The Understorey will showcase its eclectic sound at Top of the Park, Ann Arbor Art Fair


Ann Arbor band The Understorey is a labor of more than one kind of love.

There’s the obvious care and attention the band puts into its music, an engaging blend of folk, rock, and soul. But there’s also the fact that the core of the band is a married couple, Matt and Jess McCumons, whose public debut as performers came at their own wedding.

Both of them had musical backgrounds, so the idea of performing together came naturally. Their wedding debut featured Patty Griffin’s “Heavenly Day,” and that smoothly led to the creation of The Understorey in its first incarnation as a duo, with Jess on vocals and Matt on guitar.

For the last several years, though, they’ve performed as a full band, and that’s the format that will be showcased at two iconic elements of summer in Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s Top of the Park Rackham Stage, and The Ark stage at the Ann Arbor Art Fair.

“We were spending a lot of time walking in the woods with our dog,” Jess recalls of the early days and the creation of the band’s name. “It was just kind of cool being immersed in the forest.” The name refers to a forest understory, the layer of vegetation between the tree canopy and the groundcover.

“When a tree falls, the understory trees scrabble for the light,” Jess says. And that sense of seeking and longing indeed comes through in the band’s music, which mixes McCumons original songs and some eclectic and well-chosen covers.

After a couple of years playing as a duo, The Understorey released an album, Tending Embers, in 2013. For recording purposes, the couple decided to expand their sound with additional musicians, and they liked the result. “As soon as the album was done, that was basically our format,” Matt says.

Now the lineup also includes Dave Wak, drums; Billy King, electric guitar; Josef Deas, bass and keyboards; and Jenny Jones, backing vocals.

The band has become a fairly high-profile regional act. Fulfilling an early goal, they have played The Ark several times, and will be part of the lineup at The Ark’s stage at this year’s Ann Arbor Art Fair. Last year they played the main (Rackham) stage at Top of the Park, and they’ll return there on Tuesday, June 13, at 7 p.m.

“It’s an annual institution in Ann Arbor. We love taking our kids there,” Matt says of Top of the Park. “It’s kind of the soul of the summer in Ann Arbor.”

The outdoor shows offer a particular opportunity to engage an audience a little differently than in a club or bar. “We do things in performance quite a bit different from how we play on the album,” Jess notes. “(Especially) for an outdoor gig, we want it to be energetic and fun.”


Bob Needham is a freelance writer and the former arts & entertainment editor of The Ann Arbor News and AnnArbor.com.


The Understorey plays the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s Top of the Park series at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 13, on the Rackham Stage, East Washington Street at Ingalls Mall. The band will also play the Ann Arbor Art Fair from 4:30-5:30 Friday, July 21, at The Ark/Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair stage, in the Palio parking lot at the corner of Main and William streets.