The second day I awoke to a chance of rain and clouds in the forecast, but we all knew festival must go on. Pappy (of Cabinet) was the first set to start it off on banjo and his soothing voice; perfect to start a day too and very relaxing with the soft sound of rain and the view of the mountains; just as it started to stop. Todd Kopec and his son, daughter and a family friend began their cover set known as Kopec. He plays fiddle for Cabinet, but he switched off this time by picking up the electric and singing which was a nice change of pace. The coolest part was seeing him and his daughter sing together and how talented these kids were made me really jealous and proud at how family oriented this festival and day had begun!
Cabinet kept the ball rolling with bassist Dylan Skursky, guitarist Mickey Coviello and drummer Josh Karis (hold onto that last name as you read, it will be important later in our story.) This was also a very nice transition from their normal bluegrass act as they got to experiment with little vocals and just plain rock out in a large band style and let the music flow. Josh was extra busy joined FMO right afterwards with Dylan Skursky as well; this project was very cool also being the first jazz-oriented group with horns, keys, and two drummers. They brought a nice flow to dance too as the drizzle of the rain continued, but did not once damper or stop the crowd from having an amazing festival! Midway through this set began the first of 6 sets on the Susquehanna Stage, the huge big top pavilion that hosts many events as Montage Mountain yearly; with Cornmeal all the way from Chicago. Many people including myself know them from having the great and former member Allie Kral, but their newest fiddle player addition was just as dynamic and left myself stunned! One of my good friends kept saying how he had seen them a few weeks earlier at a smaller venue and thought this show completely blew it away! Maybe it was the spirit of the Cabinet family that helped them, or the full moon. Who knows, but I loved listening to them on the big stage blending traditional roots, bluegrass and some really nice jams in their; my friend also remarked they sounded “cheesey” another group who would be playing Peach Festival this coming summer..
Following back to the Breakdown Stage was Graham-Mazer duo featuring locals Tom Graham and Justin Mazer on dueling acoustic and electric guitars. This was the first singer-songwriter duo of the fest that I caught, but that label does not truly describe their sound. The group’s sound is marked by deep and powerful vocals from Graham and crisp licks from Mazer on electric guitar.
Another hidden gem of this festival and the amount of local talent in NEPA. Cabinet gave the entire Breakdown community a special treat with an acoustic set on the MainStage a truly rare site. Jami Novak playing percussion and the entire band bringing the audience back to the meaning of the festival with family.Tey brought out the entire Cabinet Family and Friends of each band member onstage to sing CSNY’s “Our House”. This was followed by “Suite Judy Blue Eyes”, a very historical node to one of the best songwriting groups ever in nearby Woodstock, NY just a few hours up the road. This transition of events is one I will remember forever, and one of the best moments I have ever seen. Generations of the family from their parents, relatives, and children all found singing some of my personal favorite songs ever written brought a tear to my eye. Truly a moment where you had to be there and feel the aura of the “Revival Tent” and outside with a foggy and mysterious atmosphere.
Most of the guys grew up here. They definitely got there start as a band here. It’s pretty special to go from the small stage of an open mic to a huge stage of an amphitheater. – Bill Orner, Manager, Cabinet
It is hard to follow something this magical up, but that is just what Swift Technique did, the Philly act was something similar to a revival outside with tons of high energy, intense vocals from the pipes of Nik Greeley and Chelsea ViaCava who acted out much of their lyrics onstage and the tight backing band short of a jazz, funk, soul, rock and blues blend to their sound. Lots of grooving ensued as the drizzle continued to fall. The rain would stop and start again through the afternoon, and they are another band I was unfamiliar with, but continued to bring the funk and had me in absolute bliss and I was begging for more! However, one of my favorite groups in the world, The Infamous Stringduster, was about to bring their show. With the recent success of their Ladies and Gentlemen album and tour (I saw three shows of that tour) I knew this was going to be a great set. Pappy from Cabinet came out for a banjo duel with Chris Pandolfi during “High Country Funk” which was easily the highlight of the set for so many and the festival alike also.
They are known to absolutely crush any cover they are given, and they did so with “American Girl” by Tom Petty and “When You Were Young” by The Killers, showing off their range of influences and ability to tackle any song given. A band from up the road in Binghampton, NY called Driftwood was another I was really excited to see for the first time as well. Driftwood offers an very eclectic mix of bluegrass and jazz music that I guess I could classify as Avant-grass. This particular style was a very soothing way to kick off the nighttime festivities that were about to be had as the sun was nearing sunset; even thought it did not come out all Saturday sadly.
Cabinet came back for their fourth set of the weekend with a full set of music on the MainStage with a Grateful Dead cover in Easy Wind which they absolutely crush anytime they play it. I knew this set and the festival they host was a truly memorable event. Just as that happened, they announced something really special too. Cabinet introduced Josh Karis from earlier as their newest member to add two drums to their already spectacular and unique blend of bluegrass, which was awesome to me! Both have so many different idiosyncrasies to their drumming, being Jami Novak as well, and this will be a great addition to the band! Being a drummer in a world of bluegrass is a hard thing for myself, as I play it, but Cabinet truly brings it harder then anyone; Railroad, Cornmeal also have drums and were at this festival too.
To cap off this eventful set was one of my favorite groups in Fruition all the way from Portland, OR. It was awesome to have them doing their east coast tour, as they are rarely this way, but getting there! The mandolin of Mimi Naja, guitar from Jay Cobb Anderson, piano and guitar from Kellen Asebrook, and rhythm section of Tyler Thompson on drums and Jeff Leonard on bass. My favorite album release of 2016 has to be their “Labor of Love” I felt myself listening more to the lyrics then I ever have before and glanced down at my brand new Nikon D750 I had just gotten. The lyrics, “it’s just a matter of time, it’s just a labor of love” really spoke to me. Themes of brotherhood, family and just getting though times come to mind immediately. I looked back at my camera and realized how far I have come in such a short period of time in my art and how it will take time, but I will get to the place I want to be with great family and friends. Thank you Fruition for that!
Railroad Earth followed them up with a nice two hour set full of favorites such as “Forecast” “Dandelion Wine” “Any Road” “Head” and “Elko” to name a few. The band has it’s roots in NJ but has a special place in Stroudsburg, PA and the nearby area with fiddle player Tim Carbone living their and how their songs talk about nature and the mountains came right to my mind. I finally got to sit down under the Pavilion and really relax and reflect on the entire weekend and how much fun it really was, and not quite over yet. Pappy continued his “busiest man of the festival streak” by bringing out some friends from Fruition, Coal Town Rounders, Justin Mazer, and Cabinet to join him in some songs as the full moon was fully risen above the treeline and mountain sky. A highlight was the group playing “Cocaine” with a very deep sound from the members and a really nice family jam session; Pappy even picked up the fiddle later in the set and began to saw away, which as awesome!
The last band of this amazing festival was Twiddle from Vermont, Cabinet has a connection with them that is very deep joining them many times on tour, their festival “Frendly Gathering” and Pappy and lead singer and guitarist Mihali joining Pappy on StageIt sessions and both dudes living in VT currently. They are one of the most exciting up and coming bands in the scene today which is a duality for Cabinet also and extensive tour schedules.. Twiddle brought the heat with one of my favorite lyrical songs in “Daydream Farmer”. “Sit back, relax, and dream.” In which this festival felt like a dream of sorts, the entire family and community atmosphere is something many festivals fail at, but the Susquehanna Breakdown gets an A+ in my book. It introduced me to many new artists, friends and acquainted me with the entire Cabinet family and many new friends. They have created something truly special at Montage Mountain and I am excited to see it and them as a band grow for the future. WOOOOO-DOOOGIE!