Let me just clear the air, Cornmeal is alive and well and playing at a venue near you soon. Seriously, since the departure of long time fiddler Allie Kral fans have all but written off this once majestic centerpiece to the jamgrass scene. The fact of the matter is people grow and times change. I can say without a doubt this isn’t your mammy’s Cornmeal, but before you run away to a Hot Buttered Rum show take a minute and read on.
Long time Colorado jamgrass stalwart Whiskey Tango took the opening slot at Hodi’s Half Note. For a band who is almost a Denver institution they rarely seem to make it up to Northern Colorado, but maybe I’m not on the proper mailing list. Their set was an energetic romp bound to entice a few new fans to their flock.
Set 1; Annalisa, Brown Eyed> Space> Coal Creak Shakedown, Ear, Bull Dog, Galileo, Thicker, Loving Cup, Star Fucker, Betwixt, Wrong Way
(Great Whiskey Tango made me write Fucker.)
This band is very much like a nascent Cornmeal, but with a bit more of that dirty twang. The juxtaposition of their clean vocals add much to their overall authenticity. Whiskey Tango opened with an original “Annalisa” which was a high gear step on the gas. These guys are truly a product of their youth. They are a bluegrass filter that does not discriminate by genre. We were treated to grass versions of both The Beatles’ “Bull Dog” as well as the Rolling Stones’ “Loving Cup.” However the most poignant song was their original “Betwixt.’ They were a great fit, by the end of their set the room was filled in nicely.
Okay back to the matter at hand… Cornmeal. My love affair with this band began back with the original lineup at the second Summer Camp. I remember seeing them on what would become the Moonshine stage and saying, these guys can pick. Twelve years and one of the most dynamic female fiddlers in the scene later we find ourselves at the precipice of a new era for this highly venerated group. How can a band survive if three fifths of their members leave within a year? The answer is they can, but not without growing pains. Cornmeal is not stranger to transition. So before we get steeped in the past, let’s look at whom Chris Gangi and Wavy Dave brought on the road with them.
Backyard Tire Fire’s Scott Tipping has solidified his spot on lead guitar and vocals. In fact he seems to have blossomed since I last saw him at Summer Camp, but let’s hold back a second. Drew Littell joined the same time as Scott and seems to really be finding his footing in the group. The newest and perhaps most controversial addition is fiddle player Molly Healey. Ms. Healy is all business. These three may feel they need to tip toe, but the fact is we are all happy they are aboard and keeping this band touring. They opened with “Drinking Away.”
Set 1: Drinking Away, Coming Back Home, Feet On The Ground, Rain Your Light, All Things Must Change, That’s That, River Gap, Goodnight My Darling, Dear Prudence, The Road, Long Hard Road
The set list itself seems to be a declaration of sorts. The combination of “All Things Must Change” followed by “That’s That” is especially notable. The “River Gap” had me dancing. Dave and Chris know these songs by heart. So it’s interesting to see how Scott and Molly interpret them with their musical framing. They too played a little Beatles with a perfectly executed “Dear Prudence.” Their closing two songs too seemed to give a nod to the trials that lay ahead.
For a band that had been blasting across the country performing 100 plus shows for the better part of a decade it can be difficult to stop and rebuild. However that is exactly what they are doing. This will be the first time in twelve years that they don’t play at Summer Camp Music Festival. There is just too much history and although all of the personnel departed on good terms, the fan base has not fully healed. In my all my touring it’s hard to think of a group more dedicated than the Corn Stalkers, and with this reinvention, they too must evolve. The road ahead may in fact be long and hard for Cornmeal, but this band is no stranger to adversity. Time will tell how it all plays out. For now I’m just happy to see Cornmeal on the marquee.
Summer Camp stalwarts Cornmeal teamed up with three year SCamp veterans Hot Buttered Rum for an epic night of jamgrass in Denver. When we saw these two bands partnered up for a show on the Front Range I knew I couldn’t miss it. Occurring on the same weekend as the Snowball Music Festival in Vail, it was questionable whether or not they would draw a big crowd. Well the masses of bluegrass aficionados from up and down the Rockies made the trek. It would prove to be a wise choice for all that came to this amazing live experience.
Cornmeal over the years has become a not to miss show when they come to town. After seeing their stellar performances at Summer Camp and State Bridge this summer, I’ve become so enamored with their sound that I find myself anticipating their Front Range shows months in advance.Their co-bill with Hot Buttered Rum only added to my excitement for this particular night at The Ogden in Denver, Colorado. I haven’t seen Hot Buttered Rum since November of 2010 and in that time Matt Butler left the band to pursue Everyone Orchestra full time and they replaced him with Lucas Carlton. He has a slightly less prominent sound in the mix but is still very accomplished his role as their new drummer. They opened with a rowdy Crest, here is the rest of the setlist.
SET I: The Crest, Texas Eagle, Late In The Evening, Missoula To Miami, Squall, Let The Love Come Through, Busted In Utah, Blackberry Pie, Entangled, Fruit Of The Vine, Angeline The Baker, Ramblin’ Girl, Beneath The Blossoms, Poison Oak, Working Man
The new Hot Buttered Rum has a fresh sound and the solid energy that made me a fan of their way back when. They still tour pretty heavily but have not been as prominent on The Front Range as they have in years past. The room began to fill in as they started the show. Set up on stage right was Denver’s most renowned live painter Scramble Campbell. Scramble danced wildly as he splattered paint on the canvas. It’s great when he’s in the room; it’s even better when he is on the stage for everyone to see.
Hot Buttered Rum slayed the crowd with classics like Busted in Utah and Working Man. The room reached a fevered pitch as they finished their set, which lasted about an hour and forty-five minutes. HBR is a powerful bluegrass experience and seeing them with Cornmeal was simply stunning, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Cornmeal has truly proven to me in the last year that they are a band that will always deliver. They bust their ass in every city they play. With their high-octane jamgrassadelic style, they produce a palpable energy that is infectious. Cornmeal began the show, as they seem to do most of the time with a flurry of sound. It’s almost akin to an orchestra tuning, before they go into their first song. Their two-hour set had so many highlights and great moments. Whenever I think I’ve seen them at their best, I get a show like the one performed at the Ogden and it just blows me away.
For a band that tours relentlessly, their road tested sound continues to develop. They are so ridiculously tight that their live show leaves nothing to be desired. High points of their set included a strong I’m Coming Back Home and a huge When The World’s Go You Down. We were also treated to a jamgrass version of Steve Miller Band’s Swingtown, which saw Kris Nowak in the pocket getting his rock on. They sounded great and if they had ended there that would have been plenty, but what the crowd received was a half hour encore of Hot Buttered Corn.
(With Cornmeal and All of HBR except Lucas Carlton)
What some of my friends have called a clusterpluck it was a giant stringed hoedown that culminated with Wavy Dave singing a brilliant Sympathy For The Devil. It was a great end to a truly amazing show. The energy from start to finish is the reason why I see both of these bands. The combination of both was something I could only dream of. As I walked out of the Ogden I was buzzing form the adrenaline that built up over the course of the night. My final thought of the evening was that Hot Buttered Corn needs to do a national tour.
The icing on the cake that night was that Mr. Ian Goldberg himself was at the show. I took the opportunity to say hello and let him know how excited I was for the lineup at Summer Camp this year. He wished me well and I told him I would be seeing him a just a few short months.