Team America
Celebrating Our National Pastimes with Umphrey’s McGee

Words by Audra Tracy

Wrigley Field, Chicago — Charging through countless summer festivals including All Good, Bear Creek, and Gathering of the Vibes, Kris Meyers of Umphrey’s McGee drops his drumsticks to discuss great American pastimes, Tool’s ‘maniacal sound’, the drawbacks of ‘laptop music’, and his latest side project, Dexterous Roy.

For most fun-loving Americans, summer signals the dawn of fireworks, block parties, and baseball season.

But unlike us regular folk, Umphrey’s McGee celebrates these summer staples on a much grander scale. While you pound beers with the bleacher creatures at Cubs games, they perform ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

“Yeah, we’re like Team America, I guess you could say”, Meyers jokes. “Everyone in the band loves baseball, and what better way to enjoy an afternoon in the summer than going to a game, and singing the national anthem while you’re at it! The experience isn’t very common for most people, so we take advantage.”

And while you attempt your own backyard pyrotechnics this holiday weekend, Umphrey’s will be performing alongside Galactic and The Wailers at Red Rocks. “It’s a mecca for musicians, Meyers says of Colorado’s natural amphitheater. “It’s absolutely breathtaking – looking up at this tidal wave of a crowd. The way it’s set up, if you look up from the stage into the audience, the seats go way up, like a quarter of a mile…not even, it just feels that way!”

Now veterans of the festival circuit, Umphrey’s gained much of its national acclaim from epic Bonnaroo sets in the early 2000’s, especially that show-stopping Metallica medley with members of moe. in 2004. Since then the Windy City kids have consistently topped themselves in the live arena, most recently with UMBowl, an interactive, sports-themed concert event where fans chose the songs for each set, or ‘Quarters’, through real time text messaging.

An Umphrey’s McGee show truly offers something for everyone, because their multi-layered jam compositions blend progressive rock with reggae, jazz, funk, and in some cases, metal. Songs like ‘Ocean Billy’ and ‘Atmosfarag’ are definitely on the harder side, and are perfect examples of how heavy a jamband can get. Myers himself credits his metal tendencies to ‘old classic riffs from Metallica or Megadeth, and even like Pantera and all that’. He adds, “A lot of that you won’t hear in our music, you’ll hear just a hint of some of the elements.”

“Tool is a big influence”, he goes on, “because they are kind of that contemporary metal that’s more popular, and with good reason. They are very powerful – the progressive meters that they apply to it, it’s sort of a maniacal sound that just keeps going on and on. That’s what’s great about metal. Sometimes, you know, you gotta rock out like that”, he laughs.

When he’s not rockin’ out with Umphrey’s, Kris Meyers explores the dance floors as one half of Dexterous Roy, a side project he created with the DJ from Liquid Soul. “We put together a set of music that’s fun for people to dance to that’s electronic driven, ranging from styles of deep house to hip hop to drum and bass”, Myers explains. “It’s really fun, I’m hoping to make it part of a festival situation.”

So as we toast Uncle Sam this weekend, rest assured that, unlike many outspoken musicians, Umphrey’s has no political agenda, nor a message to spread. “There’s a lot of turmoil in the world, but being positive is what I think we are about”, Myers says. “It’s music – it’s supposed to be uplifting. We don’t get political – we leave the debating to the debaters!”

These days, the only fight Umphrey’s McGee faces is a battle against the robotic beats polluting our airwaves. “It’s not all about laptop music all the time”, Myers says. “Everything is so arranged and so produced in pop music, and that’s fine. But when you go to a live show, a lot of people want to hear the distinction of humans playing their instruments – living and breathing from head to toe what they are doing.” Maybe Umphrey’s really is Team America – a band on a mission to keep music by the people, for the people, with drum trips and guitar riffs for all. | 4th of July