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Umphrey’s McGee is just too good to be true

Chad SmithUmphrey's McGee plays Wednesday, March 16, in the Crystal Bay Casino.
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Umphrey’s McGee is ascending as quickly as technology. Creators of improg, or progressive improvisation, the Chicago band has fans as devout as those of jam bands like Phish and Widespread Panic. It has an open recording policy and an Mp3 download card is offered at its shows for $9.99, and all of the shows are available online. It recently had its first Stew Art event of the year. The S2’s are intimate interactive concerts where the crowd determines the outline for Umphrey’s McGee’s improvisational performance. The second annual mother of all S2’s, the four and one-half hour UMBowl II, will be attended in April by 700 lucky fans at Chicago’s Park West. Bass player Ryan Stasik, who on the band’s website goofs on the song “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” spoke this week with Lake Tahoe Action.

Q I see you’re a big Frankie Valli fan.

A Well, I guess you could say that. I didn’t realize how many hits he had until I saw “Jersey Boys” with my mom.



Q Umphrey’s McGee is returning to the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room. Didn’t you get a sound board there?

A That was Frank Gamble and he only had two boards. One of which he loaned to us and the other is there, at Crystal Bay. When you see something of that caliber and that quality you try to get your hands on it.



Q I understand the band recently spent two weeks recording in a studio. The songs last album, “Mantis,” had not been performed live. Are you doing that again with the next record?

A It’s a little bit of both. It’s so hard for us because we tour so much to find blocks of time to get in the studio and mix and master and record. It’s going to be a little bit of something people have not heard some of the stuff has evolved from earlier more raw versions than what people have heard live. We still have not solidified what the tracks are going to be, but since we have such little time, we record as much as possible so we have plenty to choose from.

Q You released the last album in an innovative way. Can you explain it?

A It’s called the push technology. The more that people downloaded or wanted to preorder our record, the further along we would release more bonus material to reward the fans for utilizing the technology and being interested in our product before it even came out. So there were rewards for reordering. We ended up having pretty good numbers. We’ve always tried to be innovative and keep up with the technology of what’s going on. We’ve always got something up our sleeve to keep the fans involved and keep the music exciting and to give people more of a behind-the-scenes-look and bonus material that otherwise they would not have the opportunity to obtain.

Q What do you have up your sleeve for the next one?

A Can’t really tell you right now. It’s still up the sleeve.

Q Fans really enjoy the Stew Art events. Can you talk about those?

A They continue to sell out within five to 10 minutes of their release. We try to keep it intimate so the fans really do get an intimate, hands-on interaction with the band. Basically it’s an hour-and-a-half event where we use technology where people can text message ideas or themes for use to improvise on and they show up on a giant screen. About 50 or 60 people are allowed in, and as these ideas come out we improvise as a band to them. Then we have a meet-and-greet and a question-and-answer session so the people who are there really feel like they get a chance to get to know the band. It’s kind of like a backyard barbecue-style party. … It’s pretty great. Just having the chance to stand four feet away from your favorite band and say I chose what their jam was going to be is pretty empowering. It’s pretty cool.

Q And this is done with the Moses technology?

A Yes. The Moses technology is just a technology where we’re allowed to collect all the data and text messages and ideas from the fans bolt them though a system and shoot them up so they’re at real-time live coming to us and then we can improvise and choose them. It’s like a group-type texting cell phone technology.

Q The second UM Bowl with a four-quarter, football theme, is coming up. I hear you are a Steelers fan.

A You know it. Born and raised. My blood is black and gold.

Q And the band formed at Notre Dame.

A I went to Notre Dame and Brendan (Bayliss), the guitar player, and I had started a band together and we joined forces with our keyboardist, Joel Cummins, and the lineup shifted a little bit until 2003, which is our current sextet.

Q What is Umphrey’s McGee? How did that name come about?

A It was a drunken bad decision made in college. We’ve been told we should change it but after 13 years you’ve got to run with it, right?

Q It must be very satisfying to become one of the most popular bands around?

A It’s very satisfying to say that we are musicians full time. I think the best part is that we haven’t even come close to reaching our full potential. We’ve got so many smart people in this group and we’re always challenging and pushing each other to fully be aware of our potential. We’re writing new tunes and always trying to challenge each other in different jams. The drummer and I we’re really together working on new style of really grooving. We’re just happy to be sharing this with a captive audience and being able to pay the bills while making people smile.

Q Kris Myers really works out on those drums, doesn’t he?

A We call him the man freak. He’s a machine. You should see him eat.


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