South Bend, Indiana-based jam band Umphrey’s McGee came out to New York City’s Summerstage, the annual Central Park concert series that plays host to a variety of artists spanning many genres. As a jam band in the vain of Phish and The Dead, you’d expect something a whole lot different than what you get with Umphrey’s McGee, who are very much a rock band in the truest sense of the term. With hard rock riffs, it’s hard not to like these guys, despite the almost total lack of lyrics on any of their tunes.
They’re not the kind of band you want to listen to on a CD, and being a jam band they don’t get any radio play around these parts, but somehow, some way, they have some of the most incredible fans on earth. Fans who became the focus of my lens throughout the entire first set, before the heavens parted and Zeus wept all over everyone. Fitting then, it was, that the guys opened up with October Rain, which was aborted twice due to technical issues with Ryan Stasik’s bass, and the band did the right thing amid clearly visible frustration. They shut it down, got it right, came back, started over and kicked ass. That’s how you put on a show.
Now, many of their tunes are long – to the point that their first set was actually only 6 songs but ran almost an hour and 20 minutes with the restarts. But that’s what a jam band is, they jam. I’m pretty sure there were snippets of Whole Lotta Love in Bridgeless and Rhiannon in Miss Tinkles Overture, which was cool as hell if my ears weren’t lying to me. While the weather held up and let everyone – including me – enjoy the band’s first set, by the time they left the stage to take a breather, the sky had gotten angry and the whole thing was about to go downhill.
I don’t mean that performance-was, but in the sense of, it started raining and within a few minutes that light rain turned into a monsoon and sent me and everyone else heading for shelter. I tried to tough it out as long as I could in order to watch and shoot their second set, but even with a poncho over myself and rain gear over my gear, the rain came fast and furious and ultimately forced me to retreat to my car without getting to hear much of Umphrey’s second set. That’s a huge disappointment, because they were killing it when the rain came, and they’re known for their amazing light show that I did not get to see, but when you’re a full-time photographer, protecting your business investment trumps a good show.
It sucks, but it’s a risk you take with an outdoor show in the middle of monsoon season. Not getting to see – and shoot – the whole thing was a letdown, but man, that first set? Nothing short of incredible. UM fans are amazing, and at some points were even more fun than the guys on stage. That says a lot about the following this band has, and they absolutely deserve the love they get in return for putting everything into their music and live performance. From the start all the way through my rain-shortened finish, Umphrey’s McGee were stellar. I can only hope they come around again soon so I can catch that light show I missed out on.
Check out the photo gallery below.