Cabinet has to do what Cabinet has to do

We heard this news a while back from a promoter friend. At the time, everybody was being hush-hush. But it soon seemed to be the worst kept secret in the Brewgrass world.

That is right folks. If you like to Get High On Pennsylvania Bluegrass will have to find a new dispensary. Cabinet announced today on Facebook what a lot of people seemed to already know. They are going on an indefinite hiatus after the New year’s Eve show at The Kirby.

Here at The Chronicle, we owe a lot of our love for bluegrass to Cabinet, which, although they have always argued to the contrary, really were, at heart, a bluegrass band. Even with drums. Hell, even during the brief two drummer phase.
We were not into them at the beginning. We jumped on the train a few stops from the station, but long before it had gotten to where it seemed to be taking them prior to this announcement.  We’d heard about them from the son of a friend and sought them out a shrt time later. Since then we have watched as these incredibly talented musicians grew, collectively and individually, into a real musical force. It has been tremendous fun to watch that growth, and to listen to their songs evolve over the years.
It’s been said you can never put your foot in the same river twice. The same logic applies to Cabinet music. You cannot hear the same song twice . . . every time they play it, it is different. Simple, all acoustic tunes took on new life as the band explored electronic instrumentation and alternate arrangements.
Even as we protested we were not enthralled with the new direction, we could not help but marvel. No, we never quite liked the more electric versions of most of their songs as well as we liked the original, stripped down versions. But damn if they still didn’t suck us in and make us want to dance.
Hell, we might have become full blown converts if not for special moments like the acoustic camp site sets the boys performed at DelFest and Festy, where they showed that they still could pick it with the best of them.

Some of one of Cabinet’s DelFest campground sets
There has been a lot of hand-wringing by their most devoted followers about this development. That is no surprise given the CabFam culture that has grown around the boys. For many people, Cabinet has been more than just music. It has been a tribe of sorts, a group of like-minded souls who came together at their shows.
That is going to be missed almost as much as the music. To this day, that Thursday night at Festy 6, when a Facebook organized group shared the boys, and a damned fine pot luck dinner, with all the early arrivals remains one of the finest nights we have ever experienced. The music, the food, and meeting in person a whole bunch of folks we would see at every show, but until then knew only from Facebook — it was a special night.

Even though they already had developed quite a fanbase, Cabinet was still very much Northeast Pennsylvania’s local boys. We got a chance to share them with the wider world that night. The reactions of first timers who stumbled on to this set, which was not on the festy schedule, were predictably flipped out.

As Patty Duke would say, “When cousins are two of a kind.”
By the time that crowd-funded set was sort of reprised at this year’s Festy, there was nobody in the crowd taken by surprise. The whole crowd could have, and did at times, sang along. It was a very intimate acoustic set, the boys sitting under an EZ-up shelter in the RV section of Festy’s High Country Village. The crowd sprawled on the grass, or folding chairs, the folks standing were to the rear.

It was damned civilized. Nobody chatted while the band played. And everybody knew damned near everybody, including the band. The band, and its following had grown. But the CabFam never lost its everybody knows your name vibe.

Back on that Thursday night at Festy 6 we decided we would stop saying we didn’t know how they could get any better, because every time we saw them, they were better. It was a big part of the allure, the chance to watch these talented kids (when you are 61, most everybody is a kid to you) growing musically.

That same Festy, Cabinet pulled off another one of those amazing moments that live forever in festival lure, jumping off the stage and going into the middle of the audience to play acoustically after the power went out during their set. The place went nuts. And why not? What was there not to like?

We could note so many Cabinet memories. We have seen them on the main stage at big festivals and on a makeshift stage in the middle of a tree nursery at an urban trees fundraiser with about 10 other people actually listening to the band. So much great music, so many great people. As Babs once sang, “Smiles we gave to one another.”

Cabinet brought its Family on stage for a singalong during the 2016 Susquehanna Breakdown

So now what? Hiatus? WTF? They were just hitting stride. Seemed on the verge of being national headliners. After the rough spot with the drums situation, they seemed to have really honed in on the direction they were going musically and things seemed to be clicking. Certainly the level of their gigs had gone up in the past year or so.

Or maybe not. Maybe, well, let’s just say maybe and leave it at that. Not even going to speculate on why. I am sure those who they want to know, do know. Us? Yeah, the TMZ in us wants to know. But the grown up on the other shoulder is screaming “it’s none of your effing business” and you know what? He’s right.

We posted part of this the other day as a comment on a rather cryptic post on the CabFam Facebook page, the first we’d seen anybody mention a hiatus in public. This from a recent interview we did with Andy Falco.

“The best thing, the most important thing, we can do is just stay focused on making the music that’s the most genuine to us. As an artist, there’s an evolution that happens in the music. It’s our sort of personal musical journey. What is genuine is the most important thing as an artist and as a musician. That’s the most important thing . . . Hopefully it’ll keep evolving. Hopefully our music, and as artists, we will always be able to evolve.”

Right there is what we need to remember. This is not about us. This is not like Mom and Dad getting a divorce. What happens to the kids is none of, and should be none of, the band’s concerns. What they need to do is what got us to where we are right now — they have to follow their own artistic impulses. They need to go where they have a need to go. If we decide to come along for the ride, great. But that is not what should drive their decisions.

Here is Falco again:

“To me, once an audience starts to sort of expect artists to do a certain thing, but you can’t let that shape you. The point of being an artist is really be able to, over the course of your lifetime, explore your art, be able to do evolve freely. You’re never going to make everybody happy. And that’s OK.”

So are a lot of people sad today? Absolutely. Do they have reason to be? For certain. As Falco points out, that is O.K.

We all know the cliche about setting something you love free. Let’s not make this an ugly breakup. Let’s try to be happy for the band, that they are going to have a chance to pursue what they want to pursue. We’ll listen. We can’t promise we’ll like it, but we will definitely listen.

Matter of fact, we are listening to some Gatos Blancos as we write this. Prefer bluegrass, but this is good. We’re excited to learn more about Pappy’s upcoming “Pappygrass” project. We hear some interesting rumors about J.P. If we learn more we will let you know. For now you can catch him playing with Chris Kearney, of the old Coaltown Rounders. That duo would be worth seeing.

Jami Novak, by the way, seems pretty busy with Miz and also playing with Dave Brown’s Dishonest Fiddlers. We don’t know what Mickey, Todd, or Josh have in mind, but they are all three talented musicians. If they want to play, there are people who would love to play with them.

It’s not like somebody died. As their statement says, this is a hiatus for them as a band. Yes, it says indefinite. Yes, we do know a lot of people who were there for the Dead to say Fare The Well.

Maybe we will see them play together as a band again. If I were a betting man, I’d like the odds. But if not, well, we will have to figure that out won’t we.

For now, though, I’m going to stay optimistic. See you at the Breakdown in 2019.