- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2011

MIAMI — Cayamo concerts are different in several ways. They start on time. They last only an hour. And the speakers hanging from the ceiling tend to sway.

Sometimes the musicians do, too.

“Usually I go where I want on stage,” John Prine said. “But here I go where the ship takes me.”

Cayamo is an annual music festival at sea featuring performers of Mr. Prine’s ilk - singer-songwriters with acoustic guitars and devoted fans. There are bands, too, and amplifiers, and all of the attractions that go with any other Caribbean trip. That means sunshine, shore excursions, a laid-back vibe and too much food.

Mostly the 2,000 passengers come for music. That was the case when my wife and I took our first cruise in February to enjoy Cayamo aboard the Norwegian Pearl.

It was a seven-day excursion - six days of concerts and one day listening to musicians tune. Or so it seemed.

Not to quibble: The music was great. Main attractions included Mr. Prine, Brandi Carlile, the Indigo Girls, Steve Earle, Patty Griffin, Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III and Buddy Miller. But one of the delights was discovering lesser-known acts such as Scott Miller, Chuck Cannon, and Roddie Romero and the Hub City All-Stars.

A partial lineup for February 2012 includes Mr. Prine, Mr. Thompson, Mr. Wainwright, Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt and Keb’ Mo’. For now, all cabins for the trip are booked, but Cayamo anticipates some cancellations and will keep a waiting list.

Acts perform in half a dozen cozy venues, the largest seating about 800 people. On our trip, shows began in the afternoon, and music continued into the wee hours each night. One jam session in the atrium lasted until 2 a.m. and involved more than a dozen musicians from five bands.

For the many music geeks on board, it was like being a spectator at a golf or tennis tournament. You’d study the schedule at the beginning of the day and plan where you wanted to be when, who you were willing to miss and who you absolutely had to see.

Shows went off like clockwork. The first full day at sea, options included Mr. Wainwright at 4 p.m., Mr. Earle at 6 and Mr. Prine at 8 - a singer-songwriter power trio.

There was music everywhere, even in the chapel, where equipment being stored included drumsticks on the altar. Lots of passengers brought along a guitar or fiddle for amateur jam sessions.

This was the fourth year for Cayamo, and about 175 passengers had made every trip.

“How’s the recession going for you?” Mr. Wainwright asked his audience. “I’d say you’re doing pretty well, because I know this cruise costs a load of money.”

Prices for the February cruise start at $1,235 per person for double occupancy interior cabins, so Jazz Fest or Bonnaroo would indeed be cheaper. But Cayamo has comfy chairs and no Port-O-Lets, and you’re always within walking distance of the swimming pool, a dining room and your bed.

Story Continues →