“And they’re off!” On Friday, May 19 the gates lifted in Scranton, Pennsylvania and campers raced to grab the flattest and grassiest space on the The Pavilion Lawn at Montage Mountain. They were not there for the 142nd Preakness Stakes, which traditionally takes place in Maryland every third Saturday in May, but instead were celebrating a new bluegrass tradition, the 5th annual Susquehanna Breakdown! Some attendees dressed in jockey-like colors and patterns with ridiculous hats and clothing combinations. Others wore graphic t-shirts splattered with band names like Cabinet, Umphrey’s Mcgee, Greensky Bluegrass and Phish. By the beginning of the first set at 6:30pm, one thing was clear… everyone was there to place their bets on a winning weekend.
The Dishonest Fiddlers, orchestrated by founder Dave Brown, are a Scranton local bluegrass act that switches up the bill every time they perform. The lightweight and easy listening bluegrass invited campers to put down their tent poles and join in the music at the smaller “Breakdown Stage.” Breakdowners were delighted to discover that Cabinet’s own fiddle player, Todd Kopec, was sitting in during the festival’s opening act. The Dishonest Fiddler’s performance marked the first of many expected Cabinet sit-ins over the weekend, but that comes as no surprise as the festival is named after one of their songs! Next up on the bill was the American-festival veteran Keller Williams. It is hard to think of the word “bluegrass” or just “grass” in general and not think of the pumpkin pie hair-cutted freak bouncing around stage barefoot from instrument to instrument. Once you have seen one Keller show, you have seen them all, but that doesn’t stop anyone from attending. Keller Williams got his start in parking lots playing to the energetic crowds that gathered before the main attraction, The Grateful Dead. For over 20 years, he has been marching to the beat of his own drum, guitar, synth and whatever else he decides to bring on stage. The completely improvised sets travel through space and time reminiscent of a spun-out music junky that can’t decide which radio station to listen to as they station hop. Keller closed his roots-filled funky set with a cover of Marian Hill’s “Down,” which lyrically is the most genius song to kick off a festival. If you hate on modern pop music, give this one a listen.
As the sun finally disappeared on Day 1 of the festival, the audience was treated to more Keller Williams for the first semi-official Cabinet set of the weekend entitled “Keller & Cabinet.” Launching into the bluegrass traditional tune, “My Grass Is Blue,” got the fans boppin’ and air pickin’ before a cover of “Float On” by Modest Mouse. As more and more non-camping 2-day-pass holders made their way into the venue, the atmosphere began to feel less like a backyard BBQ and more like a full-fledged festival. The communal body heat kept everyone warm as “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” served as a reminder that Montage Mountain was home for the next 36 hours. It wouldn’t be Night 1 of a festival without some minor technical difficulties. After three minutes of tinkering, the stage was back on track and Cabinet allowed Keller to take the wheel for his originals, “Alligator Alley” and “Sing for My Dinner.” Before the final track of the collaborative set, Keller commented that he wanted to do a reggae version of the upcoming tune but Cabinet insisted on playing it fast. Much like Ricky Bobby in Talledega Nights, they wanted to go fast, and fast they went through Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.” Ironically enough, ambulance lights flickered through the crowd during the Winehouse cover as the first festival attendee maybe had too much too fast. Members of the crowd looked on in hopes that this would be the one and only emergency rescue of the weekend.
On a brighter note, Cabinet came out swinging for their first major set of the weekend, tackling
CABINET FRIDAY NIGHT SETLIST:
A Smile, Treat Me So Bad, Hey Baby, Diamond Joe, Mysterio, Eleanor, The Dove %, Pine Billy, Sunday 60 Breakdown
% Brief Power Failure occurred twice during The Dove
KELLER WILLIAMS SETLIST:
My Grass is Blue, Float On*, Ripped 6 Pack, Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow, AGWT Reprise (post Power Failure), Alligator Alley, The Tower, Sing For My Dinner, Rehab **
* Modest Mouse Cover ** Amy Winehouse Cover (Setlist credit: Rich Stoler)
ORGAN FREEMAN SETLIST:
We’re On Our Way, (New Track 1), Only If You Mean It, Putin And I Get Along Fantastic, Life’s A Bench, Reptile Moonshine, Pie Eyed Manc*, Change For A Nickel, The Green Green Grapes, You Said You Quit Drinkin’, (New Track 2), Verve, Byrd vs Fish, (New Track 3), Go By Richard, Not By Dick ENCORE: Hit The Ground Running, Come out Swinging
*- Stanton Moore Trio