Umphrey’s McGee at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee

[Words by Carmel O’Farrell]
[Photos by Derek Martinez]

Derek Martinez Photography

Every once in a while, a band plays a show they consider a milestone. They cross a line that has never been crossed and reach a professional level that validates their talent as musicians. This was that case last weekend when Umphrey’s McGee headlined the Ryman Auditorium for the first time in Nashville, TN.

Every bar, restaurant, and street corner in Nashville contains musicians hoping to make it in Music City and most will only dream of playing a historic musical landmark like the Ryman. This former church is one of the most coveted venues in America because it was once home to the Grand Ole Opry. The 120 year old building has been magnificently restored in a way that has preserved both its charm and character. Known as “The Mother Church of Country Music,” its seating is in the form of church pews that line both the floor and a massive, u-shaped balcony. This set up creates a surprisingly intimate space for a venue of its size. The lines of sight are excellent from almost every seat in the house but the sound is best in the balcony.

Derek Martinez Photography

Most musicians love playing the Ryman because the venue itself facilitates inspiration that creates energy within the show. Thankfully, Umphrey’s McGee is the type of band that is easily inspired by their environment and have mastered art of energy manipulation. The influence of playing a landmark venue like the Ryman manifested itself in the band’s song selection, how well they played, and what extra spices they added to the mix. Needless to say, Umphrey’s pulled out all the stops in order to show how honored they were to be there. The novelty of their surroundings challenged them to stretch. They knew magic could be created in this special space and they delivered on all accounts.

Derek Martinez Photography

Based on the setlist, the game plan for the night was to come out with a first set full of gems, then slay the second set with one raging jam after the other. No intros were necessary because the energy was already there. No extra dance party songs were thrown in the mix either because it just didn’t fit. Instead, the band busted out acoustic guitars, had a surprise Jeff Coffin sit in, and encored with a massive “Divisions.” The five song second set held most of the inspired jams with almost every one exceeding ten minutes in length. The crowd was thrilled to be a part of this milestone event. As the show went on and the energy continued to grow, the crowd started to express their enthusiasm by banging on the church pews, letting the band know they were right there with them. Overall, Umphrey’s playing reflected the grandness their environment and demonstrated how excited they were to be there.

Derek Martinez Photography

Throughout the night, Jefferson Waful, light master extraordinaire, decorated the space from his control center perched on the top of the balcony. Thankfully, the auditorium was large enough to accommodate a decent sized light rig that could appropriately illuminate room’s aesthetic. From his vantage point, Waful seemed capable of engulfing the whole room with lights. They cover the ceiling and walls, enabling the audience feel encapsulated within their concert experience. This, combined with the intimate set up of the venue itself, created a magical evening for everyone in the room.

Derek Martinez Photography

As the music flowed through the church pews and up the massive balcony, there was a sense of purpose at the Ryman Auditorium last Friday night. The history contained within its walls could never be duplicated and Umphrey’s McGee is now part of that history. More importantly, the Ryman Auditorium is now a part of Umphrey’s history.

Set One
In the Kitchen, Passing > The Fussy Dutchman, The Linear > Wife Soup, Miami Virtue, Great American@ > That’s the Way@ > Great American@
Set Two
Bridgeless, Wappy Sprayberry > Higgins, Making Flippy Floppy^, Puppet String
@ with Brendan and Jake on acoustic
^ with Jeff Coffin on saxophone

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Jeremy Frazier is the editor-in-chief of Soundfuse.