ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders at the Xponential Festival

By Susan Wallner

The Xponential Festival on the Camden Waterfront.

Rhett Miller from the Old 97s, Rolling Stone Magazine’s first ever female “guitar god” Kaki King, and Ozamatli, a hip-hop/salsa/samba/funk/meringue band from East Los Angeles – they may not be household names, but for alternative music lovers, they’re the acts to see. The Xponential Music Festival features these and more than 30 other artists, including headliners The Counting Crows and Wilco over three days (July 20-22) at Camden’s Wiggins Park and Susquehanna Bank Center on the waterfront.

Sunday’s line-up includes a live taping of John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders. In late May, Cabinet of Wonders premiered on WXPN and other NPR stations nationwide as a new musical variety show. Hosted and curated by musician/author John Wesley Harding, the “Cabinet” contains an eclectic mix of music, literature, and comedy. NPR describes it as “a little bit vaudeville, a little bit rock ‘n roll – and a whole lot of fun.” The Village Voice calls it “a brilliant evening of laid-back fun.”

John Wesley Harding writes under his real name, Wesley Stace. He’s published three novels, including Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer, and is about to come out with his fourth. Harding is also known for his original, literary songs; his 15th album, The Sound of His Own Voice, was released in 2011. Harding’s desire to combine his myriad interests has a long history. Back home in England in 1988, he put on a similar act called The John Wesley Harding Medicine Show. He says the concept behind Cabinet of Wonders is not all that different – but he has a much better Rolodex now. Tune in and you’re likely to hear singer/songwriters Rosanne Cash and Josh Ritter, or novelists Audrey Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife) and Colson Whitehead (John Henry Days).

According to Harding, “all these things cohere kind of just because they’re my taste, and what I like. And I like the idea that somebody would come and not know a couple of things on the menu, or more than a couple of things but think, oh, wow, I see the link between this and that even though they’re different genres or different art forms. We might have a ventriloquist on the show, or an actor reading a soliloquy, or a musician doing a Frank Sinatra cover.”

WATCH VIDEO:

John Wesley Harding, aka Wesley Stace, is a musician, author, and host of the NPR variety show, “John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders.” He performs here at a benefit house concert in Pennington, NJ for epilepsy awareness.

John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders opens at 3:20 pm on July 22 on the River Stage. Among the performers will be comedian Eugene Mirman (who also plays the theremin), novelist Rick Moody (The Ice Storm, The Four Fingers of Death), and Rhett Miller of the Old 97s (whose solo music has been featured on Scrubs and The Break Up). The show will be taped live and air later on NPR. Past episodes of Cabinet of Wonders can be downloaded at NPR.org.

The Xponential Music Festival runs July 20-22 in Camden, for more information visit xpn.org.

To hear an interview with Wesley Stace (aka John Wesley Harding) about his career and the genesis of Cabinet of Wonders, visit JerseyArts.com/podcasts.

Susan Wallner is an award-winning producer with PCK Media. She is a long-time contributor to State of the Arts, airing on NJTV Sundays at 8 pm.