On a quiet Wednesday night in Lexington, Kentucky, Cornmeal, one of the top bluegrass bands in the nation opened their tour bus doors behind Cosmic Charlies and spilled into the night some of the most hard working, talented musicians on the jamband scene. As fans made their way to the venue, a tiny bar which sits in a an old school strip mall you could feel the excitement crust up the air.
The low lit, two tiered venue filled in nicely as Dirtfoot played their opening set. Folks mingled around talking to members of Cornmeal and toasting hearty brews from the tap. As founding member and bass player Chris Gangi (with one ‘N’) made his way through the crowd the laughter seemed to pick up as his boyish charm sprinkled the patrons with giddy happiness. Wavy Dave Burlingame the fiery flashy finger banjo player and also founding member for Cornmeal also made his way through the crowd in a less buoyant way as his band mate, Gangi but still evoking the same hearty smiles from the folks he talked to. Allie Kral, fiddle player extraordinaire and John-Paul Nowak the rhythm keeper and drummer for Cornmeal also visited with folks and leaving them just as cheshired. Kris Nowak, the master guitar picker of the band came out briefly before hustling off with everyone to make last minute arrangements before hitting the stage.
Cornmeal opened the set with a crowd favorite opener, ‘Ain’t Gonna Work,’ with its fast and heavy fiddle and percussion textures weaving through Kris’ shredding guitar the crowd came alive. Kris’ guitar solo only matched in tempo by Allie as her fiddle rode the beat of John-Paul’s rhythmic drum beats. The number ended with the band singing in harmony about not working tomorrow.
The tune segued into a slower number off of, Live in Chicago Volume 1, called ‘Feather,’ Allies fiddle singing softly against the timbre of Burlingame’s banjo. Kris’ subtle voice filling the venue. ‘Feet On The Ground,’ a number off of their third album, Feet First, had Burlingame on lead vocals and crooning about his head being in the clouds with Kris’ complementary background vocals kept the crowd dancing up a frenzy.
With a haunting fiddle introduction that would meld into Kris taking lead vocals for, ‘Time Wasting Time,’ the band would harmonize the chorus, each musical texture flowing into the next. Allie’s vocals on this number are traditionally very prominent, there is a multi-movement to the flow as Allie’s fiddle solo dips and dives like a lazy rolling river with John-Paul’s soft pellets of drum beats gently bring the tune to a crescendo of lead guitar and Gangi keeping a steady hand on the bottom end.
‘The Girl I Left Behind,’ another number from Feet First, would find Kris back on lead vocals the slow melody opener wouldn’t last long as Gangi dropped the bottom end, a heavy bass riff that paired well with Allie’s fiddle. During the last part of the number Burlingame and Kris would take lead on strings and Allie would round out the lead with a heated fiddle solo.
Saxophone player, Scott Gerardy of Dirtfoot would join Cornmeal for, ‘It Ain’t Me’ a honky tonk feeling tune from Tales from Magic Mountain that would segue into a slower tune ‘Pocket Full of Time.’ Keeping to the slower tunes, Kris would take lead for, ‘It’s True My Love,’ the tune saturated in a thick bass and drum rhythm.
To keep the crowd on their toes, they went into, ‘Little Maggie’ the banjo riffs pulsing off of Burlingame’s vocals served as a transitional bridge melding into a guitar solo with such velocity the rest of the band would match and intensify, the drum beats crashing through for a roller coaster of musical greatness. Kris did not let up the velocity of the preceding tune but dove into a haunting southern flavored tune, ‘Better Off This Way,’ the tonality of his growls as he sang the lyrics would flow into a matching haunting cry passion from the fiddle.
Allie would take lead on rhythm as she sawed her way through the chorus of, ‘You Don’t Know How It Feels,’ a Tom Petty cover. Another honky-tonk tune, ‘Drunk and Horny,’ would have Burlingame back on lead vocals and once again find Kris shredding the night. The band would tease a psychedelic ‘Dark Star,’ before going into a Pink Floyd cover, ‘Sheep,’ a dramatic psychedelic number that shows the bands diversity in musicianship into, ‘Space Jam,’ back into, ‘Sheep.’ To round out the set, ‘When The World’s Got You Down,’ a diddly jam with kicking off with a light airy fiddle solo would have Kris back on vocals.
The band would return for a two song encore, ‘Rain Your Light,’ with its sweet melody on the fiddle and the contrasting plunkity plunks of Burlingame’s melodic banjo the tune would show case Kris’ vocals as he fills the hearts of the patrons wrapping them in a bed of softness. ‘White Freightliner,’ a bluegrass staple would have Allie on vocals the band gelling together and going the extra mile and giving the audience all of the flavor they expect from such a talented group of musicians.
As the evening closed, you could find the band members back wandering through the crowd and chit chatting with folks, their laughter filling the venue as their music had much to the enjoyment of the fans.
Ain’t Gonna Work Feather Feet on The Ground Time Wasting Time Girl I left Behind *It Ain’t Me Pocket Full My Love Little Maggie Better Off This Way You Don’t Know How It Feels (T. Petty) Drunk and Horny Dark Star tease > Sheep > Space Jam > Sheep When The World’s Got You Down