Photos & Text by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
This year, XPoNential Music Fest management scrambled to prepare for End-Times weather, rescheduling the first day of the event to shift more of it to the shelter of the BB&T Pavilion, and moved up set times, as highly anticipated performances from two beloved local bands — Swift Technique and Hurry — fell casualty to the lineup rework. Philly fest-goers armed themselves with ponchos and steeled their resolves — or just decided to stay home. Early Day-One acts Arkells, Brownout and Pinegrove did their damndest to rally the raging of the Friday afternoon crowds in advance of killer sets from Angel Olsen, Offa Rex and Philly-faves Hop Along, but the atmosphere remained decidedly subdued.
The threatening storm clouds remained idle, though, and the operational meteorologists at NOAA proved their worth again. For the most part, the rain held out through livewire performances from Conor Oberst and company, and from Wilco. Mr. Bright Eyes made it clear at least twice that his commute to Philly from New York City was long and arduous, rendering an almost unbelievable account of travel by helicopter that left fans wondering if he sourced it from a graphic novel. The crowd seemed grateful for the efforts nonetheless, warm to a galvanizing set that accelerated to critical speed, as the Omaha folk singer got political, dedicating that unnamed “piece-of-shit and his piece-of-shit family” a rendition of “Roosevelt Room,” and faithfully evoking the hair-raising sneers and the tenor of Dylan’s “Masters Of War.” For Wilco’s part, lead singer Jeff Tweedy brought the show home with an odd selection of cuts, the first half mostly from newer albums, and the second with their best-known hits from Summerteeth and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, “War On War,” “Heavy Metal Drummer,” and the din and discord of “Via Chicago.” This was an abridged set, for them, as they pushed right up against the venue curfew that night with a rowdy one-song encore of “Outtasite (Outta Mind),” and let everyone get back to their cars before the skies finally opened up.
With the festival in full swing for Saturday and Sunday, fans bounced back and forth between the Marina and River Stages at Wiggins Park for daytime sets from Philly-area musicians both adopted (The Dove & The Wolf, Strand of Oaks) and native (Cliff Hillis, Dave Hause, Hardwork Movement, Dave Bromberg).
Artists came to play from afar as well, from Cali’s indie-experimental-psych-baroque pop-rock collective Foxygen, to Oregon’s harmonic sister-trio Joseph, to ‘60s southern R&B staple Charles Bradley. Houston’s The Suffers brought their self-proclaimed “Gulf Coast Soul“ through for two separate sets, both outdoor and then indoor, the former wrapping with an “intro-to-hip-hop” lesson from frenetic vocalist Kam Franklin, a notable medley of adapted covers of Outkast’s “Spottieottiedopaliscious,” and Three 6 Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp.” And New-Orleans-based folk-blues Hurray For The Riff Raff played their hearts out too, frontwoman Alynda Segarra getting as political as ever, channeling Patti Smith, Karen O, and Zack De La Rocha, with battle cries, a fist in the air, and a very venue-appropriate Springsteen cover that somehow didn’t even come off pander-y.
Austin indie-rock darlings Spoon made it back here too, finally, for an electrifying headline set pulled in large part from their more recent catalog, and especially highlighting their latest LP Hot Thoughts. Amos Lee and co headlined their Saturday-night spot in collaboration with New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who played a tremendous standalone set earlier that day as well. And on the third night, the Georgia-based Drive-By Truckers played the weekend into the sunset, with their brand of politically charged southern rock. — JOSH PELTA-HELLER