If you were in downtown Atlanta during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, you would’ve noticed the Falcons destroying the Seahawks at the Dome, the last weekend of the Chinese Lantern Festival, and midwestern jam band, Umphrey’s McGee bringing the heat with three nights of rock at Tabernacle. Everyone lined the streets early each night to claim their spots inside the venue. Even though I was only able to catch the last two nights of the events, I still felt as though the experience lasted well into the next week, keeping my satisfaction at peak levels for days.
There are so many reasons why a good jam band has such devoted fans. It’s hard to not appreciate the tightness and tenacity of the sound, and the trained musicians, whose improvisational skills are remarkable. It makes attending a three-night event worthwhile, not to mention, the entire crew has such a huge passion for the music, from the merch guys, to the tech guys, to the lighting designer. Shout out and mad props to Jefferson Waful. The loyal fans are what really make an Umphrey’s Mcgee experience more like a mini vacation than a concert you would go to on any given night. I was excited to see so many of my old high school crew, catch up, dance, and make new memories.
As I was listening to my friends chat about their many Umph stories, I was curious to know what some of their favorites were. Many mentioned the 2012 New Years Eve weekend, also at the Tabernacle (four nights), and for some this weekend would be their first time experiencing the band. Eric Deleva (Atlanta, GA) says, “My favorite Umphrey's moment was Bonnaroo 2012, when they played till the sun rose at what I thought was 5 a.m., but I was wrong, they went till 7:30 a.m.! Midnight to 7:30. They stopped at 4:20 to let Big Gigantic play a set, then they came back on.” There is absolutely no denying that Umph is one of those bands that you have to see to believe. Maybe this year's Bonnaroo will be reminiscent of 2012, as with both Umphrey's McGee and Big Gigantic on the bill, we are bound for greatness.
Saturday night turned into a dance party right from the get go with new single, “North Route,” played into “Similar Skin.” The crowd helped sing the lyrics to “Hajimemashite,” and the guys teased us with a cover of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4,” during “Deeper.” With each song that played, moments of surprise kept us on our toes, raging well into the night, the crowd stopping only to refuel on beer and whiskey. Brendan Bayliss took a moment to congratulate the Falcons' win before closing out the first set. They left us that evening with a 13 minute jam of “Puppet String.”
“Maybe I could've been or could've known, I once was dropped among this crowd” -"Hajimemashite"
Sunday’s crowd died down a little, but the large groups of folks who had been in attendance all three nights were still eager and excited to see what the guys would bring to the stage. Starting off the evening with "Rocker Part 2," Umph continued to win our hearts over and again with each note. This evening's set hinted at a few heavy metal riffs, Jake Cinninger taking his guitar solos on expansive and intricate journeys, seamlessly bringing them full circle, making sense out of the most nonsensical music moments. Crowd favorites made appearances including, "No Diablo," "Bright Lights, Big City," and "In the Kitchen."
You can't help but get lost in your dreams when you listen to the best of the best living out theirs. As I dreamt, I thought of how cool it would have been to have this experience when my parents were my age. Maybe going out to see Led Zeppelin play in 1973. No sooner after I had this thought, "The Song Remains the Same," was next on the setlist. It felt like I had just manifested a miracle, though it was more likely that we all just listen to excellent music. The night ended with "1348," and then, "Pay the Snucka" for the encore. Everyone left the Tabernacle, satisfied and smiling at how exhausted they felt from their weekend escape, excited for the next time Umph comes back through Atlanta.
Photos by Missy Stowell for Bullet Music.