Wednesday, May 31, 2017


WXPN is the “host with the most,” as they used to say. 

The Philadelphia station serves it’s the fans with the most urgent artists and music, the most diversity, the most exciting new artists and absolutely the most fun.

The XPoNential Music Festival at night in 2016
In May, WXPN and World Café Live were the hosts for 17th annual NON-COMMvention (see story below). Now attention turns to The XPoNential Music Festival, Friday (7/28), Saturday (7/29) and Sunday (7/30) at Wiggins Park and the adjacent BB&T Pavilion, just across the river from Philly in Camden, New Jersey.

The XPoNential Music Festival has become WXPN’s signature annual concert. Now in its 13th year, the festival draws folks from throughout the Philadelphia metro, Mid-Atlantic region, and Northeastern US. The lead corporate sponsor for The XPoNential Music Festival is Subaru. Complete information about The XPoNential Music Festival is available here.

(images courtesy WXPN)
The complete announced line-up for all three days is on the right.

Featured artists on Friday (7/28) include WIlco, Conor Oberst and Offa Rex, a mashup of The Decemberists and Olivia Haney.

On Saturday (7/29) the headliners will be Amos Lee & Friends featuring the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Spoon (my favorite) and Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires.

Sunday (7/30) see and hear the Drive By Truckers, The Dream Syndicate and a rare appearance by folk/bluegrass icon David Bromberg.


PERSONAL NOTE: I wish I could have been at the NON-COMM this year. Several friends sent notes asking about my situation.  I deeply appreciate their concern.  The truth is my vision continues to decline, making travel difficult. I am fighting the good fight to keep hope alive.  I consider the folks at the NON-COMM to be my brothers and sisters and I hope I can attend in the future.

Jim McGuinn (left) and John Barth (images courtesy WXPN)
There is ample praise for the music lineup at this year’s NON-COMM in the music press and elsewhere, but the information exchanged was also important. 

At a panel session on Thursday (5/19) – Public Radio Stations in the Digital Space – Jim McGuinn, PD of 89.3 The Current, and John Barth, Chief Content Officer at PRX, provided their perspectives digital media trends and challenges new platforms mean for noncommercial Triple A stations.

McGuinn may have had the best (and most obvious) quote at the NON-COMM:

“It used to be we just did radio. Then we had the website used to support the radio. And now it’s back and forth. It’s one of the fascinating aspects of the job I think.”

Here are highlights of the McGuinn and Barth discussion from The Key [link], WXPN's online music 'zine:

Barth says he loves seeing stations experiment with digital-exclusive content and podcasting. “They may not know what they’re doing, but they’re tying, and that’s the first step,” he says.

Content like podcats should be driven by three factors, Barth said: an original voice, original content, and the sense that “you can only get it here.” “Don’t do what everybody else is doing,” he said.

McGuinn said digital content doesn’t need to be complicated either. “The quick hit stuff on Facebook Live is what’s getting really fast traffic. It doesn’t take hours and hours of production time. People just want that thing they can get to right away, and we’re moving towards that production model.”

The challenge is figuring where to be, and when, and how, and trying to leverage that experience, he continued, and not discounting the human element. “The surprising elements of curation are things you won’t get in a Spotify playlist,” he said. “Ella Fitzgerald next to Arcade Fire. That’s something no algorithm is going to find. It comes down to whats between the records, the hosts.”

McGuinn also reflected on the evolving role of the programming director in public media; “I’m like brand manager of the overall thing, but we have a very robust digital team. We have meetings to check back and forth on the content, how we can support each other.”

Barth added that stations need to embrace incoming workforce of digital natives who are looking to work in radio; “Stations need to realize they’re a magnet for the next generation of talent,” he said. “That’s going to be your future, so you may as well embrace it. If we turn them off at that stage, they’re never coming back to public radio. And that is a big mistake.”

Read & Auerbach

 Attendees also praised Dan Reed’s NON-CONversation (a/k/a “interview”) with producer and front man for The Black Keys, Dan Auerbach. (Philadelphia music writer Dan Deluca also participated in the interview.)

Kendall Stewart from 106.1 The Corner in Charlottesville, Virginia wrote on his blog about the Auerback convo [link]:

They chatted a bout ‘Waiting on a Song,’ Auerbach’s new solo album dropping on June 2nd on his own label Easy Sound. Auerbach discussed Mark Knopfler who plays on a track from Auerbach’s new album. Auerbach said he has never met Knopfler. Auerbach also spoke extensively about producing albums for Lana Del Rey, The Pretenders, Dr. John, and Ray LaMontagne. Auerbach also recommends reading the new autobiography by NOLA legend Dr. John.

Ani DeFranco (images courtesy WXPN)

Ani DiFranco was next for me, and I truly have no words. Many of my friends are huge Ani fans, so it was an absolute pleasure to catch her live finally. 

I stumbled upon her record label in Buffalo last summer (drove by, saw a sign for an arts and crafts fair in the lower level of the church where her Righteous Babe label is located, and immediately pulled over). 

She’s powerful, classic, and I am really looking forward to her upcoming 19th (!!!) studio album, Binary (out on June 9th).

(images courtesy WXPN)

My evening ended with a performance by Blondie. Again, what can I even say? It’s Blondie! Their latest album, Pollinator, was just released and the band is just as great as they have always been. Debbie Harry came on stage with a strong message to us and the planet, along with a bee headband. 

If Debbie Harry can’t save us, who will? The band opened with “One Way or Another” and played fan favorites like “Call Me” and “Heart of Glass”. Off the new album, we heard “Fun” and a few others. Blondie will return on August 2nd with Garbage, at the Mann Center.

Opening night crowd at World Cafe Live (images courtesy WXPN)

In No Depression [link]
Sean Coakley, a promoter with Songlines Music, was attending his 17th non-COMM in a row. 

When I asked Coakley about his devotion, he explained, “because it's the best conference of the year. It combines amazing music from artists both new and well-known and an assortment of panels, interviews, and discussions that keep everyone on their toes. Mostly, it's a great way to spend time with people you work with and like in a really comfortable setting.”

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