Ann Arbor Favorite Corndaddy Celebrates 20 Years at The Ark
Local Americana band Corndaddy celebrated its 20th anniversary at The Ark on Thursday in a birthday party that perfectly showcased some of the reasons for its longevity.
The well-paced show highlighted the different sides of the band’s musical personality, starting with a rock-oriented set, followed by a more country-flavored interlude; a purely acoustic, no-drums set; and a fitting finale wrapping everything together. Old songs met new songs, dedications were made, and tributes were paid. And the band sounded great throughout.
A well-done opening set from another longtime local favorite, Paul’s Big Radio, perfectly set the stage for the headliners -- partly because talented bass player Jerry Hancock anchors the sound of both bands.
Corndaddy opened with “Find My Way,” a standout song from the second of their three albums, followed by “Sleeping Outside Omaha” and “Daylight,” the first two tracks from their first. Taken together, they showed how one of the band’s strengths has always been the songwriting of its two front men, Jud Branam and Kevin Brown. “Daylight” also provided one of several opportunities to highlight Brown’s expert, fluid guitar solos.
Other old favorites on the set list included “Kansas City, Mississippi,” “Friday the 13th,” “Wanderlust,” and “Sparkle’s Real.” A cover of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” offered a fun detour during the acoustic set.
As welcome as the old favorites were, several of the show’s highlights came on somewhat newer songs. “Five Minutes,” from the band’s most recent album, sounded like it easily could have been a hit for someone like Van Morrison. And “Heart of the Matter,” the title track from that album, provided a fitting tribute to the late Will Stewart, Corndaddy’s original drummer and the co-writer of the song (with Branam).
Branam and Brown are each distinctive singers, but to my ears they sound best singing together, and their harmonies were in fine form throughout the concert. Hugh Huntley’s sharp drumming kept the energy level high, and the overall sound was filled out and enhanced on various songs by contributions from David Mosher on violin/mandolin and Evan Pratt on saxophone.
The set closed with another old favorite, “Delaware,” and the band returned for a quick, fitting encore: Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away.” Indeed it is funny -- 20 years? Really?!? -- but here’s hoping Corndaddy sticks around for many more birthdays to come.
Bob Needham is a freelance writer and the former arts & entertainment editor of The Ann Arbor News and AnnArbor.com.