By Michael Lello
Photos by Jesse Faatz
SCRANTON, Pa. — With three stages and agreeable weather despite threats of thunderstorms, Saturday’s Susquehanna Breakdown proved to be equal parts large-scale and intimate, bringing together regional acts as well as nationally touring artists and their fans for a long day of music.
The Susquehanna Stage, the main stage, was the home to the bigger-name acts, and there was not a disappointment among them. The performances began to heat up with an interactive set by Floodwood, and Americana act featuring moe.’s Al Schnier and Vinnie Amico. Partway through the performance, mandolin player Jason Barady and banjo player Nick Piccininni ran off the stage and into the crowd, playing in a circle of fans, while Schnier sat at the foot of the stage strumming his acoustic guitar. Benevento was equally engaging, bringing vocals into his experimental piano-driven approach. While songs like “The Real Morning Party” were favorites, probably due to his frequent appearances at the nearby River Street Jazz Cafe, the highlight was a set-ending blend of Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” and Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets.”
Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds high-energy blues-rock was another crowd pleaser, with Arleigh Kincheloe’s powerful vocals and sultry stage moves combining with the horn section’s choreographed moves to create a heavily stylized show that filled every corner of the big stage. Like Benevento, the band knew the value of a well-placed cover, offering a mash-up of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” with Rage Against The Machine’s “Bulls On Parade.”
Festival host Cabinet had some tough acts to follow, but it did just fine, playing a tight set that showcased the bluegrass the band is known for as well as music that bore little resemblance to bluegrass. When Ron Holloway, who lent his saxophone prowess to several bands Saturday, joined Cabinet, the set took on a sharper flavor, with standouts including a progressive instrumental and a reggae version of Bob Dylan’s “Went To See The Gypsy,” with Todd Kopec’s fiddle evoking the gypsy feel of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder period. With Mickey Coviello switching from acoustic to electric guitar, the band spent much of the set playing a brand of gently rolling rock that was tough to categorize but easy to listen to. The band’s triumphant encore included “Oxygen,” which featured a ripping jam led by Holloway and Kopec.
Earlier in the day, standouts included Leroy Justice’s second-stage set, which soldiered on with help from guest sax player Carl Krupa after the stage lost power, and And The Moneynotes’ fun Susquehanna Stage performance. Holloway — who made every band he sat in with better the minute he stepped on stage — was an unexpected guest with ATM, spicing up the group’s warped Americana.