There is nothing better than summer nights spent with good friends and great music, dancing all night long through the gentle warm rains and colorful sunsets and forgetting every care in the world. There is something about Nashville that brings some form of nostalgia for a simpler time, where things move slower, and smiles from strangers are quicker to form. The city has a laid back energy and a friendly atmosphere. I was thrilled to be there to see Umphrey’s McGee perform in this city known for great music. They played at one of the newest, and one of my favorite venues in the city, Ascend Amphitheatre on August 20th, 2016. Also special about this show, they were playing a set with members from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. In the city of music, they would be teaming up with some of the best classically trained musicians in Nashville. We all knew it was going to be a great night, and the news only got better as the band tweeted out before the show, “UM 2.6 Sets.”
Ascend Amphitheatre in Nashville is a breathtaking venue. It’s right by the river in downtown Nashville. It’s so easy to access and walking distance from many of the well known bars and hotspots of the town, where live music and lights can be found just around every corner. The stage has a large concrete pit that is covered by a canopy directly in front of it, which was so clutch for the warm and stormy summer night. There is also a large lawn that sits on a slight incline, and it is covered in grass. As I’ve been reading about Ascend, this was one of the major reasons they opened this new venue, was to preserve one of the last green lots in Nashville. Not to mention, the view of the Nashville skyline, right behind the stage, is absolutely beautiful. The stage faces away from the city, the sound is spot on just about anywhere in the venue, unobstructed by any of the sounds from the city. This place should definitely be on your must see list, and it’s in one of the best and most diverse cities in the Midwest.
As Umphrey’s took the stage, the crowd was actually quite thin. Perhaps it was the early set time, or the lines that seemed to take a bit longer, but I suspect it’s just the way of the city of Nashville, everyone seems to just take their time there. I was glad to be able to spend the first couple of songs with a little extra elbow room. The band began to play to a stormy looking sky, but not a drop of rain falling, and announced that they would be doing two normal Umphrey’s sets, and one extra mini-set with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. The band started with “Bridgeless,” and then went straight into one of my favorite classic Umphrey’s songs, “Made to Measure.” Being about 70 Umphrey’s shows into this band, that song just reminds me of being young and it brings back so many great memories from Umphrey’s shows so many years ago when that song was new. Soon after that, I noticed that the crowd was beginning to grow, and the storm clouds were getting ever closer. The first set ended with a few big raindrops and an absolutely perfect cover of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years.”
Set two, the orchestra set, was clearly what everyone was waiting for. The band had released few details about how this set was going to be constructed. Was there going to be an entire symphony on stage? Would the guys switch out all of their instruments and play orchestral instruments? We had no idea what was in store for us. For me, when I saw only four members of the orchestra take the stage I was a bit disappointed. To me, this was more like Umphrey’s with a string quartet, which is still a pretty awesome thing, don’t get me wrong, they used the four-string players very well in this set. But knowing the band and how they like to go above and beyond, I thought it might be a larger, grander gesture. Instead, they used the string instruments gracefully and in a way that enhanced the existing sound. Instead of replacing guitar riffs with say, a violin, they used the strings to add to the sound. This added an extra layer of depth and complexity to their sound that was added with such delicacy. They were careful not to overuse the strings, I was impressed with the restraint, and also the song choices in this set. They opened with “Deeper” and “Educated Guess.” The sky was starting to darken, and the light show was really starting to pop, as I turned around during “Hajimemashite,” one of my favorite songs, the clouds just emptied on to the crowd. The lights bounced back off of every single raindrop and the crowd burst into a cheer, it was a moment where the energy was almost tangible by the stage, I could feel the intensity of the moment in every bone in my body, what a great time to be alive! They closed the set with a classic “Preamble > Mantis,” which was absolutely stunning and graceful with the orchestra accompaniment. Overall, although I was expecting a bigger gesture from the band, I felt the use of the strings was graceful and appropriate. And I could see the excitement on the orchestra members’ faces. They were taking photos and selfies on stage, I’m sure they aren’t used to such a rambunctious crowd.
Some highlights from the third set, and probably my favorite set of the evening, were the opening with the classic Umphrey’s love song “Wappy Sprayberry,” “August,” and a great “In the Kitchen,” which always reminds me of the good old times. It sprinkled on and off through most of the third set, but no one seemed to care about the rain. It felt good in the hot summer night, and everyone always looks super awesome in a plastic poncho. They closed the night with a super appropriate, “Fool in the Rain” cover.
Encore: Fool in the Rain
 with Carrie Bailey on violin 1, Jessica Blackwell on viola, Hari Bernstein on violin 2, and Steve Drake on cello (all of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra)
 with Carrie Bailey on violin 1, Jessica Blackwell on viola, Hari Bernstein on violin 2, and Steve Drake on cello (all of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra), and with Brendan on acoustic guitar