On November 2, 2013, I was picked up by a SuperShuttle van at 2:30am and given a ride to DC’s National Airport arriving at Delta’s ticketing area maybe an hour or so later (after picking up other passengers) – barely awake as the desk hadn’t even open yet. I had a 6am flight to Ft. Lauderdale, FL (connecting in ATL) and the ONLY thing I wanted to do was board the plane and fall asleep. Back in July while the ManMade Tour was in full swing and momentum was building from the release of the new album, I was asked to perform on the 7th annual Capital Jazz Super Cruise. The invitation felt so unbelievable, particularly after I learned about the large pool of artists that I would be included in – Charlie Wilson, Anthony Hamilton, Stephanie Mills, Average White Band, Larry Graham… *record scratch* Wait a minute….. like, Sly and Family Stone LARRY GRAHAM??!? Come on nah!! I’m not sure that “honored” is a strong enough word… So on these flights to Florida, I had NO idea what to expect… none whatsoever. As far as solo performances are concerned, this would probably go down as my most major performance to date, but I wasn’t nervous…. more anxious to see how the next eight days would unfold.
I arrived at Ft. Lauderdale’s airport solo as hell. No manager, no assistant… just me, my backpack and roller bag of merch to sell. The very first thing I learned upon arriving to Florida was to make it known to the staff that you are an artist. Maaaaan, I got my luggage from baggage claim and the next thing I knew, my solo ass was being directed to the wrong shuttle (to the ship). Meanwhile, I learned that the artist’s shuttle had left me in the dust….Well damn. That kinda started off on the wrong page. Eventually, I got things straightened out and was given a ride to the ship where I checked in, got my stateroom key, and got on board. I took my things to my room and made absolutely sure to get in contact with ALL vocalists involved in my performance so that we would all be on the same page with everything while we were still docked and could communicate via texting …for FREE. The second thing I learned was… Man, there were a LOT of folks on that damn ship!! I walked up to the 3rd Deck, which served as the main “lobby” area and watched as everyone got on board all excited and ready to party for a week. This is where I caught up to Deborah Bond, DJ Frances Jaye who was spinning in the lobby area and announcing the artists as we walked through, Jarrard Anthony, and the majority of my D.C. kats who played in the house band. After years of being a fan, I finally met Rahsaan Patterson and ran into trumbonist, Jeff Bradshaw. That’s when it started to hit me… Not only is this cruise a music fan’s dream, but there’s a nice musician community on this mug. The entire week I was pretty much on my toes and checking for familiar faces of folks I had either met before, or of those I had simply seen on TV. Before setting sail, I made sure to text and get the room numbers of all the vocalists that would be involved in my performance the next night (Deborah, Jarrard, Chantae Cann, and Eric Roberson) because once we hit the land of ‘roaming’, I knew most peoples’ cell phones would be turned OFF. I was also told that the house band would be rehearsing with Chantae for her own set later on that evening, so I decided to hit that up before checking out the ship’s main restaurant. NOW…. I had to have a pep talk with myself before I got on there, which went something like… PACE. YOUR. GREEDY. ASS. SELF. ON. THE. FOOD. It’s eight days of unlimited whateverthehell, WHENeverthehell. When it comes to food and eating…. I will admit, I have issues…PLENTY… and have for a long time. SO, I had to make it a point to hit the ship’s GYM on a regular basis too. Throughout the week, I would hit the restaurant for a good meal, or the dinner buffet and then hit the gym for a half hour on the elliptical to uhhh…”break even”. What kind of professional fat boy shit is that? …….Well, that was the cruise routine I chose to make me feel less guilty about eating everything under the sun, so there it is. …..The bright side? At least I was working out – which brings me to the third thing I learned. You wanna get to a quiet place on a cruise other than your room?…… Hit that gym up. I would be in that mug working out with the staff.
Anyway, enough about my struggles with fatassedness… My performance date was set for the following day, Sunday November 3rd in what was called the “Underground Lounge” at the International Lounge venue on the ship. It was myself and D.C.’s own, Maimouna Youseff performing at the same show right after Rahsaan Patterson’s two shows. Word. UP. Being as though I wasn’t traveling the same day as the show, I decided to use my time during the day to do something I never do while I’m at home…….. REST and GET SLEEP. Why? Our show BEGAN at 12:30a and I was told that I would be going on last, which meant my set wouldn’t start until about 1:30a or so. Rest is what I needed and dammit… Rest is what I got. When I woke up, I found out that for some reason our soundcheck was canceled…………………
“UH ohhh…” © Carl Lewis
Ok. Well, that’s not really the news I necessarily wanted to wake up to but you learn to expect these things while on the road and then adjust accordingly. In this case, we were gonna have to go in on this set off of what we rehearsed in D.C. four days prior and the vocalists were gonna have to trust us with the music because we had not gotten to run ANY songs with them. With all that said, I got myself prepared for the show that I had anticipated playing for 4-5 months.
By the time 12:30a came, the ship was rocking…. No, like literally rocking back and forth that night. Maimouna came out and put on a helluva show, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was my first time seeing her perform and she certainly set a high standard for me to follow. Once it was my turn, we started high energy out of the gate with Deborah singing “The Train” and then “Count To Five”. Most artists will tell you that while we’re on stage there are usually at least few people in the crowd that we channel energy from because they’re either dancing the hardest, know all of the words, etc… Whatever it is, we look to them the most during a show. Well, in this case the person who I saw in the crowd who was rocking the hardest and knew the words?? …Chrisette Michele. She and her people sat at a table right in the middle of the venue and were going in with us the ENTIRE show – it was definitely a treat to see that. Being as though there was so much talent on the ship …..better yet, so much talent that I had worked with on the ship, my show became almost a game of “vocalist musical chairs.” I had a ball bringing up talented cats such as Jarrard Anthony to sing “New In Town (Happy)” with Deborah, and ole saingin’ ass Chantae Cann to do “All Is Well Is Love” as well as my brother Eric Roberson to do “This Could Be the Night” AND “We Are On the Move”. Then to be able to have them ALL come back up on stage together and sing on “Flight Of the Blackbyrd” to close the show out??! Epic music moment in my performance career. ….and this was only day number TWO.
I woke up Monday morning and opened the curtain of my Deck 1 stateroom to a small ferry full of people from the cruise right outside my window waiting to ride over to Half Moon Cay, Bahamas from where we docked…. To be honest, I was just glad I had all of my clothes on or else my nekkid ass may have ended up floating down someone’s Twitter feed that week. I didn’t get off of the ship that day to check out the island, all of my energy was still being occupied by the show the previous night – not to mention the fact that we all hung out afterward until about 4 or 5am. But the next day, I got back up with most of the band and we stepped off of the ship to check out the Dominican Republic for a hot second. We ran into comedian Michael Colyar at the gift shop and when we spoke to him and took our picture, he hit me with… “Oh, the bald guy wants a picture!!” …To which I responded, “But you were at my show on Sunday.” Silliness all the way around, he was cool as hell. I actually think I saw him around the ship all week more than any of the other performers. He was out and about quite a bit.
So we got back on the ship and met up on the 3rd floor in the lobby for a nice mid-day drink. Now, the thing I like about cruise bartenders is that they tend to be pretty heavy handed. When I got up to the lobby, the band was finishing up these drinks that were blue… so I walked up talking shit, “What are these ole weak ass lookin’ drainks?” They were ALL like, “Nah, you need one of these!” …I hit the bartender with the, “Let me get whatever you made for them.” He nodded as if to say, “You really don’t know what the hell you’ve just got yourself into.” Needless to say, no more than 10 minutes after receiving this blue draink of fury, I was feeling pret-ty damn alright on that there cruise… The next thing I knew, we looked up and almost did a double-take as Larry Graham was just casually walking through the lobby. I was in straight “fan” mode as I walked up and asked to take a picture with him. It’s definitely not everyday that you’re in the presence of living legends… Hell, we all got pics with him.
One night after catching a late show at the ship’s the main stage, I decided to be greedy and go see what was up on the 9th Deck where the all-night buffets were. I was casually walking through and glanced to the right of me and it was none other than who I thought was Master Gee of the Sugarhill Gang…. I say that I thought it was him because I never saw them listed on the roster of artists. I found out later that they were billed as ‘surprise guests’ so it kinda threw me off to even see him on the boat. After I got my food and walked back through I saw he was still sitting there, this time with Hen Dog (one of their new members). I stopped to speak to both of them and salute one of hip-hop’s groundbreakers. Then next thing I knew, we were conversing for a little while, it was dope. But that’s how the cruise went – a bunch of legendary folks and kats we grew up listening to just casually walking around, lounging and humbly having a great time like the rest of us. Gee was real cool and I gained even more respect for him after meeting and talking with him… A couple of days later, I ended up meeting the other original Sugarhill member, Wonder Mike while having breakfast. As a matter of fact, another morning at breakfast I got up to grab some juice… walked through the door to where I could get a refill and heard someone say, “What’s up ole strong brotha?” …..At first I thought it was one of the band members trying to light me up real quick because the shirt I had on just to walk around the ship and eventually workout was kinda young. NOPE, I turned around to look and it was damn comedian, Bruce Bruce. He was obviously sitting in a strategic spot in the cafeteria where he could pretty much blast on any and everybody who walked through that door – I know about this, I do the same thing, so I had to laugh. I walked over to him, gave him a pound and told him I was a fan.
Perhaps the best performance I saw on the cruise was by none other than “Unkuh Chaa-lee” better known as Charlie Wilson. He played his set outdoors on the 9th deck as we were leaving the island of Curaçao – very dope setup. I caught a workout before hanging a couple hours before with Biscuit Bynum (drummer) and Dre King (keyboardist/house band Music) to check out his soundcheck and more importantly to lock in a solid spot to actually see the show as folks were starting to gather earrrrrrrrly to see one of the cruise’s main attractions. To see grown ass folks bickering over seats and attempt to create their own seating situation was pretty hilarious, to say the absolute least. But folks finally settled in and partied hard as Charlie and his band put on a helluva show. Now the fun part was AFTER the show when the entire house band from the Underground Lounge met up and we were getting chastised by Charlie Wilson fans because we were intentionally messing up the lyrics to, “First name, Charlie…. Last name, Wilson.” WE were singing……..
“First name, Chaaaaarlie….. Last name, Wiiiilkins!”
“First name, Chaaaaarlie….. Last name, Wiiiiilliams!”
“First name, Chaaaaarlie….. Last name, Wiiiiinans!!”
Folks walking by us were mad as hell… We’d hear, “YOU don’t even know his name!!” and “That’s a SHAME. It’s Chah-leh WILSON!” Angry asses… Talk about late night comedy at its finest.
I wrapped up the cruise by participating in a two-hour Soul Music panel along with Chantae, Ty Causey, Pete Belasco, Jeff Bradshaw, and Baltimore’s own, J. Soul. It was kinda dope to see all of us huddled up after the event in order get each other’s contacts. Overall, I had a ball on the cruise and walked off of there with plenty of new contacts, a few new friends, and a whole helluva lot of new stories. I got to check out shows by Incognito, Anthony Hamilton, Eric Roberson, Chantae Cann, Jarrard Anthony, J. Soul, Pete Belasco, Chrisette Michele, Average White Band, Charlie Wilson, Phil Perry for de FREE??!?! Count me ALL the way in for future cruises.