STORY WRITTEN BY DAVID W. WANNOP
For 21st Century Media
The 2014 edition of the Xponential Music Festival is poised to take over the local music scene from July 25 to 27. Set in Wiggins Park along the Delaware River next to the Camden Aquarium with concerts at the Susquehanna Bank Center, the event is hosted by WXPN radio, the event showcases a wide range of performers including area musicians.
The festival, sponsored by Subaru, is the highlight of the radio station’s calendar; a celebration for the member-supported listening audience, and features both national and local acts, according to radio host Helen Leicht.
“It’s very difficult to select just a few of our great local singers/songwriters and bands,” said Leicht, who helps book and promote many of the local and national acts via her radio show and input to Xponential Fest. “But I think it’s a good problem to have. The goal is to have a diverse line up. My favorite part of the festival is to give our local artists a chance to play in front of a large crowd. Connecting artists with an audience; every year that is exactly what happens,” she said.
Here’s a brief look at four acts scheduled to perform:
■ Man Man is a critically acclaimed Philly band with a very offbeat sound. Indie rock is too easy a label to slap on them and isn’t quite appropriate, but they have a fine musicality that perches precariously between construction and deconstruction. Some might think of them as the clashing color that makes the outfit work. Ryan Honus wrote to me about Xponential Fest after a harsh encounter with some Tennessee hot chicken. “Hopefully someone hears one our songs, falls in love with it, and then spreads it like wildfire. Like coughing on an airplane or starting a wildfire.” Effortlessly quipping along he adds, “Take note of how stable the scaffolding is for climbing.” One wonders if Man Man intends to repel onto the stage. “Sometimes I wish we could only play festivals. I love performing for people who are into what we do, but get even more psyched when it’s playing to people who have no idea what to expect,” he said.
Man Man has the future in mind these days. “Pow and I are already working on tunes for the next album. Hope to have something out by sometime next year. I think we may have already written next summer’s single but we need to finesse it more; burp the baby so to speak,” Honus said. “Philly is in our blood,” he said and feels that it will be more than just another stop on the tour.
■ Ginger Coyle has quite a different story on her way to Xponential Fest.
“My road to this festival actually began 15 years ago,” she said. “I was just freshman in high school when my father sent my two-song demo CD to the station. One morning while I was in English class I got a call to go to the office where the secretary told me that my father called and wanted me to know that my song ‘Truly Mine’ was just played on the radio. Since that day I’ve continued to hone my craft. It’s been a lot of hard work, persistence, ups, downs, milestones, mistakes, and growth as both a performer and businesswoman. During this journey I was signed to a major label, eventually dropped, and for now I’m doing things independently.”
Coyle has musical chops ranging from jazz to singer songwriter pop, and I met her via Melody Gardot several years ago. Here’s how she got back in the game. “After my EP ‘Homeward Bound’ released in May 2012, I was feeling a bit frustrated in the weeks to follow because the record wasn’t seeming to get any attention. I am an avid listener and member of WXPN. One afternoon Helen Leicht announced she would be at World Cafe Live that night to celebrate Sir Paul McCartney’s 70th Birthday. She would be cohosting the open mic with some featured performers. Anyone could sign up to play, but it had to be a McCartney tune. I thought, if I could just play in front of her, make an impression and personally hand her the record, I would most likely be given a fair shot. So that’s what I did. In three short hours I learned ‘Maybe I’m Amazed,’ drove to the city just barely making it in time for the open mic sign up, and waited my turn. The night was wrapping up and all of the featured performers had done their thing. I was on deck to play next and that’s when I saw Helen headed for the door to leave. So I did something completely out of character. I stopped her, introduced myself, handed her a copy of my EP and asked if she would stay for one more song to hear me play. In all honesty, I felt like the world’s biggest jerk. This woman clearly had a long day at the station and now a long night at the venue. Despite all of that she did something that most radio DJ’s wouldn’t typically do for an undiscovered artist, she stayed and listened.” This testifies as to the commitment of WXPN personnel and their ability to give a break to an act. Coyle was added to the Philly Local Show which you can hear on line any time or on Tuesday nights. Coyle elaborates, “The opportunity to play Xponential is not something I’m taking lightly. I intend to put together a righteous set with some incredible players and represent my hometown in style. To gain new fans would just be icing on the cake. I dig the flow of energy at outdoor shows you really have to be in the moment. I’ll take the sunshine beaming down on me over an artificial spotlight any day.”
■ Commonwealth Choir is a new band and Xponential Fest will be a new experience for this power pop rock outfit. They may be everyone’s new discovery at this year’s fest. Yet, they project a maturity beyond their experience answering questions clearly and concisely and most of all honestly. Davis Howley reported to me from Commonwealth Choir. “Most of us grew up listening to XPN in Doylestown, where we’re from. It was the only non-commercial radio station that we knew about at the time and our parents were pretty into it. As we got older, XPN became more and more of a force in the music scene, eventually kicking off the Xponential Festival. When we started this band in 2012, we knew that we wanted to be part of the XPN family and eventually we were lucky enough to have our first single ‘Rest’ and now our EP’s title track ‘Shirtless’ selected for rotation. We went to the festival last summer and basically made a pact with one another that we were going to somehow play the next Xponential. We worked hard to play bigger and better shows with hopes that we would get a look or two from the station. When we received the invitation to play, to say that we were insanely excited would be an understatement.”
Commonwealth Choir looks forward to completing a full-length album, and they are working hard on harmonies for the outdoors does not give you the reflected sound of a club. However, the crew for Xponential knows how to get monitors right for that situation.
■ Marian Hill is a duo made up of Jeremy Lloyd and Samantha Gongol. Lloyd produces and writes and Gongol writes and sings. This is their first festival. WXPN’s John Vettese played their song “Whisky” last July and blogged about the act thus getting an in-station live performance. Their music blends a very early 20th century sense of swing with a techno driven aesthetic known mostly in dance clubs. Since it is a family friendly event they are thinking about bringing their family dogs to the event.
Gongol said through email, “We’re just working to build our audience, to share our music with as many people as possible. We’ve been lucky enough to build a following online and it’s been such a thrill translating that into real fans rocking out in a room with us. Xponential fest is an amazing opportunity to share our music with a big audience and hopefully introduce our music to even more people. We’re of the belief that you’ve gotta meet each audience on its own terms. We’re just excited to play for an outdoor audience and see what that vibe is like, having only played more club-like venues. Who knows, we may even prefer it!”
IF YOU GO
The Xponential Musi Festival runs Friday, July 25, through Sunday, July 27, with events at Wiggins Park and the Susquehanna Bank Center. For a complete list of performers, admission prices and tips on what to take or not take to the venues, check http://www.xpn.org/xponential-music-festival.