3rd annual Susquehanna Breakdown festival stronger than ever

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Hoots and Hellmouth of Philadelphia perform on the Susquehanna stage Saturday night.
Amanda Hrycyna|For The Weekender

For the third straight year, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre natives Cabinet ushered in the summer concert season with a day-long festival at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain on Saturday, May 9.

The progressive bluegrass band and their manager Bill Orner put together another winning Susquehanna Breakdown with more than 15 local, regional and national artists on multiple stages. Music began Friday night with special campers’ only performances by Scott Law, American Babies and two sets from the festival’s hosts.

Saturday’s festivities began with “Perk Up with Pappy,” a solo set by Cabinet’s banjo player and vocalist Pappy Biondo, who also did a kids’ set and another solo set on the VIP stage later in the day. Main-stage action got underway at 12:30 with Coal Town Rounders, making its third appearance at the Cabinet festival (the inaugural festival in 2013 was called the Old Farmers Ball).

Bands such as King Radio, Citizens Band Radio, Hoots & Hellmouth and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong worked the main stage throughout the afternoon. Following Pappy on the satellite stage were Jay Noble, Mountain Sky Orchestra, Grand Ole’ Ditch, Boiled Owls, Still Hand String Band, Tom Graham & Justin Mazer (playing two sets, including one featuring the music of Wilco), and George Wesley.

Saxophone player Bill Evans, who has played with everybody from Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock to Mick Jagger and the Allman Brothers Band, took the stage around 7:15 with his group Soulgrass. Before the quintet’s opening instrumental concluded, the gathering in front of the stage swelled from three people to more than 50.

Standout songs from Evans and company included “I’m So Happy” and new tune “Rise Above,” which Evans wrote and recorded with Warren Haynes for Evans’ upcoming album, his first since 2012’s “Dragonfly.”

Americana singer-songwriter Ryan Montbleau and his four-piece band was up next, scoring big with a nice cover of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” plus his original tunes “75 and Sunny” from 2007’s “Patience on Friday” and “Songbird” from 2010’s “Heavy on the Vine.”

His version of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Loving You” from his latest album “Growing Light” also went over well with the crowd, as did his new song “Never Gonna Be.”

“This is awesome,” Montbleau said. “Usually when I come to this area I’m at the River Street Jazz Café in Wilkes-Barre, but this is different. Same good vibes though.”

“This night and this weekend is all about you, our friends and family,” said Cabinet mandolinist and vocalist JP Biondo at the beginning of the band’s first set on Saturday. “We are nothing without you, thank you so much for being here.”

Cabinet kicked off its first set with “Cut Down Tree” and “Celebration,” both songs featuring Pappy Biondo on lead vocals. Following a smoking version of the instrumental “Po’s Real,” JP Biondo took over on lead vocals for “Caroline.”

Later in the first set, Pappy scored with “Shine Like the Sun” and “Pine Billy,” while his cousin JP countered with “Old Time Songs,” “Lay Low” and “Hit on the Head.”

The first set didn’t really end, it just morphed into a long “Drums/Space”-type section a la the Grateful Dead, and then slowly the “Cabinet Big Band” set took off with guests like tenor saxophonist Ron Holloway joining the band for various songs until at one point there were as many as 12 musicians on stage.

Highlights of Saturday’s second set included “Eleanor,” “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow,” “Heavy Rain” and “Old Farmer’s Mill.”

Fittingly, the main set ended with “Home Now” and the encore was a stellar version of the band’s instrumental “Susquehanna Breakdown,” which lends its name to the annual get together.

The Susquehanna Breakdown also featured a puppet show, a magician and kid-friendly sets and workshops on the ScrantonMade kids’ stage, five special sets for VIP ticket holders and Arts on the Mountain, an artisans market featuring fine arts, crafts and designs by local and regional artists. Festival goers were also able to camp inside the venue from 5 p.m. on Friday until 11 a.m. on Sunday.