Have you ever dreamed about hosting a concert that features your favorite band playing the songs of your choice performed in front of a crowd made up of your friends? Umphrey’s McGee fan Nick Morales and 199 of his friends and fellow UM fans lived that dream this past Saturday night at Martyr’s in Chicago, where they provided most of the setlist for an instant-classic performance filled with blazing improvisation, rarities and even a few debuts from the Chicago-based sextet.
[Photo by Jake Plimack]
Our story begins late last summer when Umphrey’s McGee posted a webpage filled with “Deeper Packages” that offered fans once-in-a-lifetime experiences with the band, such as the opportunity to play golf with drummer Kris Myers and percussionist Andy Farag or the honor of naming one of UM’s most frequently repeated “Jimmy Stewart” segments or the package that allowed Morales to live out his dream – the “Bill Graham For A Day Package.” The person who bought this package would be entitled to a private UM concert at an intimate Chicago venue and would be able to collaborate with the band on the setlist.
Set One: Wappy Sprayberry > Space Funk Booty, Last Man Swerving* > Out of Order, Down Under, The Weight Around, Robot World > “Jimmy Stewart”% > 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover > Puppet String**
Set Two: Utopian Fir > “Jimmy Stewart”%% > Utopian Fir, The Trooper$, Baby Honey Sugar Darlin’, Hurt Bird Bath > The Other Side of Things^ > Hurt Bird Bath, The Good Times Are Killing Me$$, Nopener&, The Triple Wide, Hangover > La Grange > Hangover
Encore 1: Two Dips&&, Wizard Burial Ground
Encore 2: Waiting Room
Private show put on by fans, billed as “Bill Graham for a Day”
* with Thunderkiss ’65 (White Zombie) jam
% with lyrics
** with In the Kitchen teases
%% with “Zsa Zsa Gabor” theme, followed by lyrics
$ debut, Iron Maiden
^ verses only, no chorus
$$ debut, Modest Mouse
& lounge style
&& debut, Brendan, Wade Wilby, and Clayton Halsey
The Bill Graham package immediately caught Morales’s attention, “I started planning it almost immediately. A private Umphrey’s show almost seemed too good to be true! We reached out to Kevin Browning [Umphrey's Creative and Business Development Guru] that afternoon to ask if 200 people at $250 would still qualify as ‘intimate’. His response, ‘ If you can muster 200 at $250, it’s on.’ That was all I needed to hear.”
Once Nick knew what it would take to make the private show a reality, he set about rounding up 199 other fans who would appreciate the concert as much as he would and could afford it. “It started with all of my closest friends and the amazing people I have met through Umphrey’s. From there we started inviting friends of friends and so on. We had 200 people by the weekend,” Morales said. Nick set up a site to accept payments and compiled a waiting list of anyone else besides the 200 who wanted in. If someone dropped out for any reason, he filled their slot with the person at the top of the wait list.
Now that the basics of the show were setup, it was time to start figuring out the process for submitting a setlist to the band. “I set up a private forum so we had a central location for discussion to take place. We started by throwing out wishes and ideas over a few weeks and a large list was compiled rather quickly. We knew that we didn’t want to actually write the setlist because we didn’t want to know what was coming. Handing over the entire list would have been too much. We also didn’t want to put any constraints on the band or make a request that they weren’t comfortable with,” Nick explained.
The 200 attendees came up with an inventive way to create a list of what song choices should be submitted to the band, “What we ended up doing was holding a vote for attendees. The voting was based on six categories so a bit of everything would be included: Heavy Hitters/Jam Vehicles, Other Originals, Rarities/Never Played/Misc, Covers (played before), Covers (never played) and Bust Outs. The results would be delivered to the band as lists of ‘suggestions’ to do with as they pleased. The way we framed our lists as ‘suggestions’ also helped to not create any unnecessary expectations for attendees.” Like most live music fans Umpreaks like surprises, so the results of the voting were kept secret until after the show. All in all, Morales thought the system they worked out achieved three goals, “Our collective voice was heard, we would be surprised and the control was still in the hands of the band.”
[Photo by Jake Plimack]
At this point it was time to bring Kevin Browning and the band in on the process. Browning explained what went into the preparation for the show, ”Approximately 74 emails, five phone calls and one telepathic commune. There was lots of back and forth. Nick did a great job representing ‘the 200′ as I like to call them. He understood that there are a thousand moving parts in this business and this organization and respected the fact that immediate answers weren’t always possible.” Surprisingly, with all these moving parts Browning said “there weren’t any substantial hitches along the way.”
That brings us to Saturday night and a sold-out Martyr’s filled with Morales and “The 200.” Nick was incredibly excited as he entered the venue, “I was anxious for the show to begin, I wanted everything to go as planned. That anxiety was relieved when I got to the venue and saw that everything was already running smoothly.” As part of the package Nick was responsible for introducing the band, “From anxious I went to a bit nervous, as I had to get up on stage and introduce the band before they went on. There really should have been no reason to be nervous though since it was a crowd of my friends and I was very well received!”
[Photo by Jake Plimack]
According to Browning not only did the planning go off without a significant hitch, but the show itself went swimmingly. “I think we enjoyed it as much as the fans did. It’s rare we get to go back in time, which is what the event felt like. That was the first Martyrs’ gig since March of 2001. It was a bit atypical from a planning standpoint but we’ve never been one to shy away from atypical,” Kevin told us.
Once Morales was done with the nerve-inducing public speaking part of the evening, it was time to smile. “For the rest of the night I was on top of the world. I couldn’t have been happier. Overall, I am extremely proud to be a part of such a unique event. It was a lot of work, but it was my pleasure to put this together for all of my friends. I was thankful that the band even offered the opportunity and the night unfolded perfectly!” Nick said.
Umphrey’s paid careful attention to the list of suggestions Morales and “The 200″ provided. All in all, 19 of the 22 songs UM played came from the list. The attendees came up with some out of the box recommendations such as “Puppet String (w/ Improv),” adding improvisation to a song that never featured a jam in the past, and the band obliged with a potent jam that stands as one of the many highlights from the show.
All in all, the show contained many memorable moments from Umphrey’s debuts of The Trooper (Iron Maiden), La Grange (ZZ Top) and The Good Times Are Killing Me (Modest Mouse) to the first versions of UM originals The Other Side of Things since 2001 and Baby Honey Sugar Darlin’ since 2009 to bust out covers 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover (last played in 2009) and Down Under (last played in 2008). The band even worked in an old “Jimmy Stewart” segment known as Zsa Zsa Gabor and debuted a song written by guitarist Brendan Bayliss with HT contributor Wade Wilby and our pal Clayton Halsey called 2 Dips. It wasn’t only the bust outs and debuts that impressed the crowd, it was the improvisation that was weaved into the performance. In discussions on the UM message board The Bort after the show, nearly every attendee who weighed in on the performance gave a glowing review. And this is coming from a loyal, yet often highly critical set of fans.
Morales felt the band delivered on their promises in the package, “Umphrey’s went above and beyond. You could tell it was going to be a special night before a single note of music was played. The energy in Martyrs’ was surreal. Such a great group of friends and family, the intimate venue, the full force of Umphrey’s McGee on such a small stage, open bar, etc. It was incredible seeing the band have just as much fun as we were.”
The night came off so well, thoughts immediately turned to a repeat performance next year. “I had been thinking about this being a reoccurring idea last week prior to the event because it just seems like a win win. It’s fun for the fans, it’s fun for us. I’m not sure we’d always do it the exact same way as you know our penchant to mix things up. But the concept most certainly works and I’ve heard from more than a few fans who want a repeat. The notion of a private party opens up a number of possibilities that aren’t normally on the table for a ‘regular’ gig. So we’ll just have to see how this evolves…,” Kevin Browning told us. Would Nick be up for organizing it again? “Of course, it was such a rewarding experience. I think most everybody that was there would also tell you that they would love to do it again. For now I still need to digest everything that happened this weekend!”
You can purchase a recording of this show through UMLive.net.