Cornmeal: From the Kitchen to the Festival Scene, This Band Cooks

Cornmeal:  From the Kitchen to the Festival Scene, This Band Cooks
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Cornmeal: Serving up a Progressive Bluegrass Salad

Who: Cornmeal
What: slamgrass
When: 2011-10-06
Cornmeal: From the Kitchen to the Festival Scene, This Band Cooks
Leah Williams Wright

Many bands pass through Southern Illinois on any given weekend, but only a select percentage become repeat visitors. Eventually, some out-of-town bands can almost claim Carbondale as a home away from home because the venues here became such an instrumental stopping place in their budding careers.

Cornmeal is one of those bands, and the bluegrass giants are back Thursday, October 6 at the Hangar 9, where they share the bill with Dirtfoot.

Formed more than a decade ago, the Chicago progressive-bluegrass band began as just a jam session, but quickly flourished. And the band has remained busy ever since.

“We have been playing all over the place, from coast to coast nonstop,” the band’s ace string-bass player Chris Gangi tells Nightlife.

Gangi said being a part of the summer-festival circuit helps to not only build the band’s fan base but also to help the members of Cornmeal get acquainted with other touring musical acts.

“We love them,” he said. “I like being around like-minded musicians who are doing the same thing that we are doing. Depending on the weather, we will start playing shows in February and keep going until November.”

Cornmeal’s first album, In the Kitchen, was released off of Livin’ Live Records, and it launched the band into the jamgrass stratosphere. Featuring a lonesome old-school sound, Kitchen bucked the newgrass trend and marked a return to the basics of bluegrass.

Two years later, Cornmeal’s sophomore album, Tales from Magic Stone Mountain, helped the band become a staple on college and adult album alternative top-ten lists throughout the country. Cornmeal later followed up with Feet First and a 2010 live album, Live in Chicago, Illinois Volume I.

The band-- which includes Gangi, Wavy Dave Burlingame on banjo and vocals, J.P. Nowak on drums, Kris Nowak on guitar, and Allie Kral on fiddle-- have two recording projects in the works, a live album and a studio release. The yet-to-be-titled studio production will be the first from the band since 2006’s Feet First.

Gangi said that while he enjoys performing and recording live because it can capture the energetic essence of Cornmeal on stage, there is something extra special about the studio process.

“They are two different monsters, but I love the studio,” said Gangi. “I love to get involved from the preproduction to the finished product. It can be a daunting and long process, but it can also give you a break from being a full-time, live-performance band.”

Gangi said one of the last things the band does is come up with a title for a new CD. Some albums are more challenging than others to name, but mostly the band likes to wait and see what they conjure in the studio.

“We like to see what emotions are emulating,” he said.

Gangi, the last founding member of Cornmeal still in the band, said he does not have any particular visions of grandeur for the band. Instead, he prefers to focus on small goals and build from there.

“I don’t have really any large goals,” he said. “I think it is fortunate to be doing what we are doing. I like small goals. We might talk and say, ‘Hey, this is a great festival. Let’s work really hard and see if we can get into that festival.’”

Gangi said Carbondale was such an important part of Cornmeal’s touring schedule that every time they return to Southern Illinois, it feels like a homecoming.

“We haven’t even seen the new Hangar yet,” he said. “We’re really excited about coming back to Carbondale.”

For more information about the band, log on to <>.

who: Cornmeal

what: slamgrass

where: Hangar 9

when: Thursday, October 6 w/ Dirtfoot