Kirby Center Wilkes-Barre, PA
December 23 2016
by Ryan O’Malley

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In 2006 some aspiring musicians from the Northeast Pennsylvania region started crossing paths at open mics and acoustic shows throughout the region. Eventually, the musicians – all fans of the jam and acoustic/bluegrass genres – realized there was potential for something other than just running into each other each week.

Fast forward one decade, two albums, a few cross country tours, numerous appearances at major festivals, a mutli-stage yearly festival curated by the band, and a rapidly growing fan base, and the boys from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area known as Cabinet have been celebrating their ten year anniversary with non-stop touring, including their annual hometown Christmas hoedown, which took place this past Friday.

Since starting the hometown Christmas show tradition, Cabinet originally hosted the event at the near 400 person capacity club The River Street Jazz Café, which always resulted in a guaranteed sell out. As the band grew in popularity so did its crowd, resulting in a move to a bigger venue – the chandelier lobby of the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre, a much bigger room which also resulted in sell outs over the last two years. For this years’ celebration, the seven piece finally made it to the main room of the Kirby Center, and drew a capacity crowd of nearly 1,100 faithful fans who danced, partied, and welcomed their hometown heroes with open arms.

Prior to Cabinet taking the stage, one of the group’s friends – the immensely talented Holly Bowling – delivered a solid 30 minute opening solo opening set. To many in the crowd, it was a first exposure to Bowling, a classically trained pianist who has been interpreting the music of the Grateful Dead and Phish for solo piano. Bowling first came onto the scene a few years ago when a video of her interpreting the 40 minute “Tweezer” that Phish played in Lake Tahoe went viral. Since then, Bowling has gone on to collaborate with original Dead members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir, and has had the opportunity to discuss her music with Phish keyboardist Page McConnell.

Check out the full gallery of photos from this show.

For her opening set on Friday, Bowling kicked off with the signature riff to the Dead classic “Help on the Way,” which morphed flawlessly into the progressive psychedelia of “Slipknot!” before interjecting Phish’s “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing.” The way Bowling can transition between the songs is something that needs to be seen live in order to fully appreciate the technicality. Following the “Slipknot!” reprise and a ridiculously tight “Franklin’s Tower,” the appreciative fans gave a standing ovation. Bowling – who does not utilize vocals during performances – mentioned how those songs were included on her recently released album “Better Left Unsung,” her tribute to the Grateful Dead, before saying “and here’s one from my other favorite band, Phish” prior to a beautiful run through “Taste,” which garnished another ovation.

Around 8:45, the lights dimmed and Wilkes-Barre’s favorite sons took to the stage with the appropriately titled “Home Now,” an upbeat number Cabinet has been playing for years but adds a little punch whenever performed to the hometown fans. While members of the Cab Fam – a name given to the bands rabid fans – began to dance, it was the following cut, a lively “Old Farmer’s Mill” that really set the pace for the evening. Banjoist Pappy Biondo led the seven piece through the fiery number while giving a pleasant smile to the adoring fans who were singing along with every word.

A tight run through the instrumental “Po’s Reel” gave way to a fun “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow,” which summed up the feeling of nearly everyone in attendance. A thumping “Heavy Rain” was an early highlight due to the pounding dual percussion of drummers Jami Novak and Josh Karis, and also featured some tight harmonies from Biondo, his cousin JP, and guitarist Mickey Coviello. For JP Biondo’s “The Dove,” Bowling emerged to lend some brilliant piano fills to the number, and remained on stage for a take on their biggest hit, the older “The Tower.”

A pleasant mid set highlight came in the form of the fast “Susquehanna Breakdown.” Along with being a fan favorite, the song means a lot to the Cabinet community as it has become the name of the annual festival the band hosts at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton. To see the aisles of the Kirby Center full of dancing friends and family provided the perfect holiday backdrop for the evening, as was the case during a raucous “Shifty Shaft” which featured some dynamic upright bass from Dylan Skursky and some brilliant fiddle playing from Todd Kopec.

After ending the main set with the one-two punch of “Mysterio” and “Eleanor,” the outfit returned for a multi-song encore beginning with a new Pappy Biondo cut, the tender “Cool River.” Following a quick jaunt through Cake’s “Arco Arena,” the familiar opening to “Oxygen” led to one final dance party for every in the crowd.

With proud smiles on their faces, Cabinet took a final bow before wishing all their family and friends a healthy and safe holiday season. It was the perfect send off for a night that was rewarding for both the fans and the band. As their popularity continues to grow, Cabinet still remains faithful to its roots in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre region. The fans continue to follow the band wherever they go, but for the locals the question might be, with how popular the band is getting, what major room will they sell out next?

From the youtube channel of Richard Stoler Jr.

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