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Published: 2007/12/17
by Matt Houdek

Cornmeal, The Waterfront, Menomonie, WI- 12/2

A staple in the Midwest, former New Groove of the Month Cornmeal has been pickin’ their way through festivals, theaters and bar-venues for the past several years now. Cornmeal doesn’t play traditional bluegrass. Rather, they play a breed of music that might be described as futuristic, high-octane, progressive jamgrass with a touch of rock n’ roll.

The Waterfront is a small bar in a small college town that only started bringing in the jam scene over the past year. At first appearance, it doesn’t seem like the kind of place that would turn into a crazy, sweaty, young “hippie” hang-out at night. At closer examination however, one notices that the jukebox is filled with everything from Umphrey’s McGee and Phish to Hot Buttered Rum and Keller and Keels (not exactly your typical bar selection). The tap-line is comprised of some of the headiest beers in the Midwest such as Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, Amber, Oberon, and Expedition Stout, Capital Brewery’s Island Wheat and American Pale Ale and occasionally even Dogfish Head’s 90-Minute IPA. Aside from that, it will likely come to your attention that half of the employees are sporting jamband apparel and are dancing throughout the bar as they work, with wide, never fading smiles, calling everyone friend and treating them as though they’re family. With a vibe like that, the conditions were right for Cornmeal to treat us to something real nice.

The group opened with a foot-stomping rendition of “Swing Low,” warming everyone up from the cold Wisco weather. The place was packed, especially for a Sunday night, and although I would consider myself something of a devoted regular at The Waterfront, I only recognized about half of the faces in the crowd. During the first set, Cornmeal gave us a nice sampling of material from their recent release, Feet First, including fine versions of “The Girl I Left Behind,” and the quick-picked “Hasten Jasten.” Other highlights included Flatt & Scruggs’ “Rollin in My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” where fiddle player Allie Kral energized the room with every enthusiastic note, and the set-closer of “Dig A Hole” which the band expertly jammed into a pumping version of the Grateful Dead’s “Cumberland Blues.”

A new song, “Prelude to County,” opened the second set and again provided the framework for what was to become a big, drunken family gathering of sorts. The night really started to take off from there with a ripping “Girl with the Short Brown Hair,” a tight take on the White Stripes’ “Cold, Cold Night” and the Grateful Dead's “Cold Rain and Snow.” The Dead cover was perhaps the crowd favorite of the night, with stellar, spot-on harmonies and great improvisational picking that brought the room to what must have been about 100 degrees. Fortunately, the drinks were flowing and our hearts (like our feet) were a-thumping, so all was perfectly in order. The remainder of the set included great versions of “Jenny in the Middle” and Marley’s “Could You Be Loved,” which then yielded a riotous frenzy at the set’s conclusion as the crowd chanted a demand for "one more song." Cornmeal obliged with a thunderous version of “How Mountain Girls Can Love” as the spark was lit one last time. As the band departed, it certainly walked away with some new fans, while Allie walked away with a case of Sparks, compliments of the manager. Despite the harsh elements outside, this was a prime example of the right band in the right place at the right time.

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