Umphrey's McGee embraces aging, 'jam band' tag and, as always, their fans

Umphrey's McGee will perform April 10 at the Music Farm in Charleston.
Umphrey's McGee will perform April 10 at the Music Farm in Charleston.

Fans of the Indiana jam band Umphrey's McGee are unlikely to meet their favorite band by being herded into a large room where its six members sit in almost total silence while they autograph glossy photographs and other items in assembly-line fashion.

Instead, the band's fans are regularly treated to intimate VIP shows where they can request songs, including covers, they'd like to hear, and get to have beer and pizza or barbecue with the band.

Taping and trading bootleg recordings of its live performances, which sometimes stretch on for more than four hours, is not only welcomed by Umphrey's McGee but encouraged.

It is for these reasons and others that Umphrey's McGee is considered one of the most fan-friendly bands in popular music. And that's the way they like it.

"Without our fans, we would really be nothing," bassist Ryan Stasik said. "We're a grass-roots bands, and that's really how we came up. Our band started by giving away our music for free. We're not like Metallica or Destiny's Child or something where we consider taping our shows as stealing the music or anything."

The band, whose sound has been described as everything from prog rock to funk, will perform April 10 at the Music Farm in Charleston.

Stasik discusses their favorite venues, the evolution of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival and staying active on the road.

Question. Amongst your fans, you guys are known for your expansive catalogue of cleverly arranged covers. Why do so many covers?

Answer. What makes it fun for us is that we have such a huge variety of covers that we can do. We've done everything from Tool, which is one of my favorite bands ever, to Guns & Roses to Steely Dan to Nate Dogg. I think we also do a good job of listening to all six members of the band and what they're influenced by and figuring out different covers.

Q. Will the band be debuting any new covers on this tour?

A. I can tell you there will be, but I won't tell you what they are.

Q. Umphrey's McGee has been together since the late 1990s and have played all over the country. Are there any particular venues near and dear to your hearts?

A. Red Rocks (Ampitheatre in Golden, Colo.) is one of the big ones ... but I personally love the dive bars. I like the intimacy of a venue where the audience is right on top of you, and you might get a beer spilled on your shoe.

Q. You guys aren't playing Bonnaroo this year but have appeared in the past, including the inaugural year in 2002, how do you think the festival has changed?

A. I always tell people that Bonnaroo is the Super Bowl of music festivals. Everyone is there and everyone is watching. We've played seven out of the 11 years that they've had the festivals and we're always honored when we get asked to play and we've always had a blast. It definitely started more with more jam bands but since then they've had Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z, Metallica, and it really is the epitome of a true rock'n'roll festival. I love it. Everyone should go at least once. But I'd get a hotel room instead of camping.

Q. Do you mind being called a "jam band"?

A. I embrace all of that. I jam. I'm in a band. I'm in a jam band. We really have no problem with that. It's been called self-indulgent ... and "ADD im-prog" but I really refer to what we do as "stretch" music. We take our songs and just stretch them out, but don't get me wrong, I love a good, two-and-a-half minute, well-written song. I think we do a good job of balancing between all of that.

Q. Umphrey's McGee has gotten a reputation for being a pretty active and healthy band. When did that start?

A. We turned 30, and I think we just knew that our bodies couldn't live like this, our livers couldn't live like this, and our lungs couldn't live like this, and it's actually really easy to get into stuff like biking, running and swimming on the road. I mean, you can run anywhere. We've actually gotten really into golf. We keep our sticks under the bus and there's nothing more relaxing than going out on the course for a few hours and coming back and playing a show. I would say we're a pretty healthy band. I know that's not a very rock'n roll answer.

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Ryan Stasik from Umphrey’s McGee made us a Spotify playlist of what he’s into right now. Listen below:


Umphrey's McGee

Music Farm