Cornmeal delivers Halloween Tricks for the Tricksters

Cornmeal, The Ragbirds & Kinetix
The Canopy Club
Urbana, IL
October 31, 2011


Tradition dictates the annual All Hallows’ Eve ritual; we disguise ourselves and go into the night to celebrate our loss of identity and our adoption of temporary personae. The masquerade ball’s origins stretches back to our prehistoric days, as our apish ancestors would wear the skins of animals and act out the great hunts to the spellbound that were gathered around the communal fire.

As the centuries passed, our love of slipping out of our day to day roles and assuming the aspect of others has become more elaborate, with masks and disguises found in every worldwide indigenous culture. It was in this venerable tradition that the masters of their own “Progressive Psychedelic Bluegrass” genre, Cornmeal, held their fifth annual Halloween spectacular at the Canopy Club in Urbana, Illinois.

Though more than capable of filling an evening chock-full of tunes themselves, Cornmeal enlisted the help of the Denver, Colorado’s Kinetix and the pride of Ann Arbor, Michigan, The Ragbirds to help make the night as truly haunting and memorable as possible.

As an incentive to participate into the costume festivities and the spirit of the holiday, Cornmeal offered a costume contest with such fun prizes as a meet and greet with the band, an advance copy of their soon to be completed new studio album and a pair of free tickets to a show of the winner’s choosing.

On this evening, the club packed early with all manner of ghouls, goblins and, scariest of all, a Lady Gaga or two.

The Canopy Club features two rooms with stages, the outer hall with a small stage, bar and a pinball machine with one leg that is three inches shorter than the other; the main hall features a large stage and a balcony for excellent viewing.

The evening’s entertainment started with a solid set from Colorado’s Kinetix, a decidedly rocking bunch of fellows who won themselves many new fans with their brand of aggressive rock.  Their 45 minute set of rocking originals on the outer stage led directly into The Ragbirds’ manic turn on the main stage.

Going all out, The Ragbirds went with a collaboration of a group themed costume, coming as the cast of the cultish kids show from the 1980s, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.  With a very convincing Pee Wee on drums, a King of Cartoons on bass, Captain Carl and even an eye patch wearing Ms. Yvonne, the band put nearly as much effort into their costumes as they do their unique brand of world music inspired, jam-folk.

Following Pee-Wee’s model, the band established a secret word for the crowd to go berserk at the merest mention, this night choosing “Tequila” as the scream inducing trigger. A well timed cover of The Champs classic “Tequila” used notably in the film, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, came complete with the Pee Wee attired drummer coming out from behind the kit to do a spot on version of the dance made famous in the films comical biker bar scene.

Following their applause and cheer-filled set closer, Kinetix retook the lobby stage for a second set leading off with an appropriately timed cover of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

Following a second helping from Kinetix — that came complete with a decidedly heavy take on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” — it was time for the stars of the evening, Cornmeal.

Never a band to miss an opportunity to have a little fun, the band was in full costumed regalia. With Bassist Chris Gangi sporting a mirror ball-esque jacket and silver Mexican Luchador mask, he appeared to be some sort of disco bondage enthusiast.  Brothers John-Paul and Kris Nowak rocked out as an udderly ridiculous cow and stereotypical nerd respectively. Banjoist Wavy Dave Burlingame played on his natural resemblance to “Weird Al Yankovich” while friend and guest percussionist Marshall Greenhouse came as  a Rock Lobster. Fiddler supreme Allie Kral took the name of the band’s rabid fan club, “The Cornstalkers,” quite literally by dressing as a giant ear of corn with sunglasses to protect her identity.

Playing a set that contained nearly all of what are considered the biggest songs in the bands cannon, from the seminal “Hasten Jason,” “Rain Your Light” and what is certain to be a centerpiece for their forthcoming album, the percussively heavy “Black Smoke Rising,” Cornmeal preached to the gathered faithful with as crowd pleasing of a lineup of tunes as they have ever put together.

Keeping with the spirit of masks and disguise, rare covers of AC/DC”s “TNT’ and Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” were inserted into the festivities and garnered epic responses from the delighted crowd.

Facing the city’s curfew, the band was sadly forced to draw an end to the night’s entertainment, but with a mischievous twinkle they made sure to inform their devoted mass that they will see them next year.

While we’re sure to see them, we have no idea how they’ll appear, or even what they will choose to play.  In the end, it is that uncertainty, the air of mystery and surprise, that is what the day is all about, after all.

Click the thumbnail(s) to view photos from the show by Rex Thomson