Photography by Steven Philips StSteven.com, Story by James Kittleman
Chicago based Cornmeal are no strangers to the cold. In fact it seems, they thrive on it. Deep into a frigid two month tour, on yet another biting east coast evening, they made sure there was little need for a coat. Or a chair.
At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking Cornmeal is a bluegrass band. Banjo, check. Fiddle, check. Acoustic guitar and tight three-part harmonies, check. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. From the word go, the band wasted little time in displaying an expert ability to combine the trademarks of traditional bluegrass with a broad range of musical styles and sounds I’ve never heard from acoustic instruments. Envelope-filtered fiddle? Yes please.
Throughout the night, the music flowed seamlessly from hard driving bluegrass to down and dirty funk to lonesome bluesy folk to straight up epic jam rock. Led by the warm vocal tone and banjo acrobatics of founding member Wavy Dave Burlingame, the crew quickly got World Cafe Live, The Queen on her feet and dancing. And anchored by some incredibly tight playing from bassist Chris Gangi and drummer Drew Littell, the band demonstrated why they have such a passionate following. Guitarist Scott Tipping pushed the sonic limits of his acoustic guitar, at times propelling the band to dizzying heights of pure musical energy. Fiddler Molly Healey traversed an enormous range of styles and techniques, tasteful solos and genre-bending effects. And weaving the whole set together, which by the way included a rockin’ “Dear Prudence” and an inspired version of Paul Simon’s “I Know What I Know”, were the tight three part harmonies you’d expect from a veteran bluegrass band. Just don’t call them that.