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Tuesday, February 15

Show Review: Cornmeal and Greensky Bluegras with the Union Street Preservation Society - Sullivan Hall, NY, NY - 2/10/2011


'CornSky' Tour Brings Bluegrass to the Big Apple

Words and Photos: Nicole Murphy  


After a successful collaboration on Jam Cruise this past January, Cornmeal and Greensky Bluegrass decided to hit the road together for a five-night run across the East Coast, something the two have been discussing for almost a decade. The bands traveled to New York City on night two, bringing their high energy, co-bill tour to the stage of Sullivan Hall, a popular live music spot in Greenwich Village.

Though a small venue, Sullivan Hall was jam packed with fans from all over the country anticipating the alliance of two of bluegrass' most rapidly growing forces today. Both emerging from the Midwest, Greensky and Cornmeal share a number of loyal fans and have crossed paths many times in the music scene. Greensky's Paul Hoffman said the two acts have been meaning to unite for quite some time in hopes of giving a more powerful performance on stage.

Opening the show early in the night was New York's own Union Street Preservation Society (USPS), an up-and-coming string ensemble from Brooklyn. This six-person group made up of Dave Leiberman, (guitar/vocals), Sara Bouchard, (mandolin/vocals), Harrison Hollingsworth, (fiddle/vocals), Alex Borsody, (dobro/slide/banjo), Jason Bertone, (bass) and John Camm, banjo/vocals has come to master a fervent fusion of American roots music with their unique vocal harmonies. Lead singer and guitarist Dave Leiberman's infectious energy brought the crowd to life shortly into the first song, and carried through until the very end, especially when the sounds of "House of the Rising Sun," a classic by The Animals, echoed through the room. As a newcomer to the bluegrass scene, it was nice to hear a familiar tune thrown in the mix.

Greensky Bluegrass is made up of Anders Beck (dobro), Paul Hoffman (mandolin), Dave Bruzza (guitar), Michael Arlen Bont (banjo) and Mike Devol (upright bass). Momentum was stirring through the near sold out crowd as the guys set up their stage. The Kalamazoo, Michigan band is no stranger to New York City, having played in both Brooklyn and Manhattan on past tours. Their nine-song set opened with "Reverend" and jammed straight into "Stop That Train", two obvious fan favorites.

Aside from their original pieces, Greensky showcased a fairly new tune titled "Jaywalking." Although it was unfamiliar, and according to Hoffman, the fans aren't too sure what to think of it yet, the energy from the crowd was probably higher than ever, which serves as a true testament to the band's music making abilities. In standard Greensky fashion, their performance would not be complete without covering an inspirational classic. The boys gave New York City their personal rendition of Bruce Hornsby's "King of the Hill" to bring the set to a close. Just before the end, the band confirmed their return to Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival this July in Oak Hill, NY.

At last, what we've all been waiting for; Cornmeal. And it's safe to say, they were definitely worth the wait. A five piece band from Chicago that hardly ever stops touring, Cornmeal is Dave Burlingame on the banjo, Kris Nowak on the guitar, JP Nowak on the drums, Chris Gangi on the string bass and the unforgettable Allie Kral on the fiddle. Over the last decade, the band has acquired more than the necessary harmony and structure to become a nationally recognized foundation in the world of jam bands and bluegrass.

Cornmeal kicked off their set with "Girl With the Short Brown Hair," receiving instant praise from the audience, but that was nothing compared to "Time Wasting Time," where there was not one still person in the building. It didn't take very long to notice the magic that Kral delivers from her fiddle, and how her presence adds a little something special to the band's rapid tempos and overall rapport. As the night came to a close, Cornmeal invited Greensky back on stage for one final jam, and what a great experience it was to see the ten musicians interact as one. The tour continued over the weekend to Cambridge, Philadelphia and Baltimore, where two of the three shows were sold out in advanced.