Cornmeal with Whiskey Tango, Hodi’s Half Note, Fort Collins, CO- 2/14
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, some 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.
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 no 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.”
The setlist 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 also 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.