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November 14, 2006

Sight Unsound: Oh say can you see, Umphrey’s McGee?

The last time Umphrey’s McGee came to a Louisville, the band had a unique way of getting the crowd on its feet.“We had just been asked to sing the national anthem up at the Cubs/White Sox game, which was the Saturday or Sunday right after (we played at the Brown Theatre), and so we decided to rehearse it,” Keyboardist Joel Cummins explained. “We did a four-part a cappella vocal arrangement of it toward the end of our set. It was just kind of a funny thing to put in the middle of a rock show, you know? But people seemed to really enjoy it.”A lot of folks credit Umphrey’s McGee with starting the fourth wave of jam-band music. I’m not entirely sure where the rest of the dividers lie between the other three waves, but even a passing listen to Umphrey’s McGee’s work reveals that they are opening up new avenues in this tired genre. Sure, there are still strains of that familiar white-boy funk mixed with folk rock, but that’s the foundation of the jam-band style. Umphrey’s goes beyond that framework to add healthy doses of alt-country melancholy, Southern rock jukebox anthems, jazz improvisation and even indie rock faux-metal. Cummins is content to say that they’re simply a jam band with “influences from early ’70s progressive rock, you know, the whole Yes, Genesis, King Crimson kind of thing.”Umphrey’s McGee has a different plan for this Louisville show. “We’ve been performing shows, doing them without writing set lists or picking songs that we’re going to do beforehand,” Cummins said. “You know, creating an entire night of music that’s on the spot and happening as it goes. So I think that’s really added some excitement both for us and for the people that want to come and see us and so, obviously with that, there’s a heavier emphasis on improvising and trying to create as we go.” Headliners Music Hall (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088) hosts Umphrey’s McGee at 9 p.m tomorrow, Nov. 16. Tickets for the 18-and-over show are $15 if you buy at ear X-tacy, or $18 at the door.Scott Scarboro has noticed that many festivals combining art and music have trouble balancing the two mediums. One often dominates the focus and the other becomes merely an afterthought, and the styles of each often at odds with one another.Scarboro has been walking around with a solution to this problem for quite awhile, so when he was asked by the Mellwood Arts and Entertainment Center to plan a festival, he was already halfway there.“I wanted to find the perfect marriage between folk art and lo-fi music, well-balanced book ends for a good time,” he said.With this basic framework in mind, Scarboro went looking for musicians who shared his unique vision. The result is the Good Folk Fest, an exciting mixture of musical acts, from old-timey claw hammer banjo players and blues musicians to one-man bands, homemade instrument players and circuit-bending electronics manipulators.Scarboro’s hunt for performers sharing his D.I.Y. ethos and love for the folk aesthetic led him to a varied array of musical acts that cover a wide spectrum. Strangely — or not so strangely — almost all of the performers consider themselves punk in addition to their other respective genres. The Good Folk Fest runs from Friday through Sunday, with shows starting at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the Rudyard Kipling (422 W. Oak St., 636-1311) and the main festival taking place at the Mellwood center (1860 Mellwood Ave., 895-3650) from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The shows are $5 each. For more information about the festival and its performers, visit www.junkabilly.com/goodfolkfest.Scott and Seth Avett’s haphazard mixing of acoustic instrumentation and country harmonies with punk sensibilities and alternative rock songcraft has confounded and excited listeners since they recorded their eponymous six-song CD in 2000.Since that first release, the brothers have recorded several albums as a trio featuring Bob Crawford on bass, Scott on banjo, Seth on guitar, and the brothers sharing vocal responsibilities. The Avetts masterfully move from one dynamic to another, which makes many of the songs hard to penetrate but all the more rewarding in the end.The Gleam, their most recent release, is calmer than past Avett Brothers releases, but the intensity still resides in the songwriting — they’ve just learned to embed it a little deeper.Gleam opens with the comforting “Sanguine,” then launches into a unique series of story-songs describing post-hangover epiphanies, secret desires for yard-sale arson and, of course, the required love story or two. Then again, one of this record’s token love songs is the haunting “If It’s the Beaches,” a painfully beautiful number describing an attempt to repair a damaged relationship that features a chilling answering machine message during its bridge.The Avett Brothers perform a double-header this Saturday. First, a free in-store at 4 p.m. at ear X-tacy (1534 Bardstown Road, 452-1799), and later at Headliners at 10 p.m. Tickets are $10. Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com