Umphrey’s McGee is a big deal. I realized this in 2011 when I saw them on Feb. 11 at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, Colorado.
I had flown out to attend the wedding festivities of an old college friend. The whole wedding party was supposed to be going to the Grace Potter & The Nocturnals show at the Ogden Theater that night, but it turned out that there were not enough tickets for all of us. I volunteered to give up my ticket so that the others could go, and another friend who was from Denver gave up his ticket, too, and told me that we should go see this band, Umphrey’s McGee, who were playing—according to him, “right down the street.”
He proceeded to escort me through the metro Denver streets, in sub-zero wind-chill, snow up to our knees, to make the trek from the Ogden to the Fillmore. My friend neglected to tell me that we would have to walk over half a mile to get there. I was just about ready to kill my friend for making me walk through what (to me) was the most extreme winter weather I had ever seen. Of course, he was used to it, and thought that my very dramatic Mississippi-girl display of displeasure was hilarious. I was on the verge of tears and ready to call a cab by the time we finally made it to the Fillmore. I am so glad my friend insisted that I forgive him and go to the show.
The venue was amazing, and the light show was like nothing I had ever seen before (think Pink Floyd meets Pretty Lights). I had also never heard any of Umphrey’s McGee’s music, but they had me mesmerized from note one. True to “jam band” form, they threw in a couple of cover songs to help familiarize newbies like me with their style of music. They played, “Bright Lights, Big City” – a song that hit very close to home for me, literally. The song was written by the great Jimmy Reed, who was born and raised in Dunleith, six miles east of Leland near Greenville, in the Mississippi Delta. I grew up in rural Tallahatchie County, on the West side, near Tutwiler—a tiny little community that has the honor of being called the “birthplace of the blues.” It is called this because W.C. Handy, famous musician and music documentarian, was waiting at the Tutwiler train depot for an overdue train to Memphis in 1903, when Handy heard an itinerant field hand playing his guitar using a pocketknife as a “slide,” and singing about “…goin’ where the Southern cross the Dog.” Handy said it was “…the weirdest music [he] had ever heard.” Handy supposedly described this music in this way: “I don’t know what kind of music that man was playing, but one thing I know, that man sho’ did have the blues.” And that is the legend of how the term, “the blues” was born.
There were times during the first part of that Umphrey’s show that I felt a little like Handy must have felt that fateful day back in 1903. There really isn’t a way to accurately describe the music of Umphrey’s McGee; but one thing is for sure, those guys sho’ don’t have “the blues.” Their energy and stage presence is so powerful that at times they seem almost superhuman. They dance wildly during guitar solos, and communicate with each other onstage in the most unique and entertaining way.
I sat gleefully through the rest of the show, enjoying the crowd almost as much as I did the music. It seemed to be one big group of friends getting together to watch their friends’ band practice—except this band did not seem to need any more practice – not for this particular show, anyway. Their performance was “tight as a tick,” as we might say down here in Mississippi. And then came the kicker: they ended the show (pre-encore) with “Eminence Front,” originally written and recorded by The Who, first appearing on their 1982 studio album, It’s Hard. If you have never heard this song and you love music, do yourself a favor: go to YouTube, Spotify, or whatever particular music engine you use, and listen to the original version. You will not be disappointed.
Umphrey’s brand of jam is more sophisticated than the sounds of the Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic or Phish—the traditional “forerunners” of the jam band genre. They have taken their cue from these legendary bands, grabbed the baton, and run with it full speed—breathing fresh air into the jam band music scene with their own unique style of jam. They have also revolutionized the way live music is being heard with a cutting-edge program they call, “Headphones & Snowcones.” As described on the band’s website, they are, “utilizing technology identical to what the band uses,” giving adventurous fans the opportunity to be “…armed with a Sennheiser in-ear monitor wireless pack and high fidelity Audio-Technica headphones, allowing [them] to experience the sonics of UM in absolutely unparalleled quality.” The cost is $40 (in addition to the price of your ticket). These headphones are promised to deliver “…pristine live audio mix…” because, as the band says, “you don’t know what you’re missing” and “something this good shouldn’t be only be for sound engineers.” To sign up for this audio-awesome experience, go to the following link and follow the instructions provided: http://umphreys.com/tour/headphones-snowcones/
For more information about Umphrey’s McGee, visit their website. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 28, and for ages 18 and up. Tickets are $25.00 in advance and $30.00 the day of the show. You may purchase tickets online from The Lyric Oxford’s website at http://www.thelyricoxford.com, or you may buy tickets the day of the show at The Lyric Oxford’s Box Office. You will need your ID to get into the show as well as to pick up your “Snowcone Headphones.” See you at the show!
Suanne Strider is a HottyToddy.com staff reporter and can be reached at email@example.com.