By Joe Korba
Have you ever had one of those proverbial ‘perfect nights?’ The stars just seem to align and everything comes together to create one of those superlative kind of experiences, in this case, the best bluegrass concert I have ever attended.
I got off of work on a Friday afternoon in late June and soon after headed to Jim Thorpe for some preshow festivities – namely a couple of beers and a shot of Beam at the Broadway Pub to ‘get ready’ for the show. Cabinet, the headlining act at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, located just a few blocks up Broadway in downtown Jim Thorpe, are a Northeast Pennsylvania-based, bluegrass ensemble who are heavily inspired by diverse genres like the jam-centric ‘hippie’ rock of the Grateful Dead along with more traditional artists like Lester Flatts and Earl Scruggs. I’ve been a fan since catching them at the River Street Jazz café in Plains Township, just outside of Wilkes-Barre, a few years back.
Even though the weather was less than perfect, the vibes were all good in Jim Thorpe that late-afternoon. The historic town has quite the burgeoning art scene and my friends and I had the pleasure of listening to some Neil Young covers performed by a local singer /guitarist while pre-gaming with the hippie-heavy crowd at the Broadway pub.
We made our way through the light drizzle to the Opera House – one of the nicest and most intimate venues I’ve ever patronized. The staff is pleasant and they sell cheap Dogfish Head beer. What more could you want? My compadres and I found our seats in the balcony – a great option if you want a more laid-back atmosphere to watch the show. The crowd quickly filled the rest of the place as the opening act, East Bound Jesus, played a solid set of banjo-driven jams capped with a raucous cover of ‘Eastbound & Down.’ The floor was soon packed with tie-dyed denizens and twirling ladies in peasant dresses and hemp-necklaces. Patchouli rounded out the crunchy ambiance.
Cabinet , consisting of JP Biondo on Mandolin, Mickey Covielle on Guitar, Pappy Biondo on Banjo, Dylan Skursky on Bass, Todd Kopec on fiddle and Jami Novak on the skins, came out of the gate swinging with a ‘Poor Man’s Blues’ opener. The energy in the venue was electric. Pappy Biondo is always great to watch as he picks his banjo and his brother, JP’s, vocals are well-suited to the type of music they perform. After tearing through a few tracks from their recent album Leap, including the barn burner ‘Hit It On the Head,’ they settled into a groove with the Jimmy Martin bluegrass standard ‘You Don’t Know My Mind.’ It was a splendid performance that put a modern, high-energy twist on a classic tune.
Cabinet was accompanied throughout their set by tenor jazz saxophonist Ron Holloway, which added an interesting new dimension to their music. Holloway was certainly a welcome addition that spiced the occasion up a bit. It was great hearing some of my favorite songs with a jazzy flavor – Cabinet’s diverse influences shine through on nights like this. The band was on. The crowd was on, and it couldn’t have been a better time.
After a haunting and beautiful rendition of ‘Caroline,’ Cabinet played some fan favorites – ‘Oxygen,’ ‘Eleanor,’ and ‘Diamond Joe’ to name a few. The crowd on the floor was in a full-on noodle dancing frenzy. Looking down on the whirling dervishes from the balcony was almost disorienting.
As Cabinet and Ron Holloway left the stage the building literally vibrated with pent-up energy. The crowd was stomping, clapping, and chanting; demanding an encore. CAB-IN-NET! CAB-IN-NET! echoed up to the rafters.
The band returned to the stage for a rollicking rendition of ‘Heavy Rain’ that absolutely brought down the house. It was wondrous and weather-appropriate. I glanced over at my future brother-in-law, also a huge fan of the band, and he stared back wide eyed with a big grin and mouthed an expletive that isn’t fit to print as Cabinet finished the show on a high note. His impressed and impassioned response to the concert is a concise a way to sum up what amounted to the best bluegrass concert I have ever seen.
If you like bluegrass, or good music in general, Cabinet is worth checking out and the Mauch Chunk Opera House is the perfect venue to catch them in.