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Cornmeal puts a twist on bluegrass

BY ELENA BRUESS | SEPTEMBER 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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Somewhere between American folk and roots, bluegrass music is known for its jazzy jams and country tones. Commonly incorporating a mixture of instruments, including fiddle, upright bass, and banjo, this group has an electric and upbeat feeling to the usual folk music.

Unknown to many, bluegrass is on its way to a new level of music, and it starts with Cornmeal. The acclaimed band will perform at Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington St., at 9 p.m. today.

More than 20 years ago, two young musicians met at the University of Iowa. Bonding over their musical ambitions, the two discovered bluegrass and decided to form a band. Cornmeal has now played together for 15 years come January.

“We started in Chicago; we’d go to this Wednesday night jam fest and different places around the area, and that’s how we all found each other, got all of us together,” Chris Gangi, Cormeal’s bassist said. “Lots of people have come and gone, but it’s been Wavy Dave, our lead singer, and I for a while now.”

As for the genre, Cornmeal has been moving in and around bluegrass for years.

“We used to be much different, all acoustic and such, but now it’s like we’re just using bluegrass as a platform — it’s a lot more electric and rock and roll,” Gangi said. “I mean, we’re always changing shape and our tone.”

Bluegrass has long been considered traditional folk music, but Cornmeal has managed to change the way it’s done. The band has sought to modernize the classic music genre by bringing in new tones and beats.

Gabe’s will host Cornmeal today as well the Henhouse Prowlers, a bluegrass band from Chicago that will open the show. The two bands will perform on the stage on the second floor of the bar.

Gabe manager Adam Doscher said the Gabe’s people are more than excited to host the band. Standing behind the counter with a couple glasses in hand Doscher works the bar.

“It’s exactly what a patron of games wants to see. It’s fantastic — this band can just play for hours, and it’s all original,” he said. “This is definitely not your grandpa’s band, if you know what I mean. I’m thinking it’ll be a good turnout. Hopefully, we get the students to go.”

Though this bluegrass band attracts a lot of Iowa City’s more mature audiences, college students said they are looking forward to the performance as well. UI junior Matthew Bancroft-Smithe said he has been a fan of Cornmeal for a while now.

“It’s great, really. It sort of takes bluegrass and then adds all these other musical genres,” he said. “It’s come to the point where it’s so good that it’s not even trying — just having fun, you know?”

Bancroft-Smithe said he hopes to get to Gabe’s early for a good spot. “It’s going to f***ing amazing.”

As for the band members, they’ve been having shows in Iowa City for years now.

“We always feel comfortable playing here,” Gangi said. “We’ve played numerous shows at the Blue Moose, and it’s always a great time. We’re just as excited.”


What: Cornmeal, with the Henhouse Prowlers
When: 9 p.m. (doors open at 8 p.m.) today
Where: Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington
Admission: $12 to $15, 19 and over


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