XPoNential Music Festival Presented by Subaru
XPoNential Music Festival 2016
Written By: Staff
Contributors: Rebecca Crane and Gina Rullo
The Camden waterfront was filled with eclectic sounds as WXPN's 2016 XPoNential Music Festival presented by Subaru took place July 22-24.
Crowds eagerly waited to hear their favorite musicians, and with over thirty performers, including headliners Alabama Shakes, Brandi Carlile, and Ryan Adams, festival goers cheered and danced to old favorites and new musical discoveries. The XPoNential Music Festival performances took place on two stages in Wiggins Park, and a third stage in the BB&T Center.
Philadelphia's WXPN is nationally renowned for programs like World Cafe, and for some of the finest curated music one can find on the radio dial, or streamed worldwide via the WXPN app. Well curated music was on display live at the 2016 XPoNential Music Festival.
Two of our contributors share their takes from the three day event...
It was an uncomfortably hot day in Philadelphia on the first day of this year's XPonential Festival. A refreshing breeze blew across our faces on the ferry as we docked in Camden, NJ, and the music had just started at Wiggins Park.
Philly band Queen of Jeans kicked things off [for me] at the Marina Stage. Ironically, no one was wearing jeans (likely due to the extreme humidity). The four-piece local group set the tone of the day with their fuzzy guitar pop sounds. Although they formed about two years ago, the band released a self-titled EP earlier this year. Since then, they took up a residency at Bourbon & Branch, announced an east coast tour, and were a valuable up-and-coming, add-on to XPonential.
Over at the River Stage, a much-needed gust of wind blew into the crowd as devoted fans anxiously awaited the set of Billy Hector. "Ah, finally! There's that breeze", someone from the crowd exclaimed. Hector might be considered "old school," but the local singer-songwriter took the stage like the veteran he is, and played a show-stopping set for his loyal followers.
Back at the Marina Stage, Austin, Texas rockers White Denim continued to bring the heat. The band was recently in the area in April, and absolutely shredded at Union Transfer when they were fresh off their most recent album release Stiff. The majority of their XPonential setlist consisted of songs off their new album. Other than that, only four other songs were played from their earlier releases including three songs off the album D, alone ('River To Consider', 'I Can Tell', 'Anvil Everything'). No Corsicana Lemonade songs were played, but they did throw in 'I Start to Run' off Fits which literally mirrors their newest release Stiff.... get it? White Denim was a late add-on to the XPonential lineup, but a crucial one.
Things took a strange turn at the festival when Father John Misty took the main stage in Wiggins Park. You could say that he became heavily distracted by a battleship. He immediately sat down at the edge of the stage, and prompted a conversation with the crowd. Cigarette in one hand, and the crowd in the palm of his other, he bantered for awhile which escalated into a politically charged rant. This drew boo's. He finally picked up a guitar, seemingly not in the mood to perform. We know,because he told us that he was not in the mood to entertain after everything that had been happening in the world. After two songs, neither of which were his, he stated that he just can't sing about love right now, and that's all he had for the day. He then exited off the stage, and to say the least, left everyone bewildered. Father John Misty had just easily conjured up the most talked about moment of the entire three-day festival. Following his bizarre commentary, he provided a statement about the whole ordeal on Instagram -
"So, maybe it's completely insane and wildly inappropriate to get in front of a battleship adjacent to Camden, NJ the day after the demonic clown pageant coronation of our next potential Idiot King and publicly despair on a stage contracted specially for the purpose an afternoon of delightful folk/blues/Americana/roots music and feel real fucking deep-down-in-your-guts jeembles about entertainment, its narcotic properties and horrifying efficiency in elevating madmen to the heights of influence (ironic) - KNOWING all the while it's probably better to leave this kind of commentary to the professionals at Comedy Central- after a few days of politely shrugging and shaking your head in pathetic resignation with other polite, pathetic resigned people and asking "Wait, what the fuck is going on?" into a microphone before playing a new 15 minute song that is almost obscenely vulnerable because it feels more honest to you than "Bored In The USA" but maybe it's not."
After the awkwardness in the air that followed Father John Misty's "appearance," it was incredibly rejuvenating to hear the funky, and uplifting vibes of The Suffers. This group was the complete opposite of Father John Misty - they absolutely live for entertaining. The massive ten-piece group released their first full-length, self-titled album earlier in the year. They want you to know two things - One, they're called The Suffers; and two, they're from Houston, Texas. Trumpets, a saxophone, keyboards, and a front woman with an impressive range that can command a crowd with ease, this group kept things hot. Lead singer Kam Franklin possesses two of my favorite qualities - soul, and sass.
Over at the BB&T Pavilion, hometown boy Kurt Vile took the stage prior to Ryan Adams. Kurt's been busy this summer on nonstop festival bills, some of which have included Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, Lollapalooza, and Panorama, just to name a few. So, it was comforting to see him on his home turf for a night. Vile had on an interesting t-shirt with some kind of chihuahua or bunny on it. Speculation as to what kind of creature might be on his t-shirt echoed through the lawn when a clear shot of it panned across the venue screens. T-shirt aside, Kurt put on a mystical, and strong set that featured some early classics, and fan favorites like 'Pretty Pimpin, and 'Walkin on a Pretty Day.'
Day two of XPonential was geared up to be a steamy one. Lines of people with lawn chairs, and coolers packed to the brim, flooded the streets of Camden for the second day of the festival.
The Revivalists kicked things off early in the day with some New Orleans flavor. The seven-piece group took the stage, and stated that they were there to entertain, an obvious and well-deserved snub to Father John Misty after the fiasco from the previous day. Full of rock, energy, and soul, their set was entertaining and unpredictable, in the best possible way. At one moment, lead singer David Shaw would jump into the crowd and the next, he'd be playing the acoustic guitar. Things eventually turned into a full-fledged rock show when Shaw let his long, curly hair down from underneath his baseball cap and began to channel some Chris Cornell vibes. The Revivalists came to entertain, and they succeeded.
Over at the Marina Stage, Darlingside brought their smooth, and alluring harmonies from Cambridge, MA. The four-piece group had to endure a miserable ride to XPonential as they mentioned that the air conditioning broke in their van while en route to Camden. They're also fans of Back to the Future as the movie provided the inspiration to their song, 'Go Back.' Hopefully they didn't have to go back to no air conditioning on the ride back to MA.
The Felice Brothers actually consist of a couple of biological brothers. Half of the four-piece group include Ian and James Felice, and the other half of the group (Josh Rawson, Greg Farley) are considered to be honorary brothers of the Felice's.The americana group hails from Upstate New York, specifically The Catskills. The picturesque mountain ambiance shines through in their music, especially on their most recent full-length release of just a few months ago, Life in the Dark. It was easy to tell that this group was pumped to be playing on the river stage but unfortunately, they had to overcome some technical challenges. In the beginning of their set, the sound kept cutting out. Ultimately, the river stage lost power completely. The Felice Brothers set got cut short but this time, it wasn't a voluntarily exit. After a brief break, this group was not about to let a power outage stop them from performing. They didn't want to disappoint their fans, so they jumped into the crowd and played a memorable acoustic set, which ended up being a festival highlight of the weekend.
(Video of them in the crowd - https://www.facebook.com/thefelicebrothers/posts/10154193791056628)
It was mentioned that The Record Company was voted as the fan choice as one of WXPN's favorite artists of 2016. This would make perfect sense as to why they drew the largest crowd to the marina stage of the entire weekend. The three man band from Los Angeles know how to put on a show. They exemplify pure rock n' roll with their riffs, and guitar solos. They also bring some blues into their sound, especially with the addition of a harmonica. The Record Company mentioned they solicited XPN's Bruce Warren with a ton of emails essentially pleading him to play one of their demos at the very start of their career. Eventually, it must have worked as their music would hit the airwaves on XPN and their full-length, self-titled album released this year, has received high praise. It was already hot in Camden, and then this trio went ahead and heated things up even more.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band is a timeless group from New Orleans. When in the 'Big Easy', it is a must to stop at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter to pay homage to this group. The fact that they traveled to Camden to put on a show is something not take for granted. They hit the river stage with their brass instruments, cajun flavor, and contagious smiles. It would prove near impossible to not be tapping your feet to the sounds of this band. Just as we were just getting into the root of their set, a lightning bolt struck across the river, bringing their performance to a halt. Immediately after, heavy rain barreled through Camden sending everyone to sponsor tents like Subaru, to seek shelter.
The skies soon cleared just for enough time to grab a cheeseburger from the only food vendor dry enough to serve them. Then, even heavier rain and thunderstorms toppled down onto Wiggins Park with reckless force. This time, shelter was sought under the Whole Foods tent. Festival goers were absolutely drenched, but many were at least clever enough to grab some Dogfish Head brews before seeking refuge from the torrential downpours. All shows at Wiggins Park were then canceled.
The show must go on, and it did at BB&T Pavilion. Of the canceled sets, David Wax Museum would be rescheduled for Sunday. Josh Ritter's gear got wet so he would not be able to perform, but the Preservation Hall Jazz Band wanted to get back on the stage, stat. They were added to the already stacked lineup at BB&T that night.
Chicano Batman was the first of four bands to get the drying crowd going at BB&T. They walked onto the stage looking quite dapper in matching blue tuxedos. The Los Angeles four-piece considers their genre to be soul, psych, and even tropical. Their enthusiasm for performing was easily recognized and they let us know that they'll be playing at the Bowery Ballroom on July 30 and hoped we could all come.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band was fit into the bill after Chicano Batman, and before Gary Clark Jr. They revived us with their endless energy, and impressive showmanship. It was a comeback performance for these brass gods, and they had everyone on their feet. You could even see some members from the Alabama Shakes, and Gary Clark Jr himself, at the sides of the stage to watch the legends that were among us. It would have been a huge disappointment to not have seen this band bring the funk. They were the perfect add-on to an already soulful, and blues lineup to come. The crowd absolutely erupted at the end of their performance, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band received a well-deserved standing ovation.
Gary Clark Jr could be considered the modern Hendrix of our time. What this man does on the guitar is beyond impressive. His fingers move so fast that it looks like his instrumentation is in fast-forward motion. You never know what you're going to get at a Gary Clark Jr show because improvisation is the name of his musical game. Texas and New Orleans seemed to be the themes of XPonential this year. Like White Denim, Gary also originates from Austin. What you might not know about this household name, is that he's only released two studio albums. The first, Blak and Blu in 2012; the second, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, released last year. Gary Clark Jr is the embodiment of blues. He makes sweet, sweet love to his guitar each time he picks up that instrument, and then absolutely destroys it. He played a ten song set at the BB&T Pavilion which included some of his biggest hits (so far) like 'Bright Lights', 'Don't Owe You a Thang', and 'Ain't Messin Round.' While the numbers say ten, it felt closer to fifteen with his unrelenting jam sessions that he shredded on each song. He had us so in the zone that he'd have to bring us back to the same song after an impromptu jam sesh by powering back to the chorus with even more force than before. He laid down a fire set, and wowed the Camden crowd.
Do the Alabama Shakes ever take a break? Between two stand-out studio albums, a number of other one-off singles, and nonstop touring, the answer is likely no. Although they just played in the area last year at The Mann Center, lucky for us, they returned again to headline the BB&T as part of XPonential. There's not much to say about 'the shakes' that likely hasn't already been said. They're powerhouse performers that always put on a remarkable live show. You could put Brittany Howard in any situation, and she'd still be able to sing her way out of a cardboard box while leaving you astonished. The Alabama Shakes played a total of 19 songs. Out of these 19 songs, 17 of them were from their two studio albums, Boys & Girls, and Sound & Color. The other two were not. 'Joe' is a bonus track off Sound & Color, and 'Always Alright' is a single not associated with any album. However, it does have a great Philadelphia tie-in - it was on the soundtrack of Silver Linings Playbook.
The third, and final day day of XPonential Festival was underway, and there was even more music to be heard at Wiggins Park.
Before The Marcus King Band rocked the River Stage, festival goers in the crowd kept shouting out, "Warren Haynes." "Have you heard The Marcus King Band before?", one guy asked me. I replied that I had not, and he informed me that the sound of The Marcus King Band can be compared to the jam band lord. Haynes essentially took The Marcus King Band under his wing after hearing, and liking their sound. Since then, the band has signed to Evil Teen Records which is Warren Haynes label, and released their most recent album Soul Insight with the guidance of Haynes, and under said label. At only 20-years old, Marcus King is the front man of the six-piece group. While relatively young, he has already developed a sound wise beyond his years which was displayed at XPonential, and to the jam band following that he's already won over as fans.
If you ever wanted to be propelled back into the 1960's to catch one of the great rock n' roll shows we always hear about but will never get to see, then Oliver John-Rodgers, or OJR, can get you there. Fringe, paisley, and no holds bar psychedelic rock that melts faces off, OJR has a feel-good vintage vibe that makes you forget what year it is. Oliver John-Rodgers reminded me of a young Steven Tyler with his long, curly blonde hair, floppy hat, and fringe vest. OJR adopted Nashville as his hometown, and draws influence from a diverse range of artists like Neil Young, Nirvana, Jack White, and even Tame Impala. Last year, OJR released the LP Nashville Dreams, and impressively self-produced all the tracks via GarageBand.
Local favorites, The Districts have come a long way over the past few years. Two years ago, they were the opening act at the Electric Factory for Dr. Dog. Fast forward to two years later, and they're now the ones selling out the Electric Factory themselves. They recently re-issued the album Telephone on vinyl for the first time, and celebrated with an in-store show at Creep Records. 'Long Distance' was the only song off this album to be played at XPonential. The majority of the rest of their set was off the album, A Flourish and a Spoil. The intensity, and talent of this young band has steadily matured, and amassed a large following that continues to grow. Go to any Districts' show, and you'll see fans singing along to their songs at the top of their lungs with sheer passion which was exactly the case at XPonential.
David Wax Museum's set had been canceled the previous day on account of severe weather. Luckily, XPN convinced them to stay for another day, and they were squeezed into an afternoon slot on the JerseyArts.com marina stage. The mexo-americana Charlottesville, VA, band took the stage wearing very vibrant colors. Suz Slezak is an integral band member that practically plays a different instrument on every song. Some of which I saw her play included an accordion, and even a conch. Speaking of Suz, her and David Wax are actually married, and the two have a child together whom they bring along when touring. Philly loves David Wax Museum. So much so that their last show sold out a month in advance. Following their XPonential Festival appearance, they announced a New Year's Eve show at Johnny Brenda's which, like all their other Philly shows, is sure to sell out.
You could say that Mavis Staples is a legendary icon out of the windy city. She has racked up impressive credentials, and collaborations with some of the biggest names in music. David Dye of XPN introduced Mavis to the stage, and mentioned that church was about to be in session. It was very fitting for the gospel sounds, and booming vocals of Mavis Staples to power over the people in Camden on a Sunday afternoon. Mavis easily makes you smile when listening to her dynamic set. At one point, the ferry signaled off that it was leaving, and the sound stopped Mavis in her tracks. "What was that?", she asked the crowd. She was surprised to learn that it had been a ferry, and stated that she intended to take a ride on it later.
Low Cut Connie is another Philadelphia band that are astonishing to watch live. Front man Adam Weiner is an eccentric character, or in other words, the perfect rock and roll lead man. Sometimes he would sit on the piano bench to play, but this was rare. Rather, he would stand up on the piano bench, and play the keys while leaning over, while still standing like a boss. Band members would kiss each other's foreheads, and Adam showed us his gold medallion. It was hard to look away from this set as the showmanship was on another level. People at the marina stage were absolutely drawn to this group. They'll play another show in Philly on September 30 at The Troc, and one wonders what kind of awesome, and insane stunts Adam might pull.
Femi Kuti & The Positive Force closed things out at Wiggins Park at the three-day music festival. The afrobeats from Lagos, Nigeria gave us a second afternoon wind. Band members continuously paraded onto the stage, one after the other. First, the brass players, and their conductor came on. From there, dancers in bright, beautiful yellow outfits came out to dance to the beat of the drums. There was even a little girl on the stage, who at one point tried to reach a microphone but unfortunately was too small to make a successful reach happen. She ended up being Femi Kuti's daughter. Femi Kuti himself then took the stage, and absolutely took charge of the performance, and the crowd. From keys, to a saxophone, and endless band members on the stage, there was so much happening that you didn't know where to look. Femi Kuti has quite an interesting history, and background of diverse music that has made him a master of the stage.
There were three things that really stuck out to me at XPonential Festival this year. Father John Misty will forever hold the title of most controversial performance at XPonential. The cleanest outhouses you will ever come across at a music festival reside at XPonential (and all other music festivals should take note). The most obvious observation though, is that XPN has the most loyal listeners in the world.
Day one of the festival saw seven acts take to the JerseyArts.com Marina Stage and the River Stage at Wiggins Park in Camden New Jersey. The line-up for Friday drew a sizable crowd of weekend warriors to the Delaware River waterfront. Philadelphia was well represented on Friday with South Philly’s very own Queen of Jeans taking to the Marina Stage with their Indie Lush Pop Sound. Later on in the evening, Kurt Vile, another local Philadelphian, performed at the BB&T Pavilion prior to Ryan Adams' set. On the River Stage, Billy Hector received a lot of love from the local New Jersey crowd by playing his blues rock – n – roll and impressed upon us all why he’s an award winning guitarist. Two bands from Texas closed out Day 1 on the Marina Stage. White Denim from the live music capitol of the world, Austin Texas, played a set filled with fan favorites from Corsicana Lemonade and their most recent album Stiff. Their energy flowed through the crowd like the breeze of the Delaware River and lead singer, James Petralli, held nothing back! The Suffers closed out Fesitval Day 1 at the JerseyArts.com Marina Stage and Front Woman Kamerra ‘Kam’ Franklin was on a mission to make 2 things known to the crowd. Number 1, we were expected to take away the name of the band and Number 2 that they were proudly from Houston, Texas. The band had a ton of home town pride and Franklin likened their sound to a gumbo recipe: a little soul, a little reggae, a little rock, a little of this and a little of that. The Suffers got the crowd to their feet grooving and dancing, and invited some of the youngest of XPonential Festival goers on stage to dance. Across the park on the River Stage Father John Misty’s set was likened to a sermon by some Festival goers. I’m sure some of you have heard the controversial set which included a lecture, 2 songs, and several politically charged tangents. Whether you hated it or loved it, Father John Misty had a message and delivered it, however the Xponential Music Festival may not of have been the ideal forum. The evening in Wiggins Park culminated with music legends Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle performing songs like Wake Up Lil Susie and Ruby Tuesday flanked by an array of guitars to a gorgeous fiery orange sunset over the Delaware. The duo have recently released an album on Fantasy Records titled "Colvin & Earle".
XPonential Festical day 2 was quite the day!
Portland Oregon singer songwriter Esmé Patterson rocked the Marina Stage crowd with some punk influences on her turns from We Were Wild. Patterson's 'No River' was showcased earlier this summer on NPR Music's 'Songs We Love'.
The Revivalists all the way from New Orleans, Lousisiana filled the River Stage crowd with a full sound thanks to their horn section and singer David Shaw. Shaw couldn't be contained to the stage and jumped from the stage within the first few songs to get face to face with fans. Their recent album Men Among Mountians . It was definitely evident The Revivalists were there to entertain, despite a Friday artist who was reluctant to do so, and the crowd was with them 100%.
Slowing the pace down a bit on the Marina Stage was Darlingside from Cambrodge Massachusetts with their dreamy harmonies gathered around one microphone set between the four of them. They mentioned that even their AC breaking in their van wouldn't keep them from missing the festival; and the crowd and I were happy they powered through!
Perhaps it was the spirit of the Friday Artist who shall not be named that plagued the River Stage and prevented the Felice Brothers from playing more than one song. Thankfully the band had a resilient spirit and apparently played unplugged set amongst the fans on the hill.
Thankfully all the equipment was in working order on the Marina Stage for The Record Company from Los Angeles, California who came out swinging! Chris Vos played the harmonica with gusto. They'll be back to Philly at The World Cafe on October 22 and you shouldn't miss them.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band made it to XPonential Festival all the way from New Orleans. A two front lightening and thunderstorm caused their set to be played at The BB&T Pavilion later Saturday eventing. I am very grateful to the radio crew and artists at BB&T Pavilion who made it possible for the PHJB to transport us to the Big Easy! The trombone player was full of energy and character; and the saxophonist and trumpet player went to town! The crowd showed big love to the band after their hard earned set at XPonential Fest 2016.
Saturday was rounded out at BB&T with Los Angeles' Chicano Batman playing in blue tuxedos with ruffle shirts. Gary Clark Jr. slayed on the guitar playing songs from his album 'The Story of Sonny Boy Slim' and was a perfect gateway act for Alabama Shakes. Front woman Brittany Howard had support from 3 groovy back up singers who added another level of intensity to their live performances. Ms. Howard is a powerhouse and truly a force that I'm so pleased to see and hear in current rock and roll.
Day three of the Xponential Music Festival was a day of discovery!
The Marcus King Band took to the River Stage early in the afternoon with their soulful southern rock set, complete with an organ! Marcus King, only 20 years old, on the guitar was noted by a crowd member to be a protégé of Warren Haynes. Their first full length album, Soulful Insight, was released last fall on Evil Teen Records. There will no doubt be great things to come from The Marcus King Band in the near future.
Over on the JerseyArts.com Marina Stage, XPN’s Midday DJ Helen Leicht introduced Oliver John Rogers who greeted the crowd and invited us all to “see the spectacle that is rock and roll!” The band played a solid set to a sundrenched crowd. OJR was on NPR’s World Café and interviewed by David Dye this past June.
The lads from Litiz, PA known as The Districts played to a devoted River Stage crowd! Some fans began to assemble about 20 minutes prior set to get prime spots on the rail. Their success in 2 years has been remarkable. They’ve gone from playing an early Friday set on the Marina Stage in 2014 to prime River Stage set on the last day of the Xponential festival.
David Wax Museum finally had their moment on the Marina Stage after being rained out on Saturday. Thankfully XPN organizers were able to work the schedule to get them in! They played an interesting array of instruments including a jawbone and utilizing cowboy boot stomps. Johnny Brenda's in Fishtown neighborhood in Philadelphia will have the band back for New Year's Eve party! It's never to early to plan ;)
Mavis Staples lifted spirits and hearts with her set on the River Stage. What a class act and such an appreciative artist she is. She brought a tear to my eye during 'I'll take you there.' She has a new record out called Livin' on a High Note and songwriters like Neko Case and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and M. Ward (producer) all contributed.
Low Cut Connie and Kemi Futi closed out the festival with vibrant energy on both stages! The Philly based Low Cut Connie lead man, Adam Weiner, played the front and center piano with such gusto and style. For most of the set he was out of his seat (and standing on it) playing and singing to a groovy crowd.
The festival culminated with Kemi Futi & The Positive Force played a heart thumping and inspiring set. With the support of about 15 musicians singing, dancing and his young daughter, Kemi Futi played his saxophone for the crowd and showed us all the beauty of Africa through their music.
Thank you XPonential Music Festival.