This year's XPoNential Music Festival in Camden marks the 25th year that WXPN-FM (88.5) has made a big weekend-long summer splash along the Delaware River.
That's a true fact, though until 2004 the fest happened at Penn's Landing on the Philadelphia side, and the station's signature event was first known as Singer-Songwriter Weekend and then briefly the All About the Music Festival before settling on the cooler-sounding XPoNential in 2007.
This year's fest has a pretty cool lineup whose headliners include Talking Heads leader David Byrne and electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso on Friday and Philly rockers the War on Drugs and rock and country tough guy Sturgill Simpson on Saturday.
The three-day and -night showcase will take place in adjacent venues. Cozy Wiggins Park will feature music on its River and Marina stages on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday and Sunday. And the less inviting and bigger BB&T Pavilion hosts the big-name headliners Friday and Saturday nights.
The 12 acts highlighted are those I've deemed most worthy, but the deck could easily have been shuffled to include others that reflect a diverse set of options for those approaching the fest with open ears. Such as: Oakland "black roots music" guitarist Fantastic Negrito, or the Brooklyn pop trio Sunflower Bean, or the Philadelphia-reared folk-pop band Mt. Joy, or the Brooklyn roots-rock band National Reserve, or the Latin roots band M.A.K.U SoundSystem, or the New Orleans adventurers Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
The dozen picks that follow are organized in chronological order. Ticket info and a complete schedule can be found at xpnfest.org.
Bermuda Triangle. Great name for a band. The attention-getting member of this acoustic trio is Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes, who's joined by Nashville songwriter pals Becca Mancari and Jesse Lafser. The three women share vocal duties, and judging by the bossa nova-flavored "Suzanne," their approach is considerably less heavy than Howard's other side project, Thunderbitch. 6:55 p.m Friday at Marina Stage.
David Byrne. The Talking Heads leader has always been a fabulously geeky live entertainer with theatrical flair, dating back to his big-suit days in Jonathan Demme's benchmark concert movie, Stop Making Sense. The tour for his new American Utopia, his first true solo album in 14 years, has generated a buzz with its creative staging. 10 p.m. Friday at BB&T.
Hurry. The Philly trio fronted by guitarist Matt Scottoline boasts plenty of jangly, yearning power-pop songs on 2016's Guided Meditation and this year's Every Little Thought that are as catchy as anything you're likely to hear all weekend. 12:25 p.m. Saturday at the River Stage.
Natalie Prass. The Richmond, Va., songwriter followed up her 2015 self-titled debut with the new The Future and the Past, which again pairs her with producer Matthew E. White. The album beefs up her singer-songwriter sound with a '70s and '80s dance-pop groove, and you might think the subject matter lightweight until you focus on the subversive lyrical content in songs like "Ship Go Down." 1:35 p.m. Saturday at River Stage.
Jupiter & Okwess. The hidden gem of the festival: Congolese musician Jupiter Bokondji leads his band Okwess (which translates as "food" in the Kibunda language), who mix Afropop sounds with less familiar Congolese rhythms and rock on the blistering new Kin Sonic. Along with Femi Kuti & Positive Force, also playing Saturday, it makes for an impressive afternoon of African music. 2:20 p.m. Saturday on Marina Stage.
Margo Price. Since making her entrance with Midwest Farmer's Daughter in 2016, Price has lived up to the hype generated by her honky-tonk debut single, "Hurtin' (On the Bottle)." Her 2017 sophomore effort, All American Made, broadened her music with soul and Tex-Mex and established her as a feminist hero with "Pay Gap," a catchy song about gender economic inequality. 6:35 p.m. Saturday at River Stage.
Sturgill Simpson. With Simpson and Margo Price, XPoNential has nabbed two of today's foremost rebel country artists. The gruff-voiced Kentuckian has a delivery reminiscent of Waylon Jennings and the songwriting chops to put his tunes across in a variety of idioms. 8:30 p.m. Saturday at BB&T.
The War On Drugs. The Philly rock band celebrated the release of their fourth album, A Deeper Understanding, at the Dell Music Center last September. Since then the band fronted by Adam Granduciel with the textured, immersive sound deservedly won a best rock album Grammy, and they return home as conquering-hero festival headliners. 10:15 p.m. Saturday at BB&T.
Phoebe Bridgers. Bridgers writes strikingly intimate songs that might seem too emotionally freighted for a sunny summer's day. Last year's Stranger tn the Alps is marked by the influence of songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, Mark Kozelek, and Conor Oberst. Her approach can be overly precious, but her best songs, like "Funeral," can be devastating. 2:40 p.m. Sunday at River Stage.
Tank and the Bangas. The winners of the 2016 Tiny Desk Contest are a fabulous live band that blend hip-hop and bounce music from their native New Orleans with spoken word, jazz, and funk, all put across with leader Tarriona "Tank" Ball's charismatic and generous spirit. 4:15 p.m. Sunday on River Stage.
>> READ MORE: Tank and the Bangas treat Girls Rock Philly campers
Hiss Golden Messenger. Like the War On Drugs' Adam Granduciel, Hiss Golden Messenger's M.C. Taylor sings in a sneering voice that brings Bob Dylan to mind. And fans of the Bard would do well to check out the veteran North Carolina songwriter, whose 2017 album, Hallelujah, Anyway, is packed with well-wrought songs about small joys and spiritual perseverance in the face of existential difficulties. 5:05 p.m. Sunday on Marina Stage.
Blind Boys of Alabama. Gospel singer Jimmy Carter — not the president — is the lone remaining founding member of the church singing group formed at the Alabama Institute of the Negro Blind in 1939. XPN is in the midst of a programming effort called The Gospel Roots of Rock and Soul, in which the Blind Boys are key players. 5:55 p.m. Sunday at River Stage.