Repurposed wood boards soaked up the luminous violets, greens, and reds of the stage lights, providing a rustic backdrop for the rich array of talent that took the stage at the inaugural Old Farmers Ball. Curated by NEPA bluegrass band Cabinet – JP Biondo, Pappy Biondo, Mickey Coviello, Todd Kopec, Jami Novak, and Dylan Skursky – and manager Bill Orner, the festival, produced by Live Nation, was held at Montage Mountain's Toyota Pavilion in Scranton on Saturday, May 11, featuring many of the region's favorite national acts and local legends previously billed with Cabinet.
Local strummer Kyle Morgan kicked off the festival, followed by Cabinet's Pappy. The fiddler was joined by cousin and bandmate JP Biondo for traditional bluegrass songs “Mole in the Ground” and “Tears Will Turn to Laughter.” Scranton's Coal Town Rounders – Jason Zarnowski, Ian O'Hara, Matthew Hiller, and Christopher Kearney – strummed, plucked, and harmonized through a set of old timey tunes. The crowd swayed along as Kearney tossed his voice like a lasso, covering “The Shape I'm In” as dancers filled the floor.
The name Old Farmers Ball isn't just a nod to Cabinet song “Old Farmers Mill.” The event featured a merchant's row, including a seasonal farmers market, local artisan vendors, and an open-air art display, the Grateful Gallery, which featured touring concert posters and music photography among other original works. There was also a family-friendly kids' corner. Old Farmers Ball offered an exceptional selection of food vendors – mixed among the beer and pretzel stands were baked goods, farm-fresh eggs, crisp apples, hummus, and leafy greens.
The crowd had developed an appetite for more than bread and beer. With the exception of a few surprise gigs, And the Moneynotes – Mike Quinn, Mitch Williams, Brian Craig, Pat Finnerty, Setty Hopkins, and Roy Williams – had been on hiatus for years. The Scranton favorites were reunited and ready to put on a show. Holy Ghost Tent Revival bassist Kevin Williams looked forward to their set. “It's gonna be good – an enlightening experience, as usual,” said Williams, whose band dedicated a song to the Moneynotes in their own set.
“The Body in My Trunk” sparked with the band's spectacle, while “Mimosa” intoxicated the crowd. The Spinto Band's Nick Krill played guitar on a raucous “My Kid Smokin,'” while Scranton RailRiders baseball mascot, Champ, danced upstage.
Quinn dipped into a Cajun bellow for “Swamp Rock” as Cabinet's Pappy struck lighting on his fiddle. The sweet “Ms. Edison” sent the audience spinning and dancing at the foot of the stage before Nick Driscoll's sax ushered in a funky rendition of “A Pirate's Confession Part III.” Foot-stomper “Eliza Jane” warmed up the band for the end of the set – two of the zaniest songs in the Moneynotes catalog, drawn out into a jam, featuring kamikaze vaudeville dancing by percussionist Hopkins.
North Carolina's Holy Ghost Tent Revival – singer Stephen Murray, guitarist Matt Martin, bassist Kevin Williams, drummer Ross Montsinger, and horn section Hank Widmer and Charlie Humphrey – scattered a few old favorites among their newer songs from 2012's “Sweat Like the Old Days.” The band has creatively grown away from their down-home bluegrass tunes and hits from their 2009 LP “So Long I Screamed,” like the quick and catchy “Getting Over Your Love” and the tambourine-laden “Needing You.”
“We used to be more bluegrass-oriented,” recalled Martin. “We had a banjo with us the last time you heard us, probably, but now we're writing more rock-inspired tunes.”
They've pulled influence from the likes of Dr. Dog and The Band, and though their roots are still showing, HGTR brought a bright bit of rock to the Ball on Saturday. Martin hopes that the move to include more rock elements proves accessible to different crowds. “You've got two guitars – two electric guitars, as opposed to an acoustic guitar and a banjo. It cuts through to the core a little more.”
MiZ, known for his acoustic circuit, played the other end of the spectrum, reprising his role as festival veteran and bringing his backing band to fill the Toyota Pavilion with a striking electric set. Brooklyn's Grammy-nominated Americana group, Yarn, brought the steady beat of well-crafted alt-country jams and the fierce mandolin of rootsy grooves, including a few songs off their 2013 release, “Almost Home,” that kept the audience spinning and stomping along. Cabinet started off with the hooting, hollering, and hat-tossing of “Old Farmers Mill” before the ensemble mellowed seamlessly into their staple grooves, including several songs from their latest album, “Leap.” The hosts played an array of fan favorites, from “Nashville Blues” to “Shady Grove” to “Diamond Joe” to “Eleanor.”
Cabinet's Old Farmers Ball was an enormous success, thrilling not only fans but the bands and vendors, too. “We had an amazing time at the Old Farmers Ball and got to be a part of something really special,” gushed Alchemy Home Company's Stacy Giovanucci. Alchemy's stand featured some of their all-natural cleaning products and original fragrances. “It was wonderful to get to share our unique products with so many talented people and dedicated music fans.” The creative team at Alchemy crafted event-specific scents and debuted them at the festival.
“We adore Cabinet and creating scent stories, so when we were asked to be a vendor at Old Farmers Ball, we thought, what could be more fun than trying to capture Cabinet's music in scent?!” The unisex scent is drenched in bourbon, padded with hay and sweet grass, and dances with hints of cannabis, beer, and barn wood.
“I'm pretty much elated,” smiled Cabinet's JP Biondo. “I'm really glad that we're kind of bull-heading this cool little thing in Scranton. It's nice, and I have to give some props to Bill Orner for that and to Live Nation for really getting this going.”
Hopefully, the Old Farmers Ball will continue the momentum of its debut and roll into next year.