Contrary to what its name may suggest, XPoNential Music Festival has grown slowly over the past 21 years. What began in 1990 as the single-stage “Singer Songwriter Weekend” has blossomed into a carefully curated, three-day event boasting 31 performers on three stages––two in Camden’s Wiggins Park, and another inside the adjacent Susquehanna Bank Center. A large portion of XPoNential attendees are members of WXPN-FM (which, like most of the artists the station spotlights, is a non-commercial venture; relying on member support), meaning they come to appreciate the music––not to party.
This because, at its core, the XPoNential Music Festival is an example of what a music festival should be––to fete the past year in music, and to preview what will come next. Unfortunately, this is a concept which has become increasingly scarce; overshadowed by behemoth “music festivals” like Coachella and Firefly––events which––unlike XPoNential––are all too often poorly run, oversold, and plagued by underage drinking and drug use. Weekends that many see as a chance to get wasted, not a forum in which to appreciate live music. XPN is doing something right, as XPoNential has been running longer than most of the mainstream American music festivals put together.
XPN’s tireless loyalty towards both their members and artists was reciprocated this weekend. As the recognized leader in Adult Alternative Album-format radio in the U.S., XPN has acted as a musician’s launching pad for decades––catapulting many of them to national recognition after playing their music. Every month, WXPN highlights a new “Artist to Watch,” a position held by Grace Potter & The Nocturnals in 2006. Potter returned to headline this year’s XPoNential Festival, ahead of the release of her first solo effort, Midnight. After her group’s 2006 on XPN, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals went on to nationwide success––something she repeatedly thanked XPN and their listeners for on Sunday night.
Nashville-based Kopecky rocked the JerseyArts.com Marina Stage on Sunday––the group was a 2012 “Artist to Watch.” Lead vocalist Kelsey Kopecky expressed the band’s love of Philadelphia, explaining how playing the city felt “a lot like coming home,” thanks to the support of WXPN and its listeners. XPoNential artists Dawes, Courtney Barnett, Lord Huron, St. Vincent, and Israel Nash all echoed similar sentiments during their sets.
WXPN’s non-commercial status and their dedication to music is undoubtedly one reason XPoNential Music Festival continues to be a success. The station has created an environment in which, to paraphrase Ms. Potter, artists aren’t afraid “to be themselves.” Patrick Hallahan, drummer for Saturday headliners My Morning Jacket, summed up the artist-station relationship best in a recent interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Steve Klinge; “I will tell you what: Anytime XPN wants anything, we jump.”