Written by: Garrett Montgomery and Photos by: Chris Cleary
Waking up early on Friday, August 8th, the plan was to book it the three hours from Burlington, VT, to Hampton Beach, NH, check in to the hotel, then relax and regroup in the afternoon. My friend Chris and I started the day with high hopes and spirits. We had seen our favorite band, Umphrey’s McGee, last night, and we were going to see them again that night—and the following two nights. Our friend Sam, whom we had serendipitously met at the Catskill Chill Music Festival last year, had housed us in Burlington. With plenty of room to sprawl out the previous night and hot showers in the morning, all was well.
Then, we got to Hampton Beach.
The damnedest thing about checking into the hotel is, if one does not have a hotel, one cannot do that. As I drove in circles around the main Hampton Beach strip, Chris called every hotel, motel, and campground within a twenty-mile radius. With each “sorry, we’re fully booked,” our spirits sunk. Who would have thought that New Hampshire’s most popular beach town would be sold out of rooms on a midsummer Friday night?
After we regrouped over a couple IPAs, I decided it was time to take to the streets and visit some motels in person. For three hours, I walked up and down the strip, pulling out every trick I knew to lock down a room—and I’ve got tricks. Nothing. Not even a spot to pitch a tent.
Time to regroup again. I met Chris napping in the car. He had resigned to the fact that we were homeless in Hampton, and he would have to drive the five hours back home after the show. I was not giving up yet. I headed back to the strip again.
Instead of a room for the night, I came back with an earring. The decision was part deliriousness, part booze-induced, and part my friend Putty’s voice in my head: “if you get your nipples pierced, you can never lose your tits. It’s key for our type of music.” At least this we could laugh about today. (Un)fortunately, the piercer gave me a look of horror when I asked about nipples; I had to settle for knowing my left ear would not be blown off by the Umph-machine. This time back at the car, Chris woke with a chuckle. I still would not give up on the hope of getting us a room, and headed out again.
Next, I came back with Kris Myers. I noticed my favorite drummer hanging out in the parking lot and had to say hello. Not only is he the hardest working man in music, he may be the most genuine and friendliest. For fifteen minutes, Chris, Kris, and I talked about the previous night’s concert, the hapless hotel situation in Hampton, All In Time Productions, and our appreciation of music. Before going to prepare for the show, he asked, “Hey, how’d you guys like to hear ‘All In Time’ tonight?” Yes, please.
Making it into the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom was a major relief. The venue—a very long, open room with the stage up front and bars in the back—had wooden floors that acted as shoe magnets when beer was spilled and feet were shuffling. When Umphrey’s started with a “Miss Tinkle’s Overture > Higgins > Miss Tinkle’s Overture” sandwich, all worries washed away. From the first note to the last, UM brought their hard rocking hats and fed off the excitement of the exceptionally raucous crowd.
During the first set, one of Kris Myers’ cymbals stood slightly out of reach. After a stagehand replaced it, Myers went out of his way to visibly thank him without missing a beat. After the band concluded a fiery version of “Little Gift” in the second set, there was an extra long delay. The crowd stomped, clapped, and yelled, and Myers sought me out, made eye contact, nodded, and shot into “All In Time”. The tune started off upbeat and, as always, the final stanzas were powerfully emotional and uplifting and had me nodding along in pure joy. With Bayliss wailing out the resonating words, “My blood, it boils with passions, they overflow from time to time, and I can see that when your eyes look down,” a perceptible oneness could be felt throughout the ecstatic crowd.
Although the oddly long shape of the room was not ideal for the lighting wizard Jefferson Waful, the indoor Ballroom allowed for a more spectacular light show than the previous night outdoors in Burlington. During “1348”, however, the boys on stage gave an atypically subdued shout-out to Waful—“let’s see light.” The tune turned into a fuzzy sandwich, with Umphrey’s showing off their vocal and musical ranges during “The Fuzz” and proving rock ‘n’ roll is still thriving with “1348” again.
The energy of the room was palpable all night; before Cinninger—“The Man Who Shits Arpeggios”— went to town in “Making Flippy Floppy”, Bayliss pointed out “You guys are fucking rowdy tonight!” Umphrey’s stretched “Bright Lights, Big City” into an uber-long dance jam in the first set, which closed with crowd favorite “The Song Remains The Same”. While everyone danced hard, there was not a drop of ill will in the Ballroom; like most UM shows, if someone pushed you, it was to get you closer to the stage.
Apart from the aforementioned Zeppelin cover and a few other teases, the band played a delicious assortment of originals that spanned their illustrious sixteen-year career. From “KaBump”, which they’ve played live since their South Bend days in 1998, to “Proverbial”, which debuted at the “Nothing Too Fancy Music” label release party in May, the Umph-love was aplenty. The highlight may have come when they concluded the second set with “Mantis”. Joel Cummins—who “plays with the passion of an unbridled horse running down the beach”—hammered his keys emotionally and Andy Xanadu Farag—the “chode and the balls of the band”— transitioned between sections with the most beautiful chimes in music.
Unfortunately, there comes a moment in every UM show when you realize the end is nigh. The encore fittingly wrapped up with “Bad Friday”, and it was time to head home. Chris valiantly drove us the 260 miles back to New Paltz and our own beds.
On the bright side, of course, the run was only halfway over.
Set One: Miss Tinkle’s Overture > Higgins(1) > Miss Tinkle’s Overture, Made to Measure > Bright Lights, Big City, Mad Love, Kabump > A Go Go >Proverbial, The Song Remains the Same
Set Two: 1348 > The Fuzz > 1348, Making Flippy Floppy(2) > Little Gift, All In Time > Kula > All In Time, Preamble > Mantis
Encore: Mullet (Over), Bad Friday
1 with Masoka Tanga (The Police) jam
2 with Divisions jam