What is it about certain bands that inspire fans to travel insane distances while on tour? Catching as many shows as they can possibly see in a limited amount of time? Some of my friends and family often question why I do it, why fly or drive thousands of combined miles to see the same band play over and over again? Clearly these are not the friends that I have made while on tour, asking such crazy questions. These tour mates understand such feeling of obsession, the need to see how the band will combine songs this night as compared to a show weeks, months or years ago. Umphrey’s McGee is certainly such a band and through years of hard work have obtained a dedicated following of Umphfreaks. These Umphfreaks have become a large extension of my own family, my Umphfamily, and I delight in getting to see people that I do not get to see in the course of my “normal” life. This combination of comradely and awesome music is the motivation to keep coming back and seeing these six gods of rock play over and over again. No show is ever the same experience, but guarantied to be a kick ass good time.
This little tale of tour begins in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This being the first time in the bands history that they have ever played in this state, I was very excited to see what Umphrey’s was going throw down for us. To my dismay, my connecting flight in Phoenix was delayed so I arrived after the band had already taken to the stage. My agitation level continued to rise in the cab ride from the airport to the El Ray Theater as my friends texted me the songs they where playing in my absence. Search 4, 2X2, Mantis Ghetts flashed though my phone. The cab dropped me off as Umphrey’s was in the final minutes of Mantis. The epic notes of the title track from their latest studio album immediately soothed all feelings of agitation that remained in my body. I also very quickly ran into friends that I had not seen since the last time I had seen Umphrey’s in Union Park in Chicago during North Coast Music Festival. Even though this was the first time they had played in New Mexico, Umphrey’s did not disappoint. The highlights where Band on The Run and their totally unique mash up, Come Closer.
The drive to Flagstaff the next day passed relatively quickly with beautiful scenery flying by out my window seat. Part of what I love about the Umphrey’s community is that you can almost always find a ride to the next show. Upon arriving in Flagstaff a large group of us took over a set of rooms at a local motel located two blocks from the Orpheum Theatre. Knowing that Joel Cummins was absent in January when Umphrey’s last came through Flagstaff, many people where speculating that this was going to be a great night of music. Just as predicted, they came out with a bang dropping the rockin’ Hurt Bird Bath on the embracing fans. Making note of Joel’s lack of attendance, Umphrey’s gave the people of Flagstaff a special treat in the form of the Beatles Mean Mr. Mustard > Polythene Pam > She Came in Through The Bathroom Window > Golden Slumbers. This had the crowd screaming, causing some worry that the roof would cave in. Jefferson Waful put on an amazing light show, turning the entire place into a disco ball during the encore of Making Flippy Floppy.
Nine short hours and the traveling circus that is my Umphfamily arrives in Salt Lake City. The fans and the band received a day of rest in between these shows so everyone seemed a little fresher. The sign outside The Depot lead many of the fans to speculate that we would finally get a taste of the new song titled Wellwishers. Unfortunately, this was just to mess with the minds of the masses. The band did grace us with two amazing covers, playing both Graceland and The Song Remains The Same. Knowing that Reno was just around the corner I tried to get some rest with memories of the last Umphrey’s show I had seen in Reno dancing in my head.
Getting closer and closer to my home, we continue west and arrive in Reno. This promised to be an amazing show as two of my fellow tour mates, Eric and Brandi, had decided that on this day they would be joined in marriage. This ceremony was noted by Brenden Baylliss during the second set and Joel played Maybe I’m Amazed during the congratulations before the entire band launched into The Fuzz. This night was also the first unveiling of Wellwishers and was met with enthusiasm. Eager to sleep in my own bed, we piled into the car and drove the 4 hours back to San Francisco as soon as the show ended. The logic was to already be in the city for the Umphrey’s performance in Golden Gate Park on Sunday. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass has been taking place for ten years and is a free multi-day run of music in the center of San Francisco. Luck was on our side and we managed to arrive in the park with enough time to get a spot on the rail for the 1:15pm start time. The short time slot left many of the fans that had traveled so far begging for more. For a lucky few they would get that wish.
Across the Bay in Emeryville at Expression College for Digital Art, 50 lucky Facebook winners where invited to a special webcast. Featuring a opening solo act by Martin Sexton to help set the mood, the tiny stage was buzzing with excitement. Promptly at 8pm Umphrey’s took to the stage and launched right into Conduit. While the 40 minute set included many songs that the band had already played in the past few days, it also severed as a wider internet audience for their new song Wellwishers. This intimate setting was also where Umphrey’s decided to let the world know which logo design had won and would be used my the band. Instead of unveiling the logo to the crowd, we where told it could be seen online and instead wasted no time in giving the small cheering crowd an encore of Cemetery Walk.
With a much needed rest on Monday and Tuesday, I was very well rested for my final show of this tour. Located in Arcata, about 300 miles north of my home in San Francisco, the drive flew by with the beautiful scenery of highway 101 fading with the light of day. As the sun fell into the Pacific ocean we arrived at the Arcata Theatre ready to rage. As the room began to fill up with fans, the lights finally went down and Umphrey’s came out on stage amidst cheers and fist pumps. The band seemed well rested as well, as they all had smiles on their faces and where all on point, executing each note with precision that hey are known for. Even with the small space provided by the Arcata Theatre, Waful was still able to amaze the crowd with the lighting designs he was creating. The night ended far to soon and as I said my goodbyes to friends that where lucky enough to continue following Umphrey’s north, I felt a small tear form in my eye. Why would this happen after seeing 7 seven spectacular shows? That is part of the power that they wield. The more shows I see the more I want to become a permanent member of the Umphrey’s tour. The more shows I see, the more I appreciate how much their music has evolved, and it is this continued evolution of creativity that will keep me following this band for many years to come. If you haven’t already, I would strongly suggest getting your tickets for Umphrey’s Halloween shows in St. Louis. I certainly know a few Umphfreaks that will be there, myself included of course!