Music is inherently about fun and creativity and American rock and jam band Umphrey’s McGee knows that well. Refreshingly innovative with a progressive brand of improvised rock that has made them one of the premier live acts around, the band is one of the first to take the Martin MAC III Profile™ out on the road.
Lighting designer is Jefferson Waful, who started working with Umphrey’s McGee on the run-up to the band's latest CD release, “Mantis,” and subsequent tour. Waful replaces long time band LD Adam Budney.
“The band had just released a new album, a very important album that they had spent a lot of time on, and I wanted to make the light show brand new and cutting edge to match the new material,” Waful states. “Also, coming in as a new lighting designer for the band, stepping in for an LD who had been with the band their entire career, I wanted it to look fresh and new. We knew it was going to take something extra special to highlight these new compositions.”
That something extra came in the form of the Martin MAC III Profile whose release couldn’t have come at a better time for Waful.
“I was tasked with creating the appropriate visuals to match an epic sounding album,” he says. “The fact that this new fixture was released in the same window of time as Mantis was really serendipitous and allowed me to create brand new, cutting-edge visuals to accompany the new material.”
Waful contacted Martin US’s Brad Haynes who met with crew chief Wade Ellis Wilby and tour manager Don Richards who were “blown away by it,” according to Waful. That was in early January with a CD release show already scheduled for January 19th.
“I came directly from the airport to load in and hadn’t touched the light before that first show. I was a bit nervous but it came together and everything worked out,” Waful comments. Umphrey’s McGee’s US Tour runs through July.
Lot of light to play with
Waful was given relatively free reign as far as composing lighting looks for the show (the band was familiar with his work as ex-LD of the band Moe). He has 12 MAC III Profiles in the setup as the lighting center piece of the show - six flown upstage and six on the deck behind the band.
“Because the lights are brand new, they don’t look like other bands’ lights, and the newness of that cutting edge technology matches with the band’s new material. When fans come to see the band, there is something particular about the lighting, even if it’s on a subconscious level.”
Launched just a few months ago, the MAC III Profile has already seen service on numerous tours, television productions, special events and more. Featuring a new design and superior feature list, its super bright, fat beam adds a new dimension to shows.
“The fact that the lights are so bright enables me to do a lot,” Waful says. “I almost always use a gobo since the lights are so bright. With the cone gobo for example there is so much light coming out I tweak the iris down a bit. I like having that flexibility. There is so much light to play with that once you start filtering some of it out, you still have enough left to get a nice sharp beam with a lot of texture.
“One of the things that I’ve been really happy with is the half colors on the color wheel. I park it in between two colors and combine that with a sharp gobo and it looks even more three dimensional than it already is.”
An important element of the set design is a large backdrop featuring the new CD artwork, which in the early shows was illuminated using the MAC IIIs. Early on in the tour however a couple of venues housed white set cycs so Waful turned the fixtures to project onto those as well.
“The light from the MAC IIIs was so sharp and so vivid it looked like moving video,” he states. “So we decided to flip our backdrop around as it’s white on the back side, and started projecting onto that. The white reflects the light better than the artwork and looks so vivid that it was hard to revert back to the grayer backdrop.”
Additional lighting in the rig includes six MAC 2000 Profiles™ in a downstage truss, four Martin Atomic 3000™ strobes and other automateds supplemented with house conventionals. Lighting supply is from Performance Lighting of Chicago with Creative Stage Lighting handling shows in the Northeast.
Scratched the surface
Crew chief Wade Ellis Wilby worked hard with Performance Lighting and Martin to get the MAC IIIs on the tour. “He’s a big part of getting the light show up and running every day,” Waful comments. “I still recall the first time Wade saw a demo of the MAC III back in December. He called me up and said ‘This fixture will drive you nuts. You will lose sleep over it because the combinations are endless.’ And he was right. The textural glass gobos and rich, saturated color wheel options have not helped my insomnia. I shudder to think that we’ve only scratched the surface.”
Umphrey’s McGee was also one of the first to use the MAC III Profiles at an outdoor gig. Earlier in the year, at a show at the University of Miami, Waful directed the MAC III Profiles from the stage across a lake toward 25-story dormitories located 300-400 yards away.
“We were pondering whether the lights would be able to hit the dorms,” he explains. “An hour before the show started it got dark and sure enough we were able to project onto the dorms, focus the gobos and focus the animation wheel on the buildings. It covered the buildings and in sharp focus – a fantastic visual. We used the buildings 300-400 yards away as a backdrop. I don’t think any other light could do that with gobos in sharp focus.”