UMBowl Proposal Backstory
By Andy Zimmer
Photos By Tim Ramirez
Regardless of what anyone thinks of Umphrey’s McGee as musicians, I think you have to give them a lot of credit for everything that went into the spectacle known as UMBowl. Many bands, especially when they hit on a winning formula or reach a certain level of success, are content to rest on their laurels and deliver a standardized performance to their fans. If UMBowl is any indication, this is not the mindset of the boys in Umphrey’s McGee. The concept of offering fans more from their concert experience certainly isn’t new. Bands have been turning up the volume, adding more and better lights and effects, and bringing in the theatrics of wild stage shows for decades. But UM may have tapped a new market in live performance... and without losing any creativity, credibility, or quality. The UMBowl allowed a level of audience participation and interaction within the concert experience that has set a new standard for what is possible in a live music setting. Sure, not everything came off perfectly (there were the usual highs and lows of any concert) but, it’s exciting to consider where this could lead live music performance in the future. However, despite the uniqueness and excitement surrounding the spectacle of UMBowl, there was a more important reason why I was in the audience at Lincoln Hall on Saturday.
It all started almost a year ago when I was hanging out with one of my closest friends, Greg. Greg had been dating another of my dear friends, Jessica for many years and mentioned, over the course of one of our conversations that he had been thinking about popping the big question. Both of them are huge UM fans and, from the beginning, Greg wanted to figure out a way to make the proposal happen at a show. Ideally, he wanted to somehow involve the band in his elaborate scheme. Now, I’m not sure if he wanted the UM-guys involved just because he thought it would be cool, or if he thought it would increase his odds of Jess saying yes. But when I heard his idea, I was all-in.
Every few months we would talk about how we could get the ultimate-proposal to go down. At various points, Greg considered the New Years shows, Summer Camp Music Fest, and several other UM concerts as candidates. Then they announced UMBowl. Clearly, THIS was the one. So, the plan was set; now he just had to figure out how to make it happen.
Fast forward to this past Saturday... We (Greg, myself, Jess, and several other friends, a.k.a. “the usual suspects”) are having a few pre-show beers in our hotel room. Greg pulls me quietly aside and removes a ring-sized box from his pocket. He’s already fumbling and fidgeting with it as he holds it in his hand. Man... he’s nervous. I’ve never even contemplated a marriage proposal in any realistic sense, but I can’t say that I blame the guy. And to think about doing it in front of a few hundred of his closest friends... eeeerrrr, strangers. Well, I’m glad he was the one taking the plunge.
As he pulls me aside, Greg asks if he can stash the ring in my bag until we get into the show. I assume that he was worried about venue-security finding it during a pat-down to enter the concert hall. Thus, ruining his elaborate plan. I wasn’t exactly prepared to accept temporary custody of a pretty expensive piece of jewelry, but how can I say no? With the ring satisfactorily stashed, we head out to the venue. Greg, with each step moving closer to his big moment, and Jess blissfully unaware of the impending insanity. Along the way, I ask Greg what his grand plan is. He says that he plans on waiting until the Q2 portion of the show, and then will text his proposal to get put up on the big screen behind the band. “Ok”, I say. ”Do you know what you’re going to write?” He says that he’s probably going to text something along the lines of “J.P. will you marry me?” or “Jessica, will you marry Greg?”. Hmmmmmmm... in a perfect world, that sounds like an ideal plan. But I mention that it may be a problem if his proposed message is too specific in concept for it to stand a chance of getting picked to get on the big screen. Keep in mind, the band has to figure out a way to create original improv based on each text. Greg’s face after I espoused my concerns... PANIC! Clearly, he was so wrapped-up in the moment, and the nervousness that was associated with it, that he had failed to consider this fact. And it was at that moment that I realized that I was an asshole (although, unintentionally so) and just needed to support my friend. This could work. This would work. We just needed to figure out how.
Eventually, Greg mentioned that he would talk to the sound or lighting guy to help lobby for him. And we decided that several of us would text the same message in unison, in an attempt to flood the request-pool. Of course, it was at this point that Greg realized that he had forgotten his cell phone. Even considering the gravity of the impending moment in his life, anyone who knows Greg understands that this is par-for-the-course. In fact, most of our close circle of friends, myself included, could be considered as slightly absent-minded. Truthfully, without Jess, and her ever-enduring patience and thoughtfulness, many of our half-cocked endeavors would have ended in ruin. Yet, we had reached a moment where Jess could not come to our rescue. So, I ceded my phone to Greg, removing myself from the text-messaging-bonanza, but questioning whether I would see my two week old phone again. Onward to Lincoln Hall!
Arriving at the hall at some undetermined before the scheduled start to the show, we loitered outside, smoking, and “talking shop” with other UM-devotees. As a casual fan myself, I had little to add to the dialogue, but you could tell how fired-up Greg, Jess, and the crowd at-large were for this moment in UMPHistory. The doors opened and we stumbled into the hall (with 500 of our closest friends), secured our prime real estate, and set-in for some pre-show drinks. Suddenly, a giant movie screen descended from the back of the stage and a video began playing, which made me feel like I was watching Monday Night Football. The band took the stage for their acoustic set, which ended-up being my favorite of the evening. However, I was really waiting for the second quarter.
During the break between the first and second sets, Greg came and grabbed the ring out of my bag. “Damn”, I thought. ”I completely forgot that thing was in there.” I’m just glad that, as I was spacing-out rummaging through my bag, it hadn’t fallen out to be claimed by the concert-gods. With his ring, and my phone, in hand Greg set out towards his date with destiny... assuming that destiny would choose to smile upon him that night.
The Q2 portion of the show started and text messages poured onto the screen. Now it was just a waiting game. Would our texts get picked? When? Had Greg been successful with any of his requests to the UM-crew? As the set dragged-on, and Greg’s request still had not made an appearance, it began to appear as though we might be let down. Well, it seems as though the concert-gods, marriage-gods, and any other deities that may have been in attendance were smiling on Greg that evening. Suddenly, from the stage, Brendan Bayliss stepped up to the mic... ”Is there a girl named Jessica Pace in the audience...”. HOLY SHIT he pulled it off!! Well, he didn’t get his text on the screen, but this was undeniably a helluva lot better. As Bayliss went on to explain that Jessica’s boyfriend wanted to know if she would be his wife, a spotlight scanned the crowd... searching for the bride-to-be. The spotlight finally stopped on an absolutely elated girl, jumping up and down, hands held sky-high. From my vantage point above the crowd, this blonde haired girl bared little resemblance to the Jessica Pace that I knew. Hhhhhhhmmmmmmm!? Granted, my powers of perception may not have been functioning at peak-efficiency at this point in the show, but could there really have been two Jessica Paces at a 500 person show? Looking at how excited the imposter-Jessica was by the announcement, I immediately thought about what the hell must have been going through the mind of her boyfriend, who appeared to be standing beside her. Talk about the proverbial kick in the nuts... damn.
Fortunately, the announcement also made it to the ears of the intended recipient. Initially, it looked like Jess was about to piss herself with excitement, just for the sheer fact that the lead singer of her favorite band said her name on stage. Excitement led to confusion, as she worked her way through piecing together what exactly was being said. Confusion turned into absolute elation as she turned around and saw Greg in the middle of the crowd, down on one knee, holding the ring in front of him like a knight presenting a sword to a king (or queen). Who says chivalry is dead? While words cannot begin to accurately describe to scene that followed, I think Jess’ response sums it up quite nicely... ”FUCK YES!” The newly-engaged couple shared an unforgettable embrace, in the middle of which, Greg saluted the stage and the cheering crowd, raising up the giant bottle of beer which had never left his hand. Keep it classy, brother!
Well, the deed had been done, and exceeded everyone’s expectations (except for, maybe, those of the boyfriend of imposter-Jessica). To tell you the truth, I don’t really remember the rest of the show. Yea, I know, it wasn’t my big moment... not even close. But to be there, and share in an unforgettable experience with my closest friends, left me riding the wave of elation too.
I’ve often been accused of being long-winded, and this has certainly not been an exception. But, with all the things that happen in life that make us question humanity, I think that we need to celebrate the little things; the random acts of kindness, the tender moments of affection, the beauty and joy that life can bring. Greg and Jess, I love you both. Thank you for being part of my life, and letting me into yours. I look forward to, and expect, many years of happiness, hilarity, and hijinks... and an open bar at the wedding!