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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: Keeping mountain minstrelsy alive with Marah

Marah | Photo courtesy of the artist
Marah | Photo courtesy of the artist

The underdog set of this XPoNential Music Festival belongs to Marah – one known as a raucous Philadelphia rock band, now a raucous Central Pennsylvania folk band. Led by Dave Bielanko and Christine Smith, its project of late is the excellent 2014 offering Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania, where the six-piece recorded its own rearrangements and renditions of songs collected in 1931 by folklorist Harry Shoemaker.

This is where the underdog aspect comes in: as Dave explains, the songs they drew from – while they are as striking and resonant in a modern context as I imagine they might have been three-quarters of a century ago – are nonetheless the music of the people, everyday real people, the sort that cultural critics might tend to eschew and not anthologize in favor of somebody more…I don’t know…poetic. But this is poetry nevertheless. Continue reading →

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: Catching up with Our Griffins

Our Griffins | Photo by Daniel Jason Savage
Our Griffins | Photo by Daniel Jason Savage

Atmospheric rock ensemble Our Griffins released its debut full-length Michael Boyd in September and has spent the ten months since establishing its presence in Philly and beyond. Led by Easton’s D.J. Brown, the band has sharpened its game as an evocative live act – some moments recall Bon Iver, others explode like The Appleseed Cast – appearing on the Communion Music showcase in the spring and being spotlighted in Root Down in the Shadow’s Cover Club series. “It’s been solid,” Brown tells us. “I definitely learned a lot from the whole cycle of things.” Continue reading →

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: Strand of Oaks talks prepping for tour, summer hangouts and the songs that didn’t end up on Heal

via instagram.com/strandofoaks
via instagram.com/strandofoaks

It’s pretty much impossible to miss the gleeful buoyancy in Strand of Oaks frontman Tim Showalter’s voice when chatting with him. Maybe it’s something encoded into his personality, or maybe he’s still riding the waves of critical and commercial acclaim that the fourth Strand of Oaks record, Heal (Dead Oceans), has been generating since its release last month. Regardless, his cheer is infectious, and that acclaim for HEAL, an examination of catharsis steeped in the burst and bloom of a decades-spanning rock ‘n’ roll (as opposed to “rock”) tradition, is well deserved. But in that month since its release, Showalter has been taking this summer relatively easy, and was happy to catch up with The Key to chat about HEAL, how he manages his songwriting, and his (lack of) preparation for a nearly three-month tour, which starts this Saturday at the XPoNential Music Festival.

Continue reading →

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: Meet Commonwealth Choir, Fishtown’s new kids on the block

Commonwealth Choir | photo by Mike Bucher
Commonwealth Choir | photo by Mike Bucher

We’ve got a lot of great new local talent to look forward to this weekend, and Saturday will start off with one of the newer bands on the block.  Commonwealth Choir is closing out a year of “XPoNential” growth – even before the release of its debut Shirtless EP last fall, the band’s single “Rest” was placed in XPN’s rotation.  Since then, they’ve sold out shows at MilkBoy multiple times (including New Year’s Eve), opened for New Sweden’s record release show and recorded an incredibly popular Key Studio Session.  I spoke with Commonwealth Choir’s lead vocalist / guitarist Davis Jameson Howley to find out how the band got its start, what this past year has been like and what it means to them to be playing the XPoNential Music Festival. Continue reading →

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: The Districts get a little help from their friends

Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | Jeremy-Zim.com
Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | Jeremy-Zim.com

There are few things that can be as debilitating for a young band as finding out that your tour van – including all of your gear inside and all of your tour earnings – was stolen right out from under your nose. That was The Districts’ now widely-known story in early June. But the Lititz-bred, Philly-based band was able to get by with a little help from their friends, even when they were nearly 900 miles away from home. Continue reading →

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: Ryan Kattner of Man Man talks kids, celebs, and how we should all bring him cloaks for #XPNFest

Honus Honus (Photo by Rachel Barris)
Honus Honus (Photo by Rachel Barris)

I’ve been a fan fan of Man Man for almost a decade now—the same amount of time I’ve lived in Philadelphia. Coincidence? Maybe. But I think there’s something quintessentially Philly about this wacky foursome—something passionate, and unhinged, and maybe a little sweaty—with a big heart underneath all the face-paint. For the past 10 years, I’ve loved watching them grow with the city, transitioning from a ragtag group of gypsy punk weirdos singing fantasy-inspired chants—to a (more) polished quartet crafting real moments of heartache—while never losing their unique essence.

From the start, front man Ryan Kattner (a.k.a. Honus Honus) has been the driving creative force behind the band, as well as one of our fave interview subjects. One year after our last chat, I rung up Kattner again, in advance of Man Man’s set at XPoNential Fest. We talked kids, celebs, and audience requests—read on to get the full scoop. Continue reading →

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: Escaping the everyday with Jersey singer-songwriter Ginger Coyle

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Photo by J. Potenta

There is nothing ordinary about Ginger Coyle.  From her style as a vocalist to the lyrics in her songs, she shows us that creativity has been an innate thing for her ever since she was young.  She is proud to be making music here in the Philly scene (she lives just across the bridge in South Jersey) and is excited to take the XPoNential Music Festival stage this weekend.  This week, we swapped emails with Ginger to get to talk about blasting Billy Joel and Carole King, to get a taste of her new single “The Big Picture” and see who she’s excited for at XPoNential. Continue reading →

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: The beat-heavy road to the top of Marian Hill

Photo by Paul Gilmore via facebook.com/marianhillmusic
Photo by Paul Gilmore via facebook.com/marianhillmusic

Of all the shining local stars we’ve featured on WXPN, few have seen their fortunes rise quickly as Marian Hill. When they take the stage this Friday at the XPoNential Music Festival, they will be doing so on the heels of escalating tour momentum, glowing reviews in national news outlets, and a boatload of raw talent – all of which has come together within only a year-and-a-half of their official formation.

It would be foolish, however, to think too much of the duo’s relative youth (both as a band and as 24-year-olds). Vocalist Samantha Gongol and producer/beatsmith Jeremy Lloyd possess the rare mix of gracious humility and insatiable, studied ambition that strongly correlates with creative longevity.

“We still have a long way to go, but already realizing so many dreams and having this type of audience…it’s been out of this world,” says Lloyd. Continue reading →

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XPoNential Artist Spotlight: The Lawsuits keep busy with studio work and prepping new material

The Lawsuits | photo by Brett Henrikson
The Lawsuits | photo by Brett Henrikson

This past October, the Lawsuits released their pop/folk full-length debut Cool Cool Cool and kept busy by working on the production side of things with their now-labelmates on the new American Diamond Recordings. Aside from a small handful of local appearances, the five-piece has been checking out other parts of the Northeast and already writing new material that just may be ready for the public soon.

According to lead singer Brian Dale Allen Strouse, “ADR is a collection of good friends.” And with that kind of sentiment, the Lawsuits are currently waiting for just the right time to take the center spotlight again, rather just toeing it, while ADR is still rolling out Ron Gallo’s solo debut, Ronny. “We’re going to take our time with regards to releasing material on American Diamond to ensure that each release is given the appropriate resources, and ample attention. The Lawsuits are very close to being done with new material and are eager to release it.”

Strouse goes on to say that the band is currently working on getting some new songs, “stage ready,” and that one or two may find work its way onto a setlist of one of their XPoNential Music Festival set this Sunday. As a matter of fact, festivals are the only way you’ll likely catch the Lawsuits for the rest of this summer, as they don’t have an extensive tour planned at this time. They played the bulk of their club tour dates this past fall right after the release of Cool Cool Cool in the New York, Boston and Newport locales before going on a three-week fun from Connecticut to Washington D.C. in February and March.

Just before that, Strouse and drummer Josh Friedman held the reigns on the Levee Drivers‘ recent EP, Speakin’ Bourbon Coated Blues. Strouse took care of engineering, while Friedman mixed and mastered it the three-song effort. And by the sounds of it, Friedman, who just mastered Ronny, and Strouse keep themselves quite busy in their audio production work and have several projects coming down the pipe.

“Josh and I have been working together for over a year now, starting with the Levee Drivers EP,” he says. “We’re currently involved with producing new projects for The Gallerist, Dirty Dollhouse, Kalob Griffin Band and Mat Burke. Joe is currently producing a new project for Satellite Hearts.”

The Lawsuits play Xpontential Festival, Sunday, July 27 at 12:30 p.m. More details here.