Review & Photos | XPoNential Music Festival | Camden

Images by: Jake Krolick
Words by: Jake Krolick

XPoNential Festival :: 7.27.13 :: Wiggins Park Riverstage & Susquehanna Bank Center :: Camden, NJ

There was a group of women of various ages sitting across from us on the ferry ride over to the 2013 XPoNential Music Festival presented by Subaru. Several of these women were decked out in large straw hats completely covered in pins bearing metal guitars, musical notes, I Heart XPN dots; all older festival memories worn proudly as badges of festivals past. The excitement was evident in the women’s flow of speech and smiling demeanors. The XPoNential Music Festival is the time for one of Philadelphia’s greatest assets to shine. Our beloved WXPN radio station migrates across the Delaware River to the banks of Camden NJ for three days of music, memories and a rekindling of the fire that drives us all to see live music. Those ladies on the ferry embodied all that is WXPN and its festival. A well-balanced combination of old and new memories, where past generations help shape the future. Saturday was one of those days that will likely help shape the future of the XPoNential Music Festival for many years to come. With its first ever sellout crowd and an excellent balance of timeless WXPN radio favorites like Dr. John, Brett Dennen and Dr. Dog mingling with up and coming stars like The Last Bison, Lord Huron and Polica, musically we had everything we needed to create a new set of experiences that would dot our memories like badges on those ladies hats.

After playing their hearts out in the rain earlier in the summer for the Firefly Festival, Virginia’s The Last Bison was warmly greeted by a perfect afternoon at Wiggins Park. Ben Hardesty and father Dan led the seven member mix of harmonies, banjo, mandolin, fiddle and uplifting drum beats. Their set never slowed down as they ran through a spirited version of “Switzerland” and a toned down cover of M83’s “Midnight City.” These Virginia brethren oozed liveliness from start to finish similar to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s, but with the musical phrasing more like the Arcade Fire. They finished their set with “Distance” and the Marina’s first but not last crowd on their feet.

It’s hard to admit, but there is no better venue than Wiggins Park to be outside in the Philadelphia area (besides the Mann). July’s oppressive heat faded away leaving blissful temperatures and cloud spotted skies. The breeze drifted between the boats and the shade between the trees while our masses were lulled into lawn chair daydreams. Chocolate covered peaches and pulled pork sandwiches fueled our bodies as Dr. John’s voodoo fueled our souls. His set was a rare mid-day appearance for the night tripper, but it did not damper his funk. This side burned on his album Locked Down’s hits “Revolution” and “Big Shot.” He let his words hang out like a dog’s tongue in the heat, rolling his vocals with a thick Cajun creole as he rattled through the “Kingdom of Izness.” The Doctor has aged but hasn’t lost a step as he offered his timeless insights into the world with his music.

Lord Huron came into this festival carrying momentum. The Los Angeles indie-rock group opened up with “Ends of the Earth” featuring lead guitarist and vocalist Ben Schneider’s romantic heartfelt delivery and painstakingly placed vocals that have some seeing correlations to Justin Vernon and Jim James. Their freshman album Lonesome Dreams took on new life as unchecked energy sprung from the interactions between Schneider and the band. “She Lit a Fire” bounded along differing from the album version in wonderful ways. For a second time the Marina stage saw a crowd leap to their feet in applause as Lord Huron carried on the vibe started earlier by The Last Bison.

The latter afternoon became a summer ale and IPA charged bluegrass hootenanny as Trampled By Turtles sent waves of vitality across the main stage. The mass up front riding the rail bounced along to the dizzying pace set by Palomino’s nitro charged banjo jam “Wait So Long.” Fans jumped in delight as boys from Minnesota extended the end. Off in the distance the battleship New Jersey echoed the grandiose finale of sound back over the crowd and into the marina whose boats seemed to bob in time to the rhythms. This set carried beautifully into Brett Dennen’s take on Americana. Flanked by the old dirty dozen guitarist Jamie McLean, Dennen preached his red haired gospel to a massive crowd that pushed all the way up around the stage forming a mountain of fans. Northern California would have been proud of their native son Dennen who kept the crowd on their feet as he played a number of new songs off of his upcoming album Smoke and Mirrors. He ended with the crowd favorite “Blessed” leaving the marina stage crowd at their feet yelling for more for a third time in one day.

Many at the XPoNential Festival migrated over to Dr. Dog at the Susquehanna Bank center where XPN had set aside the center cut of the lawn to continue the party. Long time radio host Michaela Majoun introduced the band like a proud mom would introduce her sons. She beamed as she welcomed Philadelphia favorite musicians to the stage. Dr. Dog blasted through a splendid set filled with old favorites like “Hang On“ and the spirited cover of Architecture in Helsinki’s “Heart It Races,” before uncorking several new tracks off their upcoming album The Truth due out Oct 1st. It was hard to believe these tracks are new with the heavy bass pockets bassist Toby Leaman laid-out and well-orchestrated jamming on guitars between Scott McMicken and Frank McElroy. The new album already sounds road worn even if Dr. Dog has hardly started wiping the dew from these new tunes.

You know you’ve left the comfort and thoughtfulness of the XPoNential Music Festival when you find yourself paying double for drinks that are half the quality from hours earlier. But it’s the price one pays for a lovely backdrop of the Philadelphia skyline and Ben Franklin Bridge during Polica’s set. The cities haze of twinkling lights and shimmers danced alongside Channy Leaneagh’s haunting vocals on “Darkstar.” Polica’s is a band that can sneak up on you. Their amazingly full sound left many speechless as the double drums, bass and vocals filled the warm July air.

The XPoNential music festival has become a vibrant landmark in the summer for thousands around the Delaware valley. Fans require the rejuvenation and feelings that come along with seeing their favorite DJ’s announcing those stages and the annual uniting of a society glued together with music. It’s this familiar enjoyment year after year that has taken on a tradition as hallowed as the oldest holiday’s. This festival is as much a musical experience as it is bordering on a religious one. It’s a necessity like sleep, or oxygen or speech. Yet no words can really describe the feelings you leave with. Until next year we’ll all have the memories worn as badges on our hats, but held much deeper in our hearts and minds.