Umphrey’s McGee puts down roots in Charleston

Ryan Stasik, bassist of Umphrey's McGee, moved to Charleston three years ago with his wife, bandmate Andy Farag, and the band's manager, Vincent Iwinski.

Like most jam bands, Umphrey’s McGee is all about the live concert experience.

After playing more than 100 shows annually for the past 17 years, the band has built a massive, dedicated following of fans who travel far and wide to catch as many shows as possible, who collect concert posters and even run online message boards about every night’s set list.

Two weeks ago, I saw Umphrey’s play a late-night set at Lockn’ Festival in Arrington, Va. It was well past 2 a.m., after more than a dozen artists had already played, and it was pouring rain. Still, the hillside was crammed with thousands of muddy, ecstatic fans, mouthing lyrics and soaking up every moment.

Having such a supportive crowd means Umphrey’s has the freedom to explore whatever they want to on stage, even 10-minute, winding guitar duels between Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger. Most of the time, they opt for heavy-hitting prog-rock with pockets of danceable beats.

It’s an intense show, to say the least. And after a long tour, it’s essential to have a cozy home to retreat to. Which is why two members, percussionist Andy Farag and bassist Ryan Stasik, have firmly planted their roots in Charleston.

Both moved here about three years ago with their wives and the band’s manager, Vincent Iwinski. The band had mostly been based out of Chicago for a little more than a decade, and Farag and Stasik decided they couldn’t do the harsh winters anymore.

Stasik’s wife, who was pregnant with their first child at the time, had some family in the Charleston area. That, and the mild weather, were major selling points, Stasik said.

“We were like, we just don’t want to raise our child in a high-rise in downtown Chicago when we don’t have any family around, and you’re kind of hibernating and stuck inside all the time,” he said. “And I said, let’s go with the sunshine, bathing suits and flip-flops.”

Soon after relocating here, their daughter, Amelia West Stasik, was born. They live in Mount Pleasant, surrounded by members of both sides of the family. Some already lived here, others have migrated here recently, Stasik said.

“It’s starting to feel like I didn’t just move to Charleston, I moved to where family is. And family is the most important thing to all of us,” he said.

Farag said it made sense for him to move here, too, because his wife’s family was a short drive away in North Carolina. Plus, he just loves Charleston.

“The people are awesome here,” he said. “You have tons of great restaurants and nightlife. ... The city is growing so fast. It’s really exciting to be here right now.”

Stasik agreed, particularly when it comes to Charleston’s music scene.

“I also truly believe that Charleston is that East Coast town that can be the next Austin, Texas,” he said. “Tons of people are coming here, and the more people come, I think the more important it is that there’s a growing music scene, music venues, and a music culture. And I think we want to be a part of that ... and be a part of making that grow. Now that we call this home, it’s a little easier for that to be tangible.”

Part of that goal is the band’s first three-night run at the Music Farm this weekend, which is billed as the Chucktown Ball. Like many of its shows, tickets to all three nights sold out quickly.

Perhaps illustrating its commitment to Charleston even further, the band has decided to donate a portion of ticket revenue to the Lowcountry Ministries Fund, formerly known as the Reverend Pinckney Fund. It was set up in the wake of the June 17 Emanuel AME Church shooting that killed nine parishioners, including state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a pastor at the church.

The fund aims to address community issues that were important to the victims, such as access to health care and proper education in underserved areas of Colleton, Beaufort and Charleston counties.

Farag said that while it was difficult to be here at such a sorrowful time, the city’s reaction to the tragedy further cemented their connection to the area. “To see ... everybody of all backgrounds and races come together like that, it was really something special. You really feel a sense of community,” he said. “I actually felt very proud to be a representative of this city after all that.”

Stasik said that’s part of the reason the band decided to play the benefit concert.

“It was just a no-brainer to do what we can, and just be a part of helping and create awareness as well as to what happened,” Stasik said. “Umphrey’s McGee, we’ve always been givers. We went to Notre Dame, and we’ve always been taught that it’s very important to give back.”

While this year’s Chucktown Ball may be sold out, both Stasik and Farag said the band hopes to make it an annual affair.

“We love it here, and I know we’re certainly getting a bigger following here in the Southeast,” Farag said. “So, we’re just going to see how this goes. I’m sure it will go great, and hopefully we can continue something on this level.”

Reach Abigail Darlington at (843) 937-5906.