Written by Autumn Walden
Photos by Ardy Wunder
Should I start by describing the metalgrass cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” during the two-hour set of Greensky Bluegrass? Or do you want to hear about the muscles I pulled dancing over and over to Cabinet in four different iterations: Keller & Cabinet Breakdown Stage Fury, Cabinet’s Breakdown Stage Shindig, Cabinet’s Acoustic Afternoon, and the Cabinet Susquehanna Surprise? Oh, maybe I’ll just start with the sunshine daydream that found me upon arriving at Montage Mountain as I wandered up the hill to the Breakdown Stage towards the sounds of the Dishonest Fiddlers on a Friday afternoon.
The Dishonest Fiddlers are a trio with Dave on guitar, Ron on bass, and Sean on the mandolin. Hmmm, what’s missing? I’ll wait… While you’re scratching your head, I’ll continue my story of how Dave, Ron, and Sean sang a song called “Steve” as the sun danced and the breeze spun my hair. And after a while, Todd from Cabinet added his very honest fiddle to the group.
In between sets that alternated between the Breakdown Stage and the Susquehanna Main Stage, festival goers could return to the camping area conveniently located on the green facing the Main Stage, or grab a bite from Shady Grove wraps or the Gouda Boys. But many wandered down the shakedown strip in the Main Stage area as I did. At one point, I followed the sound of an acoustic guitar and met Trevor Clark, strumming and singing in front of the SAW Family Creations booth which sold recycled Christmas tree ornaments.
As the sun went down on the first day of music, Keller Williams transformed the Breakdown Stage into his party cave. “Thank you for having me at your party, y’all,” he said as he looped and lulled us into the evening. Switching from guitar, to bass, to drums, Keller ran through the Butthole Surfers “Other People’s Eyes”, had the ladies getting Diggy-Down, and we all ended up on “Alligator Alley”. But we didn’t stay down in that alley too long because, wouldn’t you know, Cabinet joined Keller onstage and JP’s heavenly voice brought us up to “The Tower”, and we jumped together. And as the temperature dropped, we kept warm shaking our bodies to a fast-paced cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”, sung by Keller and jammed by the whole Keller and Cabinet gang.
It had been several years since I’d seen Cabinet live, so the Susquehanna Breakdown was the perfect festival for getting caught up on Cabinet jams. When Pappy began the intro to “Diamond Joe”, I knew I was in the right place at the right time. My closing memory of Friday night was of swaying in the crowd with my eyes closed listening to “Eleanor”, reminding me of the first time I fell in love with Cabinet and the Eleven album many years ago. My love lingered right into Saturday with a “Ghost in a Bottle” from the Kitchen Dwellers—a bluegrass band 3,000 miles from their home.
I’ll pause here and state that the voice of Billy Strings rivals that of Dan Tyminksi and the Billy Strings 4-piece band stole the show and my complete attention on Saturday afternoon. After the first few songs Billy said, “we’ve gained your trust—we showed you we can play bluegrass…” But play isn’t even the right word—they owned bluegrass, they spraypainted the grass blue with harmony, they completely overturned everything I’d seen and heard since I’d arrived. And it was the best way to prepare for the remainder of the evening—more Cabinet, followed by Tom Hamilton’s Breakdown All Stars which also involved the guys from Greensky Bluegrass and Cabinet, a two-hour set from Greensky Bluegrass that Tom Hamilton joined because, to quote Anders Beck of GS, “Tom Hamilton is like duct tape, he makes everything better.”
Closing memories from the weekend involved dancing until my thighs gave out, smiling into the sunlit faces of fellow deadheads and hardcore Cabinet fans, watching the brightly costumed Turkuaz close out the festival with soul and swagger, hearing The Wood Brothers sing a song about Pennsylvania Shoo-Fly Pie, hearing JP sing a song for his homie, Sean, of the Kitchen Dwellers and learning that Justin Mazer played on Cabinet’s new album. My first Susquehanna Breakdown was well-timed, for in its fifth year it attracted a larger number of festival goers and campers than it had previously. If you need a May getaway next year, I suggest getting down with the Breakdown. Toodles!