Umphrey's McGee has never played by the rules. Now, with the unvieling of their all-new Stew Art Series (aka, "S2") - an interactive fan experience where audience members "conduct" the band's live improvisations - Umphrey's McGee continue to offer their fiercely loyal fanbase the most innovative musical experiences available.
Umphrey’s McGee’s S2 debuted on October 3rd in Milwaukee – with another S2 event recently announced for October 24th in Portland and additional date(s) this fall and beyond still to be determined. Hosted as individual events before that evening’s already schedule show, Umphrey’s Stew Art Series is a crowd-sourced improvisation experiment, in which all the music performed by the group on stage will be entirely directed by S2 audience members. Check out this S2 video from the first event.
The inaugural S2 at Milwaukee's Eagles Ballroom was received with overwhelming enthusiasm and to rave reviews. The sold-out crowd of 50 fans submitted their ideas by texting descriptive words, phrases, and pop culture references (pretty much whatever came to mind), to the Umphrey's Mozes mobile interface. The suggestions were then filtered by the band's long time Sound Caresser Kevin Browning and projected on a screen for the band to digest and turn into the next phase of the jam. The band's music varied stylistically with suggestions ranging from "an afternoon bus ride in Jamaica" to "drinking pina coladas...in a hurricane". As one elated fan commented after the show, "S2 was the coolest thing I have ever been a part of. It's always been a dream of mine to meet the band, and the opportunity to participate in leading the Jam for the band was a dream come true as well."
As highly skilled improvisational musicians known for using a complex set of signals on stage to prompt spontaneous musical changes, S2 is proving to keep the band on their toes as they navigate through the audience’s prompts. S2 events also include a Q&A session providing an opportunity for fans to ask about what they’re witnessing (or ask anything else for that matter). As part of the ticket (which will actually be a custom laminate that will be different for each S2 event), every attendee will receive an autographed CD of the Stew Art Series they attend - minutes after the event has concluded. To be clear, each S2 show is a TOTALLY separate event than the scheduled concert date and will be sold as a separate ticket - getting a ticket to S2 does not get you into the show later that night (and vice versa). The S2 experiment is just that, an experiment. Keyboardist Joel Cummins explains, “The improvisational elements of our show have always been one of our favorite parts about playing together - and we think the audience feels that way, too. That’s our inspiration for the S2 series. It’s also a great way to stay on top of our chops.” S2 events take place in the early evening before the respective show start times. Prices and ages vary from show to show - which should last one hour (with Q&A).
This is not the first time that Umphrey's McGee has taken new approaches to delivering their music to the fans. Before their latest studio recording, Mantis, was released in January of this year, the group made the album available for pre-order in an interesting way. Fans were offered more free bonus content the more Mantis pre-orders were received; as the fans "unlocked" levels of content by getting more of their friends to pre-order the album. The idea was to give the fans incentive to help spread the word about the album, and to offer a totally unique music experience.
But it's always been about experiencing Umphrey's McGee on the concert stage, and the group recently announced a string of fall dates, including some final festival stops of 2009 - Jazz Aspen Snowmass Festival, moe.Down, and Telluride Blues and Brews, plus a special Halloween performance in Yosemite, California. And to get yourself in the right frame of mind for the upcoming tour, you can check out the recently-released live DVD, Umphrey's McGee - Live. Recorded during their 2007 performance for PBS's Soundstage, Umphrey's McGee - Live is offers an incredible 13-song set on DVD, including six favorites not shown during the PBS broadcast, which premiered last February.
2009 has been one of Umphrey's McGee's busiest years yet, and as evidenced by their upcoming tour and one of a kind S2 shows, they refuse to slow down. The band's complete list of confirmed appearances is as follows:
October 21 Knitting Factory Spokane WA
October 22 Showbox Seattle WA
October 23 McDonald Theatre Eugene OR
October 24 Crystal Ballroom Portland OR*** [S2 show that day]
October 25 Eureka Theatre Eureka CA
October 27 Crystal Bay Club Crystal Bay NV
October 28 McNears Mystic Theatre Petaluma CA
October 29 House of Blues West Hollywood CA
October 30-31 Las Tortugas - Dance of the Dead IV Groveland (Yosemite) CA
November 11 The Opera House Toronto, Canada
November 12-14 Higher Ground Ballroom South Burlington VT
November 15 Port City Music Hall Portland ME
November 17 Northern Lights Clifton Park NY
November 18 Water Street Music Hall Rochester NY
November 19 Mr. Small's Theatre Millvale PA
November 20-21 9:30 Club Washington D.C.
December 10-14 Caribbean Holidaze Runaway Bay
December 29 Vic Theatre Chicago IL
December 30-31 Aragon Ballroom Chicago IL
March 21-23 Jam in the 'Dam, The Melkweg Amsterdam