This weekend, listener-supported station WXPN 88.5-FM will host its annual XPoNential Music Festival at Wiggins Park on the Camden waterfront. Situated near the Adventure Aquarium right off the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, easily accessible by PATCO and the River Line or via ferry from Penn's Landing, Wiggins Park is an idyllic setting for this monumental, audience-friendly musicfest.
Besides four full days of great national, regional and local music, there will be plenty of good food, crafts and accommodations either at the park or close by. The sound system is good, the outdoor acoustics are warm, and the pace is as fast or as slow as you want the event to be. Because there are so many good acts, too many to cover in one article, my conversation with host and program director for WXPN Helen Leicht will focus on a few of the more local acts, some of which have broken internationally.
Of folk/soul sensation Amos Lee, Leicht points out, "I consider him national, and that is the hope for what I do. He is very supportive of others [artists] -- for example, Mutlu. The new one is the CD of the month for WXPN. He has that place in his heart for Philly."
The South Philly-born Lee, who was once a bartender at the Tin Angel in Oldcity, has just released his third worldwide album, which was produced by award-winning studio and performing great Don Was.
Lee has played on four continents and just about every TV show one can think of. Leicht and I agree that the new album is more than a great collection of songs -- it works like a single portrait flowing from the artist.
Mutlu, whose name is Turkish for happy, is managed by the same Wynnewood talent-launcher who brought us Amos Lee. Daryl Hall produced Mutlu's debut on Manhattan Records, which has an all-star Philly cast. Leicht comments, "The whole thing with Mutlu is that warmth, that crystal-clear voice. He needed to work with somebody who would let him be himself and he has that Philly soul with Amos, Daryl Hall and G-Love on the record. Our volunteers love him, and it is the perfect time because the album comes out on the 22nd."
Jim Boggia's career has been slowly, consistently, on the rise. I remember catching him in 1996 at the old Biddle's Cafe in Ambler. Then, Boggia had trouble drawing just eight people. Today, he plays Los Angeles and London, England on a regular basis, doing a sound that is reminiscent of the Beatles and Brit pop.
"Jim Boggia is kicking off the whole event [as] someone who could represent Philadelphia, but he also has connections all over. 'Misadventures in Stereo' is his new album, coming out on Aug. 8. "That guy could play anything," said Leicht.
From the Phoenixville area comes Fooling April, one of the most professional bands around, according to Leicht. "They are a great group of guys and they are working with Scot Sax [of Plymouth Meeting] and I love their musicianship. They have a singer/songwriter-plus-band approach. They are really professional and really good," said Leicht.
Josh, the drummer for the Brakes, out of Gladwyne, really wanted to be at the XPoNential Music Festival, according to Leicht, but leukemia got to him first, taking his life. Yet the band soldiers on. They released an album on June 6 and never considered dropping off the schedule. These are brave young fellows with a great lead singer. "Zach -- what a voice on that guy! Classic, and you know it's him immediately," said Leicht.
Kuf Notz and the Hustle have one of the most unique takes on the scene. Combining songwriter Laura Whitaker and her blues cool voice with Kuf's rap and spoken-word poetry, they have everything from masterful musicianship to slick effects in their music. This is hip-hop for a literate crowd.
"I told Kuf that I love the positive message, and the festival is the perfect place for them. The blend with Nora Whitaker is great. The 4, 5, 6 CD is really good and they will go far. They're going to make it -- star quality!" said Leicht.
There are many other acts on the edges of the region, including Angel Band; the Loved Ones; a Drexel University-based group called Cheers Elephant; and Jesse Rubin, from Maple Glen.
Leicht is also hosting at the local music stage at the Philadelphia Folk Festival later this summer, which will present Box Five, Peasant, and Matt Duke. But Leicht has some advice for anyone doing a large outdoor event sponsored by a radio station.
She says, "You got to be ready to play it. You need the recording, Web site, publicity and everything ready to roll. Once you play it, you've played it, so timing means something. You play it in July, so you had better have something for August, September and onward. You need to springboard off of it."
XPoNential Music Festival will take place at Wiggins Park on Camden waterfront, Thursday, July 10, to Sunday, July 13. Visit www.wxpn.org.