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Umphrey’s McGee spans a range of musical styles

WHO: Umphrey’s McGee

WHERE: The Boot

WHEN: June 23

With a name like Umphrey’s McGee, you’ve got to expect something just a little off centre. I had hoped for some outrageous tale to accompany, however, the story behind the name may be the only boring thing about this Chicago band.

"In one word, he’s my dad’s sister’s brother’s cousin," explains vocalist/guitarist Brendan Bayliss. "Humphries McGee is a distant relative. I met him at a wedding. He’s a really nice guy."

Yep, pretty straight forward. But their style (or should I say styles) of music and approach to the business are anything but. To look at the sextet, you might think they were just part of the ball team hanging out at the bar. But make no mistake, when they take the stage, their music commands all the attention they need.

"We tend to practice music rather than shop for clothes," quips guitar/sax/percussionist Jake Cinninger. "Not too much thought goes into appearance. More goes into eating, sleeping and breathing music… and playing poker."

Three of Umphrey’s members actually possess music degrees from Notre Dame University. But does classical training really apply to a rock band that frequently breaks into jazz improv, dirty funk and bluegrass?

"I sure hope so!" exclaims keyboard player Joel Cummins, who was a music theory and theology major. "What we’ve learned through our respective educations and what we’ve learned on the road gives us the best of both worlds and a base of knowledge that we draw on every day."

And it certainly is a big base. Umphrey’s crosses so many musical genres it’s safe to say they truly have no borders. Their eclectic mix brings in a wide audience range. Those not familiar with Umphrey’s penchant for variety and the unexpected sometimes look a bit perplexed. While not everyone enjoys all styles of music, it’s guaranteed Umphrey’s has a little something to please everyone.

"It’s a magic bag of treats. Pick a flavour. Pick your poison if you will," says Cinninger. "We play gangsta rap songs, for example, every once in a while just to stir things up. I’ve heard ‘I hate it when you do that song’, but I’ve also heard ‘I love it when you do that song’. To each their own. The strength and the push in our performance is covering so many genres. It introduces different music to people who may not have enjoyed it previously."

Umphrey’s McGee is being embraced by fans similar to those of The String Cheese Incident, Garaj Mahal, Keller Williams and Phish, due to their love for jamming and their business theories. All of the above thrive off touring and live performances, rather than music videos or CD sales. Photos and recordings are encouraged at their live shows and file sharing over the Internet has become their biggest promotional tool.

Band manager, Vince Iwinski, loves to tell the story about their tour through Colorado, then virgin territory for Umphrey’s. Via their Web site (www.umphreys.com) and several chat rooms, Iwinski asked if there was anyone interested in helping to burn CDs or hand out flyers. Iwinski received over 600 CDs which he in turn labeled and mailed to those in Colorado who had volunteered to distribute. Almost all their Colorado shows were near capacity. And the power of the Net hasn’t stopped there. For this West Coast tour, Iwinski received over 1,200 CDs from helpful "Umfreaks" across the continent.

"We also utilize the promotional services of jambase.com to get the word out," comments Iwinski. "Our tour dates are seen by thousands of people everyday… Umphrey’s McGee has been in the top 10 most searched bands in the last five weeks on jam base, and that’s above bands such as Galactic and Dave Matthews. I feel like we’re sitting in good company."

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