How excited was I?? I had just spent a day at the New Jersey Shore and had come right from the Transit train directly to a boat on the East River to see Cornmeal, a jam-rock-bluegrass band, for the first time.
I had been hearing of this band for MONTHS!!! Nothing but great things. Once it was announced that they would be performing on Jam Cruise 9 I knew I had to check them out. Even better, I had never been on Rocks Off Concert Cruise Lines so this was going to be a night of many firsts.
Rocks Off Concert Cruise Lines Series is a groups of various sized ships that leave from either the East or West sides of Manhattan and travel up and down the East River or Hudson River while a band performs in the belly of the boat.
Upon entering the ships, you are immediately in the “Hospitality” area which held the bar and food. It is cash only so be prepared…I was not. There were empanada, turkey wraps, rice, pasta and salad. The women working behind the counter were cheerful and bright. When I went to take their picture one of them ran away. I didn’t have anything to eat but my friends did munch on some empanadas. They were not that impressed but it served it’s purpose.
One of the positives that was made clear right off the bat is the fact that the space is so intimate that the band members were mingling all around us. This allowed for numerous conversations, introductions and commotion between all of us. One of the other positives is that I felt like I was on a mini Jam Cruise for a night. It was lovely.
The staff was more pleasant and accommodating. First of all, the drinks are $8 and I only had $7. The bartender was like, “Oh, that is fine. I will make you a drink anyway.” That drink was soooooooo strong, my girlfriend kept telling me to go get more Cranberry in my Vodka Cranberry.
Another great staff moment, the intern who was running the merchandise table agreed to let me put my traveling bags behind her table so long as she wasn’t responsible for them. This was perfect since I had just come off the train from the beach and wasn’t able to drop my things off at home first. Finally, there is parking all around the docks but you can also reach the boats by all forms of public transportation.
Luckily for those of us in attendance, the weather was cooperating with a light breeze and low humidity. Unfortunately, I didn’t really feel much circulation within the belly of the boat where the band performs and found myself constantly having to leave the stage area to get some air outside on the bow of the boat.
“Wavy” Dave Burlingame – Banjo,Vocals
Kris Nowak – Guitar,Vocals
Chris Gangi – String Bass, Vocals
JP Nowak – Drums, Vocals
Allie Kral – Fiddle, Vocals
Noted as a Bluegrass Jam band out of Chicago, Illinois, I knew that I was going to like their sound. I was just hoping they were as tight and off the hook as I had been told. They blew me away immediately, effortlessly sliding between the two styles and by the end of their first song, Heaven on Time, I was singing their praises.
The first set was 45 minutes. During that time, the boat left port and traveled down the East River towards the Statue of Liberty. Aside from the heat, it was difficult to focus on the band as we traveled due to the lovely scenery catching my eye out all the windows. Just a beautiful backdrop for a lovely night of music. How had I never been on these boats before? What the hell had kept me away so long?
With the banjo and the stand up bass driving the bluegrass vibe, Johnny Put Down Your Gun was next. A wonderful jammy tune about a renegade. We all got a little bit of Johnny in us I think.
Johnny was born in old Kentuck
High in the hills of Northern Boone
Folks been sayin’ since he’s a baby
Johnny was born to break the rules
There was numerous times that I felt I heard horns. Perhaps it was my state of mind and my constant want to hear horns in any group. Instead, Cornmeal uses numerous pedals and contraptions to create distinct sounds that otherwise their instruments wouldn’t make without help. Kris Nowak in particular made his guitar sound lovely morphing between jamming out and the bluegrass measures. Chris Gang proceeded to tell us how this is their 10th year playing together and how proud they are of this accomplishment. We all cheered and I wondered how I had never heard of them until this year.
During Long Hard Road, we came around Battery Park and idled at the tip of Manhattan. I couldn’t help but be a little overwhelmed. There we were, floating in a boat only a few hundred yards away from the Statue of Liberty. These moments are never wasted on me and at that moment, everyone was on the bow of the ship taking in the scenic views. From the stage I heard: “We are going to take a short break now and come enjoy the view with yall.” And then Cornmeal was by my side, taking pictures with my friends, holding conversations with everyone. What a great thing.
The boat itself is very liberal with what they allow to go on. Watching the band try to keep their balance was quite entertaining. Attempting to stand myself was difficult and I wasn’t drinking. You can imagine how tipsy the other patrons on the boat were who were imbibing heavily. On the other hand, tonight, there were numerous Wharf Rats on the ship. Wharf Rats is a twelve-step program which met at shows and helps people stay sober. On such a small boat, I felt a little bad partaking in my festivities around them.
Over the years, I have enjoyed the friendships of numerous Wharf Rats (or other various sober organizational members) who understand we are not all sober and that some of us still party…I like to call it “Raging Responsibly”. Tonight, there were a few people who seemed to be all out MEAN to those of us enjoying ourselves. I was shocked. One girl was complete pissing and moaning about not being able to drink while another one verbally voiced her disgust when people lit up. I find that completely uncalled for, personally. No one was blowing cigarette smoke in anyone’s face or anything. Peopel were being
I found out later that Cornmeal took home a Jammy Award in 2008 for Best New Groove. This makes complete sense. The artists that comprise this band are technically charged and brilliant. Let’s talk about these amazing musicians.
First I have to go with the female of the band. The fiddle player, Allie Kral. ALLIE KRAL!! WHAT??? WHAT??? Are you kidding me? I have never seen a female violinist’s arm move so fast. I have never been so captivated by a female violinist so fast. It can genuinely be feared that her arm might fly right out of the socket and knock my ass out. She is phenomenal. Her speed is riveting, her precision of sound is right on point.
Then you have “Wavy” Dave Burlingame, the banjo player. Oh man, where do I being? He was incredible as well. Flashes of Bela and others came to mind with this guy’s work. I wish I could describe the sounds. With his laid-back vibe radiating off his posture, his fingers flew over the strings to create a integral sound for the group.
During intermission, I was introduced to the Railroad Earth sound guy. I completely forgot his name but his face is so unique I will most certainly be able to pick him out of a crowd if we ever cross paths again. There was lots of talk of Jam Cruise being that Cornmeal was on the boat this year and even more talk about how people get on the boat working under a band.
For the encore, Cornmeal RAGED the Allman Brother‘s Whipping Post at some point. That might have been my favorite song of the night. I mean, they really really crushed this cover jamming at times and raging their bluegrass vibe as Allie Kral’s arm moved over the strings so fast I could not even consider getting a clear shot of her.
The entire vibe of the night was perfection. The weather was flawless, the scenery was gorgeous, the music was the best of both worlds…WE WERE ON A BOAT!! A GREAT date night adventure if you ask my opinion. Get on it guys…
Set I: Heaven on Time, Johnny, Pennies in the River, Dig A Hole, On My Own, Long Hard Road
Set II: River Gap, Calling Me Back Home, Not At Home Anymore, Walk (Don’t Look Back),
Encore: Molly & T, Whipping Post