Interview by Scott Preston
Photo by Norman Sands
Cornmeal continues to forge a path all their own, pushing the boundaries of bluegrass, Americana and folk for a whole new generation of music lovers. Steeped in the tradition of musical acts such as Old and in the Way, John Hartford, and New Grass Revival, Cornmeal has proven to be an influential presence in the world of roots music. Cornmeal has consistently evolved its sound and stage performance using bluegrass as a springboard for long improvisational work and songs ranging from country, rock and blues to jazz, funk and disco.
Heavily influenced by American roots and folk music, Cornmeal was started as a side project over seven years ago only to watch it grow into a Chicago institution. Known for their vast musical repertoire, lightning fast tempos, and impeccable harmonies, the five-piece acoustic-electric band prides itself on the energy it puts forth each night creating an unrivalled live performance that continues to shape itself into a truly unique experience. (from cornmealinthekitchen.com)
Cincy Groove: How did it feel to win the Jammy award for New Groove?
Chris Gangi: We were all pretty excited about it. We have been touring for a long time, pretty much keeping it to the midwest. But with something like this happening it really opens things up for us nationally.
Cincy Groove: Did the band get to jam with anyone at The Jammys?
Chris Gangi: Our fiddle player, Allie Kral got to jam with some people. We were on the road at the time, so we flew her out to the Jammys while we were still touring. Allie got to sit in with Tea Leaf Green, Big Head Todd, Warren Haynes.
Cincy Groove: How many shows does Cornmeal play in a year?
Chris Gangi: It ranges anywhere from 130 – 160 shows a year. Like I said earlier we are expanding to more of a national market now so that number is starting to creep up pretty quickly. Its one of those things, when you are a musician, its hard to turn down work because you never know when your next paying gig is going to be. You just can’t take anything for granted in this business. We just feel fortunate to be able to play and have a good time doing it.
Cincy Groove: How did Cornmeal first get together?
Chris Gangi: There was three of us in the beginning, we were playing in a more jam rock oriented group and we had started talking about starting an acoustic side project. Basically if your in a band looking to hire other musicians, you can’t hire anyone until you have something to offer them. If you don’t have any gigs yet, nobody is going to bother with you. So we went out and got a wed night gig at a small pub here in Chicago. So then it was a lot easier to say “Why don’t you come down and sit in with us?” The other original two guys aren’t in the band anymore, but we have assembled a very solid lineup over the years.
Cincy Groove: What are some really bad situations Cornmeal has had to play in?
Chris Gangi: Especially when you are first starting out, you are willing to take a gig anywhere you can get one. We have played some god awful places that just weren’t set up to be a music venue. Whether it was the acoustics of the room, or the PA, or the owners who think they are sound guys. Thats always a fun situation (laughing).
Cincy Groove: When did you first pick up the bass?
Chris Gangi: I started out on guitar in college. But it was right after college when I put down the guitar and picked up the bass. I had the bass laying around so there was something else there for people to play. No one picked it up so I ended up picking the bass up. Its been about 12 years since I first picked up the bass. I hadn’t played the upright bass before we started Cornmeal. They said to me “Let’s start a bluegrass band”. I told them if they were serious I would go out and get an upright bass. So the next day I went out and bought one and the day after that we had our first gig. I really had no idea what I was doing (laughing). When you are thrown into the fire, you have to learn quickly.
Cincy Groove: Your last album came out in 2006, is Cornmeal working on a new cd?
Chris Gangi: We are actually working on putting out a live album. Its going to be from a culmination of shows we do every winter here in Chicago at a place called Matyrs. I probably had a terra gig of tracks to go through. The cd is in the mixing and mastering stage right now. We hope to have it out sometime this summer. We will probably head back into the studio in the fall.
Wavy Dave Burlingame-Banjo,Vocals
Chris Gangi-String Bass, Vocals
JP Nowak-Drums, Vocals
Allie Kral-Fiddle, Vocals
Upcoming Cornmeal tour dates:
for complete show details visit cornmealinthekitchen.com
June 12 The Fishtank Lexington, KY
June 13 Bonnaroo Manchester,TN
June 14 Andersonville Midsommarfest Chicago, IL
June 15 Riverfront Amphitheatre Niles, MI
June 21 Taste of Randolph Chicago, IL
June 26 Hangar 9 Carbondale, IL
June 27 Doc’s Music Hall Muncie, IN
June 28 Riverfront Festival Park Peoria, IL
July 2 Fitzgerald’s American Music Festival Berwyn, IL
July 3 Nelson Ledges 4th of July Garrettsville, OH
July 4- July 6 High Sierra Music Festival Quincy, CA
July 11 The Union Terrace Madison, WI
July 12 Camp Euforia Lone Tree, IA
July 19 Summer on Southport Chicago, IL
July 26 10,000 Lakes Festival Detroit Lakes, MN
August 1- August 3 Dunegrass Empire, MI
August 15 Yarmony Grass Copper Mountain Resort, CO
August 23 Fat Fest Coffee Mill Ski Resort Winona, MN
August 29 Grateful Fest Garrettsville, OH
August 31 moe.down Turin, NY
September 13 Mulberry Mountain Music Festival Ozark, Arkansas