Why Every Soulhead Should Attend a Capital Jazz SuperCruise

Why Every Soulhead Should Attend a Capital Jazz SuperCruise

Forgive me in advance for coming across as a Capital Jazz SuperCruise Super STAN. It’s difficult not to, you see? Struggling not to froth like a schoolgirl in love is what happens if you’re a soul head and you get to experience 22 concerts in eight days. So, yes, did I mention 22 shows? That’s how many concerts I managed to attend during my eight-day cruise to Labadee, Haiti; Roatán, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; and Cozumel, Mexico. And, that’s with me having taken the advice of the orientation event facilitator to “pace yourself.”

Why Every Soulhead Should Attend a Capital Jazz SuperCruise

Forgive me in advance for coming across as a Capital Jazz SuperCruise Super STAN. It’s difficult not to, you see? Struggling not to froth like a schoolgirl in love is what happens if you’re a soul head and you get to experience 22 concerts in eight days. So, yes, did I mention 22 shows? That’s how many concerts I managed to attend during my eight-day cruise to Labadee, Haiti; Roatán, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; and Cozumel, Mexico. And, that’s with me having taken the advice of the orientation event facilitator to “pace yourself.”

Pacing yourself is indeed a challenge on the SuperCruise and requires a bit of maturity and decisiveness to pull off. Not to mention either some stamina or some well-timed disco naps -- that is when you are part of the “40 and Over Club.” On SuperCruise, roughly 60 headlining artists perform in all and with a record number of concerts in just over a week I only saw a fraction of the shows performed over the cruise’s tenure. In truth, with my 22 performances I still managed to only see 29 headlining acts, including several at one of the many late-night jam sessions held. From the second we pulled off from Fort Lauderdale, FL, the show began. From that moment on, you’re literally offered a Soul and Jazz Parade of Stars.  

There’s something surreal about walking past Dave Hollister chatting it up on the promenade or seeing a member of Take 6 take in a slice of pizza. To randomly catch gleeful fans taking a quick pic with Jon B or Slick Rick. To see Gregory Porter parking it in shorts on a bench to rest a bum leg while you’re standing in line to re-board from the Mexican shoreline. The experience of witnessing extraordinary humans doing the most ordinary of things, never gets old. Nor does watching host and Indie Soul King Eric Roberson drink in the talents of relative newcomer Madison McFerrin, daughter of the iconic Bobby McFerrin, or to see Mike Phillips vibrate with encouragement as he announces and plays a bit with everyone from Vinx to Butcher Brown to Secret Society to The Baylor Project, the gift of observing supreme talents marvel at the equally supreme talents of others.

It’s deciding to stop by the Schooner Piano Bar to witness Jarrod Lawson tickle the ivories while crooning a Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are,” a miracle of a performance he’s never recorded (while a gifted Portland native, Tahirah Memory smiles on). These are the quiet, more intimate moments that aren’t advertised in the brochure, but add immense value to an experience that has as many surprises as it does more predictable joys.

Not that there’s anything wrong with predictable joys when they include Porter taking the rapt Royal Theater audience to the wailing floor on “Take Me To The Alley” or Jean and Marcus Baylor of The Baylor Project ushering in the high spirit so tough while performing a near acapella “Hallelujah” that awestruck fans had to white-knuckle it to keep from shouting in praise and worship in that darkened, secular lounge. Anyone who has ever experienced Babyface in concert already knows that his peerless medley of hits spans over three decades and hearing them back-to-back, wall-to-wall has something of a dizzying, aphrodisiac effect. As does watching him reveal his firm-ish dad bod as he sang from through the crowd around the entire venue and back on stage again to four background vocalist-cum-soloists who could easily be the next multi-racial millennial answer to Boyz II Men.

The richest off-the-cuff moment was witnessing Avery*Sunshine make technical difficulties not only look like part of the show but enhance that show with a no-holds barred vocal performance that ripped through her whole body to the theater rafters while her husband Big Dane looked on as a he proudly strummed his electric guitar and soaked her anointed talent in just as much as we did, if not more.

The bigger surprises did their trip value-add, some good, some not so good, but all offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Such as seeing a middle-age Johnny Gill not only present as the deacon who’d stayed at the dinner table too long, but one whose gravel voice sadly gave out on him halfway through the show due to his penchant for sing/shouting not from his diaphragm but from his throat, always a no-no when you have a catalog as vocally demanding as Gill’s. Always the professional, Gill still soldiered on for nearly 30 minutes longer than his instrument. Hearing Ralph Tresvant sing “Sensitivity” and “Can You Stand The Rain” with Gill in their original keys was sublime, having to endure some of his lesser “hits” and newer, less catchy material was less so. Similarly, a breathy and unfocused Chantae Cann as a relative unknown for some of the older SuperCruise crowd who didn’t have enough nostalgia attached to Cann to offer her performance some needed grace.

Not that every veteran was a pearl. While there’s something delightful about watching the S.O.S. Band’s Auntie and Uncle leads still not only have eyes for each other, but also clearly getting it in on the regular after all these decades, their inspired expressions of still burning love failed to light a match on a fairly rote performance of their ‘80s classics. However, I should say that the crowd for whom those S.O.S. jams soundtracked their college years or even later didn’t seem much to mind. Nostalgia can have both its charms and offer saving graces when an audience looking to see their faves win choose to encourage their veterans despite a stumble or two along the way.

That said; what we all minded was how Sheila E. at 61, Babyface at 59, Stokley Williams and Teddy Riley at 51, and fellow Guy members Aaron Hall at 54 and Damion Hall at 50, all eliminated any excuse for us all to not be fit, fine, and able to flawlessly execute a high level of athletic choreography at any age. All of these star players had fairly lithe, athletic bodies, flawless skin, and the breath control artists half their age these days struggle to muster. And, while Aaron Hall has clearly lost an octave in the years since his halcyon years as both growling baritone soloist and Guy frontman, Hall’s enthusiasm and showmanship hadn’t missed a beat. Neither had the ladies love for him and his largely shirtless and sweaty brother.

Sheila E. and Stokley too could give master classes on how to maintain octane levels of electric energy for propulsive sets that lasted well over an hour each and included songs of great range and physicality. During the big close out reunion show of Blackstreet, Guy, and Wrecks-N-Effects, legendary singer-songwriter-producer Riley proved not only did he have the similarly youthful mug and hits to near-match Babyface, but that he was as beloved and respected by everyone in attendance, from saxophonist Mike Phillips to newcomer Butterscotch to the eternal Doug E. Fresh (speaking of partaking from Pharrell’s fountain of youth) who put in a surprise command performance to extend an encore into an hourlong hip hop and R&B party that included everything from beatbox to Frankie Beverly & Maze jams. Throughout the mega-set that kept stunning us with more, the Black family reunion crowd was on their feet well past midnight jamming to a litany of canon hits executed with the passion and prowess of legends.

Even with all that said, much has been left out. Such as spa days, elite shopping, top drawer restaurants, and scores of workshops and intimate artist Q&As. A poetry workshop with the Floacist. The emotional worship services with gospel bible Richard Smallwood and Vision. The multiple all-the-way live parties helmed by DJ D-Nice, DJ Spinna, and singer-songwriter and mentoring performance elder Kipper Jones and his cold-blooded R&B Circus. A bare-foot Liv Warfield igniting the stage with Prince’s New Power Generation horn section, with background vocalists who each were superstar vocalists in their own right. A tastefully memorable staging of Off-Broadway and regional theater staple, “Lady Day at Emerson Bar & Grill.” The side-splitting comedy of JB Smoove, Bruce Bruce, a tirelessly hustling Michael Colyar, and Melanie Comarcho, who dropped the mic to close out her set mentioning the surprise thickening of one clearly happily married Mr. Gill. The Gulf Soul of The Suffers making a sports bar feel like an outdoor Houston soul festival. The after-hours funk party, go-go party, house party, Stevie Wonder party, MJ and Prince party—the endless homages to Black art, Black culture, and the nearly all-Black audience who came to elevate it all to its rightful place as high art. Did I mention Wakanda Night?

And, I didn’t even touch on the islands of poverty and splendor. For the first time that I’ve cruised (the recently remodeled Royal Caribbean’s stunning Independence of the Seas is the world’s seventh largest), the destination islands and their various excursions were not the star attractions, the star performances viewed from comfy seats in multiple venues were the belles. The talent, for once, outshone the scenery. And, how could it not? Take 6, Babyface, Teddy Riley, Kenny Lattimore (who killed!), Incognito with Maysa, Raul Midon, Gerald and Selina Albright were there with the sublime Sy Smith, the bold Matthew Whitaker, the lush Jazz in Pink featuring Lynne Fiddmont, the dynamic Black Violin, and an effortless Lindsey Webster were all in the same floating building for eight whole days with us mere mortals.

So, listen. And they’re not even paying me or SoulTracks to say this. They’re reading this mouth ajar and wondering how they’re gonna explain all of this shade to Johnny Gill.  2020 is already sold out, but 2021 reservations will open up in a few months. Make it happen. Pinch pennies. Convince your bestie or best self to join. Tell them it’s two years worth of concerts for even the heaviest concert attendee in just eight days with endless libations (drink package!) and roomy seating for every show, no standing against the wall with a sore back and crying knees waiting for a headline artist to go on, and no drunk, belligerent kids to potentially ruin a night out. Just grown folks having the time of their lives, many in the sparkling autumn season of their lives. God knows I got my entire life. Thank you, Capital Jazz SuperCruise. Aiming for future cruises right with y’all!

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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