No matter what type of music you like to listen to, it’s impossible to deny the raw talent and musical intellect required to effectively play bluegrass music. Years back before I familiarized myself with the modern bluegrass scene, I pretty much pictured each bluegrass band as a group of rickety old men with straw hats and overalls. But then I went to a Greensky Bluegrass show, and then I saw the Blind Owl Band, and then I caught a few Cabinet performances, and my conception of bluegrass was flipped upside down.
Bluegrass music is hip, it’s thriving, and it’s young. A whole new generation of up-and-coming bluegrass bands are honoring this classic American genre by preserving key elements and instruments while simultaneously keeping it modern with unique covers, creative cross-genre fusion, and quality new studio recordings.
At the helm of this “new wave” of bluegrass music sits Pennsylvania’s Cabinet. Formed in Scranton / Wilkes-Barre in 2006, Cabinet’s not only played hundreds of shows over the past decade to strengthen the presence of bluegrass, but they also host an annual bluegrass festival on Montage Mountain each summer called the Susquehanna Breakdown, which hosts nationally-acclaimed acts like Railroad Earth, Keller Williams, and Greensky Bluegrass.
Ahead of the Susquehanna Breakdown, Cabinet’s scheduled to hit the road for a Spring headlining tour that kicks off on 4/20. After a few East Coast dates the tour brings Cabinet to New York City’s Gramercy Theatre, where the seven piece band comprised of JP Biondo (mandolin), Mickey Coviello (guitar), Pappy Biondo (banjo), Dylan Skursky (bass), Todd Kopec (fiddle), Jami Novak (drums), and Josh Karis (drums) will perform a headlining set on on Friday, 4/28 with support from the Kitchen Dwellers. Before the show I caught up with JP to discuss Susquehanna, new music, and performing in New York City, amongst other things. The band is currently running a ticket and merch giveaway for their Gramercy Theatre show, and you can enter right here. Tickets are also currently on sale and can be purchased here.
CEG: Hey JP, happy we could find some time here to catch up. To kick things off, what’s Cabinet been up to so far in 2017?
JP Biondo: Well, it’s been a quiet start to the year for us. We had some much needed time off from the road for almost all of January and February. But we did play out in Steamboat, CO for the Winter Wondergrass Festival. That was a hoot! We also just finished up a weekend at Mt. Snow in W Dover, VT.
CEG: You have a high-profile performance coming up on April 28th at the Gramercy Theatre with the Kitchen Dwellers. What is it like performing in New York City, and what do you have in store for the show?
JP: It’s amazing to play in the greatest city on earth. What more can I say! We plan on throwing down hard, and maybe there will be a few surprises as well…
CEG: Does the band have any peculiar or consistent rituals to prepare for a live performance?
JP: Only if you count spending 6-8 hours in a van traveling the highway a consistent ritual! **laughs**
CEG: Tell us about the early days of the band. How did Cabinet first get together to form a band and write music?
JP: The band started with myself, Mickey, and Pappy. The three of us were playing out together and writing a lot of material. We were young, naive, and silly, but we also believed we had something special to share with the world. So we continued to play here and there – bar gigs and benefits, etc. Through playing, the rest of the fellas just kind of naturally found us and hopped on the train. The rest is history!
CEG: Looking ahead, you’re hosting the 5th Annual Susquehanna Breakdown Music Festival on Montage Mountain from May 19th – 20th. Whenever a band puts on a festival, I’m always curious about the group’s involvement in the execution of the event. At this point in the festival’s development, in what ways is Cabinet involved with the organization of Susquehanna Breakdown?
JP: Our manager, Bill Orner, really plays the biggest role at the Susquehanna Breakdown. He’s responsible for most of the talent, sponsors, scheduling, art, etc. The band takes the opportunity of having a platform to individually express ourselves with some solo sets and side projects. That’s always fun. We also recommend and request which bands we are interested in having play the Breakdown and we use it as a way to collaborate with some of the other bands and musicians as well.
CEG: It’s been a couple years since the release of your last studio album, Celebration. Does the band have any plans to release new music in 2017?
JP: Glad you asked, yes we do! I’m very excited about how our new recordings are coming along. I can’t say exactly when our next album will be out, but it will be this year.
CEG: Your band is full of musicians who can improvise and put together impressive jams, but when I listen to Cabinet I notice you uphold the sanctity of song composition. How does Cabinet approach or think about the dichotomy of jamming and the song while on stage or in the studio?
JP: As one of the main songwriters in the group, I am very attached to the “song” songs that Cabinet plays. That being said, I think it’s healthier and much more productive to not think so much in terms of dichotomy when it comes to sanctity of song and jamming/improvising. Maybe approaching it more like, “How can I make these two things one thing?”
CEG: Finally, does Cabinet have any particular goals or milestones its hoping to accomplish this year?
JP: Not particularly. We just want to be a better band every time we step on that stage!