published Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Chicago jamgrass band Cornmeal returns to Riverfront Nights on Saturday

❱❱ Cornmeal is, from left, Chris Gangi, Drew Littell, Molly Healey, Wavy Dave, and Scott Tipping.
❱❱ Cornmeal is, from left, Chris Gangi, Drew Littell, Molly Healey, Wavy Dave, and Scott Tipping.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Any band rooted in the improvisation-heavy approach of jazz or jam music has to be flexible enough to roll with the punches to play reactively and in-the-moment.

In the last two years, that flexibility has been just as critical offstage to the survival of Chicago-based progressive jam-grass quintet Cornmeal.

DISCOGRAPHY

2001: “In the Kitchen”

2003: “Tales From Magic Stone Mountain”

2006: “Feet First”

2010: “Live in Chicago, IL Vol. 1”

2011: “Live in Chicago, IL Vol. 2”

THE OPENER

Soul Mechanic is a local prog-rock/jam band septet consisting of Tyler Reddick (bass/vocals), Clark Jackson (lead guitar), William English (lead guitar), Kyle Kinzalow (drums), Jon Elliot (saxophone/vocals), Jessica Nunn (viola) and Jeff McSpadden (percussion/vocals). For more information, visit Facebook.com/SoulMechanic Music.

IF YOU GO

What: Riverfront Nights concert series featuring Cornmeal.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 16; Soul Mechanic opens at 7 p.m.

Where: Ross’s Landing, 200 Riverfront Parkway.

Admission: Free.

Phone: 423-756-2211.

Website: www.riverfrontnights.com.

Artist website: www.cornmealinthekitchen.com.

Tremendous lineup upheaval in 2012 left lead vocalist Chris Gangi and banjo player Wavy Dave as the sole remaining founding members and facing the difficult prospect of finding replacement players who had just the right musical chemistry.

As a result, Gangi says, 2013 and 2014 have been rebuilding years and have taught him to learn to trust the band’s newest additions, guitarist Scott Tipping, drummer Drew Littell and fiddler Molly Healey.

That willingness to be open to the new players’ approaches to the material has made the entire catalog feel new and exciting, he says, including some songs that date back to the band’s formation as an impromptu weekly jam in 2000.

“It’s been a really, really positive thing,” Gangi says. “It’s definitely still the old Cornmeal feel and style of music, but there’s this new energy involved. It’s pretty cool to be part of and feel this. We’re going on 15 years next year, and after so many years, it’s been a really refreshing take.”

ON THE GREEN

Wild Trails, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting local trails, is hosting a running and paddling fitness challenge. Participants will paddle the seven miles between Ross’s Landing and Chickamauga Dam or the two-mile route around Maclellan Island. An 8-mile, half-road/half-trail run on Stringer’s Ridge begins at 5 p.m., and a 5K road run will start at 5:30 p.m. L2 Boards will offer reduced-rate rentals on standup paddle boards and kayaks on-site.

Saturday, Aug. 16, the new and refreshed Cornmeal will take the stage at Ross’s Landing as the headliner of this week’s Riverfront Nights concert.

Despite the new faces onstage, Gangi says Cornmeal still rolls together fiery bluegrass instrumental breaks with elements of jazz, funk and rock. The result, he says, is the same energy, the same fiery vitality and the same full-bodied vocal harmonies that earned the band a national reputation, spots on major festivals such as Bonnaroo and Wakarusa and a reputation bestowed by The Illinois Entertainer as a “toe-tapping, hand-clapping, finger-snapping tour de force.”

This summer has been a busy one for Cornmeal, with a hectic schedule necessitating many fly-in, fly-out one-off performances that have seen the band hopping all over the country. The August dates alone include shows in Montana, Wisconsin and Colorado, in addition to the band’s Chattanooga show.

Even though it’s only a brief stopover, Gangi says he and his bandmates are looking forward to returning to the Scenic City for Riverfront Nights, which they last headlined in 2008.

“When they first talked to us about doing it again, I was right on it,” he says. “We’ve gained a lot of friends there and love the city. It’ll be good to be back.”

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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