Baked by the sun, immersed in rhythm, rhyme and harmony, surrounded by the sounds, sights and smells of summer; I spent the weekend in musical heaven at an annual event hosted by NPR member supported University of Pennsylvania based radio station, called WXPN 88.5 fm . I’ve been a grateful member for many years. Each mid July weekend, folks gather from the corners of the globe to enjoy a panoply of performers, whose genres range from folk, to blues, from jazz to rock. The XPoNential Music Festival is a gathering of the tribes; I knew I was among my peeps when I saw bumper stickers the likes of COEXIST (made of various religious symbols), “”Peacemonger”, and one that read something like “Humans aren’t the only species on the planet, we just act like we are.” , on cars in the parking lot.
This year’s stellar line-up, fit to feed the souls of music lovers hungry for sonic sustenance, included Delta blues singer and guitarist Keb’ Mo’, folk/pop/singers/songwriters Susan Werner, Dar Williams, Ben Folds Five, Givers, Carbon Leaf, some of the members of The Hooters, and the Soul Survivors, blues chanteuse Shemekia Copeland, R & B legend Booker T, musical fusion artist Kuf Knotz and the piece de’ resistance…the ageless queen of alt-country, folk and bluegrass…Emmylou Harris who closed out the festival on Sunday night. A highlight of her performance occurred when an enthusiastic fan hollered out “You’re hot!”, to the 64 year young, white maned songstress. Her not so coy sweet and sassy Southern accented response: “I know I am, baby.” By the time I left the oasis in the city of Camden, NJ called Wiggins Park, I was full to overflowing with musical nourishment. It was like a buffet, from which listeners could pick and choose from both heritage artists and newcomers.
Part of the appeal for this melodic connoisseur, was being able to walk around the grounds and hear it reverberating everywhere. I was swimming in sound soup, together with perhaps thousands of others, sprawled on blankets, lounging on lawn/beach chairs, dancing improv style, blowing bubbles, strolling amidst the winding paths as they meandered up and down hills, leaning on railings overlooking the Delaware as a delightful breeze wafted across it. The mini-wind puffs on the first full day of the festival, made the scorching 100 plus degree day tolerable. I noticed that I felt cooler walking and dancing than I did sitting still on my blanket on the grass. The water (both in me and on me, as I had a small spray bottle) kept me going until evening set.
The second day, back for more, I had decided to up the amps on my experience by creating a sign that read :”Have you had your FREE COOL hugs today?”, donned my Hug It Forward t-shirt and walking around offering them to whoever agreed. I sprayed myself with cool water from the squirt bottle and also walked past the ‘misting stations’ they had set up which was an ingenious hookup of a small hose, blown by fans and hugged on! By the end of the day, I estimate a few hundred hugs were shared, and a few miles were clocked…bonus workout! People’s reactions were interesting to observe. Some ignored or smirked at this weird woman who was offering bodily contact when it was sweltering, some smiled sweetly or laughed as they walked past, some came bounding up to me, arms and heart extended, some said no outright, some turned around and came back for an embrace, thinking better of walking past, others, even when I didn’t have my sign with me, snagged me and said that they had watched me walk about and now were ready for their cuddles. Being a Cuddle Party facilitator taught me not to take offense when someone was not willing to accept my offer. It also informed my intention to ask first and wait for a verbal yes.
Later in the day, a storm rolled in, bringing with it blessed relief from the heretofore unrelenting heat and along with it, torrential rains that might have rivaled Woodstock, for an ever so brief hour.
I loved being in the presence of friends I have known for more than 20 years, and some I had met that day, as a result of my cuddly enounters, (and every time period in between) including a man who pulled me aside while I was standing in line getting dinner and told me about a business idea connected to healthy, nurturing hugging. A special joy was hangin’ with my cousin Jody (pictured above) who I decided a long time ago, would have been my friend, even had we not been related.
I arrived home after midnight; muddy, sun speckled, a wee bit achey and sore, water logged, glowing from the inside out from immersing in musical magnificence.