The Variety Playhouse is a venue situated in what is one of Atlanta’s most subculture friendly areas, Little Five Points. It is a place where Rastafarians, Dead Heads, punks, and Emo kids mix peacefully not only with each other, but also with families who shop there for unique items and clothes. Once inside the venue, one finds plenty of dancing space with movie theater style seating as well. To put it simply, it is a wonderful place for a show.
Cornmeal, photo by David Shehi
As the five members of Cornmeal stepped out, it seemed that many of the outside attractions kept patrons at bay. However, the less-than full room did not stop the group from completely taking over the stage and the feet of those who were fortunate enough to be inside. This band is on the rise. Cornmeal took home a Jammy in 2008 for Best New Groove and since then they have truly found their place as a staple in the scene and rightfully so. They can go from pure, soft, and sweet to raw, unadulterated, and hard jam in the shortest of build ups and revert just as quickly without compromising melody in the slightest. For example, the show opener brought the fast paced ultimate-bluegrass-make-you-want-to-grab-your-partner-boot-scootin, “Hasten Jason” which spotlighted fiddler, Allie Kral. From there, the show moved into more of a twirl with “This Old Town,” a song reminiscent of Old and In the Way’s “Wild Horses.” However, if the crowd came to jam, then they got a full Cornmeal serving with “Shelter” which left the crowd not knowing whether to give a yee-haw or throw up a sign of the horns following to the intense guitarplay of Kris Nowak.
John Skehan, photo by David Shehi
The venue was packed for Railroad Earth took the stage after a short gear change. The six piece all acoustic band did so with the inviting and warm “The Forecast.” The trickling of the mandolin from John Skehan gave us all a come hither feeling and shortly thereafter we would be embraced with a warm hug through the melodic flow of the tune and the familiar sound of the lyrics sung by Todd Sheaffer. From here as the show progressed, in the best of moments, beauty was found in intricate simplicity. It felt like was no leader and there are no followers within this crew, as they deftly entwined their instruments.
Allie Kral joins Railroad Earth, photo by David Shehi
Perhaps the true treat of the evening when Allie Kral joined the group. After some mild technical difficulties, Kral faced off with violinist Tim Carbone on “Reuben’s Train” for a session that featured both fervor and chemistry. This track had the densely packed crowd lovingly dancing off of each other as the vibe percolated and spilled from the stage. A toned down version of “Big Railroad Blues” then followed. The Grateful Dead have left their imprint on this Noah Lewis song but it was pleasing to hear it refracted through Railroad Earth, who pulled it off impeccably. The night closed with “Railroad Earth,” which showcased not only the sextet’s instrumental prowess but their harmonizing capabilities as well. The song served as a delightful way to bring the crowd back down to Earth via Railroad for their journeys back to their daily lives.