Summer of Options
I’m really excited for the upcoming west coast Umphrey’s McGee tour right now. I’m flying down to San Francisco for the three-night run at the Great American Music Hall, and then catching the shows in Eugene, Portland, and Seattle the following week. This will mark the first time I’ve seen an extended segment of any band’s tour in quite a few years. Umphrey’s mixes it up enough each night and has plenty of youthful energy and musical power to merit seeing multiple shows in a row for me. It’s been many years since I’ve done that with any band, really. The Dead, Phish, and the Phil Lesh Quintet were about the only bands I’ve ever seen extended runs or tours with. By the late nineties, festivals became more prevalent and I enjoyed the convenience of a multi-day party in one place with many of my favorite bands. I moved to the west coast in 1997 and High Sierra has been the musical pinnacle for me each year since then. I was pretty burnt out on the Phish sized tour with all the negative aspects of being in a traveling circus of that magnitude. Not to mention the fact that the music itself had peaked, in my opinion.
I’ve been laying low as far as actually touring with any one band for many years now (notwithstanding the occasional two or three show run of Garaj Mahal, Robert Walter, Big Wu, Moses Guest, Umphrey’s, etc.). I just catch my favorite smaller bands as they come through town at different points throughout the year, and then save up for High Sierra or to go to Jazzfest as my big annual music expenditure. I haven’t even really considered going on an extended run or tour with a band in recent memory. So I’m excited for the intimate feel of the west coast shows and the sheer volume of Umphrey’s McGee material I will get to hear over this six-show run. In some ways, it will be like going back in time to experience the youthful joy of touring in the trenches. Of course, in many other ways, it will not be like that at all. I rarely flew to shows when I was younger as I just couldn’t afford such luxuries. I also have to go to work the day after the Eugene show, whereas in college I would skip class the day after a show without a second thought.
This summer, however, there’s another option in the jamband music scene: The HORDE-like tour. There are two separate traveling festivals announced so far for this summer, the BIG Summer Classic and the Zooma tour. These tours use a traveling festival format. They are usually pricier than a one-band concert, but they pack in a full day of music from multiple bands. The Classic will include such bands as String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, Keller Williams, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Yonder Mountain String Band, and New Monsoon while the Zooma Tour’s line-up is based around sets of music from Ben Harper and Trey Anastasio each night, with an additional revolving cast of supporting act including artists like MMW, Toots and the Maytals, Jurassic 5, Galactic, G Love and many more. Both traveling festivals are priced about the same, right around 50 bucks. These tours introduce even more options to the already overloaded summer jam fan. In addition to the option of touring with one band or seeing a multi-day festival or two, there is now the option of letting a one day festival show come to you – or even going on tour with one of these traveling festivals. At 50 bucks a pop, though, you might have to sell quite a few grilled cheeses, kind veggie burritos, beer, soda, or some other fun party favors or swag to afford a full tour.
So what’s a jam fan with too many options and not enough cash supposed to do? Where there’s a will, there’s a way. There are just so many more options in the scene these days that you can kind of tailor your summer of music the way you see fit. You can pick and choose multiple one off concerts, hit a smaller festival, save it all up for Bonnaroo, or go on tour with the Big Summer Classic while slinging your wares in the lot to earn a ticket and enough money to get to the next show. There’s definitely going to be less solidarity than ever before in the scene this summer, but there will be so many more options. I prefer it this way because there is much more to choose from, but I get to deliberately choose exactly how chill or out of control the scene around my music is going to be.
I won’t be touring with any one band this summer (mostly since Umphrey’s isn’t doing a west coast summer tour this year). Instead, I’ll check out this upcoming Umphrey’s run for my tour fix, and then I’ll stick mainly to festivals in my own backyard like High Sierra and the Horning’s Hideout events. I am particularly excited for the Shakedown Fest in late August at Horning’s the weather should be perfect and the small, intimate Oregon vibe should be as kind as ever. I love how all the bands that play the summer festivals then come through your town to play the bars before and after the festival, and I plan on catching plenty of those concerts, too. I’d probably even put down some cash to see one show on the Zooma tour if it happened to swing through the Northwest.
The upcoming summer music schedule can be seen as a conundrum or a paradise of options. It feels like Jazzfest in a way since so much will be happening at one time that there’s no possible way one person could see it all. This is the first summer where a jam fan can fill out their summer music itinerary in such a unique and individual way. Personally, I couldn’t be more excited for this next evolution of our scene. Some may see it as becoming a watered down scene, but I see it as being more vast and varied. This summer the folks that like to tour can do so while the festival heads can meet up at festivals all over the country and the more low key fans can sit back and let the traveling festival tours come to their own backyard. So when I’m rocking out at the last show of the upcoming Umphrey’s run in Seattle, I will be sad to know that my mini-tour will be coming to a close. But with so much more good-vibe summertime music on the horizon, there’s nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.