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Published: 2010/06/23

Umphrey’s McGee Performs the National Anthem (Sort Of)

As previously reported, Umphrey’s McGee sang the National Anthem at Wrigley Field for the 5th year in a row this past Sunday. But, as it turns out, only half of the band actually ended up performing: bassist Ryan Stasik was sidelined for family reasons, guitarist Jake Cinninger canceled after a flood and a power outage hit his home and percussionist Andy Farag was hit with food poisoning. The band soldiered on with manager Vince Iwinski and former lighting designing Adam Budney filling in for the missing members of the band. Keyboardist Joel Cummins explains the situation in a recent blog posts:

Things were business as usual until about two weeks ago when we found out Ryan was going to need to be with family at another location. On this special day, considering Ryan’s typical “no vocals” approach, we felt we’d be just fine singing with the remaining five band members. One man down, no problem mon.

And then on Friday the storms hit. While Brendan and I watched the madness from his high-rise apartment, turning a rainy day into a music-filled afternoon, Jake and his family dealt with no power for over 48 hours and some flooding in their basement. He called us on Saturday, letting us know of the ongoing debacle, and that he might not be able to make it in either now. Two men down, not so good.

For those of you who have seen us perform the anthem before, you know that we’ve learned a pretty intensive four-part barbershop arrangement and that it’s essential to have all four parts for it to sound performance-worthy. Once we learned that our bass (Jake) was in doubt, we scrambled to put a plan B in action. Our manager Vince happens to be a pretty decent singer, decent enough to be on the cover of the Bonnaroo Beacon back in 2004 fronting moe. as James Hetfield. The good news is he can do O Holy Night just as well as he can do Metallica.

The current problem though is that we’re inside of 24 hours to the performance and Vince is in Michigan. Given Vince’s higher vocal range, I decided to pass the tenor 2 part, which I usually sing, off to him. I called his phone and sang the entire part into his voicemail so that he could listen to it wherever he might be, then proceeded to shore up my knowledge of the bass part, which I would be covering for Jake. Vince called me later that night and said he thinks he’s got it, we should be in good shape, we can rest easy.

At 10:30 on the morning of the anthem, I heard from Vince again, but this time the news was not so good. Andy had come down with food poisoning and wasn’t going to make it. Three men down, this ship is sinking.

While Andy doubles the melody with Brendan, this was not the auspicious beginning to the day for which I was hoping. Adam Budney, our good friend and former LD, offered his services to stand in so we at least had five people on the field, and we forged ahead yet again. We warmed up and it sounded surprisingly solid for this ramshackle group of rock n rollers. The time was upon us and we headed down to the field, ready to make UM fans everywhere proud. As Wayne Messmer, the Cubs PA announcer, belted out “Chicago’s very own, Umphrey’s McGee,” we beamed with pride, only to be surprised moments later as he told everyone in the stadium and on TV that we would be singing “God Bless America” before the anthem.

Oops. Insert deer in headlights moment. We were unaware of the GBA performance and we certainly hadn’t rehearsed it. Brendan and I looked at each other and he said under his breath, “Uh…...Anthem?” I agreed and passed it on to Kris and Vince on my right. Full speed ahead, we dove right into the anthem and sang our hearts out. Of course, this was also the first time that we were aired on national TV….three men down but certainly not out. From the responses we got as we headed back up toward our seats, it seems we represented the Cubs and Umphrey’s quite well.

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