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XPoNential Music Fest is back in Camden this weekend, with Strand of Oaks, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Los Lobos and more

The annual music festival presented by WXPN returns to Wiggins Park and the BB&T Pavilion for three days of music, taking place for the first time in September.

Tim Showalter of Strand of Oaks will perform at the XPoNential Music Festival at Wiggins Park in Camden at 4:15 p.m. Saturday.
Tim Showalter of Strand of Oaks will perform at the XPoNential Music Festival at Wiggins Park in Camden at 4:15 p.m. Saturday.Read moreMerrick Ales

When Tim Showalter of Strand of Oaks performs at the XPoNential Music Festival in Camden on Saturday afternoon, it will be his first show in front of a live audience since the pandemic began.

“This will be the first time I’ve plugged my guitar in on stage since February of 2020,” says the longtime Philadelphian speaking from Austin, Texas, where he now lives with his wife, Sue.

Making his reentry at XPoNential — which runs Friday through Sunday at Wiggins Park and includes a Saturday night double bill with Tedeschi Trucks Band and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at the BB&T Pavilion — is a big deal for Showalter, whose new album In Heaven expresses a deep yearning for human connection.

“I believe that ecstasy happens when we all get together,” he sings on “Galacticana,” the first single from In Heaven, which comes out Oct. 1. “Standing right in front of me feeding off the energy together.”

Getting together with his Philadelphia audience at the festival presented by University of Pennsylvania station WXPN-FM (88.5) is “going to be pretty emotional,” Showalter says. He relocated to Texas after his wife’s mother, Susan Gryziec, to whom In Heaven is dedicated, died in a car accident in 2018.

“I didn’t move to Texas for any other reason than to make my family happy,” he says. “Maybe we were temporarily insane, like Nick Cave says, as we were going through the grieving process. It was just like, ‘I gotta do something.’ "

Showalter returned from touring for his last album Eraserland in time for the pandemic, and has mainly stayed home since living in Austin.

He did travel to Los Angeles to record In Heaven, which includes contributions from members of My Morning Jacket, as well as James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins, a band Showalter recalled his love for in his 2014 single “Goshen 97.”

» READ MORE: Strand of Oaks issues a loud, rocking command: 'HEAL'

The album is suffused with grief: “Somewhere in Chicago” is about John Prine, who died of COVID-19 last year. But it’s also joyous in a earnest, psychedelic, and uniquely Strand of Oaks way: “Jimi and Stan” imagines an afterlife in which Jimi Hendrix and Showalter’s beloved cat Stan go to shows together in the great beyond.

Showalter is keen to play the new songs live. A tour that begins next month includes a Union Transfer date on Oct. 13, and he says the annual Strand of Oaks Winter Classic, a December tradition at the no longer extant Boot & Saddle, will resume this year at Johnny Brenda’s “if I have to skateboard or walk to Philly … Of the shows that couldn’t happen last year, those are the ones that hit the hardest.”

Meanwhile, he’s primed for this weekend.

“XPN gave me a slot even before HEAL [his 2014 breakthrough album] came out,” Showalter says. “And it was the biggest crowd I’ve ever played for. It’s a word that’s used too much in the vernacular now, but this is family. It’s a wonderful turn of events that this is my first show back.”

This year, XPoNential is being staged in September for the first time. The move from July was planned pre-COVID, to avoiding punishing midsummer weather. So it’s been 26 months since the last fest.

“There was such a hunger that we knew it was going to be a family reunion for our community,” says XPN general manager Roger LaMay. “So we made sure we had a bunch of bands that we had long histories with.”

Along with Strand of Oaks, those include Los Lobos, who close out Wiggins Park on Friday, and Ani DiFranco and Dawes, who do the same Saturday and Sunday.

Planning the festival during the pandemic “has been a little more complicated,” LaMay says. “We’ve been working closely with Camden County and Live Nation to make sure we have a safe and comfortable environment for everybody.”

Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours is required for entry at both venues. Per CDC guidelines, mask wearing is suggested but not required indoors.

With only one night at BB&T instead of the usual two and some fans reluctant to resume concertgoing, expect the festival grounds to not be quite as full this year.

“We’re an outdoor event in a pretty big space,” says LaMay. “We’re going to have a good crowd, but we’re definitely not gong to be overcrowded this year. Obviously, there are some people that aren’t ready to come out, and that’s been reflected somewhat on ticket sales. But we’ve got a lot of space and a well-vaccinated community. I’m feeling pretty good about it.”

In addition to Strand of Oaks, here are 10 recommended XPoNential acts. Ticket information and a full schedule can be found at

Los Lobos. The storied band of four Chicanos from east Los Angeles plus one guy from the Philly suburbs — saxophonist Steve Berlin — have just released the superb Native Sons, a collection of songs by their fellow Los Angeles songwriters. 8:45 p.m. Friday on the Wiggins Park River Stage.

Arthur Thomas & the Funkitorium. Philly’s Arthur Thomas & the Funkitorium are expert practitioners of back-in-style ‘70s soul and funk, as heard on their new Welcome to Funktar, released on Spring Garden Records. 5:05 p.m. Friday on the River Stage.

Adia Victoria. South Carolina-born blues woman Adia Victoria steps into her own on A Southern Gothic, her new T-Bone Burnett-produced album which she has said is “anchored in the past and the Black brilliance that came before me.” Saturday at 3:25 p.m. at the Wiggins Park Marina Stage.

Paul Beaubrun. Paul Beaubrun is a Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist whose parents played in the great Haitian band Boukman Eksperyans and who played a key role in the XPN-produced documentary: Haitian Rhythms and the Music of New Orleans. 2:35 p.m. Friday on the River Stage.

Cimafunk. One of the high energy sets of the fest is sure to come from the dynamic Cuban singer and bandleader who takes his name from cimaronnes, the Spanish word for Africans who escaped enslavement. 2:35 p.m. Saturday on k River Stage.

Michaela Anne. Nashville songwriter Michaela Anne found her groove with Desert Dove, her smartly produced and written 2019 album that evokes folk-flavored country forebears like Nanci Griffith and Emmylou Harris. 1:50 p.m. Saturday on the Marina Stage.

Tedeschi-Trucks Band. Saturday night was supposed to be headlined by Tedeschi Trucks Fireside Live, the stripped down version of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks’ band that played virtual shows during the pandemic. But there’s been an upgrade, with the full lineup now on board, capping off a day of guitar heroics that will include Christone “Kingfish” Ingram at Wiggins Park and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong’s Jeremy Schon. 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the BB&T.

Devon Gilfillian. Delaware County soul man Devon Gilfillian made his artistic breakthrough with his debut Black Hole Rainbow, which came out in January 2020. Then he followed it up with What’s Going On, a song-by-song cover version of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 masterwork. 2:15 p.m. Sunday on the River Stage.

Sierra Ferrell. West Virginia-born Sierra Ferrell honed her craft traveling around the U.S., embracing a hobo tradition going back to Woody Guthrie and Jimmie Rodgers. Then she become famous on YouTube. Her Long Time Coming mixes honky-tonk blues and old time jazz into an instantly appealing blend. 3:15 p.m. Sunday on the Marina Stage.

Nicole Atkins. Former Asbury Park-based songwriter Nicole Atkins made the trip to the classic soul music destination of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to record Italian Ice, her sultry R&B-flavored fourth and best album. 5:15 p.m. Sunday on the Marina Stage.