Umphrey’s McGee is one of the most popular bands in America on the Jam Band scene. Its sound can attract an eclectic audience with hints of Rock, Jazz and R&B and the well-rounded, phenomenal musicians in the lineup. The band has been touring nationally for over 15 years and is a staple on the summer festival scene. Umphrey’s have produced eight studio records; its most recent offering, Similar Skin, was released in the middle of last year.
CityBeat caught up with keyboard player Joel Cummins and discussed the changes over the years on the road and the fun and challenge of making every show a unique experience for the audience. The band plays the big room at the Taft Theater tonight at 8 p.m.; TAUK opens.
CityBeat: Your band is so famous for having ever-changing set lists. How do you determine what you are going to play each night?
Joel Cummins: We use a lot of different ways to figure out what to play. One of the main ones we use now is a website called allthings.umphreys.com, developed by a friend that has a complete tour history and everything we have played. It is a really interesting and interactive site that the fans can use to see what they haven’t seen us play before. We use it to look back and see what we have played in certain markets or make sure we do something different and don’t repeat the same thing. It is a really useful tool.
As far as making the set list, I will compile a history of whatever it is that we have played and whoever is feeling it that day will pick songs and make a set list for that night. It’s interesting — one of the things that makes it fun for the fans is that any combination of the six of us can write a set list, we try to mix it up throughout the tour so it is staying fresh for us and the fans every day. And now that we have about 180 original tunes, we have quite a few to choose from every day. So it is nice to be able to play for five or six days in a row and not have to repeat a song.
CB: I am just amazed that you can remember that many songs over that period. It is very impressive.
JC: You get to a point where you learn a song and as you are thinking about it and connecting the thoughts to the hands … after a while it becomes muscle memory. I think the only reason we are able to do this is because we made sure we play all these songs at a minimum once every couple months so you still remember it and we know how to play them. When we do different covers, one or two every show, we may only play those once or twice a year so that is something where we will run those entire songs the day of the shows and pick what we want to do to get it back. Thank God for muscle memory or we’d be in big trouble otherwise.
CB: You guys have been together for almost 20 years now. Have you experienced multi-generational fans yet?
JC: We have. It is a pretty cool thing. There are a lot of things I never expected to hear when we were talking to fans. Certainly one of those things is finding parents and their kids who are both fans, finding all these people that have said they make great friends at the shows and (travel) around the country to see each other, maybe somebody met their husband or their wife at a show. Those personal connections and stories that have happened with the band because of our music I think are one of the main things that keep me looking forward to the shows because I know that there are a lot of people out there that this means a lot to. It’s an engaging thing musically, but it has become a really cool social event bringing people together. Our fans, more than most bands, like to have a good time but they are there for the music. You go to our shows, you are going to meet some friendly, hopefully intelligent people. Our fans aren’t starting fights or getting crazy. It is cool to see the community develop as it has. It is something I never imagined that would happen.
CB: I (photograph) a lot of different genres of music and talk to a lot of different people. The Jam Band music scene seems to be a little more collaborative and supportive group with each other. You have collaborated with a ton of artists over the years. Do you have any favorite collaborations you have done? How do you go about choosing who you are going to work with next?
JC: I think some of that sense of community emanated from the festival scene. It is interesting because it is a shared thing with the bands as well as the fans. One of the things I do is Jam Cruise; I have done 11 of the 12 of them. I know all the artists like family. It’s cool to have these bonds develop and I think because of the style of music we play, because it is more collaborative and there are a lot of good musicians on the scene, it encourages the idea of collaboration.
If I had to name one as my favorite, we actually just got to play three concerts in New York with Joshua Redman, who is this really talented, really adventurous sax player. He has won Grammys and played with the best of the best, and the fact that he still wants to come back and play with us every once in a while is a really great challenge for us and really engaging to do. I think we have one of the most extreme varieties of styles in our music. As a result, we either play with people like Josh, who are in the Jazz scene, or someone like Mavis Staples, who is obviously a legendary R&B singer. We are friends with Huey Lewis, who is one of the most amazing guys out there in the music business, (and we’ve played more) current things like something Electronic with STS9 or something acoustic with Yonder Mountain String Band. I think we are lucky that we are in the time we are because bands used to be more closed off and competitive with other acts out there. It is a lot more fun when you can be friends with people and make music together.
CB: You lost your original drummer, Mike Mirro, last year.
JC: Yeah, inevitably things come up (about him) all the time. Most of the time it’s funny things that he said or jokes that have carried on. Most recently, we did a holiday show with some members of the band in Chicago. He actually has a charity now in his name, the Michael A. Mirro fund for Neuroscience Studies. We were able to give a pretty sizable chunk of money to that. It is good to have his presence pop up in daily conversations, but even more than that, the charitable aspect of trying to contribute to studies that help people who have the challenges like Mike had. We miss him dearly and he was a close personal friend, so even though he wasn’t with us in the band anymore (when he passed away), we had collaborated a bunch of times since he left the band. It was a really horrible, tragic loss.
CB: The festival lineups are being announced really early this year. Can you tell me what you look most forward to with the festival performances? What do you think is one of your greatest festival moments?
JC: I think the artist camaraderie is a really exciting thing with festivals. We have been lucky to play so many great festivals. One of our favorite annual ones we always do is Summer Camp in Illinois and that is something we co-headline with moe. and they always have other great headlining artists. Steve Miller Band is going to play this year. Widespread Panic is going to come back. There are a lot of great artist always at that one.
As far as career defining festivals for us, I’d have to go with Bonnaroo. We played the first one. Up to that point we had been playing at clubs in Cincinnati like Ripley’s, and maybe the Southgate House. We got asked to be a part of that first Bonnaroo. We were nervous because we got like a 5 p.m. Friday slot. We were wondering if anyone was even going to be there yet. We ended up playing in front of 10,000 people that day, a completely jam-packed tent. It was in 2002, and that was our first moment where maybe people knew who we were on a national scene. That is something I will always remember.
CB: You mentioned some bars you played in Cincinnati over the years. Do you have any favorite Cincinnati moments or memories?
JC: There are lots, to be honest. One of the early ones I’ll never forget. We played the last night at Ripley’s before it closed with our buddies Ray’s Music Exchange, a great Cincinnati band. That was kind of an emotional and cool night. That was the first night of us going out on a tour on the East Coast and Ray’s was headed out to the West Coast. I also remember probably just three or four years ago, one of my favorite things we did (was when) we played at Moonlite Gardens and Mad Dog, who is Ray’s former trumpet player, put together a horn section for us. We did a little back and forth competition, playing songs back and forth, and we had the horns up in the balcony and we were on stage and it was just one of those cool unique moments that hasn’t happened before. People are always trying to come up with fun things like that to do. You never know with Cincinnati because there are guys looking to get some kicks out once in a while and do something interesting and out of the box.
The Taft is one of our favorite rooms to play. I think we have only played there twice before. It is exciting to come into one of your favorite rooms and play for a sold-out crowd.
It was another great celebration of the Greater Cincinnati music scene Sunday night at Covington’s Madison Theater, as CityBeat presented the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards for the 18th straight year. The eclecticism of our local music scene was on display via excellent performances by nominees Mad Anthony, The Cliftones, Young Heirlooms, Zebras in Public, The Whiskey Shambles, Buggs Tha Rocka, Dark Colour and Injecting Strangers. (Pick up a CityBeat Wednesday for more on the show itself and stay tuned for photos from the event)
Wussy emerged the big winner of the night, taking home the Album of the Year, Artist of the Year and Best Music Video CEAs, a nice capper to a breakthrough year that saw the band sell out shows across the country, score rave reviews from several high profile music press outlets and make its network TV debut on CBS This Morning.
Below is the full list of 2015 Cincinnati Entertainment Award winners:
World Music/Reggae: The Cliftones
Jazz: Blue Wisp Big Band
Singer/Songwriter: Molly Sullivan
Country: 90 Proof Twang
Punk/Pop Punk: The Dopamines
Indie/Alternative: The Yugos
Rock: Buffalo Killers
Electronic: Dream Tiger
Blues: The Whiskey Shambles
Bluegrass: Rumple Mountain Boys
Folk/Americana: The Tillers
Metal/Hard Rock: Electric Citizen
R&B/Funk/Soul: Under New Order
Hip Hop: Buggs Tha Rocka
Best Live Act: The Almighty Get Down
Best Music Video: Wussy’s “North Sea Girls” (directed by Rich Tarbell)
New Artist of the Year: Honeyspiders
Album of the Year: Wussy’s Attica!
Artist of the Year: Wussy
There are a couple of things that have been on my mind of late, and this always seems like a decent forum to vent my musings, particularly since I'm not in therapy. First of all, what exactly constitutes medical attention for an erection lasting more than four hours? Does a stereotypically sexy nurse, um, give you a hand? Or does a mummified doctor from the bygone era of bone saws that could drop an oak tree and hand-cranked skull drills apply leeches to the affected area and then show you pictures of Yogi Berra and golf videos to bring down the swelling, so to speak?
While we wait for an answer to arrive, let's move on to the other, perhaps more salient issue that I've been pondering. As everyone knows, the end of the year brings the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards nominations, which then inspires a good deal of grumbling speculation about who has gotten nominated and, more importantly, who has not.
Look, no one understands better than I the elation that accompanies being recognized for your work. Six years ago I nabbed second place in the Non-Daily Newspapers Feature Personality Profile category of the Ohio Excellence in Journalism awards. I know, right? At the same time, I can count on fingers and toes the number of letters I've received over the years about things I've written, and many of those have been from the subjects I've written about just to say thanks.
My prized correspondence was from now-deceased Rolling Stone/Billboard editor Timothy White for getting the title of his Beach Boys biography wrong in a piece I wrote about Dick Dale. I had cited White's book as The Nearest Faraway Beach, largely due to my love of the Brian Eno song, "On Some Faraway Beach," and partially because I jotted down my notes in Joseph-Beth Booksellers when I was in the throes of a flu that would have eaten a vaccine for an appetizer. White's book was, in fact, The Nearest Faraway Place, and in it, he mentioned that Dale had been born in Beirut, Lebanon, among other interesting tidbits about the legendary guitarist. When I asked Dale about some of the entries in White's book, he countered with, "Does it say Dick Dale was born in Lebanon?" (he referred to himself in the third person, a lot). I said that it did, and he responded, "Then throw that book in the garbage."
It was a great quote so I used it in the story, which prompted White's letter, where he first corrected my idiot error and then clarified that he had interviewed Dale personally at a time when White speculated that Dale thought being born in Lebanon would make him seem more exotic (he was of Lebanese extraction), but when Beirut became synonymous with terrorism, he claimed Boston as his birthplace. All in all, though, he was very complimentary about the article.
As usual, I digress. As much as people love being hailed for their accomplishments, they are stung when they feel they've been passed over, for whatever reason, and that's completely understandable. It becomes slightly problematic when people demonize the process in an effort to explain their absence from the end result.
Here's the thing; those of us who comprise the nominating committee try not to take ourselves too seriously, but we are very serious about the task of establishing these nominations on an annual basis, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, we love music and we respect the people who make it. We also feel it is extremely important to recognize great work and to share that recognition with the entire music community.
And that's pretty much it. We don't have an agenda to push. We don't nominate our friends (although our friends sometimes get nominated). Speaking for myself, I really try to set personal feelings aside when the time comes to look at the past year and determine who has done work worthy of CEA recognition.
Of course, that determination is open to a certain amount of subjectivity. We are human beings, after all. That's why we cast our nets as far as we can, to make sure the nominating process is as fair as humanly possible. Is it a perfect system? Not hardly. But I think we've gotten it pretty close to right. This year we involved the public in the process and that helped widen the focus even further, but there still seems to be a certain amount of dissatisfaction about the nominees and conjecture about how they got there. In the final analysis, it boils down to a few simple facts. If you're nominated, congratulations; you've distinguished yourself in a music community that I honestly feel is one of the best in the entire country. If you win, huzzah and holy shit, you've further distinguished yourself within a formidable slate of your musical peers.
And if you're just a spectator, keep working. Keep doing what you do. The accolades are nice, but put things in perspective; at the end of the day, the CEAs are a party with door prizes. Prestigious door prizes, but door prizes nonetheless. And whether you're a winner, a nominee or neither of the above, don't allow your recognition or lack thereof to overinflate or devalue your sense of what you do. What matters is the work. Your work. Whether it garners you a nomination or not.
It's the same in any field of endeavor. How many painters wind up in museums in their lifetimes? How many athletes give their lives over to the sports they love for an almost microscopic chance to get a plaque in their respective halls of fame? Celebrity, wealth and notoriety are all fairly illusory. What matters is the work.
The immortal and forever great Frank Zappa may have put it best: "Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is the best."
And there it is, in it's simplest and most potent form. If you are out there, turning words and melodies in your head into real music with your hands, heart and soul, you are contributing to one of the best things in life. Awards are the icing on a cake that doesn't necessarily need to be iced. When you make great music, we are the winners. And we'd like to thank you. And God and our families and friends and our eighth grade English teacher who said we'd never amount to anything, because he was sort of right. Thank you.
Saturday night, be sure to head to Bogart’s for this year's "Best New Bands" showcase, presented by CityBeat and featuring performances by some of the local musical acts you should keep your eye on this year.
The 2015 showcase features all of this year’s Cincinnati Entertainment Award nominees for New Artist of the Year, each of whom are profiled in the new issue of CityBeat. The nominees will be joined by four other superb new area acts for the event.
The concert begins at promptly at 7:30 p.m. and will feature performances on Bogart’s main stage as well as on a side stage, keeping the music running non-stop all night. Admission is just $5.
Here are some audio samples of each of the BNB performers. Click on the artists’ names (listed in order of appearance) to read more on each act.
You can find out who scores the New Artist of the Year trophy (and who wins in all of the other categories) on Sunday, Jan. 25 at the 18th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards ceremony/party, which takes place at Covington’s Madison Theater (Blues nominees The Whiskey Shambles were recently added to the lineup of performers, joining The Cliftones, Mad Anthony, Injecting Strangers, Young Heirlooms and Buggs tha Rocka). Tickets are available in advance through cincyticket.com. Showtime is 7 p.m. and we give you full permission to call in sick to work Jan. 26.
The 18th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards ceremony/party, presented by CityBeat to honor Greater Cincinnati’s amazing music scene, is just around the corner. The show — featuring performances by nominees like Young Heirlooms, Buggs tha Rocka, Mad Anthony, Injecting Strangers, The Cliftones and more — is set for Sunday, Jan. 25 at Covington’s Madison Theater. Click here to get your tickets now. VIP tickets are also available. VIPs get membership to the Cincinnati Music Heritage Foundation, a James Brown or Hank Williams T-shirt (or limited edition poster made with Eli's BBQ sauce!), beer, appetizers, soft drinks and private seating.
There is still time to vote for your favorite nominated artists — but not much. The ballot closes Thursday night at midnight. Click here to add your two cents before it’s too late.
For a CEA warm-up, be sure to come to Bogart’s this Saturday for our annual Best New Bands showcase, featuring performances by New Artist of the Year CEA nominees Dream Tiger, Honeyspiders, Prim, Elk Creek, Leggy and Noah Smith, as well as fellow relative newcomers Kate Wakefield, JetLab, Harbour and Near Earth Objects.
The nominations for the 2015 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, honoring Greater Cincinnati’s fantastic music scene, were announced Wednesday and now it’s your turn to weigh in.
The 18th annual Cincinnati Entertainment Awards ceremony/party, where the winners for each category will be announced and several acts will perform, returns to Covington’s Madison Theater on Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015. So far, Young Heirlooms, Injecting Strangers, Mad Anthony, The Cliftones and Buggs tha Rocka are confirmed to play the CEAs this year. Stay tuned for further info; tickets are available here.
An educated voter is the best kind of voter, so why not actually check out some or all of the artists for whom you are voting? Below you will find links to the artists’ pages on the excellent local music site cincymusic.com (thanks, CIncyMusic!) featuring links, music, bios and more. (The final three “Critical Achievement” categories are not voted on by the public but rather the CEA nominating committee, but you should still totally check all of those acts out, too.)
Best Live Act:
Best Music Video:
Wussy – “North Sea Girls”
Rob Fetters – “Desire”
Mad Anthony – “Sank for Days”
Injecting Strangers – “Detroit”
Sleep – “I Shot Lincoln”
Tweens - “Forever”
The Tillers – “Willy Dear”
Trademark Aaron – “Gold”
Critical Achievement Awards Album of the Year:
Tweens – Tweens
Pop Goes the Evil – Love Stained Heart
500 Miles to Memphis – Stand There and Bleed
Wussy – Attica!
Rob Fetters – Saint Ain’t
Arlo McKinley & The Lonesome Sound – Arlo McKinley and the Lonesome Sound
The Almighty Get Down – People, This Is …
Buffalo Killers – Heavy Reverie
New Artist of the Year:
Artist of the Year:
The annual MusicNOW festival, founded by Cincinnati native and guitarist for Indie Rock superstars The National, returns to various venues in Over-the-Rhine this March for a celebration of the festival’s 10 successful years. The event will utilize Music Hall and Memorial Hall (past MusicNOW venues), as well as the new Woodward Theater (the Contemporary Arts Center will also host a related music/art installation March 11-20). Heavy on collaborations again this year, the shows will run March 11-15.
Highlights from MusicNOW 2015 include a collaborative performance featuring The National and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The CSO will also perform “Songs from the Planetarium” with MusicNOW vets Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly and Dessner.
Here is the full lineup announced this morning:
Wednesday, March 11th
Woodward Theater - 1404 Main St, Cincinnati, OH
Thursday, March 12th
Woodward Theater - 1404 Main St, Cincinnati, OH
concert:nova with Jeffrey Zeigler
Friday, March 13th
Cincinnati Music Hall - 1241 Elm St, Cincinnati, OH
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, The National with the CSO and new commission by Caroline Shaw
Saturday, March 14th
Cincinnati Music Hall - 1241 Elm St, Cincinnati, OH
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Songs from Planetarium featuring Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly & Bryce Dessner with the CSO, new commission by Daníel Bjarnasonand So Percussion
Sunday, March 15th
Memorial Hall - 1225 Elm Street, Cincinnati, OH
Perfume Genius, The Lone Bellow, Mina Tindle
Contemporary Arts Center- 404 E. 6th St, Cincinnati, OH
An ongoing Installation (see video below)
"Many of my most significant memories as a musician have taken place in Cincinnati during the MusicNOW Festival over the last 10 years," founder Bryce Dessner says in the press release. "When we started, we were driven to create an intimate music festival that was as much a creative refuge for the artists as it is for the audience to partake in intimate and rare performances. We have celebrated works in progress and new commissions, new collaborations, and detailed music of all kinds regardless of genre or popularity."
One of Cincinnati finest Hip Hop artists, Buggs Tha Rocka, is making his new album, Scattered Thoughts of an American Poet, available for free starting today on various outlets across the internet (it’s already generated fairly widespread buzz, including write-ups from the U.K. and France).
Buggs recently spoke with CityBeat’s Brian Baker (who called the new LP a “masterpiece”) about the new release (which features guest spots from Donte from MOOD, Moxy Monster, Tanya Morgan, Aida Chakra and Cool Kids’ Chuck Inglish among others) and his progress in the Hip Hop world.
“The type of Hip Hop I do has always focused on technicality and emotion,” Buggs said. “I take pride in being a wordsmith. That’s where the ‘American poet’ came from. And ‘scattered thoughts’ is really what it is. It’s everything I’ve been through, things I’m seeing in the news, a little bit of everything. My ups, my downs, my life in one CD. Instead of putting on a facade and an image, it’s really organic and natural.”
You can read Baker’s full interview with Buggs here.
Buggs is hosting an intimate release party/performance this Friday at Over-the-Rhine club Maudie’s. Showtime is 9 p.m., admission is $7 ($5 in advance here) and Buggs will be joined by MOOD’s Donte (and probably other guests?) at the show.
Buggs has unveiled several videos (made in conjunction with Alvin Jordan and others) for various tracks from the album leading up to the release. Here’s a clip for “Angel of Death” featuring Piakhan:
Here’s the clip for “Bad Habits”:
Here’s Buggs and Pappadon in the clip for “OuterXSpaceXLove”:
Here’s “Rapture” featuring Phoenix Aphrodite:
This is the clip for “My$tery”:
And here is the newest clip, for the track “Religiously,” which was released today:
Visit Buggs’ official site here for the latest info and to download the album. You can also click below to check out and grab a copy of Scattered Thoughts of an American Poet.
Alabama-born Hip Hop artist Yelawolf plays Newport’s Thompson House tonight at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25.
Yelawolf began making waves in 2005 after self-releasing his debut album, Creek Water. The gifted MC landed a major-label deal with Columbia within two years, but the deal fizzled out and Yelawolf returned to working the underground. By the start of this decade, Yelawolf’s signed with Eminem’s Shady Records.
His debut for the label, 2011’s Radioactive, featured guests like Killer Mike, Lil Jon and Kid Rock and was a chart and critical success. More track releases, mixtapes and collaborations kept fans occupied after the 2012 announcement of his second Shady Records album, Love Story, which will materialize next year. Yelawolf has been selling out shows all over the country, so you might want to call ahead or show up early.
Vibe recently posted an interview with the MC about his latest goings-on. Check it out here.
• Fantastic modern Americana trio The Lone Bellow plays the 20th Century Theater in Oakley tonight. Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are $20 at the door.
The Lone Bellow broke through with last year’s self-titled debut album and the trio’s forthcoming LP, Then Came the Morning — due January 27 and produced by Cincinnati native/The National guitarist Aaron Dessner — is drawing a lot of buzz already thanks to the release of a pair of singles. Here’s the video for the most recent one, “Fake Roses”:
Read Brian Baker’s full preview of tonight’s show from the most recent CityBeat here.
Louisville Electro Pop artists The Pass, who’ve become popular with local audiences thanks to repeated visits to the Cincinnati area (providing highlight sets for more than a couple MidPoint Music Festivals), performs a free show tonight at Over-the-Rhine’s MOTR Pub. Local trio JetLab (which just released its self-titled debut last week) opens things up around 10 p.m.
The Pass’ show tonight is the start of a tour in support of the band’s new EP release, High Road, which follows the release of four 7-inch singles at the start of 2014 and comes out this Tuesday. “Take You Out,” a track from the new release, was debuted on the website We All Want Someone to Shout For yesterday. The site says the track "deliver(s) a world of glossy synths, love-sick vocals, and a feel-good atmosphere that you can’t shake anywhere else but the dance floor. With so many electronic groups relying heavily on computers and other effects these days, it’s great to see The Pass deliver such groovy tunes as a full live band. It truly separates them from the rest of the pack."
• Nashville-based Americana artist Nora Jane Struthers and her band The Party Line play Newport’s Southgate House Revival tonight. Mike Oberst of local Folk faves The Tillers opens the show at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.
Struthers was born in Virginia and raised in New Jersey, getting her first taste of the musician’s life as a tween fiddler and traveling to festivals and conventions with her father (a banjoist). Struthers decided to pursue a career in teaching, but after a few years she switched her focus back to music, inspired by watching Tim O’Brien perform at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Her 2010 debut solo album showcased her stellar lyrical abilities and mastery of traditional Americana and Bluegrass sounds. She hit her stride with last year’s Carnival, bolstered by her full-time band, The Party Line.
Struthers is gearing up for the release of her new album with The Party Line, Wake, which is due in February of next year. The album is said to be more eclectic and nods in a more Rock direction, inspired by her love of recent albums by Hayes Carll and Jason Isbell.
NPR’s Ann Powers recently interviewed Struthers about the new album (read it here) and unveiled the new album track, “The Same Road.”
• According to B-105 FM’s website, tonight’s Toys for Tots benefit show at Toby Keith’s I Love this Bar and Grill is sold out (the bar’s website says there may be “limited tickets” available at the door tonight). The 8 p.m. concert features headliner Easton Corbin, plus up-and-comers Maddie & Tae and RaeLynn.