Sunday, March 8, 2009

"I'm the guy with the Tele and hat."

That's basically what I ended up telling people on the Cayamo cruise last week when asked what I do.

"I'm the guy with the Telecaster, snap shirt and hat off to the side of the cute girl singing and playing guitar."

The Cayamo cruise is essentially a singer/songwriter oriented music festival that floats around the Caribbean. There were six headliners and many more "side-stage" acts playing all day throughout different rooms of the ship.

My wife and I went this year, along with Lauren, who was also on board with her family. As many of you probably know, Lauren Zettler (pictured above) is the cute girl singing and playing guitar, next to whom you'll find me with my Tele and hat. On this cruise, many of the female singer/songwriters had a sideman that fit that description, and so it was the easiest way to describe my occupation.

While we took this trip as a vacation, it was definitely much more. We saw performances by Lyle Lovett, Patty Griffin, John Hiatt, The Indigo Girls, Shawn Colvin, and Brandi Carlile as headliners, and caught shows by Kathleen Edwards, Tift Merritt, David Ryan Harris, Jim Bianco, Marc Broussard, Girlyman, Edie Carey, Ken Block, Over The Rhine, and more at various times during the trip. And because you're on a cruise ship, you run into the artists all the time. Lyle Lovett was all over the place, talking with people in the buffet while holding his tray of food. It's all just part of the experience. I could say good things about every performer, but to keep this to one post I'll just hit some of my favorites.

The Indigo Girls have the kind of career any of us should want. I don't care if you don't like their music, you can't deny that they're a couple of talented women. They write great music that stays true to their brand, and a huge fan base that seemed to dominate the ship. Every show they played brought people to their feet, even in a theater on a moving boat designed for sitting.

Kathleen Edwards was the first show I saw in the designated listening room. We walked in just after her set started to find her on stage with an acoustic guitar and a guy with a telecaster and snap shirt off to her side. Lauren looked at me and said, "That looks familiar." The guy with the tele was Colin Cripps, who ended up being my favorite sideman on the boat. Very tasty playing and added some really nice textures to Kathleen's music. Jill and I talked to them briefly after their set, and they were both very nice people. I think it's because they're from Canada, a country that seems to produce happy musicians.

Tift Merritt. If more female singer/songwriters performed like the incredibly talented, dynamic Tift Merritt, guys with Teles and hats would be out of a gig. She simply exudes a positive energy on stage, but plays as if she's holding it all back, ready to explode at any minute. Her songwriting was elegantly simple, and her dynamics and musicality more than covered for her lack of sidemen. Frankly, if I had that sideman gig, I'd probably lay out most of the time and just let her work her magic. She was on the same flight as us back to NYC, and I told her how much I enjoyed her set on the cruise while we were waiting for our bags. She was extremely friendly, as was her boyfriend Zeke, which sort of seals the deal for her newest fan.

David Ryan Harris was unknown to me prior to the cruise, but I won't soon forget his performance. We first saw him during the Indigo Girls set, when they invited him onto the stage and let him do a song all by his lonesome. During his own set at a couple days later, it was clear that whatever it is that makes some people's music so captivating, he's got it. He plays with the patience of an old soul, and you can tell his roots run deep. He's as much of a blues musician as an acoustic singer/songwriter, a great guitar player, and superb singer. At times, he reminded me of Maxwell, and then he threw in a Maxwell quote towards the end of his set.

Finally, I've got to give props to my boss, Lauren, who won an open mic contest which meant we got to play a set the following day. She gets props not because I was surprised to win, but because she pulled it all off with a head cold that was wearing down her voice. It takes a lot of energy to sing in the presence of your favorite musicians even without a cold.

The funny thing about this vacation though, was that I was excited to get home. It wasn't like I was getting away from an office or some 9-5 that's been stressing me out. I love what I do, the music on the boat inspired me to do it better, and now I'm looking forward to a week of gigs and rehearsals.

This is going to be a good year.

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