Niles native making waves in music world with jam band
By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Niles native Jake Cinninger and his band Umphrey's McGee have been quietly making waves across the country with critical acclaim and great word of mouth.
The virtuoso guitar player and his Chicago-based band Umphrey's McGee have spent the past few years touring vigorously from coast to coast and they have accumulated a large base of fans in the process.
Unlike many popular bands these days, Umphrey's McGee has found success without the aid of radio play and MTV.
With a grassroots campaign of constant touring and positive word of mouth, they have quickly become the most popular band of its kind in the Midwest.
Umphrey's McGee would be classified in the genre of jam bands. This genre encompasses a wide range of musical styles and usually involves a focus on collective improvisation.
The jam band genre is more of an underground music scene, in which the bands survive on grassroots tactics similar to the ones employed by Umphrey's McGee.
Since Cinninger joined the band in 2000, they have gone from playing the Midwest club circuit of South Bend, Chicago and Kalamazoo to playing theaters and concert halls in New York City and San Francisco.
They have also played at large music festivals such as the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee and the High Sierra Music Festival in California.
The band has recorded a handful of albums and even filmed a DVD of a live performance in their current home base of Chicago.
But, Cinninger's musical career has not always been this productive. The 28-year old, who graduated from Niles High School in 1994, spent years fine tuning his skills with a series of other bands before striking gold with Umphrey's McGee.
It all began for Cinninger when he received a drum kit for Christmas at the age of four.
He credits his early musical development to his parents, Craig and Julie Cinninger, who have a "very good taste in music."
While growing up, he was esposed to artists like Miles Davis, Leo Kottke and Jimi Hendrix.
In kindergarten, he began taking piano lessons in addition to the drum lessons he was taking from South Bend musician Eddie Knight.
It wasn't until the age of 12, that Cinninger found his instrument of choice, the guitar.
From the ages of 13 to 18, Cinninger was playing drums in a four-piece hard rock outfit called Visions.
The rest of the band were in their mid-20s and were responsible for handing down a lot of great music to the teenager.
His next project was a promising country rock band called Avalanche, in which Cinninger played the guitar.
The band started to get some exposure and was close to being signed by a major record label when their investor backed out for no apparent reason.
This was a crushing blow to Cinninger, who was staring to become disillusioned with the music business.
He soon picked up the pieces and formed Ali Baba's Tahini, a trio that incorporated everything from jazz and fusion to rock and avant garde.
Ali Baba's Tahini made a name for themselves on the Midwest club circuit and began sharing gigs with a band from South Bend called Umphrey's McGee.
After a few years of mild success, Cinninger set his sights higher.
Not everyone in the band could commit to going out on the road full time and they eventually disbanded on good terms in 2000.
His friends in Umphrey's McGee shared a similar vision of the future and could not pass up the chance to add this very talented musician to their lineup.
Soon after Ali Baba's Tahini broke up, Umphrey's McGee invited Cinninger to join the band and they have not looked back since.
Cinninger said the one of biggest highlights of his musical career was playing in front of 12,000 fans at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in 2002.
In the fall of 2003, Cinninger returned to Niles to perform on the amphitheater in Riverfront Park in front of a very large crowd.
Much to the dismay of the crowd, Niles City Police shut the show down early due to complaints that the music was too loud. Niles Police repeated asked the band to lower its volume, which is refused to do, thus the concert was ended.
He said the band holds no hard feelings about the incident and would considering returning to Niles if the circumstances were right.
Cinninger continues the hard work and dedication that got him where he is today. He is constantly writing new music and is frequently out on the road.
He said it is important to maintain a fresh sound because the music industry is so unpredictable.
Umphrey's McGee's complex musical arrangements and thought provoking lyrics are a testament to the band's dedication to crafting quality songs.
The band finished up 2003 with a three night run of sold out New Year's Eve shows in Chicago.
They began 2004 with a few shows on the maiden voyage of the Jam Cruise, a music based cruise off the coast of Florida that featured a number of the scene's most popular bands.
Cinninger said they are currently working on a new album and plan to continue their vigorous touring schedule.
With a large catalog of original music and a constantly growing base of dedicated fans, Cinninger and his bandmates show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
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