Review & Photos | XPoNential Music Festival | Camden

Words and Images by: Jake Krolick

XPoNential Music Festival :: 7.25.14 - 7.27.14 :: Camden, New Jersey

There are days when you want to attend wild unruly festivals, when you crave the havoc that they play on your senses. Then there are other days when you want to just relax on a river bank surrounded by an easy going mix of familiar faces and friendly souls. I found that latter mix of relaxation at the 2014 XPoNential Music Festival suited me just right. This is a music festival that wraps you up in its easy embrace like getting a big hug from an old friend.

Under a near perfect mix of sun and clouds, we were entertained by a well-conceived mix of artists and festivalgoers all helping the music rise to the top while letting “the scene” fade into the background. This XPN Festival is no fashion show, has no funnel cake or Ferris Wheels, no late night disco or large pits. It’s an honest to goodness music festival filled with artists that love to play music not create scenes. Whether this was your first festival experience or your 61st, you could find space, sanctuary and enjoyment during one of the best laid back music experiences today. Massive kudos to WXPN and its staff who has this festival thing down to a science and have made many folks happy once again.

Music for all walks of life was featured at Wiggins Park. Saturday afternoon musical steam built with a strong middle section, which jolted into high gear as Nashville’s Caitlin Rose turned up the twang and country rock on the Marina Stage. She asked the crowd if it was time to drink yet saying that “It must be 5:00 somewhere…like Iceland” Someone in the front yelled "skál" as she went into a spirited set closer, “Shanghai Cigarettes,” about the worst pack of cigarettes she had smoked.

The music at this festival was paced evenly with several minutes between each set, so it was quite easy to catch every artist. The first thing most folks saw was the black leather jacket worn by the wonderfully poised and vivacious Alynda Lee Segarra. She led Hurray for the Riff Raff through a story-filled set that uprooted the crowd from their blankets to gather in front of the River Stage. Segarra commented, “Since we’re right by the water were going to play our beach song, this is for all you couch surfers since there’s not a lot of real surfing in New Orleans.” They tore through a driving version of “I Know It’s Wrong” featuring heartily played fiddle and upright bass.

Nothing could have prepared us for Marah and the madness they brought so early in the day. It’s hard to tell who stole more hearts, their young fiddle prodigy Gus Tritsch or band leader Dave Bielanko. It didn’t matter because Marah dominated their set six-times over and the crowd could have watched them for hours. The band interpreted old mountain folk songs into feverish garage rock borderline Danny Barnes Punk that fired up our blanket posse. The highlight came late in the set when Bielanko brought up Gus’s younger brother to scream along with his sibling’s bluesy take on “Rattlesnake.” Tritsch’s curly blond hair bounced as he finger-picked a three- string cigar-box guitar.

Rounding out the Saturday highlights was an amazing set from Philadelphia’s Strand of Oaks. It’s hard not to smile when you watch and listen to singer /songwriter Tim Showalter who has the passion of Bruce Springsteen and the guitar chops of Jim James. The band shattered all expectations and delivered one of the best sets of music ever seen at the XPN Festival, while playing most of 2014’s release HEAL. It’s easy to stay fixated on Showalter and his presence, but it’s the rest of the band that made him shine. From the heavy hitting always-forward moving drums of Mike Sneerenger, to the deep pocket held by bassist Deven Craige to keyboardist Eliza Hardy- Jones' shimmering and elegant synchronizations - each added major contributions to a set that was a dream of emotion and rock & roll elegance. The whole 45 minutes came to a climax with "Goshen ’97" where Showalter's guitar and voice washed over us in a sultry electric force field of pain and experience. The band didn’t let up as they carried us kicking and screaming through a breathtaking “JM,” which brought the performance to a stunning close.

On Sunday, J Roddy Walston and the Business laid down a Rock Sermon bright and early. Walston, as always, was a hair-flipping, key-bashing, guitar-strumming grand time. The front man played the missing link between Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Page as he led the band through several songs off of their recent album, Essential Tremors. After shaking around the stage and howling with his usually gritty vocals for the fitting opener “Sweat Shock,” Walston never looked back, pushing the crowd through “Heavy Bells” and ending on “Used To Did.” If you had a hangover from Saturday night this was the perfect cure for Sunday morning.

Perhaps it was Nicole Atkins attire, a floor-length white lace dress and necklace, or how by the end of her set she bewitched the crowd with her songs, but she has that Stevie Nicks/Florence Welch vibe going strong. Her set was superb, highlighted by “Girl You Look Amazing” and “The Way It Is.” Both kept the crowd’s attention squarely on the New Jersey gal’s entertaining stage presence and notable singing range.

Man Man was probably the rowdiest performance the Marina Stage has seen yet with the stage actually completely surrounded by a major crowd of people who actually stood and danced for the entire set. Complete with costume changes that included a white fur coat and a sequin-covered cape, Honus Honus (aka Ryan Kattner), Pow Pow (aka Christopher Powell) and the rest of the band uncorked a rowdy set that absolutely rocked the crowd. An On Oni Pond oddity, “End Boss,” which is about Wolf Blitzer, opened as Honus Honus made a late rock star entrance and then did some front stage crowd bonding. The set really got wild when they uncorked Oni Pond’s dance party starter “Loot My Body” directly into Hurly Burly’s feet mover, “Mister Jung Stuffed.” Not only did the crowd shake, but we saw plenty of keyboard banging and stool airtime by both Katner and Powell, before they ended the show with a fast “Born Tight” and left the crowd chanting for more.

The energy smoothed out quickly as Trigger Hippy and their steady musical jamming took hold. Up front, Jackie Greene and Black Crowes member Steve Gorman’s playing floated on Joan Osborne’s song. In the back and rounding out this super group, we found session guitarist Tom Bukovac and bassist Nick Govrick. Trigger Hippy opened with “Turpentine” and we witnessed some of the best guitars and bass action of the whole weekend. Jackie Greene has become a leader. You could see the influence that his years playing with Phil Lesh and Friends and extended guesting with Gov’t Mule, Susan Tedeschi and a slew of other greats, has paid off. This is a new band with an old soul and it showed as they tore through “Heartache On The Line.” Osborne stepped over to play with Gorman during the faster-paced “Snatchin’ It Back” as the seasoned musicians grouped in close to properly communicate. Expect grand things from them in the future filling holes where many other bands leave off.

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[Published on: 8/1/14]

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