In 1994, WXPN began its annual, outdoor summer music festival — representative of that FM station’s output — called the Singer-Songwriter Weekend at Penn’s Landing. A quiet affair, things got louder in 2004 when the outdoor party was renamed the All About the Music Festival. It got moved to Camden in 2006 and then became named the XPoNential Music Fest in 2007.
“I wasn’t here when the Singer-Songwriter Fest started, but the whole idea of it has always been a gathering of the tribes,” says WXPN General Manager Roger LaMay, a hands-on curator of XPoNential since his arrival 14 years ago. “If you like what we do on radio, this is a celebration of the artists you love. After outgrowing Penn’s Landing and the one-day festival, we were able to expand in every way.”
Such expansion meant everything from multiple stages at the bucolic Wiggins Park (“those grassy hills are so attractive”), a full weekend’s slate of diverse acts, and — starting five years ago — a partnership with Live Nation to coordinate big-name headliners.
“For as little money and low ticket prices as possible,” chimes in LaMay. “We do this for love. We want to connect our artists and audiences.”
As LaMay prepares for XPoNential 2017 with returning acts such like Drive-By Truckers, Amos Lee, Hop Along and Wilco (along with newcomers The Decemberists & Olivia Chaney, Foxygen, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires and more), he recalls some early favorites that rocked the house.
”Patti Smith, St. Vincent, Dr. Dog — those crowds really swelled with excitement. That’ll happen this year too, with Philadelphia artists like Amos, Dave Hause, Strand of Oaks and David Bromberg. I’m also excited that we finally brought Brownout — the Brown Sabbath act — and the “Screaming Eagle” Charles Bradley to our stages,” LaMay says.
While the name “XPoNential” celebrates its tenth year, Drive-By Truckers out of Athens, Georgia celebrates its twentieth year of non-traditional traditionalism with its most politicized album yet, “American Band.”
“Non-traditional traditionalists — that’s pretty spot on,” says Patterson Hood, one of the band’s co-founders. “We tend to write what we want to hear, what interests us. Sometimes I’m interested in things that probably shouldn’t make for songs. We kind of made a career out of stuff like that: three songs about preacher murders, three songs about Buford Pusser, a Southern Rock Opera. But, we tend to gravitate towards the things we are intrigued about.”
The political hardline of “American Band” stems from, in Hood’s words, “trying to make some kind of sense of Trayvon Martin and Ferguson” and connecting it to life in Athens.
“I was questioning how and why we can’t seem to evolve out of this ‘fear of the other’ and it spread from there,” Hood adds.
It’s that same sort-of spreading that’s made Drive-By Truckers not only favorites of the daily WXPN playlist, but of the XPoNential Fest, as 2017 marks the band’s second time back as a headliner.
“XPN has always been super great to us and we love the festival,” says Hood. “It’s a treasure.”
Fri. July 28 through Sun. July 30, Wiggins Park (Riverside Dr.) and BB&T Pavilion (1 Harbour Blvd), Camden, NJ. Single day tickets and 3-Day Go Everywhere Passes: www.xpnfest.org