Fans began lining up for this show on the lower north staircase at 10 a.m. to prepare for the tarp run, a race to get the best spot and claim your place for the entirety of the concert. It was mayhem from the start and total chaos when Umphrey's took the stage, but all in all, Umphrey's McGee's annual Independence Day celebration was just plain old fun.
Umphrey's followers are unique in their fanaticism, almost to the point of denial. The group I happened to be sitting with had collectively seen them perform well over 120 shows, all over the country. This, of course, is really no different from any other fan base that foams at the mouth at the sight of a set list, except that Umphrey's doesn't have quite the status of other acts that inspire this level of fanaticism, such as Phish or Widespread Panic, whose fans will do everything but kill to get their hands on a ticket.
Prior to the show, while we were sitting under the tarp at the top of the stairs, long discussions as to what Umphrey's would play held the conversation for several hours. Friends compared set lists from the past two concerts, hoping to be able to predict the lineup for the night: "I heard the best "Wappy Sprayberry" in '08." The sound check gave us a glimpse into what might be played, but the real spoiler was hearing "Sledgehammer," a Peter Gabriel cover, amid the warm-up session.
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Umphrey's first set had what seemed like several train wrecks in the transitions. It was impossible to tell if anyone else noticed, because from the way fans reacted, you'd think that these clunky transitions were completely expected. Highlights of the set included the opener, "Jazz Odyssey," and the "Plunger" segue into "No Comment," which went right back into a closing "Plunger."
The previously teased "Sledgehammer" brought out the saxophonist and trombone player from Easy Star All-Stars, and despite the fact that some of us were just waiting for it, it was still a satisfying part of the set. The altitude must have hit the brass players pretty hard; during their bit parts, it was clear that their lung capacities were being tested. Brandon Bayliss, on lead guitar for Umphrey's, gave a quick thanks and reminded everyone that even though they really did play that song quite well, it had only been practiced once, and that was during the sound check.
Easy Star All-Stars made the place go wild with soothing reggae and the high-energy lead singer dancing across the stage looking like an even more pimp Kat Williams. Following each song, he would kindly thank everyone and give a little shout-out to Rastafari. All in all, they were smooth and gave us a great show that wasn't so hyping that it wore us all out, but just enough to keep us on our toes and enjoy their sounds.
The New Mastersounds were fresh overseas from the U.K., as noted in Bayliss's shout-out to them: "We'd like to thank the New Mastersounds for coming over to celebrate our independence...from them." Although the venue was still filling up with straggling fans, the Mastersounds turned in a fun and energetic set.
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Personal Bias: Umphrey's McGee rules, but Easy Star All-Stars certainly made my night whole with a Pink Floyd cover, and the lead singer was gorgeous. Random Detail: The show wasn't sold out, and by the closing of the second set, pre-encore, the top fifteen to twenty rows were completely empty. By The Way: Whoever has seen Umphrey's the most amount of times is obviously the coolest person at the show. This being only my second time, you could say I would've been picked last for the kickball team.