Aspen Times Weekly: Umphrey’s McGee kicks off two weeks of action on-stage and on-snow |

Aspen Times Weekly: Umphrey’s McGee kicks off two weeks of action on-stage and on-snow

by Andrew Travers
Umphrey's McGee will play the Core Party in downtown Aspen on Friday, March 13.
Courtesy photo |

If You Go …

What: Core Party featuring Umphrey’s McGee

When: Friday, March 13, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Corner of Cooper Ave. & Galena St., Aspen

What: Big Rail Fridays

When: Friday, March 13, 20, 27, 2 p.m.

Where: Fanny Hill, Snowmass Ski Area

What: Terrain Park Boot Camp

When: March 14-15, 21-22, 28-29, noon

Where: Fanny Hill, Snowmass Ski Area

What: Battle in the Bowls

When: Sunday, March 15, 9:30 a.m.

Where: Aspen Highlands

What: KickAspen Big Air

When: Friday, March 20, 8 p.m.

Where: Gondola Plaza, Aspen Mountain

What: Slash the Mass Banked Slalom

When: Saturday, March 21, 10 a.m.

Where: Snowmass Base Ski Area

What: Dirty Dozen Brass Band

When: Saturday, March 21, 3 p.m.

Where: Snowmass Base Village

What: Fallen Friends Memorial Event

WhenL Sunday, March 22

Where: Merry Go Round, Aspen Highlands

What: Iration

When: Friday, March 27, 3 p.m.

Where: Snowmass Base Village

Concerts are free. Registration for competitions and more information at

Umphrey’s McGee’s two-night run at Belly Up may have sold out months ago, but nobody needs a ticket to see the improvisational rock wizards on stage Friday night at the Core Party in downtown Aspen.

The free outdoor show on the edge of the Cooper Ave. pedestrian mall kicks off two weeks of spring break events that make up the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Spring Jam festival. This year’s festivities include three free concerts – New Orleans jazz greats Dirty Dozen Brass Band and California reggae rockers Iration, who follow Umphrey’s at Snowmass Village shows – and on-mountain events including rail jams, terrain park lessons, a race through Highland Bowl, banked slalom and big air competitions, and the annual free-spirited Fallen Friends tribute at Highlands.

On the smorgasbord that is the 15th annual Spring Jam, the Umphrey’s concert is the can’t-miss item.

The Chicago-based six-piece band’s legendary live shows have reimagined the scope of improvisational rock music over the last 15 or so years. Call them a jam band if you like, but their brand of jamming isn’t the indulgent guitar noodling you’ll often find from the legions of acts that have attempted to follow in the Grateful Dead’s footsteps.

“Don’t get me wrong – if jamming for a half-hour in A minor feels right at the time, I’ll do it,” Umphrey’s guitarist Jake Cinninger told the Aspen Times during one of their recent stops in town. “But the idea is to build a complexity in the moment, and create something that sounds untypical. Like you built something.”

The band is equal parts jam band and progressive rock outfit. Cinninger sees them as heirs to Frank Zappa and Miles Davis as much as Phish or the Dead. In concert they pull off their intricate, long-form improvisational versions of their studio songs by keeping eye contact, using hand signals, while directing a light show through talk-back microphones. It’s something to behold.

“We call them baseball cues,” Cinninger says of the on-stage communication. “There’s a sign language of the keys. … We can sound like we’re writing music in the moment.”

During Spring Jam’s second weekend, the music moves to Base Village in Snowmass for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band performance.

Active for nearly four decades, the groundbreaking New Orleans band early on integrated the sounds of funk and bebop into their exuberant live sets, bringing a youthful new energy to the brass tradition of the Crescent City – a sound that’s since become a genre in itself, with standard bearers like the Rebirth Brass Band and the Soul Rebels.

Through the years, Dirty Dozen has made regular swings through Aspen – most recently a New Year’s Eve gig at the Wheeler Opera House. Before that show, the band’s saxophone player, Roger Lewis, surprisingly called Colorado the Dirty Dozen’s biggest fan base in the U.S.

“We love Colorado, that’s one of our favorite places on the planet,” Lewis says. “People love the music up there. It’s something about the spirit in the music. … The people see that we’re real people who are approachable, we like to party, and what can I say? People pick up on that.”

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