Pop-Break Live: XPoNential Festival 2014, Day 2

Words by: Nick Porcaro, Photos by: Nick Porcaro & Anthony Toto

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Check out Coverage of Day 1, here.

Saturday at XPoNential Music Festival presented by Subaru started on a lighter note with the country pop stylings of Caitlin Rose. Backed by the formidable Nashville quintet Los Colognes, Rose’s breezy tunes and charismatic banter endeared a steadily growing audience. “Do you guys start drinking at 1pm? Is that a thing?” she asked. “It’s five o’clock somewhere!” an audience member responded, before another fan chimed in with the correct answer: “Iceland!”

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Alynda Lee Segarra and her project Hurray for the Riff Raff continued the weekend’s fascination with roots music. The band’s easygoing sound and laid-back stage presence had the crowd swaying their shoulders and singing along. Segarra displayed some fascinating songwriting quirks, as on “The Body Electric”, where she questioned why women are always the focus of murder ballads: “Said you’re gonna shoot me down, put my body in the river / While the whole world sings, sing it like a song / The whole world sings like there’s nothing going wrong.”

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Over on the Jersey Arts Marina Stage, alt-country ensemble Marah kicked it up about a hundred notches with a jaw-dropping performance. The East Coast natives filled the stage with sound, including bagpipes, keyboard, electric and acoustic guitars, banjo, upright bass, and the astounding fiddle playing of 8-year old prodigy Gus Tritsch. (His brother Huck showed up mid-set to contribute tambourine and occasional screaming). “Our encores are usually longer than this set,” frontman / guitarist David Bielanko remarked, “so we’re sorry for that.” Bielanko shouldn’t fret—there’s no need to apologize when you’re this good.

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Timothy Showalter and his band Strand of Oaks started off sounding a whole lot like Joshua Tree-era U2, but by the time keyboardist Eliza Hardy Jones incorporated somber keys to match Showalter’s melancholy falsetto, the band stood on their own. Ending their set with a moody dirge of a jam complete with messy guitar soloing, Strand of Oaks made a significant impression on the River Stage crowd.

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Minneapolis singer/songwriter Jeremy Messersmith made the impossible possible by balancing anthemic, driving rhythms and smooth, sweet vocal hooks. His band’s earnest, straightforward approach was refreshing after several sets of more elaborate arrangements. Messersmith also demonstrated a lyrical acuity to match his musical strengths, as on the hilarious and entirely straight-faced number “I Want to Be Your One Night Stand”. If that wasn’t enough, the band busted out some seriously gobstopping harmonies on the swelling Heart Murmurs highlight “Tourniquet”.

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Indie pop goddess Ingrid Michaelson brought the house down with a winning string of bouncy hits, groovy jams and even an unexpected cover of Magic!’s hit single, ”Rude.” Ingrid delivered exactly what you’d want from such a sonorous songstress and appeared to be having a blast on the River Stage.

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Saturday’s lineup diversified as the Wiggins Park festivities came to a close. On the Jersey Arts Marina stage, punk mainstay Dave Hause brought the emotional intensity with his hard-rocking set. Immediately afterwards, C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band charmed the crowd on the strength of its band leader’s wild accordion playing. As the only zydeco band of the weekend, Chenier and his troupe unquestionably stood out.

As the sun set, fans flocked to the Susquehanna Bank Center for an affiliated but separately ticketed concert featuring Dawes, Jenny Lewis and Ryan Adams. The arena venue proved less-than-ideal for Saturday’s headliners, three excellent artists who aren’t always capable of filling such a cavernous amphitheater.

Opening song “From a Window Seat” set the tone for Dawes’ set—vintage Laurel Canyon stylings all the way through. The California folk-rockers deserved a far longer set than their five-song stint, but the band compensated with a simmering jam on Stories Don’t End highlight “Most People”. Impressively enough, their precise blend of vocal harmonies and rich instrumentation sounded crisp and clear all the way out on the lawn. The band’s breakout single, “When My Time Comes”, got the crowd clapping and jumping with its stunning vocal harmonies. Frontman Taylor Goldsmith’s vocals were particularly pitch-perfect, soaring into the stratosphere with ease.

Armed with an acoustic guitar, a piano and a Krispy Kreme hat, Jenny Lewis prepped the SBC audience for her new full-length throwback, The Voyager. “So stoked to be here,” she whispered in a hushed tone befitting a library study session. Jenny and her band were technically sound, sure, but not quite commanding enough to hold the attention of the audience. Let’s just say several conversations were easily heard over the music. It appeared as if Jenny’s fully embraced her new Grace Slick by way of Stevie Nicks persona, and it fits her sassy singing voice pretty well. Jenny brought out headliner Ryan Adams to play guitar on “She’s Not Me”, while her friends in Dawes sang backup on “Acid Tongue”. Unfortunately, what could have been a spine-tingling moment was merely a pretty one, as the boys weren’t quite loud enough in the mix. One can’t help but wonder if Jenny would have been better served on the River Stage.

After more than ten straight hours of music, myself and fellow Pop-Break reporter Anthony Toto called it quits well before Ryan Adams finished his set, but what we heard sounded predictably solid. The astoundingly prolific singer/songwriter wrapped up the day with a taste of his upcoming self-titled album and a few fan favorites from his previous band, The Cardinals.

All in all, despite the occasionally spotty weather, Saturday was another rousing success for the XPoNential Music Festival…and yet, somehow, the music got even hotter on Sunday.

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Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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