Cornbread Harris and friends Holiday Blues Show at the Hook & Ladder Theater.
Review and photos by Patrick Dunn
I am thankful to have a passion for music, as it is something you can enjoy and work at for your entire life. We have an outstanding Twin Cities example of that in the legendary James Samuel “Cornbread” Harris, Sr., who has been performing throughout the metro for approximately 7 decades. At 92 years old, he was back onstage December 19th for his “Cornbread and Friends Holiday Blues Show” now in its third year at the perfectly suited Hook and Ladder venue in Minneapolis. The show was being recorded with the intent on including a selection or two on a “Live at the Hook – Volume 2” album to be released sometime next year.
A quaint gathering space as you enter The Hook provides a comfortable environment to socialize with a beverage prior to entering the performance area where any seat offers an excellent view. The stage was not cluttered with ornaments and tinsel, but plenty of holiday spirit was about to be generated from a well broken-in collection of 88-keys, setup front and center. Cornbread and his band of friends were sharply dressed in suits, personalized with musical themed ties. The most attention-grabbing accessory was a sparkly red Santa hat, poetically drawing all eyes to Harris, who was delivering a gift most of us had on our Christmas bucket list and were thrilled to be receiving.
A couple impromptu Blues runs, thickly seasoned with years of life experience led into “Merry Christmas Baby”, kicking-off the first of two 1+ hour sets. It was clear Cornbread still has chops, but it was his choices on where to embellish throughout these seasonal classics that added personality. His real charm was most evident vocally, where he inserted humor and found his way to some high notes that each time spurred an enthusiastic crowd response. As a band leader, he was in complete control, calling out solos at will primarily between accomplished Jazz guitarist John Penny and Glenn Graham on tenor saxophone. Another entertaining element was the friendly banter that took place between songs, often initiated by Scott Soule who was also expert on standup acoustic bass. Doug Hill kept it all together with a steady drum groove that fueled a variety of styles and feel.
The dedicated band covered quite a bit of ground and there were plenty of exceptional moments worth calling out. “Jingle Bells” was festive and helped establish a loose vibe early in the performance. The upbeat “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue (Has Anybody Seen My Gal)” was a fun trip back to roaring 20s swing. Cornbread shared a funny story about the time he opened for Elvis Presley, leading into the always pretty “Blue Christmas”. “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool Ya” contained the evenings best harmonies and faded down to a touching audience sing-a-long, which also took place during “Stand By Me”. One of Harris’s best recognized compositions “Put the World Back Together” was once again a crowd favorite and led into a big time finish with his signature song “Cornbread”.
Please make a point to get out in the new year and experience Cornbread Harris and Friends. They will continue to actively perform around the Twin Cities including a weekly appearance at The Loring Pasta bar. I also encourage you to familiarize yourself with the history and accomplishments of this local treasure. One good resource is the MN-Original piece that aired in January 2015 ( https://www.tpt.org/mn-original/profile/cornbread-harris/ ).
First Set – Merry Christmas Baby – Blues Groove – Angels We Have Heard On High – Jingle Bells – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Oh Sugar – Joy To The World – Little Drummer Boy – Has Anybody Seen My Gal – Deck The Halls
Second Set – What Child Is This – A Train – Silent Night – Amazing Grace – We 3 Kings – Stand By Me – Go Tell It On The Mountain – Put The World – Night Before Christmas – Cornbread