Cornmeal returned to the Canopy Club in Urbana, Illinois for their second straight Halloween performance. This year they brought along special guests The Bridge and Zmick.
Zmick kicked off the festivities at 8:30 p.m. on the lobby stage; the quartet came out dressed as The Village People. This was my first live experience with Zmick so I was unsure what to expect. The Urbana-based band had the honor of playing three sets in which they opened the first with "The Dock." The caliber of the song was good but not what one would expect to open a holiday show. "The Dock" however did segue nicely into a currently untitled piano song. The setup of the stage made the incoming flow of the crowd awkward as people proceeded to pile in and basically get stuck wherever the entered due to the size of the lobby. Zmick closed the first set with a funky love song "All I Need"> "Trancelvania Pocket" combo that finally had the jam-packed lobby grooving. At the end of Zmick's first set, the doors to the main room of the Canopy opened for The Bridge.
The Bridge came out with "Shake 'Em Down" a blues-heavy track that got the crowd dancing. Although it was still early, The Bridge had a decent crowd for an opening slot. The highlight of the set came early with "Good Rhythm" Guitarist and lead vocalist Chris Jacobs carried the song with his powerful bluesy voice belting the lyrics. The chemistry of The Bridge was excellent they were on the same page throughout the set. The band played well together but lacked stage presence; there was no animation by any of the members. Regardless of how they carried themselves on stage, the music is what was important about the set. The Bridge did what they came to do, play a solid blues-rock set.
As I was walking back into the lobby for Zmick's second set, I heard a familiar fiddle riff, "Rivertrance" by the String Cheese Incident. Urbana-based fiddle player Dan Andree joined Zmick for their set opening song. They picked up the pace from the first set, the rendition of "Rivertrance" had a nice rock twist to it. The sit in really got the crowd ready for the headlining sets from Cornmeal. Zmick kept the energy and trance of the set consistent the rest of the night. The second set was very dance-influenced.
Finally it was time for what everyone was waiting for, Cornmeal to take the stage. They came on around 11:15 with “I’m Still Here.” The spotlight shined on Wavy Dave Burlingame as he stepped up for a little banjo segment early in the song. They didn’t wait long for the first sit-in of the night, Patrick Rainey from The Bridge came on stage to join in on “It Ain’t Me.” Raines had a blazing solo midway through the song it is always interesting to hear new instruments incorporated in songs, especially when the guest has the talent of Raines. Following “It Ain’t Me” the band dropped into fan favorite “Not At Home Anymore” which featured a finger-pickin fury by banjo whiz Wavy Dave. “Shake a Leg” contained a slow progression that lead into a mellow jam. The first set was solid but nothing spectacular until the set closer “Shady Grove.” As soon as the opening chords of the bluegrass classic were plucked, the crowd erupted into a stomping frenzy of bluegrass-fueled dancing fools. The extended “Shady Grove” contained a heavy jam initiated by Allie and followed by Wavy Dave. It was apparent the band was feeding off the energy of the crowd.
Zmick took the lobby stage for their final set of the night. The third set was the shortest the band played. There was minimal jamming but the songs fit together well. A cover of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Jessica” was executed well, they added their own twist to the tune.
Cornmeal came back on stage with all pistons firing they didn’t waste any time getting down to business. They ripped right into Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” which was an interesting and appropriate Halloween cover (this was the debut of the song). Another surprise of the second set was a fantastic version of The Bee Gees “You Should Be Dancing” which appropriately featured Wavy Dave on vocals. “Dancing” also featured the second sit in of the night, The Bridge’s Kenny Liner joined the band on stage for a beatbox segment. “On My Own” from Cornmeal’s 2006 release “Feet First” fit nicely in the middle of the set. Another fan favorite “Cornmeal” featured Allie utilizing every inch of her fiddle. At this point in the night we couldn’t have asked for anything better but they pulled out all the stops with a stellar “When the World’s Got You Down.” They came back out for the encore and left it all on the stage with a blistering “Hillbilly Ride.”
They left us in a daze of bluegrass bliss with nothing left to do but recover on Sunday morning.