REVIEW/PHOTOS: Susquehanna Breakdown brings family of bluegrass fans together in Scranton
For the fourth consecutive year, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bluegrass band Cabinet kicked off the summer concert season with the Susquehanna Breakdown Music Festival at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton.
The two-day affair got underway on Friday, May 20 with performances by local bands The Dishonest Fiddlers and the Coal Town Rounders, acoustic guitarist extraordinaire Larry Keel and his band the Larry Keel Experience, Flux Capacitor, and Cabinet. There was also an hour-long set by Cabinet joined by Keel.
Saturday, May 21 featured more than 12 hours of music on three stages as bands such as Kopec, The Far Future, Free Music Orchestra, and the Graham Mazer Duo played from morning until mid-afternoon.
The festival hosts took over the main stage around 3:15 p.m. on Saturday with an acoustic set, beginning with “Gather” and “The One.” Banjo maestro Pappy Biondo took lead vocals on “Pine Billy,” while his cousin JP Biondo chipped in on mandolin and lead vocals for “Old Time Songs.”
“Good to see you all under this tent in Scranton, Pennsylvania,” Pappy said. “We got a real kind of family vibe going on here this afternoon.”
The most touching moment of the festival began as JP and Pappy quietly strummed and began singing Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Our House.” Soon they were surrounded by their extended families and a bunch of close friends as the congregation finished out the song and then did an exuberant version of CSN’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” Both songs garnered standing ovations and brought tears to the eyes of many of those in attendance.
The Infamous Stringdusters, an acoustic bluegrass band formed in 2006, followed with an impressive hour-long set mixing originals with some well-chosen covers. The quintet took the stage with “It’ll Be Alright” from the 2010 album “Things That Fly” and followed with a dazzling instrumental featuring the talents of Chris Pandolfi (banjo) and Jeremy Garrett (fiddle).
After Pappy joined the band for another tasty instrumental, the Stringdusters scored big with elongated jams that began with covers of “When You Were Young” by The Killers and “American Girl” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
The Stringdusters then ended with two of its most powerful originals: the almost a cappella “Let It Go” and “Fork in the Road,” the title track of the band’s debut album from 2007.
Cabinet returned for another full set at 7 p.m., getting things started with “Susquehanna Breakdown,” the original tune that lent its name to the festival, and “The Tower.”
Following its third number, Cabinet expanded its ranks and its sound with the addition of second drummer and percussionist Josh Karis.
“He’s gonna be with us for the long haul,” JP Biondo said as Karis took his place behind the drum kit for an electrifying performance of “Mysterio.”
Cabinet hit its stride with fine renditions of some of its best-known material: “Hit It on the Head,” “Eleanor,” and “Pike County Breakdown,” which JP rechristened the “Pappy County Breakdown” for the occasion.
JP had the crowd singing along for “Caroline,” and Pappy followed with a great version of “Shined Like the Sun.”
The band’s two drummers – Jami Novak and the newcomer Karis – then played a ten-minute drum solo before the band brought its set to a close with a monstrous “Heavy Rain.”
To cap an already incredible weekend, the guys in Cabinet found out a few days later that they have once again been invited to perform at that other music festival in Scranton.
“Super thrilled to be invited back to the Peach Music Festival again this year!” the band’s Facebook page announced on May 23. “Still flying high from an unforgettable Susquehanna Breakdown weekend, we’ll see all your lovely faces on the mountain again in August!”
Photos by Jason Riedmiller Photography