Sometimes, you just need to throw a party.
That's pretty much how the idea for the First Annual Old Farmers Ball, the newest music event to come to Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain this weekend, started off. Local bluegrass/folk/country band Cabinet is presenting the one-day festival, and, for them, it's about time.
“I think the whole band in general, well, we've been waiting to throw a big party for everybody, you know?” said Cabinet's banjo player and vocalist Pappy Biondo. “We've been together for almost seven years and have always talked about throwing our own little shindig.”
Biondo said that after the band played at last year's Peach Festival, they started talking to the folks at Live Nation and the idea snowballed from there. Now he and bandmates J.P. Biondo (mandolin, vocals), Mickey Coviello (acoustic guitar, vocals), Dylan Skursky (electric bass, double bass), Todd Kopec (fiddle, vocals), and Jami Novak (drums, percussion) are putting on a day's worth of plenty to not only hear, but see, for the local community.
The title of the event, Old Farmers Ball, is a play off of one of Cabinet's fan-favorite songs that was written by Biondo, “The Old Farmer's Mill,” and also a nod to the culture of the area.
In addition to the main venues that will harbor musical acts (Main Stage, VIP Stage, and Marley's Mission Kids Stage), there will be plenty of vendors strewn about, some of which will be local farms.
“We know that farmers' markets are a big part of this area, so we wanted to make sure that was an element to the festival,” Biondo noted.
As far as the music is concerned, the bill is made up of acts that have shared the stage with Cabinet at one time or another.
“We're like family,” Biondo explained. “Sometimes it's hard to come across another band that you mesh well with, but these particular bands are all ones that have grown to love each other and share similar ideas in playing music. That's a part of the excitement that goes along with this as well. We've all been on the road for a while, and this is our chance to get together and do what we all do and know best: play music.”
The family feeling extends beyond those on the stage. In fact, family is a big aspect Cabinet had in mind when planning the event. There's a Marley's Mission Kids Area that will host a horse meet and greet and kids Zumba, CrossFit, and wiffle ball games. There will also be silk screening demonstrations and a concert poster art and photography gallery. Low prices have been employed for the tickets, food, and drink to make sure the event is affordable for everyone.
“A lot of people have children, day jobs, and other things that prevent them from being able to hop on the road and see a band play,” Biondo said of the local fans. “We wanted to make sure we were putting something together that would allow local fans to see the acts they like while being able to spend time with family and friends, which is a very important thing.”
Biondo said the band also wanted to further connect with the community.
“It's good for our hometown to see that we're moving forward, we're pushing it another step. We've only really ever played in local bars, so this is a first for us. We're very grateful to have the support we do, and we just want to further build on that.”
Taking such a huge initial step with a locally-produced event like this could bring some challenges, but Biondo feels that almost everything happened organically. The one thing that threw some off, however, was the fact that the Ball will take place outside the actual venue, which had some people concerned.
“The fact that it's not on the main stage at the venue had some people concerned, but I think it would only make sense to do it that way if we were selling 10,000 tickets,” Biondo said. “I actually really like the setup we have, and I think people will enjoy it once they get in.”
“And as far as the tickets go, I don't know the logistics, but it seems we're really selling them, so who knows in the future?”
Throwing a “first annual” onto the title has to mean there's more to come, right?
“Oh definitely, that's what we want to do,” Biondo emphasized. “Basically, if everybody is happy and we're happy, we're just going to keep doing it.”
-Sara Pokorny, Weekender Staff Writer
Moneynotes fans get their payoff
One of the biggest surprises (and possibly one of the biggest draws) of the Old Farmers Ball is the long-awaited reunion of And The Moneynotes, the local “vaudevillian country bluegrass pop” act unlike any other band in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Formed in 2006 as Dr. Horsemachine and the Moneynotes, the group – comprised of Mike Williams (guitar, vocals), Jeff “Setty” Hopkins (drums), Brian Craig (washboard, percussion, mandolin), Austin Smith (bass), Coleman Smith (fiddle), and Roy Williams (piano, mandolin, guitar, vocals) – released its debut EP, “This Year We Hunt,” in 2007 before shortening its name after the departure of Austin Smith and the addition of Mike Quinn (guitar, vocals) and Pat Finnerty (bass, vocals). They released their full-length “New Cornucopia!” in 2008 and the EP “On The Town, On The Vine” the following year with producer Nick Krill of The Spinto Band before parting ways.
Quinn may have moved from Scranton to Los Angeles last year, but the 32-year-old says the Electric City continues to charge his musical direction as he pursues his solo career.
“(Scranton) feels like a rooted place, so that gives you some confidence when you're going around the country or something. You compare where you're from to the places you're seeing, and it has its own identity; it has its own feel,” Quinn explained in a phone interview from California.
“Any time we were on tour (with And The Moneynotes), I thought we were contributing to what people's perceptions of Scranton would be, maybe give them a little more information about it… I just believe that (the area) has a pretty strong character, and it has some kind of inspiring culture.”
Crediting his cousin, Finnerty, with his early interest in music, he first played with him and Craig in power pop band Okay Paddy, taking a “valuable step” in his career when he joined the eclectic Moneynotes.
“Brian was already playing with Dr. Horsemachine and the Moneynotes, as it was originally titled, and our old band kind of fizzled out and we just started jamming with those guys a lot more,” he recalled. “He pretty much introduced me and Pat to those guys, and I saw them play a bunch of times and I really, really liked it and was lucky enough to get involved with them kind of naturally.”
At first, Williams wrote most of the songs while the rest of the group “would chip in and suggest ideas.”
“As we went forward, Mike and I would either write songs together or just have things and let everyone contribute however they wanted and suggest how we could change it and make it better,” Quinn continued. “Some of the songs are pretty imaginative. Mike Williams is not afraid to create a character and write a song about them; that was something that I really was able to take from him.
“He has a collection of songs, three songs called 'A Pirate's Confession,' and it was just these vaguely pirate-oriented songs… I used to go to the library and look at microfiche of old newspapers, and we found some. I just printed out a bunch of stuff, and there were old movie ads. There was one for, I think it was called 'The Thief of Bagdad,' and we each kind of loosely based a song around that and called it 'The Rascal of Lisbon.' We took lines right from the ad and just put them into a tune.
“We were just goofing around; we didn't take it very seriously. It was just pretty funny… That was the test – if everyone liked singing along when we started playing a song and it was fun, that was like the rule of thumb, for me anyway.”
Working in conjunction with the website Daytrotter, known for showcasing up-and-coming indie bands, the Moneynotes had the opportunity to record a session in The Horseshack studio in Rock Island, Ill.
“That was terrific. I'm pretty proud of those recordings. We were in pretty good shape as a band when I listen back to them. It's a cool room, a very small room, maybe living room-sized. You go in there and you know all the bands that have been in there and have done the same thing, and it's a good feeling; it's got a good vibe. You're glad to be able to contribute to the collection. The people there are really awesome, and it's a pretty sleepy town, so there's not much distraction,” he described.
“The Mississippi River is right there, and it's pretty cool. There's one stretch where there's a casino boat a few blocks away that we used to go to when we'd stop there.”
Quinn confirmed they also have some “lost” recordings, which are “Fine with a capital 'F,'” but he feels they're not “as good as they could be” and will likely not be released, other than a few songs already on bandcamp.com.
“I think the enthusiasm that we thrived on was kind of starting to fade a little, and there was some need to do some different stuff. I don't know. There were never any personal things; it wasn't feeling right in a group dynamic anymore,” he said of the band's breakup two years ago.
They have only played a few times since their last official show, so Quinn will fly in several days ahead and “go to boot camp” to prepare for the big reunion, which was spawned when Moneynotes manager Bill Orner, who also manages Cabinet and organized the Old Farmers Ball, asked them to come out of retirement.
“Pat and Setty live together and they have a band room, so those guys have been getting together and running the songs through, so I should be able to just jump in and hopefully hit the ground running. We'll be pretty far along by the time we even start,” Quinn noted.
“Hopefully it's not something that's just a shell of what (fans) remember, but actually what they remember. Whenever you do a one-off kind of thing like this, it's such a loaded 45-minute set; you're putting all this expectation into 45 minutes.”
Also gearing up for a solo set at the Backyard Ale House (523 Linden St., Scranton) afterward, he finds that the biggest draw, for him, is getting to see his bandmates and friends from Cabinet, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, and Coal Town Rounders again.
“Just the joy when you're screaming those songs with four other people and you're all on the same page – it's a unique feeling to be in a really tight band where you're all pushing in the same direction. It's a good feeling, so that's what I'm looking forward to, just going out there and having fun with some of my closest friends,” he said, adding that also he wants to see the festival grow and showcase this tight-knit scene to the rest of the world.
“Hopefully – to make a corny joke – it will start the ball rolling.”
-Rich Howells, Weekender Editor
Cracking Coal Town
A “rounder” is defined as “a dissolute person,” but vocalist/guitarist Christopher Kearney of the Coal Town Rounders doesn't consider himself of that ilk anymore.
“Not anymore. I'm reformed,” he told The Weekender.
Did the band's “blacklung bluegrass” save the 31-year-old Scranton man's soul? Probably not, but it did grant him some of the best times of his life.
It's the kind of music he listens to with his grandfather, Andrew, and plays with his father, Tony, who still performs locally with The Young Geezers. Surrounded by it his whole life, that traditional country music finally “got” him when he picked up a collection of Hank Williams hits at the age of 18.
Getting together with some high school friends who taught him some old bluegrass tunes, he started performing at open mics before their first show as the Coal Town Rounders on Halloween of 2009 at Beynon's Lake Sheridan Pub in Nicholson.
“It's hard-driving. We play a lot of fast songs… I think we're just a pretty good band that plays bluegrass in a cool way,” Kearney said of the band's sound, which hearkens back to what “seemed like a simpler time.”
“We all work physical (day) jobs, and everybody worked really hard back then, and music seemed to mean a lot more because it was their only way of getting away from the Great Depression or that era. It's music for poor people who didn't really have much other than music.”
The current lineup, which features Jason Zarnowski on upright bass, Matthew Hiller on mandolin, and Ian O'Hara on banjo, primarily performs classic bluegrass songs, but they've been known to cover everything from “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” by Radiohead to gospel songs like “My Lord's Going to Set Me Free.”
“The ones I really get a kick out of (performing) are the murder ballads because it's a kind of a ridiculous thing. The whole idea of it is just absurd, that this guy loves a woman so much that he kills her. There's this tune that we do, 'Banks of the Ohio' – I asked her to marry me, she said no, so I killed her and threw her in the river. And that's kind of a recurring thing,” Kearney described.
“It's so outlandish that it's funny to me… There's another one that's probably the most brutal of the murder ballads that I've ever heard; it's called 'The Knoxville Girl,' and it really gets into detail about murder. The Louvin Brothers do it – big fan of them – and I saw an interview with one of the Louvin Brothers, and it's a take on an English folk song called 'The Wexford Girl.' In the one from England, the dude gets away, never to be heard from again. And in the American version, the way he put it, 'America loves justice,' so he gets caught.”
Unlike “heavy metal or hip-hop,” he feels that bluegrass is “palatable across the board,” allowing the group to play almost anywhere, including opening for the Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Lumineers, and Emmylou Harris.
“We're singing; there are harmonies. It's upbeat; you can dance to it. Kids jump around; old people like it… We've played in dive bars, benefits for people with cancer, theaters, larger venues. It's hard not to like it, and most people who have never seen us before say, 'You know, I don't really like bluegrass, but I like you guys.' And that kind of makes me laugh because we don't play anything but bluegrass,” he emphasized.
“Either we're doing something completely wrong, or we're doing something right. I'm not sure.”
Easily recognizable as they harmonize around a handmade microphone stand crafted from a white fence post that bears their moniker, the Rounders recorded their first EP, a collection of songs in the public domain so they “don't get sued,” live in two hours in Hiller and O'Hara's apartment. Tentatively titled “Numero Uno,” it will be available to the public for the first time at the Old Farmers Ball.
“We play all the time, so the songs sound what they sound like,” Kearney stated simply. “There's not really much of a thought process behind anything we do. We just kind of do whatever feels best.”
That organic performance style will serve them well when they take the stage along Cabinet, And the Moneynotes, MiZ, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, and other musicians they've jammed with and consider friends; Kearney looks forward to his time backstage with them as much as onstage.
“Cabinet has such a great feel that you can't help but have a good time when they're around. They bring a good time, and so does everybody else on the bill, but it's Cabinet's party, so they're really going to bring it,” he said.
“It's not some rinky-dink thing – it's at Montage Mountain. It's big. Those are dudes I've hung out with and played music with, so it's like, 'You guys are kind of famous now.' It's an honor to be part of it. It's something that this area really needs… Something like this needs to happen, and it needs to happen every year. It's about time.”
Flying by the seats of their pants, it has never stopped being fun for the hardworking quartet, and that just may be why bluegrass has stuck with Kearney.
“I know a lot of other guys in other bands – everybody has beef and nobody gets along. We have such a good time; I look forward to when we have a gig out of town where we're driving in the car. We're always laughing… Maybe we shouldn't screw around as much as we do, but it's so much fun – the most fun thing I ever did in my whole life,” he shared.
“Don't get me wrong, I would love to have a tour bus and play sold-out arena rock concerts every night, but if I'm playing at Beynon's next week, I'll be happy.”
-Rich Howells, Weekender Editor
Farmers ready to have a Ball
There's no way we could cover the Old Farmers Ball without speaking with an actual farmer, one of the many in the area who provide the community with homegrown, healthy food choices.
Don Hess runs Dancing Hen Farm in Stillwater, a farm that is considered a CSA entity, or Community Supported Agriculture.
CSA is a connection between a nearby farmer and the people who eat the food the farm produces, a “mutual commitment,” according to Hess. Farmers ask regular customers to pay a share of the farm's annual expenses in exchange for a weekly share of produce.
“Our core beliefs are a focus on quality, building strength in community, providing education concerning healthy benefits, sharing ideas and resources while investing in the future by mentoring the next generation,” Hess said of his farm, which has been in operation for six years.
“We feel it's important for people to choose organically grown vegetables over products in the grocery store for two reasons: support of small, local, fresh agriculture and the opportunity to avoid potentially toxic synthetic chemicals used on many vegetables today.”
Dancing Hen's interest in Old Farmers Ball was first sparked through a previous Weekender article; Hess came across the idea of combining local “organic” music with local organic produce, which Dancing Hen will supply in droves at the Ball. The farm will have its Spring Salad Greens available in ready-to-go containers and fresh free-range eggs.
“This will be our first time selling our food at a music festival,” Hess noted. “We are fans of the local music scene and really enjoy Cabinet's brand of music. We've seen many of the other bands at local venues.”
And it's not just the music that's bringing Dancing Hen to the Ball.
“With the Old Farmer's Ball, we're looking forward to enjoying the community atmosphere with many like-minded people while spreading the word about local organic agriculture,” Hess said.
-Rich Howells and Sara Pokorny, Weekender Staff
Old Farmers Ball schedule
10 a.m.: Box Office Opens
1 p.m.: VIP Gates Open
2 p.m.: GA Gates Open
2:30-2:40 p.m.: Marley's Mission Performers, Mollie Edsell and Jordan Tarter
2:45-3:05 p.m.: Kyle Morgan
3:10 p.m.: 3:30 p.m.: Pappy (from Cabinet)
3:35-3:40 p.m.: Marley's Mission Performer, Abby Millon
3:45-4:15 p.m.: Coal Town Rounders
4:30-5:15 p.m.: And The Moneynotes
5:30- 6:15 p.m.: MiZ
6:30-7:15 p.m.: Holy Ghost Tent Revival
7:30-8:30 p.m.: Yarn
8:45-10 p.m.: Cabinet
*Set break sounds by PANKED! DJs (DJ Langor & DJ Con Solo)
1:30-1:45 p.m.: Mike Quinn (from And The Moneynotes)
2:15-2:30 p.m.: JP Biondo (from Cabinet)
4:15-4:30 p.m.: Mike Mizwinski (from MiZ)
5:15-5:30 p.m.: Pappy (from Cabinet)
6:15-6:30 p.m.: Kyle Morgan
7:15-7:30 p.m.: JP Biondo (from Cabinet) / Roy & Mitch Williams (from And The Moneynotes)
8:30-8:45 p.m.: Mike Mizwinski (from MiZ) & friends
Marley's Mission Kids Stage:
4-4:15 p.m.: Jordan Tarter
4:20-4:35 p.m.: Mollie Edsell
4:35-4:50 p.m.: Abby Millon
5:15-5:30 p.m.: Jordan Tarter
5:35-5:50 p.m.: Mollie Edsell
5:55-6:10 p.m.: Abby Millon
Marley's Mission Kids Area (Lawn Area):
- Horses meet and greet
- Kids Zumba and CrossFit
- Kids wiffle ball games