Umphrey’s McGee teams up with the The People’s Music School


This year’s show featured some of the other members of Umphrey’s McGee and special guests Jennifer Hartswick and local musicians Kevin Kostelecky and Mike Racky. Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s McGee opened the show up with a solo performance.

Amy Buscemi, Writer

The winter holidays are the perfect time to give back to the community and no one does it with as much flare as Chicago’s favorite jam band, Umphrey’s McGee. Last month, the band’s dual front men, Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger, hosted their 15th annual “The Brendan and Jake Holiday Show.”  

Proceeds from the sold-out show benefit programs that serve Chicago communities, while also providing fans with an intimate night of acoustic music from musicians that typically play with a lot of electricity.

The halls of the Park West, located in Lincoln Park, were lavishly decked for the holidays.  Multiple musical instruments, including a grand piano adorned with a lit menorah, set the stage amongst a decorated Christmas tree and a couch to perform on. 

The show’s proceeds went to The People’s Music School, which is a nonprofit, tuition-free music education program. The school was founded in 1976 by Rita Simó, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, where no cost music education is available to all.  

Simó received a scholarship to The Juilliard School in New York City and upon her arrival in the United States, discovered that music education was only available for those fortunate enough to afford it. She then made it her life’s mission to address that inequality.

The school began in a former hair salon in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, chosen because of its diversity, with a donated piano and a sign in the window advertising, “Free Piano Lessons.” In exchange for the lessons, the parents of the potential music students would work at the budding school.

“She was growing a community and wanted everyone to feel part of it,” said The People’s Music School Director of Development, Renee Davis.

The school maintains these grassroots community morals today, over forty years later, even as the nonprofit has grown to serve over 600 students at four locations across Chicago. Davis said that the school’s attendance has almost doubled over the past two years, thanks to contributions such as the proceeds from the event.

“The Brendan and Jake Holiday Show” is also, at its core, a grassroots community effort. The event in its early stages was a fundraiser for Keys for Kids, an organization started by Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s McGee, which focused on raising money to purchase musical instruments for schools. The annual fundraiser has evolved in size with the band’s popularity into a large and consistently successful event that has contributed to various charitable Chicago community organizations with parallel missions.   

The event features a raffle with volunteers selling tickets. The annual raffles are a significant factor by which funds are raised.  Raffle prizes are donated from within the Umphrey’s McGee community, with many coming from the band’s counter-culture fan base.

One of the most prestigious prizes at this year’s event was a pair of VIP passes to the band’s New Year’s Eve show in Denver, Colorado, valued at approximately $800. The prize was donated directly by a fan that was unable to go.

Carly Adler, a fan and NEIU student, who has attended the annual event multiple times said, “My favorite aspects of the holiday show are that it’s 100 percent not-for-profit, everything goes to the charity for the kids and they always have the most incredible raffles. I also love how intimate the holiday show is and the way the guys get to interact with fans in ways they don’t always get to at bigger shows.”

“Do it for the kids” is a popular slogan among annual regulars. But the biggest draw for die-hard fans is the intimate full-length set, which includes both original and cover songs and special guests joining them throughout the evening.

Barry Brown, who plays a large role in organizing the annual event, said the event is a great supporter of The People’s Music School , “We like to go back to them every few years. The school fits perfectly into what our main goal is, which is to provide music and art education to the children that wouldn’t have it otherwise.”

This is seemingly a match of fate, as Davis similarly said, “The guys at Umphrey’s McGee really understand what we are doing. They can almost communicate our mission as well as I can.”  

Davis said the efforts from Umphrey’s McGee have been different from other donors in that a relationship has been built between the organizations associated with the band and school.  She said it is special to be able to bring students with her to the annual event, so they can share the experience of watching uniquely talented musicians perform live, an opportunity they might not otherwise get exposure to.

Any individual or company wanting to donate a raffle prize to the 2018 fundraiser event can contact Brown by email at [email protected]. For more information about The People’s Music School, including how to donate and volunteer, email Renee Davis at [email protected].

Umphrey’s McGee is currently on tour and will be heading to

Feb 2 and Feb 3

Wings Event Center

Kalamazoo, MI

8:00 P.M.

Feb 15

The Anthem

Washington, DC

7:30 P.M.

Feb 16

NON-UM: Official After Show w/ Mungion

Asheville Music Hall

Asheville, NC

8:00 P.M. and 12:00 A.M.

Feb 17

Asheville Music Hall

Asheville, NC

NON-UM: Official After Show w/ Mungion

8:00 P.M. and 12:00 A.M.