The Motet's Dave Watts Calls Jam Cruise: "Not Your Average Gig"

Well, while the rest of us grudgingly slink back to our cubicles, several thousand luckier music fanatics embark from Fort Lauderdale on the six-day concert bender known as Jam Cruise. The yearly cruise to a different exotic location features the best touring acts in the jam, funk, and bluegrass scene, all playing and partying as one. Bah humbug. 

Jam Cruise 11 sets sail on January 7, but not before the Motet get down at the Funky Biscuit for a pre-Jam Cruise party on January 5. The Boulder-based crew has been mashing up jazzy-funky-electro grooves for over a decade. This year, the Motet will perform two different shows on Jam Cruise: one a classic Motet set featuring time-honored original songs, and another "Funk is Dead" set, the band's latest endeavor covering Grateful Dead tunes. The Motet's funked-up reshaping of the Dead has earned major enthusiasm, and the band has spent the better part of the past year playing Funk is Dead sets. 

We recently chatted with Dave Watts, drummer, founder, leader, and funk guru of the Motet, on the enigma that is Jam Cruise and carrying on the Dead torch. 

This is your third Jam Cruise, I believe. Why do you keep coming back?

Well, it's really just the best festival. You're completely immersed in the beautiful surroundings and all the other people there. There is no separation between the musicians and the fans. Everyone is together, enjoying each other. It's really cool. 

Have you ever been on a typical cruise with your family while you were growing up? Once I went on the Looney Tunes Cruise with the Big Red Boat. 

No, my family was never into that kind of stuff. But it does create such a stark contrast on Jam Cruise. It's so hilarious to see all these freaky people, with their sparkly faces and silver costumes and hair everywhere running around a touristy boat with a sort of Las Vegas atmosphere, with the crew tucked back into dark corners of the ship, just laughing and pointing. It's completely surreal. 

Not exactly the cruise we all went on when we were kids. 

Definitely not your average cruise. You know, but on the other hand, the people there are professional partiers. It's not like you're setting sail with a bunch of first-timers who are losing their brains and making a scene. These people know how to do it right, and enjoy each other, and not go overboard. 

That probably goes pretty appreciated when everyone is contained in one space over vast open seas together. 


Do you have a favorite tale from a Jam Cruise past?

Well, on the first Jam Cruise, me and Mike Travis from String Cheese somehow snuck to the front of the boat --- maybe I shouldn't be saying this on the record --- well, we snuck up above the captain's quarters in the very front of the boat. We were cruising back from five glorious days at sea, and the sun was just coming up and we were sitting hundreds of feet above the water with the entire ocean in front of us. I remember just thinking, "This is not your average gig."

As for the Motet, you are a pretty big crew. How do you guys travel when you're not on a cruise ship?

Well, at this point in our career we are keeping things focused. So we don't do the bus tours all over the place anymore. We get plane tickets and fly in and out of major areas. With this many people, there are a lot of little details, but we've got it down pretty good at this point. 

So you guys cover a different band every Halloween. I know it might be difficult, but have any of these bands been your favorite to cover?

Hands down, Earth, Wind and Fire (2009). That's my favorite band, my favorite music, ever. A lot of times with these shows, we are working at trying to make the music better -- and by that I mean, more suited to us -- but with Earth, Wind and Fire, it is just perfect the way it is. I had such a blast playing that show. Now, on the other end of the spectrum, with the Funk is Dead show that we're doing, we're taking the music and manipulating it to make it completely our own. We definitely have an affinity for that sort of thing too. 

I'm a really big Dead fan myself. Now, it's impossible not to look up your music online without finding a ton of stuff related to Funk is Dead shows you're doing. People love it. So I'm curious, what has that success been like for you guys? What are some of the positive -- and even negative -- repercussions of becoming so closely associated with a legendary act like the Grateful Dead, that has such a ardent legion of fans?

That's a pretty deep question, because there have been a lot of reactions to it. But I feel confident in saying 99% of it has been very positive. Of course, you're always going to get stubborn people that don't like to see something changed. But pretty much everybody that comes into one of our Funk is Dead gigs walks out of there with a smile on their face. We've had dudes in their late sixties come up to us after a show with tears in their eyes, thanking us. And at this point, Dead songs are such staples, such standards, it's almost like they've become public domain. 

I think that's just what the band had in mind in the first place for their music.

You know, I've never been a huge Grateful Dead fan myself, but putting these shows together I have really come to appreciate the music. The songwriting and arrangements are excellent. There's something really good going on there, and we've sunk our teeth into it and made it our own. 

Now, if there is anything that has been negative out of all this, it's that the Funk is Dead shows have become so popular that some people associate the Motet exclusively with that, as if we were a tribute band and not our own band in the first place. So it's important for us to focus on continuing to put out original stuff. Because that's what we're all about, our music. We just like to celebrate the music of others as well, and it enhances our own, because we learn so much from playing other peoples' tunes. 

The Motet will play with special guests The Mike Dillon Band, 9 p.m., Jan. 5, at the Funky Biscuit, 303 SE Mizner Blvd., Boca Raton. Tickets cost $15 in advance and $20 day of show. 

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