Elmore’s Suzanne Cadgene is writing in with the latest updates from the Sandy Beaches Cruise. You can read her previous cruise diary entry here.
Our first full day, and at noon we’re being transported Heavenward by the McCrary Sisters, whose no-holds-barred gospel could could have had the packed audience walking on water. Joined at the end by Mingo Fishtrap’s Roger Blevins Jr., the sisters ruled.
Gary Nicolson, backed largely by Delbert McClinton’s band and dressed in his natty Whitey Johnson suit, ripped through his classics, clothed in jazzy blues. He played several of his own tunes McClinton had covered the night before, and served up a lesson on how a good song can be worked indefinitely.
I missed today’s Mingo Fishtrap’s set to attend an acoustic performance by Paul Thorn, and, with Elmore contest winner Pat Grice, got to hear a few tunes off Thorn’s upcoming album, including “Mediocrity is King,” about how easily talentless musicians, conscienceless politicians and valueless retailers rise to the top in today’s society. Thorn graciously signed autographs while the day was still young, and two guys from Arizona thought they’d died and gone to Heaven. They were only half right.
Back outside by the pool, Mike Zito rocked while the early-tanning set stripped down to their personal best and watched the horizon. I headed for a smaller indoor venue to hear eight singer/songwriters take turns showcasing their latest, which alternated between disarmingly funny and savagely raw. We all know Gary Nicholson and Big Al Anderson (who has three songs on Bonnie Raitt’s last album), but among those unknown to me, Tommy Sims stood out with memorable tunes and insightful imagery.
As we made our tours around the ship from venue to venue, we’d catch performers enjoying the day: Big Al Anderson, towering over the crowd between him and a stage; Paul Thorn and his wife, their daughter in his arms, headed for the soft ice cream machine; Marcia Ball at a huge table facing the stage, playing dominoes with eight or ten other women and boogie-ing in her seat between turns; Delbert McClinton, on a balcony above the pool stage, surveying his realm.
Stopping through the cafeteria, with 1,000 choices, it took longer to decide what to eat than to actually eat it. Back to the pool for Jimmy Hall and his band, which included the young guitarist and bassist we’d met in line coming in. They waved their guitars at us, and after a few tunes I headed for Richard Thompson, in the big room.
Without a word or a pause, Thompson, bass and drums launched into his take-no-prisoners rock, and it was a good three songs before he paused for a word with the audience, commenting how hard it was to hit a guitar pedal on a swaying ship. One of the great guitarists of our day, Thompson’s intense, muscular style had the audience on its feet twice before he switched to acoustic guitar with new tunes like “Saving the Good Stuff For You.” On the jazzy “Al Bowllys In Heaven,” the drummer dropped the brushes he’d been using and did an bare-handed solo on a jazz drum kit.
At dinner at a Brazilian restaurant, a salad-cheese-and-cured-meat bar preceded a parade of waiters who kept offering diners huge skewers of meats: chicken, sausage, filet mignon, pork and beef ribs and a cinnamon-grilled pineapple carved to order, until we told them to stop.
Stopping by Fred Eaglesmith, the band showed their depth as guitarist Matty Simpson showed off his impressive vocals and songwriting on a couple of tunes before Tift Jin did the same. Eaglesmith’s a touring band, on the road some 250 or more days a year, and the band knows how to maintain a sense of humor, both verbally and visually.
Off to the Mavericks, for our first glitch of the trip: light rain and high winds shut down the pool stage just as they band went on. An hour and a half later, the Mavericks took a smaller makeshift setup indoors, as cruisers packed the floor, the balconies, the restaurants, the bars and the staircases nearby, anything with a view or within earshot. It’s not easy moving a nine-piece band on a moment’s notice, nor is it easy to perform on a stage where a duo had played a couple hours earlier, but Raul Malo and the veteran Mavericks (25 years now) proved to be troupers. After a few collisions and a little feedback, the Mavericks played their new stuff and favorites long, loud and proud. Malo’s voice remains as magnificent as ever, and his last note, after nearly two hours of rocking it, sounded as good as his first.
2:30 AM, and we headed back to the room to sort out pictures and write this piece. Before crashing, we set our clocks ahead an hour: we’re crossing an international timeline, and just lost an hour’s sleep.