STORY WRITTEN BY MICHAEL CHRISTOPHER
For Digital First Media
The frustrating thing about music festivals is that sometimes it’s too much music and too little time. Which artists do you go see? Who do you miss? It can be a nightmare trying to plan it out. This year’s WXPN Xponential Music Festival, which will be held in both Wiggins Park and the Susquehanna Bank Center July 24, 25 and 26, might not be as big as Firefly or Made in America, but it can still be challenging to make choices.
Here, in a special edition of our weekly Seven in Seven, are the artists that you should make every effort to see.
Dawes – July 24 at Wiggins Park
“And may all your favorite bands stay together,” sings Taylor Goldsmith on the title track to Dawes’ fourth album, “All Your Favorite Bands,” on their own HUB Records, harking back to a time when that very special rock group helped define who you were, expressing the joy and passion the foursome put into the release. The result is an unending expression of lightheartedness and joy all throughout the album, one that should carry over fantastically in the live setting.
St. Vincent – July 25 at The Susquehanna Bank Center
St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, has become quite the indie-darling in recent years for both fans and critics. It’s well-deserved, as she has been moving at a breakneck speed for the past two years, barely stopping to catch her breath amidst a whirlwind of recording and touring. Her latest album, last year’s self-titled release, won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album, making Clark only the second female to have that distinction. The singles “Birth in Reverse” and “Digital Witness” barely scratch the surface of the brilliance of the album, making her a can’t miss at this year’s fest.
Calexico – July 25 at Wiggins Park
Calexico is no stranger to negotiating borders. For the better part of two decades, eight albums, and countless trips around the globe, Joey Burns and John Convertino have crossed musical barriers with their band, embracing a multitude of diverse styles, variety in instrumentation, and well-cultivated signature sounds. Under fences it digs and over mountains it climbs, sometimes into untrodden terrain, sometimes toward a more familiar landscape, and sometimes simply walking that fine line to soak up sustenance from all sides.
Son Little – July 25 at Wiggins Park
“Cross My Heart,” the debut track from Son Little, is a box of bonbons filled with barbed wire. Over a deceptively slinky groove, with shades of 70’s Marvin Gaye and Leon Ware, the singer croons, phrases emerging from the swelter, “sex and candy,” “gonna get me some:” a lover’s plea. But the angular blues guitar lick over the top of the track is clue to a deeper, older invocation, as Son Little’s lyrics bear witness to two departed friends, and, inspired by Trayvon Martin, offer a meditation on the ease with which black lives are erased — even now, decades beyond the years when that smoky guitar line was invented. Son Little’s voice soars like a young Stevie Wonder’s as he testifies to his loss, and the “cross my heart” tag line reveals itself not as a lover’s plea, but a defiant prayer to remember the lost. A new artist yes, but one that has many years of amazing material ahead.
Vita & The Woolf – July 25 at Wiggins Park
Vita and the Woolf is the brain child of Jennifer Pague. It’s an electronic soul pop musical group built and raised locally. The band name was inspired by the love relationship between novelists Vita Sackville and Virginia Woolf. Pague has been writing songs under the Vita moniker since 2012. Much of the music is vocal driven and includes a wide range of harmonies, leaving many to compare Pague’s voice to that of Florence Welch. Her romantically tragic and adventuresome lyrics tie into her European travels to Belgium and the Netherlands. The haunting harmonies and vocal layering combined with crazy instrumentation and simple drumming produce a sound that reflects R&B, soul, jazz, and powerful choral ballads.
Cheerleader – July 26 at Wiggins Park
The hazy charm of Cheerleader first shimmered into existence at a Hartford, Conn. middle school. It was there that Joe Haller and Chris Duran cut their musical teeth in Duran’s parents’ basement, and their friendship and musical chemistry sparked a connection that survived the 2000s and colleges in separate states. Reconnecting in their hometown in 2012, Haller and Duran decided it was time to devote themselves to their music. The following year the two self-produced and recorded a three-song demo in their apartment in downtown Philly under the name Cheerleader. To their surprise, the release of that three-song demo on SoundCloud led to features in NME and Nylon, some radio play, and a slew of SxSW invitations. Expanding to a five-piece, the band has no limitations reproducing their indie power pop sound onstage.
Grace Potter – July 26 at Susquehanna Bank Center
Grace Potter’s epic musical journey reaches a new milestone with the arrival of her solo debut, Midnight, out next month, an inspired work that is surprising, revelatory and wildly original. Citing Miles Davis, Dylan, the Beatles, Bowie, Blondie and Beck as prime examples, Potter has said she is drawn to artists who make sonic leaps from record to record — a notion she has explored throughout her career. For an artist who has built a devoted fan base through her electrifying live show, Potter seems hell-bent on breaking out of the box when it comes to studio work, refusing to be defined by a single genre.
Michael Christopher’s Seven In Seven column appears regularly in Ticket. For more, check www.tickettoentertainment.com.