Blind Boys of Alabama | photo by Ashley Gellman for WXPN | agellmanphotos.com
#XPNFest Guide: The 2021 XPoNential Music Festival is poised to bring a wonderful weekend of live music the Camden Waterfront
It’s been a long winding road since Wiggins Park and BB&T Pavilion were last packed with fans and artists enjoying the very best weekend of the year. I won’t belabor the point, because you know the gruesome details, but let’s just say we as the Philadelphia music community could really use a weekend full of nothing but music, friends, and celebration.
Thankfully, we are mere days away from the big weekend. As we ramp up to XPoNential, with details ever-changing — we’ll get to those — here’s a guide of what to see and hear, and how to stay safe, this weekend on the Camden Waterfront.
THE BIG PICTURE
Of course, XPN was able to put on a virtual fest in 2020 but, like most things during the pandemic-plagued year, it just wasn’t quite the same. While Program Director Bruce Warren acknowledges just how hard the musicians worked to give the audience something as close to a live festival as possible, things paled in comparison to the real thing. “It was a bummer,” says Warren. Luckily Warren and fellow festival Producer Paul Severin were able to work with the performers booked for the last festival in an attempt to bring back much of the same lineup, utilizing the kind of relationships that make the XPoNential Festival such a family affair. “We knew coming back we wanted to bring all our families and friends together and wanted it to be warm and welcoming,” says Warren. “And we have an amazing lineup to make that happen.”
As you can imagine, the 2021 XPoNential Festival will not be without its changes, first and foremost being the change from July to September, a move that was actually a few years in the making. Between the violent summer thunderstorms and extreme heat, a July festival became more and more of an issue, and while Severin knows it may take a little getting used to, he believes it’ll be the right thing to do in the long run.
Then, of course, there’s COVID-19 and the growing concern over the Delta variant. For Severin, this offered several unique challenges. While he’s been working on the XPoNential Festival for over fifteen years, this is truly unlike any festival weekends in the past: meaning rather than modify the blueprint of past festivals, much of the plans put in place had to be established from scratch. Despite this, both Severin and Warren feel confident in the team of volunteers and staff they have in place. “Once the doors open, I’m confident we’ll pull off an amazing festival,” says Warren.
Despite all that’s gone on in the last two years and the challenges facing the 2021 XPoNential Festival, all involved seem poised to get out there and bring the Philadelphia area a wonderful weekend full of live music, a weekend a long time coming. “Hopefully by mid-afternoon Saturday I can look out on a crowd of happy faces who are psyched to see bands we all really love,” says Severin.
COVID-19 is obviously in the back, and often front, of everyone’s mind, and that is why the crew at WXPN is doing everything in their power to ensure the XPoNential Festival is as safe as possible. Working alongside the Camden County Board of Commissioners, WXPN has established a set of safety protocols that will make for a healthy weekend.
For entry into both Wiggins Park and BB&T Pavilion, all attendees will have to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination OR proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken at least 72 hours prior to entry. For both cases, be sure to ensure your identification card matches the COVID-19 test and/or vaccination documentation. For children under 12 who are only attending Wiggins Park shows, negative tests are not required, however adults and everyone over 12 must present proof of vaccination or negative test for entry to Wiggins Park. Regardless of vaccination status, all attendees will be required to wear masks at all indoor spaces. Children too young to be vaccinated (2-12 years) must wear masks while moving around festival grounds, though masks can be removed when seated.
While we remain in complicated times, WXPN is confident it has precautions in place to make for a safe and fun weekend for all. However, it is important to recognize that if you are feeling any COVID-19 symptoms you are encouraged to stay home, in which case you will be eligible for a full refund.
What better way to kick off the 2021 XPoNential Festival then with the joyously exuberant Wilmington group Hoochi Coochi? This blues / funk / soul six-piece have been on our radar for a while now, and their 2020 EP The Watershedis a standout collection of nostalgia-laced millennial funk, soul and fun. Believe me, you’ll regret it if you have to hear the rollicking “Big Bad Wolf” from the parking lot, so get to the Marina Stage early!
Friday night closes with another band adamantly refusing to stick to a single genre or style. Los Lobos have a discography dating back to the late ‘70s, and through that time, they’ve basically tackled every form of North American music, from soul and R&B to zydeco and more traditional Tex-Mex styles like cumbia and boleros. You might know them from their cover of Richie Valens’ “La Bamba” but these Rock and Roll Hall-Of-Famers have a bursting catalogue of hits, including this year’s excellent LP Native Sons, to play well into the Camden night.
This Nashville-based singer-songwriter is a name you’ll likely be hearing a lot of in the coming months. With two albums of sultry gothic blues already under her belt, Victoria is set to release her third record A Southern Gothic on Friday 9/17. What better way to celebrate what promises to be a standout record than with a Saturday afternoon performance at Wiggins Park’s Marina Stage.
Cuban funk/pop singer-songwriter Cimafunk joined the XPNFest lineup under the wire, after travel issues from Haiti prevented Lakou Mizik from playing. While we’re sad to miss Lakou Mizik, Cimafunk will more than match their energy with a 12-piece band, vivacious energy and charisma, and a tagline “the James Brown of Cuba.” His new album El Alimento comes out on October 8th on Thirty Tigers.
Strand Of Oaks
If there is one artist who truly captures the spirit of XPoNential Music Festival, it may well be Tim Showalter and his band Strand Of Oaks. While they’ve only been a part of two past festivals – 2014 and 2017 – they’ve managed to make their mark on the weekend with tasty licks, soaring choruses and enough heart to fill Wiggins Park twelve times over. Coming just weeks before the release of Strand Of Oaks’ eighth record In Heaven, Saturday’s River Stage performance promises to be part homecoming, part celebration, and one barnstorming performance.
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Band leaders Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks are not ones to miss out on a chance to bring their jam-band adjacent blend of blues, soul and Americana to live audiences everywhere, which is why it was not surprising they were able to find an avenue to share that passion during quarantine. So much so, in fact, their inititial thought was to a live version of their virtual concert series, “The Fireside Sessions” to BB&T for Saturday night’s headlining show. But as touring time grew closer, Derek and Susan decided yesterday to go all in, and we’re happy to share some breaking news that this year’s headliner will be the full lineup of Tedeschi Trucks Band — horn section, backup singers and all.
Northumberland-born musician Jade Bird recently released her second album, Different Kinds Light, which she recorded at Nashville’s RCA studio. Propulsive, instantly catchy and expertly done, Bird finds a sweet spot between former festival performers and favorites Brandi Carlile and Caroline Rose, bringing equal parts soulful pop and Americana heart to Wiggins Park Sunday afternoon.
Morton, PA-born, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Devon Gilfillian returns to XPoNential Festival for a second time after first playing back in 2018. Still riding high off the release of his two(!) 2020 records – Black Hole Rainbowand his cover record of Marvin Gaye’s seminal What’s Going On – Gilfillian is the kind of smooth, incredibly-skilled performer that you will want to ride out your Sunday afternoon on the River Stage.
4:30 – 5:00 PM Hoochi Coochi
5:40 – 6:25 PM Sofia Valdes
7:45 – 8:40 PM Cory Henry
5:05 – 5:35 PM Arthur Thomas and the Funkitorium
6:30 – 7:40 PM The Record Company
8:45 – 10:15 PM Los Lobos
12:30 – 1:00 PM Great Time
1:50 – 2:30 PM Michaela Anne
3:25 – 4:10 PM Adia Victoria
5:15 – 6:10 PM Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
12:00 – 12:30 PM Stella Ruze
1:00 -1:45 PM Paul Beaubrun
2:35 – 3:20 PM Cimafunk
4:15 – 5:10 PM Strand Of Oaks
6:15 – 7:15 PM Ani DiFranco
7:30 – 9:00 PM Pigeons Playing Ping Pong
9:30 – 11:00 PM Tedeschi Trucks Band
12:00 – 12:30 PM Anna Shoemaker
1:25 – 2:10 PM Sierra Ferrell
3:15 – 4:05 PM Jade Bird
5:15 – 6:10 PM Nicole Atkins
12:35 – 1:20 PM Tommy Conwell and the Young Ramblers
2:15 – 3:10 PM Devon Gilfillian
*4:10 – 5:10 PM Cimafunk
*6:15 – 7:45 PM Dawes
*6:15 – 7:15 – Shovels & Rope
*Update 9/19/21 1:19 a.m. ET: After a few positive COVID-19 test results came back late Saturday, Dawes has canceled their appearance at #XPNFest. Cimafunk, who electrified audiences during their Saturday set, will return for an encore performance.