NEPA-based bluegrass ensemble Cabinet bids farewell at Kirby Center in WB
WILKES-BARRE — “We didn’t bring a set list, but we made damn sure to bring the moonshine.”
That was the way Cabinet banjoist and vocalist Patrick “Pappy” Biondo greeted a legion of fans Sunday at the F.M. Kirby Center, opening a gig that was billed as the last show by the six-piece jamgrass outfit before beginning an indefinite hiatus.
The statement kicked off a night of celebrating the music, friendship and community the band has helped form over its last 11 years together.
As a testament to that tightly-knit network, Cabinet featured Serene Green, a traditional bluegrass quartet from the Lehigh Valley as special guests for its three-night New Year’s run. Formed in 2011, the four-piece — guitarist Michael Johnson, mandolin player Quentin Fisher, banjoist Steve “Banjo Steve” Leonard and bassist Shane McGeehan — had the near capacity crowd in high spirits during its 45-minute set, which included originals from their debut album, “To Whom it Pertains,” and choice covers like a fiery reworking of the Robert Johnson standard “Crossroads Blues.”
Midway through their set, Serene Green welcomed Cabinet vocalist and mandolin player J.P. Biondo and frequent collaborator Chris Kearney to the stage for a run through the traditional bluegrass staple, “Can’t You Hear Me Callin” before wrapping up the performance.
With the night being a celebration of the family atmosphere that has come to define the Cabinet community, it was only fitting that longtime audio archivist Keith Litzenberger introduced the band, with J.P. Biondo thanking Litzenberger for his years of tirelessly following the band on tour and helping introduce its music to new fans all over the country.
The show kicked off with an upbeat “Old Farmer’s Mill,” one of the oldest numbers in the Cabinet songbook, which had the crowd dancing and singing along to every word. A call and answer rendition of “Pine Billy” featured guitarist Mickey Coviello and J.P. Biondo complimenting each other’s fills throughout the song, which concluded with Biondo telling fiddle player Todd Kopec, “Go ahead, Todd, for old time’s sake,” sending Kopec into the spirited “Old Time Songs.”
A deeper cut, the tender “Doors” from their album “Leap,” was a welcomed addition to the set, which also featured some brilliant fiddle work from Kopec. As another nod to the community the band helped establish, Pappy Biondo told the crowd how one of their longest supporters, Beth Cornetta Oros, hugged him in the lobby before the show and gave him pictures of Tom Faleshock.
Faleshock was arguably the first dedicated fan the band had in 2006, and remained an avid supporter of all things Cabinet until his untimely passing in 2015. Along with being a fan, Faleshock created the Cabinet Fans Facebook page, which has come to exemplify the grassroots community that is the “CabFam” — an endearing term given to the loyal fanbase.
With Faleshock’s pictures on stage, Cabinet delivered an exploratory “Caroline,” a song that was Faleshock’s favorite, and has come to be one of the defining songs of the band’s career. It was a beautiful homage to someone whose presence was felt throughout the evening.
Capping off the first set, the band jumped into the rollicking “Susquehanna Breakdown,” a fast tempo instrumental that became the name of a yearly festival Cabinet hosted in Scranton. If Cabinet were to have a hit single over the last 11 years, it would be “The Tower,” a lively singalong that has become a staple of Cabinet shows. For the set ending rendition, Pappy Biondo took to the pedal steel guitar, which has become one of his favorite instruments to delve into.
To open the second set, the band emerged with a pedal-steel infused, instrumental take on the classic New Year’s Eve hymn “Auld Lang Syne” before J.P. Biondo brought his father out to sing the verses. J.P. Biondo and Coviello collaborated on “Gather All Ye” before Pappy Biondo joined them for sentimental ballad “The One,” another welcome deep cut that was a nod to a loving relationship that blossomed between two long-term CabFam members.
Following an energized version of the thumping “Heavy Rain,” which featured tight rhythms from drummer Josh Karis and bassist Dylan Skursky, and a jammed out “Dirt,” the electric rock of “The Dove” proved to be a second-set highlight. Cabinet wrapped up the set properly with two live-performance fixtures of recent years, the groove-heavy “Miss Molly” and the driving instrumental “Mysterio.”
Spontaneity has become a hallmark of Cabinet shows, and the band made sure to continue that tradition by coming off the stage and going into the crowd for an acoustic encore beginning with “Oh Darlin’” and wrapping up with the appropriately titled “Home Now.”
As simple as some of the lyrics are — “Pick me up around 5 o’clock at that Steamtown train stop, because I’m home now; yes I’m home now,” for example — the song was a suitable nightcap for an evening that not only celebrated Cabinet but also celebrated the area and the people who made Cabinet more than just a band — they made it a movement.
That movement helped the band grow from playing clubs and fairs in NEPA to playing major festivals like Lock’n, All Good, and The Peach Music Festival, and led the ensemble through numerous tours of the South, Midwest and Colorado.
No matter what the future holds for Cabinet, they created something that blossomed into a lasting community. In the meantime, Cabinet and the CabFam will take everything that has happened over the last 11 years and wait for the next chapter in a career that has finally come ‘home now.’
Cabinet’s NYE farewell
For the full audio recording of Cabinet’s New Year’s Eve performance at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre, visit http://bit.ly/2CsW5YG. Audio recording courtesy of Keith Litzenberger.