Cornmeal cooks at 2720 Cherokee

Cherokee Street is often spoken about as a sort of hipster central in St. Louis, a street on the cusp of some kind of post-modern meta-ironic conspicuous self-consciousness, sort of like Bedford in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the mid ‘90s. But this ain’t New York and this ain’t Brooklyn, and that ain’t a bad thing. As the audience of five hundred or so (on a Monday!) milled about before the start of the show, and bearded South City dads rocked their babies while a mixed crowd of young, old, and in-betweens took turns around the bar for a drink or on the sidewalk burning up a smoke, and for the first time since I’ve been back to St. Louis, I saw Cherokee street as something past the cusp and perhaps even justifying the Bedford allusions, while at the same time thankfully real, mixed, approachable and genuinely St. Louis, for whatever that’s worth.

I visited 2720 Cherokee on invite from the owners, the “Loyal” Family, Josh Grigaitis and his sister Abbie to celebrate their Grand Opening last Monday. When Abbie had described the venue to me as an Art/Concert Space, I had expected a tiny space– a dilapidated re-purposed storefront with a few chairs, a bookshelf and a couch maybe and a makeshift stage, but instead the nondescript storefront gave into a warehouse sized area that seemed open and intimate at the same time, sparsely decorated but not without style. The space is always part of the show, and as I watched Cornmeal take the stage and a few hands clear the area of chairs to make room for a dance floor, I knew I was in for a good time in a good place.

Cornmeal plays blue grass in jam-style, but their jams aren’t spacey Phish white-outs or rambling Deadhead off-trail excursions. These mid-song ventures are well-planned and well-executed, and they never feel self-congratulatory or extraneous. They jam with a respect for each other and for the audience, and most importantly when they jammed out, the crowd never stopped moving their feet and never had a single moment in which a twirl was interrupted with a “am i the only one dancing?” look. Kris Nowak on vocals sang confidently with a backyard-in-the-summer voice that when combined with the distant harmonies of a singing while fiddle-bowing Allie Kral felt just like a pair of blue grass crooners should– without rush, without worry, with just the right amount of flourish. The band really shined in moments in which the tempo slowed and sank into a contemplative and mournful fiddle, such as in the track “When The World Gets You Down” or when the band all rose up in round harmony on the conclusion of “River Gap”; and that’s when you know they are the real deal, and you may stop for a moment from your dancing, but not to look to see if you are the only one still dancing, but to soak-up the sight of a band that works so hard to have so much fun and knows exactly what they are doing.