Loudon Wainwright, who were cleverly billed for the occasion as "Loud and Rich." The duo leaned heavily on covers - "You Ain't Going Nowhere," Sloop John B," and "Love Hurts," which Loudon introduced by remarking, "Now that Valentines Day is long gone, let's get negative about love." These two were indeed an odd couple, and for their first show ever as a duo, they worked together remarkably well. Prefacing one of Thompson's songs, Wainwright wondered if it was older than most of those in attendance. When the lights were turned up it became evident that wasn't the case as the audience looked to be well into their 40s, 50s and 60s. "My people!" he exclaimed, feigning his horror.

After taking in a second Buddy Miller show we hightailed it to the Spinnaker for a standing room only performance by Scott Miller, who, by now, had clearly hit it off well with the Cayamo crowd. A scramble for seats preceded an encore performance by Richard Thompson, another memorable way to end the day... and the week as well.

There then are a few of the highlights of the 130 plus shows staged over Cayamo's seven days. Suffice it to say that this cruise rocked ... even when the seas were calm.

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Lee Zimmerman

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