Musician Joel Cummins is a lot of things. Here are five:
- A keyboard wizard: He plays piano, synths, and all things keys in prog-rock outfit Umphrey’s McGee.
- A man of the people: he makes friends with Umphrey’s fans and sits in with other bands wherever he goes.
- A Cubs fan: a classically trained piano player hailing from La Grange, he finds his home on Addison St.
- An author: Joel recently announced he is co-authoring a book with friend Matt Decoursey, The Realist’s Guide to a Successful Music Career.
- Not playing a fucking recital at Tonic Room on 2/24: his solo show at Chicago’s favorite dive bar is gonna be rock n’ roll.
“One of my friends keeps making the joke, ‘Oh my God! Your recital! We’re coming to your recital!'” Cummins shared laughing. “It’s not a fucking recital! This is the Tonic Room. It’s gonna be rock n’ roll. There aren’t many things that get under my skin, but it’s not a fucking recital!”
He went on to explain that he knows some of his solo shows feature a lot of slower songs and ballads, but this one is going to be different. “There are no recitals at the Tonic Room,” he clarified. “We’ll do a little uptempo classical shit, some Umphrey’s tunes, and I’m sure once Marcus comes out, we’ll have a little more freedom to do some avant-garde stuff. I love the vibe there at Tonic, and the staff is just the best. I’m definitely looking forward to coming home and having a great time.”
To set the scene, I caught up with Joel on the phone this past Saturday when he was somewhere between Umphrey’s prior show in Albany, NY, and their show that same night in Portland, Maine, amidst dealing with a broken down tour-bus. Eternally the optimist, Joel shared that it “wasn’t a big deal, and they were ready to rock, business as usual.” That sums up Joel to a tee.
“For the Tonic Room, I’ve got Jason Kearney (Crosseyed and Phishless) who’s gonna play a little bit before,” Joel said. “He came up and jammed a bit with me last time (September 2017). And (guitarist) Marcus Rezak is gonna come up and play with me, too.” With these three musicians all hailing from Chicago, and Rezak and Cummins currently living out of town, it’s sure to be a rowdy and rockin’ homecoming on February 24.
“Rezak is going to bring his electric rig for the Tonic show, and I’ll be doing electronic keyboards in Chicago. Denver’s gonna be more of an acoustic thing; I will have a grand piano, and Marcus is going to open with an acoustic set, which I don’t think he’s ever done before. So, it’s like Chicago is the electric set, and Denver is the acoustic.”
Just announced, Cummins and Rezak will partner to host a benefit for Conscious Alliance and to raise money for a music scholarship in Cummins’ parents’ name on Wednesday June 19. To learn more about the Cummins music scholarship, click here.
“In Denver, I’ll be doing a VIP soundcheck thing, and a little Q&A about the book, or you know, what ever people want to ask about.” That will be a huge week for Umphreaks in Denver: Weds June 19, this Conscious Alliance event; Thursday June 20 is Brendan Bayliss & Jake Cinninger early, then Ryan Stasik’s Doom Flamingo, late; then three Umphrey’s shows at Red Rocks Friday through Sunday, June 21-23. “Five nights in a row of us, if people are doing the whole thing,” Joel said laughing. As Umphrey’s does so well, this special week will surely offer a little something for everyone.
Rezak’s recent solo offering, Gateway to the Galaxy, featured keys from Cummins, drums from Umphrey’s Kris Myers, and blended together sounds from legendary personnel across the board. Click here to learn more about Gateway to the Galaxy.
Regarding Joel’s upcoming book, he explained that “there are a lot of people out there who are great artists, who should be focusing on their art, and not how to use their art as a business. It’s such a complicated thing, because you don’t want to sell out your products, but you also want to make yourself marketable so you can continue to do what you’re good at.” Much like he treats a festival lineup as a gathering of friends to play some tunes, Cummins built The Realist’s Guide to a Successful Music Career around not only his own successful experiences across 20 years in the music biz, but those of prolific musical friends and legendary performers as well.
“I’ve had conversations with all these different people who are also contributing their knowledge and their history, as well: Huey Lewis, Chuck Leavell, who is the bandleader and keyboardist of The Rolling Stones, and he played in The Allman Brothers, and had all these hits. There’s Susan Tedeschi, Victor Wooten, Ivan Neville, Nikki Gillespie, Taylor Hicks; just a really cool and diverse group of musicians that I got to talk to about their experiences. I got to ask them what important decisions they made that helped put them on their successful paths.”
Joel’s relationships have defined his brand of industry success, from the friends he plays with on stage every night, to the friendships he’s made with other musicians along the way. With a storied background with The New Mastersounds, I had to ask if Joel would be stopping by their guitarist Eddie Roberts’ Color Red studios when he’s in Denver. Recently, Roberts launched a new label and recording studio in Denver welcoming traveling artists to record collaborative tracks, that are then emailed weekly, for free. Click here to learn more about Color Red or sign up to get the emails.
“We’ve talked about that! That sounds like a great idea to me,” Joel said. Hearing that recording would be amazing, and if you’re reading this, Eddie, just know we’d all love to check that out. “We go way back with The New Mastersounds. My wife Dasha tour-managed them for two years, and they actually played at our wedding in Jamaica. We’ve done a couple gigs with them over the years, too. I’ll never forget that Simon (Allen), their drummer, was vehemently requesting that we learn Huey Lewis’s “Power of Love” for Bear Creek when we played with them (laughing). I think I got an email six months before the show. Watching him practice that with us in the rehearsal room, I think it might have been the happiest moment of his life.”
Umphrey’s holiday shows and side projects are known to bring in some familiar faces at these events. When asked about this, Joel said, “We’ll be coming right off tour, so it might be tough to get Brendan (Bayliss) out (who lives in Chicago). Adam Budney is a different story, our former lighting engineer. His presence is expected. Might see a (Kevin) Browning (Umphrey’s tour manager), who knows? I don’t want to ruin it…”
Get your tickets here and see for yourself on February 24. Less than 15 tickets remain for this intimate show.