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On a spectacular Friday afternoon, the Umphrey's Mcgee faithful poured into the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ to begin the Labor Day weekend festivities. Burlington, North Carolina's own Big Something opened up the show and got the party started.  Big Something formed in 2009, and since has been touring the country.  Their known for their mixture of funk, jam, electronica, bluegrass, rock along with their their high energy live performance.  They didn't disappoint as they got the crowd hyped up, dancing and ready for the main event.

Umphrey's Mcgee formed in 1997 at the University of Notre Dame, and has become one of the biggest live performance draws in the jam band scene. Lead vocalist and guitarist Brendan Bayliss, along with bassist Ryan Stasik and keyboardist Joel Cummins started the band playing covers and began writing the classic Umphrey's tunes us fans know and love. Percussionist Andy Farrag came on shortly after the first album and by 2003, drummer Kris Myers and guitarist Jake Cinninger joined the band, solidifying the current lineup.

For 22 years now, Umphrey's has intertwined prog rock, jam, funk, bluegrass, heavy metal, and blues with improvisation to create a musical experience like none other. Their influences are far and wide, ranging from the Grateful Dead, Phish, King Crimson, Yes, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, and Genesis (just to to name a few). These influences have created a band that brings the hard rock mixed with funky grooves that push the boundaries of what they can do every time they walk on stage.

Umphrey's opened the show with "Unsung Hero" and were melting faces right out of the gate. The crowd knew they were in for a treat. They also played "Ride on Pony" for the possible ending to the Stone Pony Summer Stage.  Growing up in NJ and seeing shows there for years, I sincerely hope that things don't go that way. The first set progressed with a bust out from back in the day and rarely played "Muff 2: The Revenge".  It's a bluegrass influenced tune and showcased Brendan's amazing vocal skills. Incredible.

These guys don't mess around.  They play hard, but their musicianship and all-around musical skills are unmatched in the jam scene. To close out the first set, keyboardist Joel Cummins began the melodic entry to "Glory". In the words of guitarist Jake Cinninger,  "Glory is like rock and roll gospel, it has this ascending feeling of being lifted up." It started as the sun was setting over the Jersey Shore and made for an epic ending to their first set.

After a short break, the band came out on fire as they opened the second set with "Little Gift" off of Similar Skin.  Umphrey's put their hard rock chops on display as they whipped the crowd into a frenzy.  Each member of the band has their own flavor and unique style, they all bring their own influences with them on stage.  Bassist Ryan Stasik lays down bombs and thunderous bass grooves, Percussionist Andy Farrag adds many subtle touches mixing well with drummer Kris Myer's extraordinary beats. These guys keep the time for Joel Cummins electrifying style on the keys, Brendan Bayliss with his amazing songwriting skills and killer guitar riffs, and Jake Cinninger's mesmerizing hard heavy guitar shredding. 

The second set continued with "Domino Theory", a heavy metal influenced rock tune that really revved up the crowd.  Next up was "Example 1", bringing the funk, and the band encouraged everyone to dance like no one was watching, and "get down!"  As the night progressed,  Umphrey's brought one of their live performance staples "Hajimemashite" to life for the masses.  It has become one of the bands epic adventures and is filled with melodic guitar riffs mixed with Brendan's impeccable vocal skills and amazing lyrics such as:

"And it fades from my mind.  It's gone and left behind.  As we age, each day flies by. Still I don't know why.  And it's fading fast.  And how could we make this last?  And it's fading, fading fast.  And all things must pass, I guess"

This song played live takes you on a magnificent journey and makes your soul smile.

To end the second set, the band to much of the delight of the crowd, gave a nod to one of their biggest influences Tool, covering the bands classic, "Forty Six & 2".  Tool had just released their highly anticipated new album that day, and Umphrey's wanted everyone to know how stoked they were for the new album and upcoming tour.  We witnessed a stellar performance of the Tool classic and the crowd was loving every note.  What a way to end the set. For the encore, Umphrey's nailed it with classic "Puppet Strings".  This tune is one of my favorites and invites the listener to think with lyrics like:

"It's not like there's a book for this or something you could read, Cuz I’ve looked around.  Could somebody tell me where does the time go?  I’ve got a bigger pile of questions than I could ever need.  There’s no explaining these to me.  These puppet strings don’t pull themselves.  You're thinking thoughts from someone else.  How much time do you think you have?  Are you prepared for what comes next?" 

These thought-provoking lyrics mixed with funky bass lines, hard edgy beats, and heavy face felting guitar riffs, are the reason Umphrey's Mcgee commands respect and delivers the goods for all those who come to see their epic live performances.  I might be a little biased this being one of my favorite bands,  but please do yourself a favor and check these guys out on YouTube.  Give them a listen, and without a doubt you'll want to join the party and go so them live when they visit your town. Again, you will not be disappointed. This band has come into their own in 22 years, and they shine bright in a world of cookie cuter rock and jam bands. They are by far one of the most amazing bands in the jam band scene and all-around amazing guys!

Matthew Lang

Photojournalist - New Jersey

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