Camp Counselor Carmel Revisits Umphrey’s at Stubb’s in Austin

Austin, Texas is a twinkle in the Lone Star State with its progressive cultural tendencies, like a rebel child within the prideful lineage of cowboy boots and oil mining. As the capital of Texas, it couldn’t be any more misplaced.

After hearing all the hype that surrounded this unique city, I finally decided to make my inaugural trip down to Texas last April in order to attend an Umphrey’s McGee show at the legendary Stubb’s BBQ. This outdoor music venue is located in the heart of Austin’s trendy downtown music scene. Its dirt floor gradually descends down to a stage shaped like the petal of a lotus flower while concrete steps build their way up to the bars that line the right side of the venue. The smell of sweet BBQ fills the air while tall trees shade the space from the hot Texas sun.

Photo by Phil Clarkin
Photo by Phil Clarkin

This was the last show of Umphrey’s spring tour and the following day would be Easter Sunday. I had given up drinking for Lent after a long winter bender of writing and failing. 40 days and 39 nights of sobriety helped me decide that this would be the perfect opportunity to fall off the wagon. It wasn’t long before I funneled a delicious margarita down my throat and was back at the bar once again, double fisting tequila laced goodness before the show even started.

Umphrey’s kicked off the night with a hype machine called “Le Blitz.” They then slammed into the delicious drinking song: “40’s Theme.” The BBQ references of this classic UM tune aligned perfectly with our setting. My drink sloshed around in its plastic cup, spilling over the lip like hurricane waves crashing on a beach. After spending the last couple days digging the weird people of Austin, I really wanted them to enjoy my favorite band as much as I did. Luckily, “40’s” is one of Umphrey’s easiest songs to get down to, even for an unfamiliar crowd.

I started to get comfortable and made quick friends with the people around me. The band segued into a newer tune I couldn’t quite name, yet I somehow knew all the words. I turned to the kid next to me, interrupting him as he sang along, “Hey, is this a Stewart?” I inquired. In Umphrey’s jive “Jimmy Stewart” is used to describe an improvised structure that can practically stand alone as its own song. He told me that the name of the song was “Final Word,” a newer tune whose poetic lyrics somehow felt timeless. It was clean and crisp and segued into the wispy beginning of “2×2” just as seamlessly as it rolled out of “Much Obliged.”

Photo by Phil Clarkin
Photo by Phil Clarkin

I turned around to cheers my knowledgeable neighbor. “2×2” made me feel lifted and larger than life. The booze helped me adapt to this strange, neurotic town but my comfort was soon taken away by a monstrous man that slid in front of me, blocking my view and completely killing my vibe. I tapped him on the shoulder and was determined to stand my ground. “Don’t mess with Texas” was a warning I felt prepared to challenge. He ignored my instigation, pretending not to hear me as I politely asked him to move along. So like any respectable Midwest girl, I turned around and began to twerk on his back of his long legs as Umphrey’s busted into “Bright Lights, Big City.” The folks behind me laughed at my forwardness, but it didn’t bother me. After all, “dignity” is a relative term, especially when you’re a tourist. The dude finally acknowledged my existence and let me have my space. Once again, the North had conquered the South.

Set break was long but gave me enough time to make a couple trips back to the bar. By now the bartenders were attentive to my overly friendly tipping tradition, filling my drinks up with more tequila than margarita mix. My crew was definitely on my level too and we sang our way through set break, dancing with each other and making friends with any random person that walked past us. I was in prime form and a high pitched “Woooo!!!” escape my lungs more than a few times.

Next thing you know it was time for Umphrey’s second set. “Nothing Too Fancy” flashed it’s gnarly teeth right off the bat, forgoing its coy build up of years past. There is something about a tequila drunk that morphs me into a stripper and by the time “Deeper” rolled around, I was using my drink as an imaginary pole. My surroundings faded into the background as I lost myself in the most magnificent light show beaming from the stage.

The “August” from this set was massive and included a vocal Jimmy Stewart that made all the hairs on my arms stand up. Brendan Bayliss was passionate in his delivery like a guy who hadn’t gotten laid in over a month. He emptied his proverbial balls in our earholes, drawing lines in the ground and then destroying them time and time again until his riff finally peaked into a moment of inspired bliss. I raised my glass at the end of “August” to solute the band for a job well done… only to realize my cup was empty.

Photo by Phil Clarkin
Photo by Phil Clarkin

By now the liquor had taken over my ability to reason. I hiccupped my way back to the bar and winked at my favorite bartender as he poured me two more stiff drinks. I hold a firm belief that dancing is the best way to sober up, so I used this approach during Umphrey’s encore. Unfortunately, I never actually stopped drinking in order for my solution to become effective. I sang loudly along with the band for their cover of Huey Lewis’ “Heart and Soul,” reminiscing about the time they actually played with Huey at Summer Camp Music Festival a few years back. The small details of my surroundings became too scattered to interpret, the people around me grew fuzzy, and my judgment seemed fragmented. After 40 days of sobriety, I was finally drunk again.

Umphrey’s last call, “Bad Friday,” was a straight up dance party through and through, at least from what I can remember. The difference between staggering and dancing is all in the delivery, but it seemed as though Austin, Texas was finally on my level. Well, maybe not as intoxicated but definitely enjoying the experience as much as I was. Even so far from home, Umphrey’s solidified why they are the best in the scene at one of the most unique venues I had ever been to.

Umphrey’s will once again be returning to Stubb’s in Austin for their final show of spring tour 2015. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will be allowed back. None the less, it’s bound to be a good time.

04.19.2014 Stubb’s BBQ, Austin, TX, USA

Set 1: Le Blitz > 40’s Theme, Out Of Order, Much Obliged > Final Word > 2×2, Bright Lights, Big City

Set 2: Nothing Too Fancy, Deeper > All In Time, August[1], The Floor, It’s About That Time[2]

Encore: Heart and Soul, Bad Friday

[1] “Jimmy Stewart” with lyrics

[2] with Mike Dillon on vibes and Carly Meyers on trombone