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'A Journey Through Song'
January 2013 and February 2017

Cayamo is a singer-songwriter festival held aboard a cruise ship. It is one of several music cruises produced by Sixthman, an independent subsidiary of Norwegian Cruise Line.

We went on the January 2013 and February 2017 cruises, seven-day tours out of Miami and Tampa, respectively. About 40 acts were onboard, such as Richard Thompson, Brandi Carlile, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Shawn Mullins, and the North Mississippi Allstars, as well as several Nashville-based sessions players who backed artists who did not have bands. As in other festivals, some acts come back to Cayamo year after year and there are new surprises each year as well.

The 2017 cruise was the 10th Cayamo excursion.

Sixthman also puts on the Rock Boat; Outlaw Country cruise, hosted by the SiriusXM channel; Sail Across the Sun, hosted by Train; the KISS Kruise, the Sandy Beaches cruise, hosted by Delbert McClinton; and several others.

Below, Cayamo 2013 headliner Lyle Lovett, center, hosts a songwriters' showcase with, from left, Sean and Sara Watkins, Keith Sewell, Keb' Mo', Lily Hiatt, Justin Townes Earle, Shawn Colvin, Luke Bulla and Maple Burns.

Cayamo and its sister cruises combine the cruise lifestyle of round-the-clock food and drinks, constant travel between the ship's decks, casino games and duty-free sales, with multiple concerts day and night.

Cruise itineraries differ. The cruise out of Miami went to San Juan, Antigua and Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. The cruise out of Tampa went to Cozumel, Mexico, and Roatan, Honduras. The 2018 Cayamo is to leave from New Orleans, with ports of call TBA as of this writing.

Below the Norweigan Pearl is seen docked at San Juan.

In 2017, as the Pearl was being refurbished, Cayamo was aboard the Jade, a nearly identical sister ship, docked below at Cozumel.

This is what we awoke to outside our cabin after the Pearl pulled into the BVI overnight:

Cayamo's top acts present shows in the Stardust Theater, below and at top with Lyle Lovett and friends, which accommodates 1,042 people. We sat in several spots for various shows, including in the balcony, and never had a bad seat.

Cayamo continues to work on the best way to ensure cruisers get to see their favorite acts. In 2013, we had specific reserved seats we kept all week and were ensured one show each with all headliners. In 2017, cruisers listed all shows by priority, and reserved seats in the front-center rows of the theater were assigned in order according to how many cruises you had been on and your 2017 booking date. We were skeptical at first, but got our top priorities and had seats as close as the fourth row. On the other hand, we walked into two reserved-seat shows and sat in the second row near the aisle of a side section.

For bigger rock acts on some Sixthman cruises, several rows of seats in front of the Stardust stage are removed for standing/dancing room.

The other large stage is on the Pool Deck, where one of two pools has been covered. The audience area includes "the lawn" directly in front of the stage for standing, arranged seating, tables and chairs in the shade to the side, and chaise lounges and chairs on the upper deck and, higher still, the sun deck. In addition to the remaining pool and three hot tubs, there were bars at each end and both sides of the Pool Deck, and the buffet almost immediately indoors on the same deck. All in all, a great place to hang out.

Below, Brandi Carlile plays the sailaway show at the port in Tampa on the Pool Deck. (Chairs were not set up for Pool Deck shows on the first afternoon-evening of the cruise, which is also pictured in our first Pool Deck photo above.)

Below, Shawn Mullins, with Randall Bramblett and other sessions players Mullins dubbed "A Band on Ship," play the pool deck.

The Spinnaker Lounge, below, is a nightclub on a forward, upper deck. This room really rocks - with the ship and with the music. It has many upholstered chairs and sofas ringing the main seating area, which includes booths and single chairs.

Sarah Potenza plays a Spinnaker show, below.

The Spinnaker's full bar and comfortable seating (photos below are from the Pearl; there were more sofas and straight-back chairs on the Jade) make it an easy room to stay put in for an evening, if you can snag a nice seat. On the other hand, the view of the small stage (as in the photos above) can be poor from some vantage points once it gets crowded.

The Medusa Lounge, below, is a small mid-ship bar and show venue that was inevitably crowded during Cayamo 2017. It was not used as a venue in 2013. Typically the crowd lined the corridor at the rear of the room, and for several shows Sixthman staff closed the doors, only allowing people in if others left.

At the center of the Pearl, the Atrium Stage is set up in what is essentially the ship's lobby. In addition to its being in a high-traffic area, the stage is adjacent to a coffee shop, seating areas for two restaurants are open above, and the ship's information desks and shops line the rear and two sides of the room. It's not always a great place for quiet singer-songwriter moments, but it can be an exciting venue for louder shows.

A short video clip from a Shovels and Rope show demonstrates how crowded the Atrium can get.

The small Great Outdoors stage, below in 2013, was set up at the bar and buffet of the same name at the ship's stern, a favorite breakfast spot that is also a relaxing spot for a late afternoon show and a drink. Moses Atwood, a singer-songwriter from Asheville, N.C., played a set as the boat readied to leave the British Virgin Islands.

Stage locations change from cruise to cruise as the Sixthman crew tries to decide what works best. In 2017, because the Great Outdoors on the Jade is configured differently from the Pearl, shows set there originally were moved to the Sports Deck, a basketball court, essentially. The Jade's Atrium is also slightly different and does not accommodate a stage. In 2013, the Atrium Stage replaced the Medusa Lounge stage because of its size.

The fact that Cayamo is a cruise is either a plus or a drawback. For our first cruise, it took the two of us a few days to adjust to the rhythm of the lifestyle, including being onboard a ship, finding our way around and dealing with crowded buffets. In some sense, that's not much different from any other festival, except that you cannot leave.

On the other hand, all the amenities of the ship are at hand, the staff was unfailingly friendly and the shows were the kind you hope to see at a music festival. On the 2013 cruise, an all-star tribute to Levon Helm was organized by Levon's virtuoso sideman Larry Campbell. The 2017 cruise featured several collaborations, including a tribute to Guy Clark.

And, also like at other festivals, many people return to Cayamo and "the boat" year after year. In fact, the vast majority of folks on the cruise had been on at least one other voyage, and several in 2017 had been on all 10. There are also many chances to meet the musicians. We don't go out of our way to do so, but we shared an elevator with Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars one evening, and sat at a table above the pool deck for a while one afternoon chatting with Ralph Friedrichsen, who plays bass for the Paul Thorn Band, and Ralph's wife, Annie.

Below, from 2013, Richard Thompson and his Electric Trio are joined by Buddy Miller and, below that, Jim Lauderdale listens as Larry Campbell, Shawn Colvin and Buddy Miller play during Buddy and Jim's SiriusXM radio show recorded in the Stardust Theater.

In 2017, below, Sarah Buxton of Skyline Motel, with the help of bandmate Kate York, hands beer to the first fans who stepped forward to dance during the band's Pool Deck show.

The Wainwright Family was aboard Cayamo 2017, presenting family and individual shows. Below, Rufus Wainwright.

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