One of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s most popular bands is poised to ring in the new year in Wilkes-Barre, and then, take a step back.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton-based bluegrass and Americana group Cabinet will perform on Dec. 31 at the F.M. Kirby Center with Lehigh Valley act Serene Green opening the show. Effective Jan. 1, Cabinet will begin an ‘indefinite hiatus,’ the group stated via their Facebook page Wednesday.
Formed in 2006, Cabinet developed in front of local crowds at venues like the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains Township and the Cornstock Folk Festival in Tunkhannock, honing what their faithful, the “Cabinet Family,” came to call Pennsylvania bluegrass, a mixture of bluegrass and jam-infused Americana.
The group was conceived by musical cousins J.P. and Patrick “Pappy” Biondo, who became the group’s mandolin and banjo players, respectively, and lead vocalists. The original lineup was comprised of the Biondos, guitarist Mickey Coviello, multi-faceted bass player Dylan Skursky, veteran drummer Jami Novak and fiddle ace Todd Kopec.
In May 2016, the band brought in Kingston percussionist Josh Karis, and Cabinet featured a dual drum attack until April of this year when Karis took over sole kit responsibilities.
Over a decade of recording and touring, the band reached audiences throughout the United States, resonating in bluegrass, folk and jam circuits in states like Colorado and Maryland as well as across the Northeast.
Cabinet has released four well-received studio albums, performed at multiple, large-scale music festivals, headlined their own yearly soiree — Susquehanna Breakdown at Montage Mountain in Scranton — and played alongside artists as celebrated as Del McCoury and Keller Williams.
The band’s latest studio effort, “Cool River,” was released in October, showcasing a decidedly more plugged-in sound than their previous work.
“The whole sound has evolved in the last year-and-a-half big time, more than it ever has in a year-and-a-half span,” J.P. Biondo said. “It’s a lot more electric sounding stuff. Not only the songs, but the jams and everything have been in that direction.”
The mandolin player referred to the “new thing that has popped up” as a “seventh member of the band.”
“I think it gives us a little bit of grit,” he said. “It allows us to be a little rock ‘n’ roll if we’re feeling that, which is cool. I really do love the undercurrent of a little bit of acousticness that still goes on, that organic acoustic thing.”
Audiences, J.P. Biondo said, seem to like new album cuts “Bottom of the Sea” and “Miss Molly.”
“But ‘Cool River,’ the title track,” he said, “that one’s turned into quite a staple for us as well. It’s fun to do live. Pap starts it out by himself. A lot of times, most of us will step off stage and let Pappy take control for the first half of the song.
“It’s one of my favorites that Pap has ever written. It has the ultimate Americana feel. Then we join him on the stage and smash in again with a minor fiddle solo. It feels real good.”
Pappy Biondo noted that the recent augmentation to Cabinet’s sound is an evolution rather than a departure from previous sensibilities.
“Live, we developed a sound with Jami over nine years,” Pappy Biondo said. “We didn’t reinvent it, but we gave it an adrenaline shot. We beefed it up a little bit. Some interesting and great things have come out of it. Josh has really helped us express that. I’d like to note Jami’s addition to where we are. Josh has a done a great job … . Essentially, he’s going off a sound Jami helped create.”
The banjo player said the New Year’s Eve performance will be a time for reflection and a time to serve Cabinet fans and the music he and all of the band’s members have created through their decade together. The fans, he said, can expect some “throwback tunes” the band hasn’t played in a while and the typical Cabinet Family atmosphere for which the ensemble’s shows are known.
“This was one of the better years for sure,” he said. “We released a record we’re proud of, had some great tours. I love making music with these guys, and every time there’s a chance to remember what it’s all about, I take full advantage of it. The New Year’s Eve show is the perfect example. I love my brothers in Cabinet, and it’s time to remember all the good things and think of the good things to come.”
J.P. Biondo said every opportunity the band gets to play at the Kirby Center in front of its hometown crowd is “incredibly exciting.”
“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “It’s very comfortable. That place is just a place I’ve been to for hundreds of shows, and I love it. At the end of the day, we’re just people and we want to be around for the holidays and want to have our family and friends and familiar faces around and enjoy being alive and sharing friendships and relationships with the people we love. It’s big time for us.”
Speaking to the Times Leader a few hours after the hiatus was announced, Pappy Biondo expressed a “mixed bag of emotions.”
“I’m celebrating my daughter’s eighth birthday today,” he said Wednesday, “and when she was born, that was between two and three years in (with Cabinet). I remember having feelings when she was born. Can I continue to do this, play, travel, write? There’s a joy of reflection … and I can’t help but think of the great times and the beautiful people we’ve shared those times with and my brothers, the musicians, the band. They’re a huge part of my life, ten years of my life. So many things have happened in everybody’s life. The hiatus … there’s a lot (about it) that has to do with our individual lives. Going into New Year’s Eve, it’s going to be an emotional show for all of us, fan base and band included.
“I’m a firm believer that music saves and music heals, so if any sadness or negative feelings creep up, once we ring in the new year, it’s a fresh start. We’re going to try to wash all that away with music, like we do on a nightly basis. Cabinet music has been a huge part of my life and will continue to be on and off the stage. We’re really proud of what we’ve done, and New Year’s Eve will be a showcase of what we’ve done. We’re going to put on a great show for these people.”