“To be humble, to be kind.
It is the giving of the peace in your mind.
To a stranger, To a friend
To give in such a way that has no end.
We are love
We are one
We are how we treat each other when the day is done.
We are peace
We are war
We are how we treat each other and nothing more.”
“Nothing More” by The Alternate Routes – Cayamo Maiden Voyage in 2016.
Cayamo is officially a seven-day music festival on a cruise ship. There are legends and new discoveries, stages and speakers. Crews push amps, pull cords and carry black cases filled with guitars, drums and mandolins. Stage managers and light and sound techs bring each show together on time, every time.
But Cayamo is more than a festival. It is more than sailing away leaving worries on land with no texts, emails or Facebook. It is musicians, passengers and crew bumping into one another in tight halls, buffett lines, the roulette table, or in front of stages. Surrounded by only sky and sea, the walls come down, and people relax and connect with one another. Cayamo is relationships. It is “how we treat each other and nothing more.”
Cayamo is 2,200 music lovers from the United States, Europe and Australia, and six venues on the Norwegian Pearl. It is Americana, roots, rock, and blues music that often goes from the stages to spontaneous jam sessions that last until sunrise. Cayamo is produced by Sixthman, which presents a variety of band and fan cruises including The Kid Rock Cruise, The Kiss Kruise, Rock Boat and the new Outlaw Country cruise. This is the ninth Cayamo cruise, and musicians call it a music camp that they want to go back to every year.
Cayamo is Chris Stapleton playing on a stage built over a pool, or sitting in with his friend Sam Lewis only a week before he will perform at the Grammy Awards. It is Johnnyswim playing bellman on the elevator and The Bros. Landreth quieting a noisy bar crowd with an a capella version of “Greenhouse.” It is every musician’s reverence for John Prine and John Hiatt. It is a friend finally getting his picture made with Lucinda Williams.
It is music rounds with personalities that feed and bounce off one another. It is Paul Thorn’s dedication of “I’m Still Here” to Carol, a cancer survivor he met in the ice cream line and changing song lines to “Glory Hallelujah, thank you Jesus, Carol is here.” It is a show where a guitar can barely hold down Foy Vance’s bouncing knees and Angaleena Presley defined “Bless your heart” as “Your problems are so much worse than mine, your kids are ugly, and I just slept with your husband.”
It is birthdays. Davis Causey received a cake and a standing ovation during the Shawn Mullins show in the Stardust. Jason Isbell turned 37 on the ship and said, “I didn’t think I would make it to 27, but I got to 37. Shit, when do I get to draw my money from the government? I will play songs until then.”
It is a feud between Paul Thorn and Shawn Mullins that began when Thorn saw Mullins checking into his room with girlfriend. “The Rapture may come this week and Shawn Mullins staying in the same room with his beautiful girlfriend may sink this ship. They will be going to hell because they aren’t married.” Thorn told the story during his show and encouraged the crowd to pray for Mullins. During the Mullins Family Jam, Mullins held up a sign of praying hands and asked for prayers. In Mullins’ last show, he said he saw Thorn skiing behind the boat yelling, “You are going to hell!”
It is lanyards around necks and small print on daily schedules. It is band stickers on a walker and autographs and “Keep it Rolling” written on the wheels of a wheelchair. It is a blind man tapping his cane to the beat of the music as he walks past the pool deck stage. It is Jim Lauderdale describing the energy of dantian in his tai chi classes.
It is Red’s serenades as he squirts sanitizer on every hand that enters the Garden Cafe. During the week, it grew into a duo with a guitar singing, “I want to tell you something I think you will understand. I want to wash your hands… You are going to love me. I want to wash your hands.” Thorn called the duo the “Filipino Brooks and Dunn,” and they sang “Spray You, Spray Me” with a spray bottle on the pool deck stage.
It is a 24-hour buffet of pizza, pasta, rotisserie chicken, and salad, but the most popular food is the soft-serve ice cream.
It is the things musicians say on stage.
“This stage is drunk… I wish I was as drunk as I feel… I should have given my guitar Dramamine.” – Sam Lewis on a rough seas night in the Spinnaker
“Next week I will be on the boat with new drunks. I am thankful for that.” – Paul Thorn
“I lost my virginity to ‘Rockabye.’” – Angaleena Presley in the Midnight Revival round with Shawn Mullins
“I had so many speeding tickets in Australia that I had to get a job in a convent making pancakes for nuns. The pancakes were average and the nuns were unimpressed.” – Martin Harley
“The reason I don’t have records on the boat is because I am a dick. I was born that way according to my mother.” – Foy Vance
“Cayamo is not a cult!” – shouted in several shows
“’Elephant’ is the saddest son of a bitch I have to offer. However John Prine and Steve Earle are on this cruise, so it is probably not the saddest song played today.” – Jason Isbell
“I never thought I would rock a denim jacket in the middle of the ocean, but I am doing that now. I am the luckiest man in the world.” – Sam Lewis
“Cayamo Rocks.” – Chris Stapleton (whispered several times in each show after he heard it quietly called out in his first show)
“It is a great honor and pressure to be here,” Paul Thorn.
“I am proud to be here,” Angaleena Presley.
“I am not. This is a shit hole,” Foy Vance in a Southern accent.
“Bless your heart, Foy,” Angaleena. – Paul Thorn, Angaleena Presley and Foy Vance in the round
“We feel like we are on this cruise as passengers who get to play music too. We are here because of you. I am speechless that all of you came to see us, so I am rambling.” – Daniel Radin, The Novel Ideas
It is Martin Harley dislocating his knee after a leaping high-five. It is the joy of Tom Ryan (Panda) singing “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” in The Mullins Family Jam and Jimbo Hart playing “Super Eight Motel” on the Stardust stage with Jason Isbell. It is Foy Vance babysitting his drummer’s twins to give the parents a night out, or letting a girl he met in the casino dance on stage during his show. It is getting to know Tim Warren, lead singer of The Alternate Route, and the kind heart who wrote “Nothing More.” Warren insists he kicked over an amp, wore a fur coat and sang a Freddie Mercury song when he played with his full band on the Rock Boat cruise the week before.
It is Buddy Miller converting the Bliss Lounge into a production studio and recording the Grateful Dead song “Black Muddy River.” He described recording as, “An excruciating process, but it is fun. Keep it loose. That isn’t a mistake, it is an interpretation.”
It is sunburned heads and tangled hair by Friday. It is an electric guitar clinic with discussion of magnetic fields and advice to “buy nice or buy twice.” It is hats, beards, skinny jeans, guitar pick earrings, “Live Loud” T-shirts and Robert Ellis’ suits and pink flamingo shirt.
It is where sitting in a deck chair next to a stranger becomes a friendship with four people you were supposed to meet. It is cabin stewards who know your name before you walk onto the boat. It is towel animals on the bed and chocolates on the pillow. It is fish on the carpet that point toward the bow and a red fish that points the way to the nearest elevator. It’s an albatross soaring and diving behind the boat.
It is a day on land, finding music in daily life on St. Maarten. Away from the Coliseum Casino and stores selling diamond rings and gold watches, reggae versions of Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” play from body shops and beauty shops. From the corner of Begroeide Street, a chanted sermon about staying positive floats out of the House of Restoration and Deliverance. Across the street, children laugh and play at the Reading Rainbow. Laundry hangs on clotheslines and fences and women balance hats on their heads and bags on their arms. In the cemetery, bodies are buried above the ground and graves are covered in shells. A tombstone reads, “Captain Bill Barre. 1921-1974. Home is the sailor. Home from the sea.”
It is a rainbow over St. Maarten and a red ship named Master Braxton taking fishing nets to sea as Hurray for the Riff Raff sings of John and Ono. It is a brown, beige and tan sunset over Tortola and a schooner that floats by as John Fullbright sings, “In my heart stands a scarecrow. If he’s hurt, he doesn’t say so and he chases everything he loves away. But at night when it’s colder, there’s a bluebird on his shoulder and he whispers that he’ll hold her one bright day.”
It is Sixthman’s “Live Loud” motto that means be awkward, work hard, play hard, serve, keep promises, celebrate community, embrace discovery and change expectations. It is Sixthman gifts of a tiny pine tree, playing cards and coasters. It is the excitement of the day the Cayamo name and luggage tags arrive in the mail.
It is relationships between bands and fans. It is Andrew Duhon thanking Jeff and Suzanne Zimmer for helping him get to Cayamo. It is the Black Lillies dedicating “Whiskey Angel” to Lynn and Candace Fowler and the band’s appreciation for the donations they received from the Cayamo community to help them replace stolen instruments. It is Paul Thorn standing in the crowd, hugging the people around him and singing “Take My Love with You.”
It is passengers who are doctors, lawyers, business owners, teachers and retirees finding joy, energy and escape in music. They make new friends and a few meet future spouses or start their own music businesses.
Cayamo is also the dreaded signs that the cruise is over. Bags left outside the door by midnight and empty cabins with no trace that we were there. Putting on socks and zipping up jackets. Banners switched out for the Outlaw cruise and the music in the Garden Cafe is louder with heavy drums and guitars. It is “Safe travels” and “See you next year.” It is Facebook posts of pictures and memories and the difficulties of returning to the real world of snow, work and life without a stage on the pool deck.
For many passengers the next Cayamo begins the day the cruise ends. They share music from Cayamo musicians all year long, host house concerts, and have Cayamo reunions at other festivals such as AMA and 30A. They support one another through cancer, careers and crisis. The Cayamo family are people who “Give in such a way that has no end.”
A world that’s filled with endless possibilities?
Heroes don’t look like they used to, they look like you do.
We are Love
We are One
We are how we treat each other when the day is done.
We are Peace
We are War
We are how we treat each other and Nothing More”
“Nothing More” by The Alternate Routes
Most of these gallery pictures are by Michelle Stancil