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Published: 2014/12/17
by Heather Farr

Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger, Park West Chicago, IL- 12/12

Photo by Keith Griner

For the past twelve years, Umphrey’s McGee fans have gathered with Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger at their annual Holiday Acoustic Show to enjoy some unplugged Umphrey’s, catch unique sit-ins and covers, and raise money for a cause. And while every show has supported equally deserving charities, this year’s show hit especially close to home, benefiting The Mikey Fund – named for the band’s founding drummer who passed away this year.

The sold out performance at Chicago’s dark and casual Park West began with a solo piano set from Umphrey’s bandmate Joel Cummins. Amidst a star-topped Christmas tree, a blue menorah, a worn couch and a plethora of instruments, Cummins started with several classical compositions from French composer Claude Debussy. “The music is better the quieter you can be,” Cummins said before flinging a piece of sheet music onto the ground starting in on one of Debussy’s more difficult pieces. “There will be plenty of time to talk during Jake and Brendan’s set.”

Following a swig of Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale and his last Debussy arrangement, Cummins moved to a long piano solo (he “heard that fans of Umphrey’s McGee like improvisation”) that culminated in John Mayer’s “Stop This Train.” He gave a shout out to his mom – who has been to more than 150 Umphrey’s McGee shows – before inviting Cinninger out to cover drums on a holiday-appropriate “Linus & Lucy.”

Before Bayliss and Cinninger took the stage, Mike Mirro’s brother and uncle stepped into the spotlight to speak on behalf of the Mirro family. The family members indicated that Mikey would be thrilled to see this show and that they’re certain he’ll RIP – “rock in peace, with the big band in the sky.”

Bayliss and Cinninger took their places in the middle of the stage, leg-to-leg on the crowded couch, and launched into crowd favorites, “In the Kitchen,” “Glory” and “No Comment.” The band’s first cover was a version of Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” with satirical lyrics about Santa’s experiences “On the Throne Again.” Bayliss – who at that point had already jumped from lead guitar to bass and back again – moved behind the piano for a debut of The Beatles tune “Cry Baby Cry.”

“We need your help here, Joel,” Bayliss said, before leading the crowd in a “Joel” chant. Cummins was the first official guest of the show, joining his bandmates for Umphrey’s classics like “Partyin’ Peeps” and new tunes, “Final Word” and “Cut the Cable.” After Cummins and Cinninger left the stage, Bayliss snapped a selfie with the phone Cummins left on the piano and situated himself behind the keys. He then performed the softer “You and You Alone,” a song he wrote for his wife when she was pregnant and one that he had only previously played at his own solo shows.

After an intense drum solo tribute to Mikey, Cinninger invited Umphrey’s McGee drummer Kris Myers, pedal steel player Mike Rackey, Cummins and Bayliss onto the stage for “Resolution.” The group then shifted to Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” with several holiday references sprinkled throughout.

The entire group remained on stage for “Memories of Home” before “taking it to the next level” and inviting vocalist Michelle Hallman to step on stage. She contributed her versatile and booming vocals to a grand “Bullhead City” before wrapping an extravagant black scarf around the mic and channeling her inner Stevie Nicks for set closer “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac.

After a brief break, all but Hallman joined the stage for an encore that began with “Kimble” before launching into “No Diablo” from recently released studio album Similar Skin. Hallman returned to the stage amidst wild cheers for a dramatic version of “Chestnut’s Roasting on an Open Fire” by Nat King Cole. Sending fans dancing into the night, the ensemble ended with a full-bodied take on Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Southern Cross.”

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