Linda Oatman

E-bike sales are soaring these days, not only in Europe but in the U.S. as well. Leveling the playing field, the electric pedal-assist bicycle allows even the out-of-shape oldsters to keep up with the athletes in the family.

Making cycling accessible to everyone and anyone, the surge in popularity of the e-bike is also attributed to the fact that the electric bicycle is a great alternative to public transportation and traffic congestion. With no money spent on fuel, the bicyclist is able to save money while getting fresh air and exercise.

Going green is a big concern for many these days, and the e-bike is the way to go.

One of the best e-bikes on the market is the Joulvert. Developed as a means to getting around the Playa desert of the Burning Man Festival, Joulvert’s Playa bikes are built for tough conditions in black-rock sandstorm environments. Not just for the rugged off-road terrain, though, the bikes are also a big hit with city, suburban, and rural commuters alike.

27-year-old Zach High uses Joulvert’s Stealth model for his Pennsylvania work commute. With a top speed of 20 mph, this matte black cool-looking machine rolls along on 20” heavy-duty tires, going the distance of 45 miles per charge.

“I just can’t stop raving about this bike,” Zach said. “It’s amazing.”

With built-in headlights and rear LED lights included, as well as a horn, the Joulvert Stealth boasts an 11 amp, 36 volt motor and a USB charging port on the battery. The batteries are Lithium ion high capacity cells and a Smart Charger is included. The entire bike, including battery, weighs only 52 pounds, and it folds for easy transport.

With a cost of just under $1500, the Joulvert Stealth is a smart and economical solution to commuting costs. Riders can choose to pedal with assistance, or transfer to full power with a push of the button, going from bike to scooter with ease.

Joulvert bikers are finding love at first ride. With wind in hair, sun in eyes, beneath the skies, riders are flying high with Joulvert.

 

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One innovative product can change millions of lives, and the Trionic Veloped is doing just that. Opening possibilities all over the world, the Veloped is known as the only off-road walker on the market. From Swedish snows to beaches in Australian to mountains to hiking trails everywhere, Trionic’s Veloped is making outdoor life possible for people of all ages who previously struggled with varying disabilities.

Designed and developed in Sweden, the Veloped has enhanced the health and happiness of Pennsylvania resident Jill Groves, 37.

“It’s amazing how much the Trionic Veloped has impacted my life in such a short time,” reported Groves, who began using the walker in August of 2017, when she and her husband embarked on a cross-country road trip during the time of the eclipse.

“I’ve been disabled for about 10 years, with varying levels of functioning that affect mostly my stamina and my ability to walk. I’ve acquired multiple devices through the years, trying to find the best option to allow me to remain active.”

Jill Groves owns a plethora of walking aides: everything from canes to forearm crutches to a rollator walker to a 3-wheeled walker to a wheelchair. She relies mostly on the cane for short distances and the rollator walker for longer treks.

In 2017, Groves began to become more active and adventurous, with the support of family and friends. She walked several 5K charity events with the rollator, which was somewhat helpful but also a bit of a hindrance.

“When using the rollator off-road, it would constantly get caught and pitch forward on grass, stones, sticks, and bumps,” Jill recalled.

The friction of the rollator also caused irritation and blisters on Jill’s palms if she didn’t wear gloves. Because of these inconveniences, Groves began searching the internet for a more user-friendly walker that might work better in off-road conditions. She knew that increased tire size would be important, and her goal was to find a walking aide that would assist in future 5K walks and her upcoming cross-country vacation.

Finding www.trionic.us during that web search changed Jill’s life. The Trionic Veloped was perfect for her needs.

“I couldn’t wait for the day it would be delivered and I could test it out,” Jill said. The day that the industrial-size box arrived, with two handles reinforced with plastic (making even the delivery employee’s life easier!), was an exciting one.

The assembly instructions were very easy to follow,” said Jill. “Basically I just needed to attach the tires and adjust the handle height.”

The Veloped’s tires easily detach with the push of a button, making the walker simple to transport, and the handles have numbered notches for reminders of favorite settings.

It was love at first step for Jill Groves that summer day.

“I tried the Veloped in the yard. I could easily walk on grass, and over tree roots and paver stones. I even tested it by rolling it over the stone fire pit that was piled with small logs and sticks. None of this stopped the Veloped, and I was in love with it.”

A week after the Veloped’s arrival, Jill used it for the next 5K.

“I walked quicker than I have for any of the others,” Jill said. “I was able to walk without stumbling or getting caught on anything, including curbs, stones, and sewer drains, all of which would have impeded a regular rollator walker. The sliding seats allows for space to walk within the walker for better support, giving me the ability to take bigger steps without hitting the walker with my feet or shins. The basket is great for holding bottles of water and other items without fear of them falling out. It even has a build-in cover to protect items in the basket from rain.”

The Veloped garnered lots attention that day, with many asking about the off-road mobility aide.

“Because it doesn’t look like a regular walker, I felt less disabled and more empowered,” Jill said. “For the first time in years, I kept up with non-disabled people . . . and during a race!”

Then came the planned cross-country trip with her husband Derrick. The Groves were traveling in a small car, but transporting the Veloped was no problem. They attached the walker to a bike rack on the back of the vehicle.

The first stop was a campground in Missouri, where the Groves would view the eclipse.

“I was able to walk all over the campground, and I used the Veloped to carry my laundry when it was time to do the wash,” Jill reported. “The owner of the campground used a rollator walker, but I introduced her to the Veloped and she loved it. She used it to get around the campground and to personally visit each campsite.”

After the total eclipse of the sun, the Groves continued on to Arkansas, where they would visit a gem-mining field. It was there that Jill gave the Veloped the nickname of “Jasper,” the gem that the Groves dug up the most.

“It was acres of tilled field with a few gravel pathways. The only thing that stopped the Veloped was the deep rows of soil. I was able to get around all the rest, including the muddy patches where others didn’t want to go. I was also able to walk around the town where we stayed, and visit shops and restaurants. Not all areas had sidewalks, but I was able to keep going as if there were.”

If it sounds as if the Veloped is magic, it is.

“Climbing to the peak of Mount Mitchell was our next destination,” Jill said. “The Veloped helped me to walk all the way up to the peak viewing area.” Groves now looks forward to future hiding adventures that without the Veloped were inaccessible.

The final destination of the Groves’ road trip was North Carolina, where they visited several beaches along the coast.

“I had apprehension and I thought that maybe the Veloped had met its match, and that I would have the normal struggle or inability to walk on the dry sand and down to the water line,” Jill recalled. “Boy, was I wrong! I walked right onto the beach and down to the water without a struggle or losing my balance. It’s been about ten years since I could do that! I was then able to take a romantic walk along the surf at sunset with my husband. It felt so great; I didn’t want to leave at the end of the evening.”

Jill’s trip was an absolute dream, she said, and she was thrilled at being able to participate in activities that would have been impossible with the Trionic Veloped.

And now, the future looks bright for Jill Groves, with Jasper in her life.

“The Veloped has truly improved my life and my confidence in myself to do more and to explore many more new adventures in the future,” Jill said.

The Trionic company, founded by a few young men in Sweden, is changing and improving lives all over the world. Disability has become ability, and the impossible has become possible.

 

The oldest seaside town in the U.S., nestled between three bodies of water on the most southern tip of New Jersey, Cape May is a picture-perfect location for an autumn or Halloween retreat. With more than 600 Victorian or Gothic homes, the area is rich with history, beauty, spooky charm, and mysterious stories of hauntings, ghosts, spirits, and specters.

Fall in Cape May is much less hectic than in the bustling summertime. The parking is easy to find, the beach is open, and the streets are peaceful and seasonally decorated with pumpkins, mums, hay stacks, and scarecrows.

I visited in October, and the scene was like one from a Victorian Autumn painting by Thomas Kinkade. Evoking the enchantment of days long gone, Cape May in autumn is a respite from the stress of the daily world news.  People relax here.  They stroll.  They ride bicycles, and browse slowly through the many small and unique shops.  Nighttime is magical, with lights sparkling on the buildings and carriage horses clip-clopping.

The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities offers plenty of Halloween Happenings. There are trolley tours – Ghosts of Cape May and Ghosts of the Lighthouses and Tales of Terror – along with the Historic Haunts tour, which visits the 1879 Emlen Physick Estate and explores the Victorians’ fascination with spiritualism and ghosts.

I took a tour of the Physic Estate, and it was a fascinating one. Emlen Physick, originally from Philadelphia, was the grandson of a man known as the father of American surgery, who invented surgical procedures still in use today.  Emlen graduated from medical school, but never practiced medicine. Instead, he lived the life of a gentleman farmer on his Cape May Estate.

The Physic Estate made 1800s’ news in Cape May due to its avant garde architecture, known as “Stick Style,” which featured oversized upside-down chimneys.

Modern visitors to the Estate in autumn can enjoy Scarecrow Alley, an eclectic collection of straw-stuffed characters ranging from the ghoulishly gruesome to the foolishly funny. My favorite was the “Diamonds Are a Ghoul’s Best Friend” creation.

I stayed in Congress Hall, one of Cape May’s most famous landmark hotels.

Rebuilt after it was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1878, Congress Hall is a stately example of Federal-style architecture with a sprawling lawn and an ocean view.

Tales of ghosts abound in Congress Hall, especially one about a little Victorian brother and sister who are said to haunt the halls.

Congress Hall hosts a “Phantom’s Ball Getaway” event each autumn, with tickets including lodging, trolley tours, and 2 tickets to the infamous Creepy Carnival Phantom’s Ball on Halloween Eve.

For those not interested in ghouls and ghosts, Cape May is a town jam-packed with ample offerings in autumn relaxation. History abounds, and there’s plenty to see and do, including climbing (or just seeing!)

The Cape May Lighthouse, built in 1859 and still guiding mariners. There’s also the World War II lookout tower, built in 1942 to guard the shore, along with the strange sight of the sunken “Concrete Ship.”  The ship, named the SS Atlantus, was a product of World War I.  After making two trips to France, the ship eventually broke free of her moorings during a storm in 1926, sank, and the wreckage remains – not far off the shore of Cape May – today.

Bird-watchers flock to the area, and the dune forests of Higbee Beach are resplendent with fall foliage. The color pallet of the seashore is just as lovely, and even more dramatic, than it is in the summer.

Cape May Diamonds shine in the autumn sunlight, and beachcombers search the beaches of Higbee and Sunset for the clear or white quartz pebbles. Whale-watching and a visit to the 62-acre Beach Plum Farm are also perfect autumn activities.  Nighttime is show time at Cape May Stage, and there’s a constant schedule of ever-changing events throughout the town.

A stop at Frahlinger’s Salt Water Taffy is always a good idea, and the family-owned business is a good old-fashioned shop for visitors of all seasons.

“I always say autumn in Cape May is the best,” said the woman working the fudge counter. “Beautiful weather, peace and quiet, lots to do. Plus the ghosts.  We have lots of ghosts, you know.  Oh, and don’t forget the seafood!”

Great meals are to be found at the town’s many fine restaurants, including Aleathea’s at the Inn of Cape May (best bread and garlic oil ever!), 410 Bank Street, the Blue Pig Tavern, and the Lobster House. Several restaurants and hotels are offering Thanksgiving packages, including The Ebbitt Room/The Virginia and Blue Pig Tavern/Congress Hall.  Affordable family lodging may be found at the newly-renovated beachfront hotel La Mer, so there’s a room – and a meal – for every taste.

And then there’s Christmas in Cape May: a winter wonderland of old-fashioned magic and charm.   But that’s another story.

www.congresshall.com

www.innofcapemay.com

www.410bankstreet.com

www.thelobsterhouse.com

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One of Delaware’s best-kept secrets is the Blue Hen B&B, nestled along Nottingham Road in Newark. Originally built in 1692, the Blue Hen is considered to be one of the oldest homes in the state.

Once part of a 255-acre farm, the B&B now includes 2 acres of beautifully-maintained property. Located a mile and a half from the hip and bustling Main Street of Newark, the Blue Hen is a haven of quiet charm.

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Once part of a 255-acre farm, the B&B now includes 2 acres of beautifully-maintained property. Located a mile and a half from the hip and bustling Main Street of Newark, the Blue Hen is a haven of quiet charm.

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Offering three guestrooms, each with its own private bath, the B&B is run by innkeepers Amy and Don Eschenbrenner. Amy, a Delaware native, is a wealth of information on local attractions and history, while Don – who works as an engineer – also teaches art lessons in landscape oil painting on the property.

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A pet-friendly bed and breakfast, the Blue Hen includes a doggie room for furry friends, and a large fenced-in yard in which the canine guests can run to their hearts’ content. Animal lovers appreciate the hospitality extended to pets, a unique feature of the Blue Hen B&B.

Weekday breakfasts, prepared by Amy, offer home-baked breads, scones, muffins, granola, and fruit. Weekends are covered by Don, who whips up delicious international offerings. A plethora of restaurants for dinner and lunch are nearby.

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Scooping up local awards in business, history, and romance, the Blue Hen is perfect for any getaway, whether it be work-related, family, or romantic.

www.bluehenbnb.com

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Rocking the Caribbean since 2006, the Decades of Rock and Roll Oldies Cruise set sail on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, presenting yet another successful event from February 1-9. Kicking off in Fort Lauderdale, the cruise included 200 avid music fans, many of them return attendees.
Organized by founder Penny Greene of Ohio, the event drew many Ohioans, most of them fans of headliner bands Phil Dirt and the Dozers, McGuffey Lane, Hadden Sayers, and Mad, Mad Men.
“We just love the bands,” said newlyweds Erica and Bill, whose last name is – ironically – Music. “You couldn’t ask for a better line-up of talented musicians.”
Talented is an understatement. Wowing the crowd with vintage covers from the ‘50s on up, plus some originals, the roster of musicians aimed to please.
Attendees, most of whom were over the age of 40, be-bopped and danced, laughed and cheered, and generally let loose on the ship. Poodle skirts and prom gowns were all the rage, as the schedule included both a sock hop and a senior prom.
Founder Penny Greene, 46, seemed to flawlessly manage the event and it went off without a hitch. A few last-minute issues such as a performer’s necessary cancellation were handled quickly and efficiently, and the attendees were happy and satisfied.
From the “Time to Rock and Roll” Dance Party to the “Surf’s Up” Pool Party to the “Rock and Roll Extreme” Beach Party, the music rolled on like the waves, and relaxation was the theme of each day and night on sea and land.
“We come on the ship as strangers and when we leave, we feel like family,” said Penny Greene, who plans to continue Decades of Rock and Roll as long as she has cruisers to twist the night away.
The ship’s Eastern Caribbean island destinations included St. Maartens, St. Kitts, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Royal Caribbean’s private island of Labadee, Haiti.
“We loved each stop,” said Jane and Tom Lake of Ohio. “This was so much fun.”
The Independence of the Seas was in ship-shape form, with service and cleanliness being top-notch. Lots of activities were offered in addition to the private events held by Decades of Rock and Roll, and cruisers enjoyed game shows and lectures, art shows and parades.
“There’s so much to do that we’ll need to rest after we get home,” said friends Colleen Roundhouse and Laura Crosby, who made a Girl Getaway of the trip. Many of the 2014 cruisers are already making plans to return in 2015, when the roster once again offers sets from Phil Dirt & The Dozers, McGuffey Lane, Hadden Sayers Band, and a mystery guest to be announced. Next year’s cruise will take place on March 8-15, on Royal Caribbean’s Adventures of the Seas ship, setting sail from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“Believe it or not, it actually costs less to fly into San Juan than into Fort Lauderdale,” said Penny Greene.
2015’s ports of call include Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Maarten, and St. Croix. Cruisers and music lovers are marking their calendars and reserving spots by calling Penny Greene at 740-438-0382. Save your spot and pack your poodle skirts: Rock and Roll is here to stay.

Just one hour from Philadelphia or New York City, there is a seaside haven of rocking chairs on porches and a boardwalk bandstand, old-time penny candy and homemade ice cream, free parking and quiet streets, and more Victorian houses than the famed Cape May. Ocean Grove, New Jersey’s best-kept secret for more than a hundred years, is quickly becoming the hippest getaway for urban professionals, artists, families, and those in search of refuge, rest, and renewal.

The area sustained some beach and boardwalk damage from Superstorm Sandy, but Ocean Grove is now open and ready for business, just as beautiful and tranquil as ever.
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A Shangri-la of seagulls and a non-commercialized boardwalk, Ocean Grove boasts a dignified row of eateries and shops on the tree-lined Main Avenue. There are no tacky T-shirt joints in sight. No arcades. No water slides or rides. Visitors rent bicycles (the old-fashioned kind: no gears or handlebar brakes) at Ocean Grove Hardware, a wooden-floored establishment with antiques upstairs. The hungry have ten restaurants from which to choose, including Nagle s Apothecary Cafe with its collection of old pharmaceutical bottles and the best selection of ice cream this side of the moon.

Ocean Grove is the town that time forgot. A National Historic district, the community was founded by Dr. William Osborn, a Methodist minister. The location was just what the doctor ordered: a high beach, thick groves of pine, cedar, and hickory trees, and no mosquitoes. Natural boundaries were made by two lakes and the ocean, with gates across the remaining side. Until 1980, the town gates were closed with chains from midnight Saturday through midnight Sunday. No cars were allowed on the Sabbath.

Dr. Osborn and a group of other religious-minded folks joined together in 1869 to form the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. The association continues to this day. The town is dry, with no alcohol served within the one-mile radius of Ocean Grove.
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The center of activity in the town is the Great Auditorium, an impressive structure that s almost football-field size. Featuring speakers and statesmen, opera stars and orchestras, the Auditorium has been visited by Presidents and personalities from Ulysses S. Grant to Guy Lombardo. Boasting a huge pipe organ, the Great Auditorium offers free organ concerts on summer Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Nestled around the Auditorium are 114 tent structures, with fireproof canvas in the front and cabin/cottages built onto the back. Many of those who own the tents are fourth and fifth generation families: relatives of the original Camp Meeting Methodists. Some say that there s a 30-year waiting period to buy a tent.
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The beach, named by USA Today as one of the best in the world, is clean and thong-free. The beach badge, at $7.00 per day and $35.00 per week, is well-worth the cost. Lifeguards are on duty from 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 on Mondays through Saturdays; 12:30 – 5:30 on Sundays.
A perfect example of a 19th century planned urban community, the town is laid out so that the buildings nearest the ocean were built farther back from the street. This created a funnel to capture the sea breezes and channel them westward. This clever plan also allowed most porches along the street to enjoy the ocean view. Savvy innkeepers have lined their porches and balconies with rocking chairs.

Even a loud car radio seems out of place here, where most of the bed and breakfast establishments lock the doors at 11 p.m. Claiming the country s largest collection of Victoriana, Ocean Grove offers many lovingly-preserved guest houses and B&Bs.

One block from the ocean and 1/2 block from the Auditorium, reigns Ocean Pathway’s Albatross Inn, a family-friendly establishment circa 1894, as well as sister properties Ocean Plaza and the Ocean View Inn. All three of these Ocean Pathway jewels are now open and ready for business.

In the southern part of Ocean Grove is the Sea Spray Inn, previously known as the Love Letter Inn. A sensuous French Victorian Inn, the Sea Spray faces Fletcher Lake and is a short block from the ocean. Recently restored after the storm, the Sea Spray welcomed its first guests in April.

In the middle of town, one block from the beach, the stately Majestic Hotel’s grand doors are also open to guests. A short walk away, the charming Melrose B&B is open, offering quiet respites to visitors.

For families in search of an informal and comfortable hotel, the Ocean Vista fits the bill. One of the few boardwalk properties, the Ocean Vista offers the requisite porch with rockers, a continental breakfast and morning coffee, and affordable prices. The family dog greets guests, and the mood is upbeat. The rooms are clean and cozy.

Travelers craving night life have only a 5-minute walk to historic Asbury Park, where the famed Stone Pony, legendary Wonder Bar and The Saint, and the newer Langosta Lounge rock late into the evening hours. If you prefer to sleep in Asbury Park, Mikell’s Big House Bed and Breakfast is the place to stay.
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Ocean Grove has something for everyone, and the crown jewel of the Jersey shore has proven itself to be stronger than the storm: still a seagull Shangri-la with charm to spare.

http://www.albatrosshotel.net/
http://www.theoceanplaza.com/
http://www.theseaspray.com/
http://majesticoceangrove.com/
http://www.melroseog.com/
http://ocean-vista-hotel.com/
http://www.stoneponyonline.com/
http://langostalounge.com/
http://www.thesaintnj.com/
http://www.mikellsbighouse.com

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I’m at the Convent of San Giuseppe, devouring a sinfully delicious meal, candlelight flickering upon castle-like marble and stone and beams. This is Sardinia, Italy, and today is my 50th birthday. It’s a luminous starry night in late April, and smells of simmering seafood, fresh bread, wine, garlic, and juniper mingle as a woman outside the open convent door twists dough into traditional ceremonial ornaments before an open fire.

The Convent was constructed on the site of a Roman settlement, and the ghosts of those who’ve gone before seem to linger in the air. The meal is wickedly divine, and I’m thinking that it just doesn’t get any better than this, but then the waiter brings a surprise: tall candles sparkling on a fresh-from-the-oven pear cake. I make a wish (as if it hasn’t already come true!), and blow out all of the candles with one big puff. I eat every bite of the cake, and then polish off the meal with limoncello: a lemon liqueur made right here in Sardinia. Not a bad way to celebrate half a hundred years of life: in Italy, in Sardinia, in the ancient capital city of Cagliari.

One of Italy’s best secrets, the island of Sardinia has not yet been discovered by the hordes of tourists swarming Rome. A superb side trip or a delightful destination, this magical place is one of peace and purity. An easy flight (Meridiana is one of several budget airlines that can get you there) from Rome, travelers can choose to land either at the south’s Cagliari-Elmas Airport or the Olbia-Costa Smeralda Airport of the north. The most known part of Sardinia (Sardegna to the Italians) is Costa Smeralda: the Emerald Coast of the island’s northeast. Glittering with lavish luxury yachts and opulent private villas, Costa Smeralda is one of the most renowned high-end destinations of the world. This Mediterranean mystique has drawn international jet-setters and celebrities like Rob Lowe, Courtney Cox, and Bruce Willis. “Putin even has a house here,” a local cheese maker stated.

In Costa Smeralda, there is not only the enchantment of white sand and gleaming green sea, jagged rocks and cliffs and archaeological sites and pink flamingos, but there is also Pevero: considered to be one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world. Surrounded by rocks, lakes, and trees of juniper and myrtle, Pevero is not only a golf course; it’s an experience. And another wonderful experience to be had in Costa Smeralda is that of polo. And here, this prestigious sport isn’t just for rich people. Families and other travelers can enter the grandstands at the Costa Smeralda Polo Club and watch the match free-of-charge. I sat in the Sardinian sunshine, watching gorgeous horses gallop across the greenest of fields. “Is this Paradise?” asks a visitor sitting beside me.
It is.

Sardinia, one of the most culturally diverse areas in Italy, as it is home to a unique music. Launeddas, a type of three-reed cane that has achieved international attention, originated and is still played in Sardinia. Here, too, can be found the art of polyphonic singing: a guttural form that dates back thousands of years. I don’t know how they do it, but I do know that it’s a sound that goes straight to the soul and stirs up the heart.
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Sitting in the bleachers at the Sant’Efisio parade, I watched a celebration that takes place each year on May 1st. For three and a half centuries, this Festival of Cagliari has been happening with great fanfare. Of religious and folklore origin, the festival’s highlight is a colorful parade. More than 5000 costumed villagers join the procession of ox-drawn wooden carts decorated with flowers, fruits, vegetables, and wheat. Bells ring and marchers play the three-reed launeddas as rose petals cover the streets. Bystanders munch on torrone, an Italian nougat candy concoction of honey, whipped egg whites, vanilla, and almonds or walnuts. I chew on the ancient sweet, wave at the paraders, inhale deeply of the rose petals. All is well with the world . . . Or at least, with Sardegna.

I had lunch at the Caffe degli Spiriti, a charming eatery located on the Bastione di Sam Remy with a panoramic view over the town. The meal begins with bread: the delicious bread of Sardegna.
The bread here is a bread not to be found elsewhere. Boasting of tradition and craftsmanship, the flat pane carasau bread is a crunchy variety made of durum wheat, seed corn, baking power, and water. Baked thin inside a brick oven, the warm bread is sometimes dressed with olive oil and salt.
Not only is the bread of Sardinia amazing, but so is the seafood. The seafood and the cheese and the bread and the wine. The tomatoes and the olives and the honey and the wild boar. Mama Mia! The food alone is worth the trip to Sardinia, not to mention all of the other wonders of this mystic island. Finishing this meal, I’m once again sustained for the day. Heading outside to the hammock swing, I kicked back and relaxed, closing my eyes and listening to the chirp of excited birds. These birds are happy. I know just how they feel.
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The mountains, the plains, the rivers, the coast, the sea. This place has it all. It also has numerous archaeological sites, including my favorite: Nora. Founded around 700 B.C., Nora is on the southwest part of the island. Evoking images of people long gone, the site is an incredible testament to hard work and craftsmanship that endures the ravages of time, weather, and civilization. Framed by the seascape, Nora includes the ruins of mosaic-floored buildings, thermal baths, the Forum, a temple, and a theatre, actually still used during summer months.

Nora’s story stretches back 3000 years, and this place was once inhabited by the Nuraghi culture. Nuraghi is a term used to describe not only the long-ago dwellers of these ruins, but it’s also the word used to describe the more than 7000 well-preserved stone towers dotting the landscape of Sardinia. The first settlers of Sardinia started piecing together their fortress homes – the nuraghi – around 1500 B.C. These stone buildings – mini castles of sorts – are centered around a main tower or fortress, and are testaments of preservation. Also found on the island are the intriguing “tombs of the giants:” monolithic burial chambers. Here, in Sardinia, a place where flowers grow from stone, it’s possible to connect with the past as in nowhere else.

I visited OmuAxiu, a farmhouse/museum located in Orroli. This house has been in the family – the same family – since the 1500s. OmuAxiu is the home of the family, and it’s also the home of a restaurant and museum. Upstairs is an embroidery museum, with delicate linens and other heirlooms. Downstairs is the museum of farming tools. The restaurant is located inside a spacious room once used for grinding cereals. The meal here is amazing, and the family dishes up dinner in traditional 19th century costumes. Everything served here has been grown here, on this land, by this family.

The day I visited is the birthday of the family matriarch, and she’s 79. She looks at least twenty years younger. Sardinia is known for the longevity of its residents, with more people over 100, proportionately, on this island than anywhere else in the world. Some attribute the longevity of Sardinian people to the no-stress lifestyle, the food, the air, the water, the wine, the exercise of living off the land. It’s all that and a mysterious something else, and I can see why these Sardinian centenarians smile.

Later, I visited the Argiolas wine cellar, surrounded by wooden barrels made of French oak: shelves and shelves – more than 1800 bottles – of the wine that’s made headlines not only in Italy but internationally. Started in 1918 by Francesco Argiolas, the family tradition continues with Francesco’s grandchildren now working in the business. Francesco, 101 years old, is a delight. Attributing his long life to having a glass of Argiolas wine every day, this wide-eyed gentleman in a jaunty cap squeezes my hand with a firm grip indicating years and years of hard work, passion, and persistence. He speaks in Italian, translated by his granddaughter Valentina. “My grandfather wants to know if you’ve heard of his wines in America,” she says. Using only indigenous grapes, Argiolas exports 10 wines to the United States. This family business also makes olive oil, pooling their skills into a single passion that unites them: to bring to the world the sun-kissed flavors and scents of Sardinia.

Traveling to spot high over the Lanaitto Valley, in the mountains, I had lunch with a goat-herder named Giovanni. He was 67 years old, and has lived here, alone, for over 50 years.
The dirt road up is snaking and narrow, navigable by four-wheel drive Jeeps owned by a company called Barbagia Insolita. It was one of the Jeeps that brought me here, to this place that feels as if it’s on top of the world. In the forest below, white fluff snows from the trees, showering visitors with a constant spring flower storm. Here, at the top, is Giovanni, roasting a suckling pig on a spit inside his hut.

Giovanni has given each of his 70 goats a name, and they run to him when called. He milks the goats, making cheese in animal bladders hanging from the hut’s ceiling. Giovanni also harvests honey, and makes olive oil. In his shepherd’s hut built of stone and branches, Giavanni makes sausage of wild boar, and the fresh mozzarella he serves with bread. Giovanni is not a gregarious man, but his crinkle-lined eyes are full of wisdom and peace. Here, on top of this mountain, he is at home. Giovanni serves lunch on chestnut plates, beneath a bamboo ceiling, with the smells of sizzling pig wafting through the air. His friend, another goat-herder from the other side of the mountain, has joined him today. The friend speaks English, and I ask him about the tiny T.V. in Giovanni’s solar-paneled hut. “What’s his favorite program?” I ask, and the friend translates the question to Giovanni. “He says that he doesn’t have much time to watch, but he does love to watch the news each night.”

I looked around the small mountain house in which Giovanni has made his life. There’s a small bed with a painting hung over it, a table with an oilcloth, a refrigerator, and two chairs: one for Giovanni and one for the rare visitor. “Is he happy here?” I asked, and Giovanni’s friend relays the question. No words are necessary, as the light in Giovanni’s eyes affirms what I already know: Giovanni is happy here, content and satisfied and perfectly at peace, at the top of this mountain, here for 50 years and hopefully for the next 50.
I know just how he feels.

For more information or for assistance in planning a trip to Sardinia, please see
www.italiantravelpromotioncouncil.org or www.italiantourism.com or www.sardegnaturismo.it

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I’m stretched out in my own private little cabana on a white sand beach, listening to the chirp of gulls and the banter of the ever-cheerful cabana attendants. These guys are as sunny as their bright Hawaiian shirts, and at this moment they’re also impressed, because the hulking man in the cabana next door was a football player (so he says) for the Dallas Cowboys, back in the ‘80s.
“Yeah, I had some knee injuries, a couple of surgeries, and then I retired,” the man says, stretching muscled arms behind his head. “Now I’m 42, and I just do stuff like this.”

“Stuff like this” apparently means relaxing on the immaculate Gulf beach at the Tradewinds Island Grand Resort. This is Florida’s St. Pete Beach, and I’m impressed. I grew up going “down the shore” to Jersey for beach getaways, but this is a whole new ball game. So the cabana workers are impressed with the ex-Cowboy; I’m much more in awe of the sprawling expanse of sugary sand and the shimmer of water so blue-green that one can actually see fish in it. Imagine that.

It’s September and the resort isn’t crowded. This is obviously the best time of the year to be here, in Paradise. The weather is perfect, and there are lots of empty cabanas, rows of vacant lounge chairs, two unused hammocks swaying in the breeze by the creek. There’s a lineup of water buggies, and an enormous inflatable slide called The Hippo. I’m wishing that I had a kid or two with me, because this place is the ultimate in family-friendly resorts. My waterfront suite has two TVs, a kitchen, a balcony with bars that no kid could fall between, and enough room to sleep six people. The catch phrase here is “Just Let Go.” I’m trying.
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I’m here for just two days, and there are a myriad of choices: a lounge chair by the pool or a cabana on the beach, a hammock or the comfy tropical sofa in my living room? It’s cool; I keep the sliding balcony doors open and I hear the squawking of gulls and the whooshing of water against shore. Below my balcony there’s a little creek, with a bubbly spring and two swans that always swim together. Sometimes they stop to nibble at daisy-shaped yellow flowers growing among the sea oats. There’s a heron who hangs out near the hammock and huge bullfrogs that croak at night. There are goldfish as big as a grandkid and palm trees that dance. There’s the view: the everything and nothing that makes up the sparkling Gulf of Mexico laid out before the resort. I wonder if anybody ever gets to live here forever?

I’m on the beach, sipping something frozen with a little green umbrella, a cherry, and a chunk of fresh pineapple. I’ve just been in the water, which is almost bathwater-like. Green pods from some kind of seaweed float, and signs advise beachgoers to do the “Stingray Shuffle.” I didn’t see any stingrays, but I shuffled anyway. At my age, I’ve learned not to take chances with things that sting.
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The soundtrack to my days here consists of a loop of Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffet. The Don’t-Worry-Be-Happy philosophy is beginning to sink in. Last night there was a Sunset Celebration at Salty’s, and I watched the sky turn purple and pink and orange and other colors with no names. An entertainer named Sam Stone played a blue guitar and a harmonica that could put Dylan to shame. The stars sparkled overhead, and a sliver of moon grinned over the water. A little girl in an orange sundress danced, and people laughed. Two middle-aged women, here for a teachers’ conference, looked at each other and intoned “Just Let Go,” then burst into giggles. The bullfrogs croaked, and all was right with the world . . . Or at least with this spot, deep in the heart of Florida.
There’s a paper in my room that says “You know you’re a Floridian if you can actually pronounce Kissimmee, Okeechobee, Withlacoochee, and Loxahatchee.” I can’t correctly say all those names, but I can pronounce one with certainty: Paradise. I’m in it.

I really like a lot of things about TradeWinds Island Grand. I like that there are amber-colored lights facing the beach, keeping sea turtles safe. TradeWinds was the first in the state to do a major retro-fit to meet wildlife lighting requirements that balance sea turtle survival with human safety and security. Those amber lights ensure that sea turtle hatchlings make their way to the safety of the Gulf waters.
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I like that sea oats are planted around the beach, protecting the dunes. I like that pet-friendly suites are available in a select number of suites. I like that there are lots of restaurants from which to pick. I like the paddleboats and the tennis courts and the fitness centers and the pools. I like the kid-friendly stuff like the RedBeard the Pirate Show and the KONK Club. (Kids Only, No Kidding.) I like that there’s stuff for the hard-to-please teen, like the new beach bungee trampoline and a mini-golf course. I like the daily newspaper by my door and the cheeriness of the staff. I like that I have wireless internet access, so that I can work. I like that I keep repeating to myself: Just Let Go.

I’m in the Bodyworks salon, being pampered among flickering candles with the “Beach Treat” package. This is heavenly and decadent: a facial by Mary, a massage by Kim, and a shiny purple manicure by Alla of the steadiest hands I’ve ever seen. It must be all the beach air and sunshine.
Bodyworks has luscious treats like the Chocolate Wasabi Facial and the Hydra Dew Express Lift. It’s the perfect gift for any grandmother, or the younger woman. For those with a little more time to spend at the salon, there’s the full day package “Just Let Go,” which includes a massage, manicure, pedisage, facial, and lunch. There it is again: Just Let Go. I close my eyes as massage therapist Kim works her magic, and I let go.

It’s midnight and a storm is brewing on the horizon. The palm trees are dancing hard; the hammocks are swinging fast; my hair lifts in the wind as I lean over my balcony railing. Lightning flashes and it’s beautiful. My next-door neighbors are out, too. They’re from Holland, and we chat about tulips and windmills as the sky darkens. There’s a rumble of thunder, and the swan couple climb from the creek. They nestle together, tucking heads into feathers like a matched set of salt and pepper shakers. The heron joins them, the bullfrogs croak, and the storm arrives.
I go inside and turn on the television. Even when one is Letting Go, it’s difficult not to watch the news of this crazy world from which I’ve escaped for the past two days. There’s bad news: cops have been shot and troops injured and a hurricane has hit. I say a little prayer and then I turn off the TV and go off to dream of a sea of green.

This morning, I peddled a water bike around the Gulf, after signing a waiver that the happy attendance said proclaimed that “we won’t come get you if you end up in Mexico.“ Schools of fish scurried away from my bike. I zoomed down the three-story-high slide, and it was a blast, even for a grandmother whose black one-piece swimsuit twisted into a very bad position during the slide. I didn’t do the Bungee Jump. Maybe next time: with a grandkid or two. We’ll also do the NASCRAB Race and the Pirate Show and the Sand Dollar Art. We’ll check out the Red Belly Belly Flop Contest and the Wacky Water Relays. We’ll meet Beaker, the pelican mascot, and maybe we’ll even make a shark tooth necklace with RedBeard. We’ll do the Hula Hoop Contest, and maybe I’ll win. I grew up in the ‘70s, you know. I know how to Just Let Go. I’ve learned, here at the Island Grand Resort, and I’ll be back.

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Oh, baby don’t you want to go
Oh, baby don’t you want to go
Back to the land of California . . .

-1936, Robert Johnson

We’re on an AirTran flight from the East Coast to the West, and the pilot is unknowingly giving us a serendipitous beginning to a trip consisting of rhythm and blues. We’re flying away to a ship full of the blues – The Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise – and this captain is serenading his passengers with a homegrown harmonica riff before lifting off into the wild blue yonder. I’ve never before had a pilot – with any airline – wail on the blues harp. AirTran rocks!

Arriving at the San Diego Airport, we’re greeted by another auspicious beginning to this trip: a glitzy jazz band getting down with some brass in the baggage claim area. Picked up (on time!) by the friendly driver Olag from Beach Limo, we’re smoothly transported in a shiny black town car through the non-congested streets of this lovely California city. Palm trees wave in greeting, and San Diego sparkles with a magical nighttime waterfront charm. We glide into the Gaslamp Quarter, a swanky district founded by a San Francisco developer who in 1867 discovered this area then only known as Rabbitville.

Still maintaining much of the energy and spirit of its frontier days, the Gaslamp Quarter is a lively and happening place. There’s lots of upscale shopping and boutiques, hipster nightclubs and open-air cafes, super-model types and twenty-somethings decked out to the 9s in the latest trendy fashions.

The Marriott San Diego Gaslamp Quarter Hotel is an oasis of mod and hip architecture, spacious and clean rooms, and the coolest check-in desk this side of the Pacific. Illuminated from behind by colored lights, the counter is run efficiently by friendly staff obviously happy to be at your service. On the counter are bowls of all-American Boomer-era candy: saltwater taffy, Necco wafers, Pixie Sticks, and Hershey Kisses.

With lots of comfy seating and wireless internet access, the hotel lobby is a popular gathering space, and the restaurant – the Soleil @ K – includes a full breakfast with the Snooze and Cruise deal. Taxi vouchers are also part of the package, making it easy and convenient for cruise visitors.

San Diego’s cruise port is a simple ten-minute trip from the Gaslamp District, making this a more accessible terminal than most East Coast ports. Check-in is a breeze, and before we know it we’re on the Oosterdam, an exquisite and immaculate Holland America ship upon which even the elevators are of upscale showcase material.

We’re heading for Mexico; there’s blue sky above and blue water below, and a ship full of the blues. Cool.

Captain, tell your men to get on board
I sure see ’em just pull into another shore . . .

-1931, Bessie Smith

Blues Cruise has been sailing from Florida to the Caribbean since 1994, and in 2006 the first San Diego cruise was launched. Spearheaded by Kansas City music promoter Roger Naber, the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise is one-of-a-kind: the only all-blues-all-the-time cruise in the universe. Once a Blues Cruiser, always a Blues Cruiser, so it seems. Many of the passengers on our boat seem to be returning Cruisers, hooked on this event that’s not only a cruise but a music festival not to be found anywhere else in the world. Add to all that music a boatload of scrumptious food, and you’ve got the recipe for a great vacation. Even the Holland America employees are enjoying themselves.

“We never have bands like this on usual cruises,” says one young food service worker who hails from Indonesia. “This is sweet.” His co-worker, whose name tag reads “Hunky Dory” grins effervescently and nods in agreement. Hunky Dory is a favorite of the buffet diners. He knows everybody’s names. He never forgets. And he’s really, really liking this cruise.

“Blues Cruise is lots of fun,” Hunky Dory states. “I digging it very much.”
Hard-core blues aficionados mingle with casual fans and newbies on Blues Cruise, and the ship becomes a happy bubble of music-love, delectable food, and fun. Jam sessions are part of the norm on this ship, and it’s not uncommon to stumble across four or five blues legends getting together to create a brand-new impromptu tune born of spontaneous combustion.

In dictionary definition, the blues are basic three-chord progressions laid over 12-bar framework. That’s a sterile description, though, and it’s really all about the heart and the soul, the glory and the grit, the heartbreak and the hope. It’s about the improv: playing by ear and going with the flow. It’s about emotion and core connection, and it’s all about the way the blues makes you sway no matter the time of day. It’s about gutsy guitars and vocals, piano and percussion, harmonica and brass and music so solid and real that you long to hold it in the palm of your hand. Most of all the blues is about passion.

The blues are perhaps the purest form of American music, originating in the earliest days of this land with African spirituals and work songs. Passed down orally, the blues meshed in the late 1800s with Appalachian folk and country, creating new hybrids across the states. Nowadays, the blues have fragmented in form and grown in many different and interesting directions. There are Delta Blues and Chicago Blues, Country Blues and Texas Blues, East Coast Blues and Harmonica Blues and Modern Electric Blues. There are blues that don’t fit into just one category, and blues that make brand-new genres.

The Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise has it all . . . plus some.

 

Some people take the blues, go jump overboard and drown
Some people take the blues, go jump overboard and drown
But when they gets on me, I’d rather stay ‘n go sit down

-1938, Memphis Minnie

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We’re in the darkened Vista lounge, nestled in plush red velvet seats, listening to Bernard Allison belt out his songs with so much power that the room seems to turn blue. Bernard, son of the beloved late legend Luther Allison, is holding his audience in rapt captivation with a fluid mastery of the frets that comes from years of practice, persistence, and passion, along with the luck and genetics that must come from being the son of Luther. Swinging his silver-beaded dreads, Bernard blends his body, the guitar, and the mystical invisible to create a performance that moves more than a few attendees to tears. “I love you, Daddy,” Bernard shouts toward the star-studded ceiling as his set ends.

With more than 75 performances, jams, and workshops, there’s a plethora of possibilities on Blues Cruise. The dilemma lies in how to choose. Perusing detailed scheduling placed in the staterooms each evening, some Cruisers plan a scheduled agenda. Others browse, ending up wherever the spirit – or the drumbeat – leads them. With varied venues such as the acoustically-inclined Queen’s Lounge and the outdoor Lido pool deck, the cozy Piano Bar and the top-of-the-ship Crow’s Nest, passengers on Blues Cruise are never struck by Shuffleboard Syndrome. This is one cruise that’s not highlighted by ice sculptures, although there is a cool RIP tombstone in the dining room on Day of the Dead theme night. Surrounding the ice are photos and flowers memorializing blues greats now gone to the great beyond.

Day of the Dead isn’t the only theme night on this cruise. There’s also Pajama Night, Mardi Gras, Pirates, and Hippies Gone Wild, with plenty of tie-dye, peace signs, swirls, and shiny white go-go boots. Shades of the late ‘60s are evident all over the ship, with the majority of Blues Cruisers being of Baby Boomer age.

“We’re the generation that’s always in search of connection and purpose,” said one cruiser, a 57-year-old artist from Pasadena. “We wouldn’t be content on a conventional cruise. We need meaning. We need to feel.”
And, baby, do we ever feel on Blues Cruise. The chills and thrills are as constant as the wake of the sea, moving Cruisers through the week on a wave of music that swells and rises until we feel as if we can reach the sky. It’s invigorating and refreshing and energizing, and we end each day with the kind of exhaustion that’s a good-tired, like the kind of sleepiness that settles over a swimmer after a day of catching waves.

When I sleep on this ship, I dream of the blues . . . and I wake up happy.

 

Leave your ego;
Play the music;
Love the people.

-Luther Allison’s motto

“Our ancestors brought these songs over on ships, and we’re keeping them alive on this ship. The old masters would be proud,” says a band member I meet in the elevator one day. I don’t remember his name, because there are so many blips of intersection connection on this ship. Musicians schmooze with attendees, and there’s no sense of star solitude or diva-style attitude at this event. I meet Marcia Ball in the bathroom, and Sistah Monica in the gift shop. We break bread next to Elvin Bishop, and dance with John Lee Hooker Jr. We eat lamb chops grilled by drummer Harold Brown of the Lowrider Band, and we pour morning coffee with Eric Sardinas.
“People are people and we’re all the same,” says one performer. “We’re all on this ship together.”

Eric Bibb drives that point home in his show, when he speaks of healing differences among humanity. “We spent a week on this ship and formed our own little community of peace and love,“ he says. “We proved that we can all get along.”

A common bond can be found in the lyrics of most of the musicians: a linked appeal of healing prejudice and strife. Peace is the theme of the week, here in this place where music is the bridge and there’s no color line or racial divide.

 

It’s so cold up north, that a bird can hardly fly
Well it’s so cold up north, that a bird can hardly fly
Now you know I’m goin’ back down south,
let this winter pass on by . . .

-1972, Muddy Waters

We’re in the Crow’s Nest, where a bearded guy named Pirate is the sound man. “Arrrrr,” he says. “Wait until you see the Homemade Jamz Band. They are amazing. Everybody’s raving about these kids. They’re stealing the whole show.”

Indeed they are. The vocalist/lead guitarist Ryan Perry is 15. His brother Kyle is the bassist, and he’s 13. Little sister Taya is the drummer, and the girl is waist-high to the usual Blues Cruiser. At the tender age of 9, Taya commands the skins with a stamina and steadiness worthy of envy from pro drummers who’ve had drumsticks longer than she’s been alive. Wearing pigtails and pink, Miss Taya is right on time, never missing a beat as her big bros take control of guitars so remarkable that jaws drop when they hit the stage. With bodies made of mufflers (Auto Zone), these are two uber-cool metallic axes with sounds that smoke and rumble like vintage Thunderbirds on a drag strip. Patent is pending and trademark paperwork is in process by the kids’ dad Renaud Perry, whose brainstorm of an idea will soon be exploding across the music industry.
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“I just made the guitars two weeks ago,” he says. “I’ve already had some orders from big names.”

The Muffler Guitars are a big hit with the Blues Cruise crowd, and these three kids are surely channeling long-gone masters of the art. Ryan’s voice growls with a gravely intensity equal to singers five times his age. Kyle and Taya are tight on rhythm, and the admiring audience goes crazy when Ryan holds the guitar behind his neck and whips out a perfect lightning-speed blues riff.

“Eric Clapton, eat your heart out, baby,” says a dancer in front of the stage.
The family is sometimes joined by Dad on blues harp, as their mother snaps photos from the back of the room.

“I actually sometimes forget that they’re my kids, and I just enjoy it along with everyone else,” says Tricia Perry.

Sitting offstage, the Tupelo trio’s father never takes his eyes off his children, and neither does anybody else. Seeing the Homemade Jamz Band is one of those experiences where you just know that one day you’ll brag of seeing them before they were a household name. The kids captured 2nd place in the band category of the International Blues Challenge, competing against 93 adult bands from all over the world. Since their coup at the Challenge, the kids have been picking up gigs all over the place, yet remain unaffected, polite, and respectful.

“It’s been a whirlwind,“ says Tricia Perry. “I don’t know why it’s happening, but we’re just going to go with it.”

The youngest blues band to ever perform on Blues Cruise, Homemade Jamz is obviously committed to keeping the blues brilliantly alive. I close my eyes while they play, riding the waves of music, and it’s hard to believe that the total combined years of these gifted musicians is less than my age.
“It’s like they’re old blues souls inside kids‘ bodies,” raves one listener. “It’s absolutely unbelievable.”

Two other youngsters from the new generation of the blues are also onboard, performing in jam sessions in the Crow’s Nest. Jumpin’ Josh, 11, from the Seattle/Tacoma area is the quintessential blues dude: sunglasses, harmonica, guitar slung across his back. Little Lisa Cayo, also of Tacoma, invokes shades of Janis Joplin and Tina Turner with deep and powerful vocals that are stunning to hear coming from the lungs of an 11-year-old. Brought on the boat by the encouragement of trombonist Randy Oxford, Little Lisa and Jumpin’ Josh join the Homemade Jamz Band in ensuring that the tradition continues.

“I’m so excited about these youngsters,” says Cookie Taylor, daughter of blues queen Koko Taylor. “I am so thrilled.”
So are we.

 

Everybody starts to jumpin’,
when the clock is strikin’ nine
Yes the house starts rockin’,
when the clock is strikin’ nine . . .

-1962, Lonnie Johnson

We’re on the Lido Pool Deck, and John Lee Hooker Jr. is bringing down the house with his band, plus a few friends pulled from the audience. A row of tangoing Holland America crew members are off the clock, and they’re rocking along with the cruisers, still decked out in their white uniforms.
“We children of the legends are carrying on,” Hooker says, tipping back his bowler hat. “My Daddy used to hold me up on stage and say, “Sing it, boy.”
John Lee is still singing it. Joining him on an electrifying jam session are other sons of legends, Bernard Allison and Ronnie Baker Brooks. The water stretches endlessly to the horizon, and the music of the blues lives on.

 

I looked down the ocean
As far as I could see –
in the fog I saw a ship
It headed this way
Comin’ out the foam
It must be my baby . . .

-1966, John Lee Hooker