Cayamo is a seven day floating music festival that calls itself a “Journey Through Music” with time to swim, snorkel, and drink at tropical islands along the way. For many, the cruise began weeks before the January 17 departure with countdowns and posts on the Cayamo Family Facebook page about packing and planning, messages from musicians, or last minute scrambles to get on the sold out cruise (I got a room the day before departure thanks to good friends and a crazy husband). Messages about musicians and friends spotted in airports across the country, running into Cayamoans in Miami restaurants, and updates from Kristy Lee about a van broken down in Live Oak led to Saturday reunions in the long embarkation line filled with t-shirts from hometowns or favorite football teams as Lyle Lovett walked by.
Six days after David Letterman gushed and made St. Paul and the Broken Bones play two songs on his Late Show, the Birmingham band played on the pool deck stage for the sail away and Paul Janeway made the final spin that wore the holes in his white thrift store shoes. For the next week almost 40 bands and musicians from Lyle Lovett, John Prine, Brandi Carlisle, Rodney Crowell and Shawn Mullins to Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, Band of Heathens, The Black Lillies, The Lone Bellow, and Humming House played shows from noon until the early hours of the morning. It was a week of guitar classes, late night guest jams in the piano bar, sing-alongs in the elevators, chants of “washy-washy” with squirts of hand sanitizer, the toys and music of a new favorite Red Wanting Blue, Tai Chi with Jim Lauderdale, listening to Holly Williams sing “Waiting on June” three times in three days, and Michelle Malone starting a set with songs so sad that she had to stop herself and sing about meeting Tanya Tucker. It was watching a crowd shout good and bad lines for “I Ain’t Drunk, The Floor is Really Moving” with Chuck Cannon and The Lone Bellow ad-libbing a song about an in-tune guitar and a broken guitar string. It was meeting Gerry Leary who has been blind from birth and the wild stripes painted on his fingernails and toenails help him decide who is fun-loving and who is a curmudgeon (he owns the Unseen Bean coffee shop in Boulder). It was listening to music for fun without thinking about stories to write or pictures to take.
Lovett said in his set that there is no hiding on the ship. If he ran into musicians in the hall or the elevator they were trapped and had to talk with him. For a week, everyone on the ship was trapped together in the same elevators and halls, dining rooms and the small casino. Musicians and managers slept in rooms next to the passengers and it was a chance to get to know almost everyone in their shorts and t-shirts. There was excitement in the collaborations as musicians called old and new friends up to play–Brandi Carlisle with Lucinda Williams, Edwin McCain with Chuck Cannon, Kristy Lee with Michelle Malone, Humming House with St. Paul and the Broken Bones or St. Paul with Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller, and guitarist Tom Bukova playing with anyone. Shawn Colvin sang “One-Eyed Fiona” at 1:30AM with Lovett in Luke Bella’s “Last Man Standing. ” As Kacy Musgraves and John Prine sang “Angel From Montgomery,” Eric Erdman and Shawn Mullins softly harmonized as they stood together in the back of the theater.
Throughout the week, Mobile was in the heart of the music. In a lineup of legends and risers, one of the biggest on the boat was Kristy Lee and the Dirt Road Revival. Kristy is a favorite of the other musicians and Sixthman that produces the cruise. Lisa Mills won the open mic contest and played her own set backed by members of Richard Thompson’s band and crowds gathered around a piano late one night to hear her sing with John Fulbright. As Eric Erdman played “Up on Cripple Creek” with Shawn Mullins, Kristy Lee, and The Band of Heathens during a jam night deciated to The Band, Doug Seegers said “That boy can sing.”
The cruise ended as it began with lines of guitar cases and suitcases, taxis and shuttles. The Cayamo Family page is now filled with memories, pictures and videos of many shows that I am sad I missed. There are the woes of returning back to the real world of cold and snow and where there is no new moon sunset over the ocean, no lanyard to hold a room key, and no steward that leaves towels twisted into bats or cats on the bed.
Back at my own computer, the maiden voyage Cayamo already feels like a dream and I keep replaying my favorite parts. I am still tired, the ground is still wobbly, and I can hear Chuck Cannon’s voice say “I ain’t on the boat, why is this floor still moving?” Wish I could get back in line and do it all over again.