While Umphrey’s McGee sounds suspiciously like a disease in a Charles Dickens novel (“Ooh, he’s caught himself a dire case of Umphrey’s McGee and he’s tits up for sure…”), the band’s name is actually based on lead vocalist/guitarist Brendan Bayliss’ cousin named Humphrey Magee. Beyond that little factoid, there are other interesting résumé notes on Umphrey’s McGee, particularly that there have only been three lineup changes since the band’s formation just over two decades ago.
Bayliss, bassist Ryan Stasik, keyboardist Joel Cummins and drummer Mike Mirro started the band at Indiana’s University of Notre Dame in December 1997. Percussionist Andy Farag joined after the 1998 release of the band’s ironically named debut album, Greatest Hits Vol. III, while guitarist Jake Cinninger was added in late 2000 and Mirro departed in 2001 to enroll in medical school. The drummer’s throne was then taken over by former Kick the Cat drummer Kris Myers, whose audition tape was the first of hundreds that the band received.
Umphrey’s McGee has long been associated with the Jam milieu by virtue of its lengthy, diverse and multiple sets, lenient show-taping policy and the fact that early performances featured songs by Phish, moe. and The Grateful Dead. Those early sets also featured covers of songs like “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses and “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi, which perfectly exemplifies the broad range of styles represented in the group’s music — Prog, Jazz, Rock, Pop, Bluegrass, Metal, Funk, Blues, Electronica and Reggae — as well as the musicians’ incredible facility to translate and reinvent them.
Over the past two decades, Umphrey’s McGee has become one of the Jam community’s top-tier acts, releasing 11 official live albums, a dozen live DVDs and 10 studio albums, including its latest, 2016’s Zonkey, which featured mash-ups of cover songs by the likes of AC/DC, Beck, ZZ Top, Radiohead and Nirvana. The group’s imminent 11th studio album, it’s not us, has been cited as the most mature and relevant expression of Umphrey’s McGee’s talents in its long and illustrious catalog, and will certainly feature prominently in the current tour’s set list. But there will still be room for “Phil’s Farm,” don’t you think?