The Susquehanna Breakdown
Saturday May 10th Montage Mountain in Scranton, PA was the place to be for Music lovers of ALL ages. The Susquehanna Breakdown (a song of their new album “Leap”), formerly Old Farmer’s Ball was the second annual festival co-hosted by Cabinet and manager Bill Orner, an amazing weekend of family fun and music nestled in the hills of Coal-Mining country. Artists ranging from all spectrums of the musical world came together in a swirling rush of vibrations from the speakers throughout the day and night, and it certainly did not disappoint.
Multiple stages displayed a wide variety of bands, The Breakdown stage was broken in by The Schooley Mountain Band. Lead vocalist Madison Gerish was as beautiful as she was talented, helping lead the band through a raw, electrifying set of originals and an amazing rendition of Levon Helm’s “Hurricane” which really got the crowd going. Bassist Aydar Shaildayev kept the rhythm dank and loose, and the grooves rather emotional, reminiscent of Modest Mouse in many respects, a great start to the day ahead in any case. Bluegrass outfit The Blind Owl Band followed with a refreshing take on the old and the new, bringing their broke down, unplugged instrumentation with new age ideals and sounds. A very interesting and impressive look at what is to come for this formidable live act. LeRoy Justice delivered a set soon after followed by Floodwood, headed by Vinnie and Al from the popular live Jamband act Moe. Floodwood has become a popular favorite at Bluegrass festivals and smaller clubs throughout the scene, and it’s because they REALLY know how to have a good time, they played a fabulous set even jumping out into the crowd to serenade a loving festival goer and fan.
Marco Benevento took the stage as the sky began to grow dim, bringing his signature “dance-party” sound to the Toyota Pavilion. Marco’s set was everything one could ask for and everything you’d expect from the Master of Electric Funkiness, warming the crowd with his organ and tantalizing keyboard tickling, he soared through his well known tunes and some of lesser popularity. Like “Limbs Of A Pine” which was featured on his album “TIGERFACE!”, or his “Real Morning Party” which threw the crowd into mayhem for a minute, then came that familiar chord progression from Elton John, As he busted into a “Benny and The Jets” I didn’t think the set could get any better, just when i thought it was safe to sit down, they fly into Pink Floyd’s “Fearless”, truly inspiring and genius medley that was appreciated by the many smiling faces all around. A fine set of music and a great way to set off the main stage events for the evening.
Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds followed, and my goodness did they bring the house down. Sister Sparrow slid about the stage with her Dirty Birds blasting the crowd into a funk-rock-jazz party and there was not a single body not grooving along. She led her Dirty Birds through a fiery set of originals topped off with a sensual cover of The King Of Pop’s “The Way You Make Me Feel”. Her undeniably sexy stage presence combined with her more than potent vocals made for one hell of a performance.
Then came the moment, well the moment mostly everyone was waiting for. Cabinet! As Master Of Ceremonies Sam Cutler (Yeah did I mention Sam Cutler, former manager of The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead and author of the book “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was there all along narrating the days festivities!) came onstage and introduced the band, giving his stamp of approval and showing his own love and support of the group and the festival. Cabinet takes the stage and everyone is ready to rosin up the bow and get down to some good ol’ Pennsylvania Pickin’. If Sister Sparrow brought the house down, Cabinet built it back up into a musical mansion! They opened with Heavy Rain, an immensely infectious song with a raucous chorus and soaring vocals by the band. “Went To See The Gypsy”, a cover off Bob Dylan’s “New Morning” album shortly followed, showing the bands ability to really take a song and make it their own. Ron Holloway (Saxophone, Warren Haynes Band), Artist-At-Large for the festival and popular collaborator with the band throughout their tours, came out for a slew of numbers adding to the depth and dexterity of the evenings music. As the opening riff to “Caroline” was being played, a certain energy loomed over the crowd, as Mandolin and Vocalist J.P. Biondo came to the second chorus, he asked the crowd to take over, and they did. As Caroline wound down they moved into “Space” which birthed into an exquisite and mind-blowing “Shady Grove” instrumental jam which was a perfect set closer to say the least. As the fans screamed for more, the band returned for an Encore playing Oxygen, and ending with…you guessed it, “Susquehanna Breakdown”. I’ve seen this band quite a number of times, and this was without a doubt the most powerful performance to date, playing with an energy that only a hometown venue full of love and family could produce, Cabinet made the festival more than worthwhile, hosting, and entertaining.
Tour Veterans Melvin Seals and Mark Karan’s Grateful Dead outfit “Terrapin Flyer” took the stage to cap the night and wind everything down for everybody, a more than needed experience considering the energy Cabinet brought to all in attendance minutes prior. Over all the Susquehanna Breakdown was a musical experience not to be read about, but to be plucked, to be strummed, picked, laughed, and most importantly, DANCED ABOUT. For all reading get yer Rock and Roll Shoes on and ready for next summer, The Susquehanna Breakdown has ARRIVED, and it’s here to stay!
The Levity Ball is honored that Cabinet sat down to chat with James Patrick McGurl to learn more:
So you guys are playing main stage at Lock’n this summer, although only in its second year as a festival it had cemented itself already as the premier music connoisseurs experience. How does it feel to be sharing the stage with artists like Furthur, Steve Winwood, Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, the list goes on and on. Is the pressure on in a way?
JP- “First off it feels fantastic, I mean we’ve been waiting to get on a festival like this for a long time ya know, and the stars aligned finally, it’s like a dream come true…I mean, Willie Nelson? I saw Willie Nelson and that was enough to render me speechless. But yeah I mean it is a set where we definitely want to play well, there’s going to be A LOT of people there and ya know a lot of big names, so ya know who knows who will listen to us there. I mean sometimes ya get a little nervous but it’s going to be a lot of fun, so I feel if we just approach it like that it’s going to be a good time.”
Speaking of Furthur, Jami you just collaborated with John Kadlecik of Furthur among a slew of other noted artists, in the ever changing jam super group Everyone Orchestra, how was that experience playing with them and is their going to be more similar collabs in the future?
Jami-“It was really one of the finest musical experiences of my life and all the players there were extremely sweet and on a very undeniably heartfelt level, I don’t know how else to say it, they were so sweet. They were incredibly nice and everyone was very accommodating and the whole experience was very Alkaline. It was one of my great privileges of mine to play with them and everyone was just quite kind.”
Who were some of the other musicians playing in the group with you?
Jami-“Danny Lewis from Gov’t Mule, the keyboard player, he was like an angel. Chris Jacobs from The Bridge, Nick Piccininni fiddle player and Banjo player in Floodwood whose here at the festival, Anders Beck, my favorite part of Greensky Bluegrass it was so good so cool, and then John K of course. Ron Holloway sat in with us on a few shows for the tour. And Noam Pikelny, famous Banjo player from The Punch Brothers sat in with us too, Andrew Altman from Railroad Earth, and let me say one more thing, Matt Butler the Conductor for Everyone Orchestra, you couldn’t ask for a better person for the position, so good, carried us all through beautifully.”
You guys tour ALOT, is it difficult dealing with the wear and tear of traveling, or do the benefits that you have reaped make all the struggles worth while in the end?
Mickey- “Both, it’s extreme, there is a lot of wear and tear emotionally physically, psychologically, but it’s worth it cause we get to travel, around, play music, make people happy.”
Speaking of traveling , you guys have a dedicated following that truly love your music…how does that feel to know your music makes a difference to people and where are some of your favorite places you’ve played?
JP- “It feels great to know that, that’s all we wanna do just spread some love, some fun, some good times around.”
Jami- “We get to relieve some pain for people, ya know we travel around and people say the sweetest things about us and our music.”
Mickey- “Ya can’t ask for much more as a musician to be making a difference to someone through your music.”
Jami- “Some of our favorite places are definitely this area, the jazz café, montage mountain, and I’m sure ya know ask our fans and the best places we get to play are the smaller venues, a little more defined, more connection, Elk Creek Café outside of State College. DelFest coming up is gonna be great, and Floyd Fest is a really one of the best festivals you can play.”
This question is for JP and Pappy, being cousins, I can imagine the intimacy of playing music together, the connection, the bond and the overall experience, but traveling and working so close together must fuel at times some brotherly-like feuds, has this happened and if so has it ever affected your music or playing?
JP-“No not so much between me and Pappy, every once in awhile it happens but its easy for us to let it go.”
Jami-“I’ve never seen it happen they usually gang up on us.”
JP- “No we’re a team and I’m grateful that he is family and we got to grow up together and get to play music together, it’s awesome, I love the guy.
With your studio album ‘Leap’ you have definitely shown an ability to step out of the live setting and really show your skills in songwriting and more of a structured musical environment in comparison to your live album Eleven. Do you like studio work and is there more to come? What do fans have to look for in the future?
Mickey- “We don’t do enough, we barely spend any time in the studio, it’s very unfortunate. Because I love it. I mean are job other than going out and playing live shows is to be working on music, in a studio environment. And there will be more in the future for sure.”
On your albums and in your live performances you guys definitely have that “Big Pink” type of sound, very roots based and true to music. Who and what are some of your biggest inspirations musically?
JP- “I think we all have so many inspirations, everyone is all over the place its hard to pinpoint it, I would say Paul Simon, ill always just rally love his stuff, that guy is one of the most talented songwriters.”
Jami- “And of course we love all the greats ya know The Beatles, Dylan all that stuff. Levon Helm for sure…all the greats.”
Mickey- “Yeah we can sit here forever and talk about it honestly…”
You guys really love this area and this area supports you it shows with this festival and last years do you guys plan on continuing this process and look forward to doing so?
Mickey-“Yeah, I mean as long as we’re still a band, if it keeps going well and heading in a positive direction then yeah we wanna do it every year.”
Jami- “Yeah, keep the love here. The love for that crossroads of music that happens with something like this, it’s a nice mix, a special thing.”
Photo Credit: Richard Kane
James Patrick McGurl is a musician and singer-songwriter out of Scranton, PA. He has a passion for live music and writing as well and has a deep connection in the live music scene and festival circuit. James has a seasoned background in Theater and a deep rooted respect and knowledge of Performance Art.
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