That's My Jam

July 01, 2019

The band Umphrey’s McGee has a devoted fan base that routinely fills venues like Colorado’s 9,500-seat Red Rocks Ampitheatre, where they performed for three nights in June. Golf plays a big role in keeping band members happy when they’re on the road, says bassist Ryan Stasik. He was interviewed by Golf Digest’s Max Adler at the 2019 Masters.

Greatest moment of your golf life? Easy. Late October 2015. Kid Rock is playing a charity concert and, as the story goes, only wants a round at Augusta National as payment, as a key person involved is a member. They get two foursomes, and there’s an open spot. Within hours of getting the call, our dog dies. I tell my wife I might never get this opportunity again. It was hard, but she had other family there to support her. Kid Rock’s brother, Billy, who has one leg and played without his prosthetic, using a cart, shoots in the 80s. He was in the group ahead and sticking everything. I remember every hole like it was yesterday. On the first tee there were lots of caddies and members watching, and I tagged a drive into the first cut. A bit left, but solid. Someone shouts, “Breakfast ball!” Then I hit a worm burner for the second. I wish I’d never done that.

The "Major Rager" music festival has now coincided with six masters and two pga championships. What was the genesis of all that? I was sitting on a rooftop bar with [restaurateur and promoter] George Claussen, and he tells me about his idea to put on rock shows in cities alongside major championships. I’m like, why isn’t Umphrey’s McGee involved? He said he’d pitched our manager, who declined it. I got on the phone right away, and the rest is history. The Flaming Lips, Zac Brown Band, George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic have been some of the other headliners. We’ve played four times, and the shows have been great. Fans who’ve been at the course all day are ready to let out that tension and party. We’ll do a few more covers than usual. I like going to concerts when I can sing along, too.

Chris Shonting

What came first for you, music or golf? I started playing golf and piano at the same time—age 5. Two difficult things that take a lifetime to master, but my parents never applied pressure for me to achieve anything other than have fun. They didn’t make me play classical, so I learned pop songs. My dad was a kick-ass golfer, scratch in his prime, but he let my brother and I decide how serious we wanted to be. Each taught me to practice with a purpose. I never go to the range and aimlessly swing, same as I never just run through C-major scales. I practice improvisation because that’s what I’m going to do on stage. I practice recovery shots because I know I’m going to be in the trees.

So when did you start playing bass? It’s the classic story: A piano isn’t mobile, so to get chicks in high school I started playing guitar. When I got to college [Notre Dame], I met this great group of musicians, and nobody played bass. So I volunteered, and Umphrey’s McGee was formed. The golf DNA ran deep from the beginning. Our keyboardist, Joel Cummins, grew up caddieing, carrying doubles. Kris Myers [drums and vocals] was a country-club kid. Our percussionist, Andy Farag, joined the band later, and he’s the best: repetitive, boring, right down the middle and almost always putting for birdie.

You guys get much golf in on tour? We have four sets of clubs on the tour bus. We’ll trade concert tickets for private-club access, and we’ve played a lot of the great ones. We’re lucky, and we don’t take it for granted. When we were starting out, touring the country with a Suburban and a trailer, it was Tetris to fit all the equipment, and there was absolutely no room for clubs. Now the ideal day is wake up, tee off around 9, lunch, sound check at 3, power-hour nap, then show starts at 8 or 9. Rage, rest, repeat.

Several Notable Golfers also play music. Ever jam with any? We’ve got the offer out to John Daly, we just haven’t made it happen yet. I was reading through your ranking [Golf Digest Top 100 in Music], and I didn’t realize so many punk rockers played golf. Now, are those handicaps for betting or bragging?

You never know until you see someone play. what’s your best score? Eighty. Multiple times on the nose, and I don’t cheat. I’ve never broken 80, and I’ve never beaten my dad. Those are my life goals.

Your onstage outfits are legendary. are there golfers whose style you particularly admire? John Daly, obviously. I love Loudmouth pants. Dustin Johnson. Loved Payne Stewart. Yes, I own knickers. I’m the kind of golf partner who insists we dress identically if it’s a team event.

If the grateful dead was the original jam band, followed by phish and widespread panic, is it fair to say Umphrey’s Mcgee is the fourth generation? That’s not inaccurate, but I wonder if the umbrella “jam band” has become too large. We improvise, and we play 25-minute songs now and again, but our music is more composed. “Self-indulgent orchestral rock,” we’ve called it. Instead of noodling, we’re switching among genres—reggae, heavy metal, singer-songwriter, country—in an organized way. It’s very ADD [attention-deficit disorder] because our generation is ADD. Everybody knows Umphrey’s is sports-oriented. We’ve done musical experiences based on the four quarters of a football game. We use signals from baseball and hockey to direct the action.

Ever composed songs based on the structure of golf? Not yet, but now that you mention it, we should!