If anything, the weather along the banks of the Delaware River in Camden, NJ for Sunday’s installment of WXPN’s XPoNential Music Festival was even hotter than it had been the day before. Fortunately, the music coming from the main stage was once again as fiery as the sun that blazed down relentlessly from a cloudless sky. Before the day was over, I would see my favorite set of the weekend from a band with seemingly unlimited potential.
Once again, a Philadelphia-based band opened the proceedings, and once again they did not disappoint. I was as unfamiliar with Blood Feathers as I had been with Harper Blynn the day before, but by the end of their torrid set of Americana guitar rock, I was convinced. Blood Feathers most recent album, Goodness Gracious, was released in January.
My friend Jeremy from the San Francisco band Big Light told me that I should be sure to check out an L.A. band called Dawes. I’d listened to their debut album North Hills (named after their L.A. suburb home town), and it was pretty impressive. So I was already a fan when they took the stage on Sunday afternoon. By the end of their set, I was something more than a fan. These four young guys blew the crowd away with an amazing set that featured their song “When My Time Comes,” which is getting a lot of Triple A radio airplay. New songs like “Fire Away” made it clear that the band is not resting on their laurels. My initial response to the band is that they are the natural successors to the Jayhawks, and coming from me, that’s high praise indeed. I soon realized that they have the potential to be something more. With a handful of great songs, a terrific singer/guitarist/frontman in Taylor Goldsmith, and a completely accessible, road-tested sound, Dawes may just be the next band that you, and a lot of other people, love. If you haven’t guessed, their set was the highlight of the weekend for me.
Next up on the main stage were the Cowboy Junkies. I’ve never been much of a fan, so I took a pass, and wandering over to the smaller Marina stage to catch a set from the Holmes Brothers. Brothers Sherman and Wendell Holmes, and their “brother-in-spirit” Popsy Dixon have been around since 1967, and their spirit remains undiminished. Mixing gospel, blues, r&b, soul, and country music, they delivered a set that was high on good spirits and fine musicianship, and absent of bullshit. The Holmes Brothers tenth album, Feed My Soul, was released in March.
I was looking forward to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. There had been a deafening buzz about the band in recent weeks, and I was anxious to see what it was all about. I hadn’t listened to their music, so I came to their set with a completely open mind. When it was done, the jury was still out in my mind. There were a lot of people on that stage, led by singer Alex Ebert, and they’re all working hard, maybe too hard, at that ’70s communal family vibe thing. There’s no doubt that Ebert is a compelling frontman. He had the audience in the palm of his hand from the jump, and never lost their attention. The question that you’ll have to answer for yourself is whether the music lives up to the hype. For me it didn’t. The band’s debut album, Up From Below, was released last year.
Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog was up next, and the local crowd greeted them as returning heroes. I’d seen them perform live once before, in a small club, and it was pretty impressive. What I haven’t been as impressed with is their studio output. Make no mistake, I think that Dr. Dog is an immensely talented band, and that they have a masterpiece in them. I don’t think they’ve delivered it yet, but Shame, Shame, released earlier this year, found them getting closer. The live set was powerful and dynamic, and featured several songs from the new album, including the title track.
With all apologies to headliners Robert Randolph and the Family Band, I was fried, both literally and figuratively by the time Dr. Dog was done. I tried to hang in for the day’s final act, but the sun, and the long commute to the festival each day had taken their toll on me. From all the reports I’ve heard, Randolph’s set was incendiary. I’m sorry I missed it.
This year’s XPoNential Music Festival was two great days of music for me, replete with an overabundance of sunshine and good will. The staff of WXPN, including Bruce Warren who pulls the whole thing together, worked tirelessly to make sure that things went off without a hitch. I’m already looking forward to next year.
WXPN has archived a number of the sets from the weekend. You can listen here.
The photos were once again provided by David Simchock, and are © David Simchock. To see more of Dave’s work, please visit his website.