Umphrey's or UM is a band that draws on classic rock, prog rock, and has inspirations ranging form the Beatles to Zappa. I have gotten to know the band members, crew and management along the way to my 70th show and have been blessed to shoot some amazing experiences. This show at the Tabernacle in Atlanta was no exception.
UM is at the cutting edge of technology both on and off stage. In addition, UM loves their fans... I mean really loves their fans. It is this love for their fans, combined with technology that brings us... the Stew Art Series.. or s2.
For those of you new to UM... they call their "jams" "Jimmy Stewarts". A Stewart is a section of a song where the band will improvise live on stage, having one band member take the lead, the band allows the music to unfold however it is meant to unfold in the moment. It is this spontaneity, creativeness and energetic exchange between the band and the crowd that keeps me coming back for 70+ shows.
Which brings me to why Atlanta was a special night for me. UM has started doing the Stew Art Series... this is a private "concert" before the night's show begins. They limit ticket sales to 50 people and for $100 a person can attend a private concert where they control how the music is going to be played. How do they do that you ask? With your cell phone, of course!
UM uses a live text screen that the audience can text suggestions of musical styles, specific songs, genres, or goofy suggestions to in real time. The band reads these and plays the music that fits the suggestions on the fly without pausing to discuss what they are going to play or batting around ideas. It is truly amazing to see. As a "for instance", the image above says Waful on acid. Jeff Waful is their lighting engineer... so not only is the band involved in this interaction with the crowd, but the entire crew is in on it... so in response to the "lighting guy on acid" suggestion.. Jeff light the stage like this:
I use this example because without being there it is difficult to put into words what the "Moog Metal Haji" suggestion sounded like. As the S2 continues, the band pauses to take questions from the crowd. This interaction with their fans allows the fans to get to know their favorite band better, get a deeper understanding of the music, where it comes from, how it gets there and where they draw their musical styles from.
Here Brandon Bayliss answers a fan's question regarding who is early musical influences were and who he aspired to be as a musician when he was a child.
One of the suggestions that was posted to the board was "oh no, Chris cant play drums!" As the fans know, Kris Myers is one of the best drummers playing live right now, they also know that Jake Cinninger (one of the lead guitarists) is also one of the better drummers out there. So, Kris Myers left the drum set and Jake jumped up there to bang out some nasty drum solos. This instrument is not uncommon... but what happened next was uncommon. Kris picked up Jake's guitar and stated ripping some metal licks on Jake's axe. This was certainly a crowd pleaser and I was excited to get a shot of this special occasion. Here Jake looks on in amazement as Kris puts on his best "Jake face" as he leans back into some power chords.
The rest of the S2 saw more instrument swapping, with another suggestion coming in to have the bassist, Ryan Stasik, show off his piano skills. One of the things I think makes this band so good is their ability to understand and play each others instruments.
I felt really lucky to have been invited to attend the S2 event. I highly recommend it to any fan who wants to peek behind the curtain so to speak and get to know these amazing musicians a little better. Once the S2 was over, the band came out to mingle with the crowd and eat some pizza, answering more questions, signing autographs and posing for snapshots with the people who love them. I am taken again and again by the bands lack of ego and their willingness to connect with their fans.
Here are some images from the full show Saturday night...which was sold out, by the way! 2600 people!
Taken with a tilt shift lens
Ryan Stasik gives the official UM salute. Too much rock for one hand.
More tilt shift fun
Best Fans in the world!