Fifteen years and still packing them in.
The Xclamation! Festival has thrived as the Central Valley’s premiere outdoor musical festival for the past decade and a half. Since 2000 it has brought thousands of revelers to downtown Modesto for the quintessential X-Fest experience. The formula always has been simple: multiple bands, multiple genres, multiple stages on multiple streets. Getting the right mix into the formula each year has been the tricky part, according to event founder and promoter Chris Ricci.
“The reason X-Fest survives is the ability to evolve,” Ricci said. “Our key strength is ability to evolve as pop culture and musical culture changes.”
This year’s lineup continues to reflect that evolution with hip-hop acts Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, E-40, Brener and Snow Tha Product headlining along with electro-pop performers 3OH!3 and Dev, classic rock act Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam, perennial Los Banos-based favorites the Moonshine Bandits and the DJ-dance troupe the Dancetronauts.
The event will feature some 120 bands on more than a dozen stages. While the national headliners grab most of the attention, each year the bill includes dozens upon dozens of local acts. Ricci estimates about 80 percent of the performers will be local or regional. As in years past, there will be stages based on genre, from pop to rock, metal to dance, reggae to classic rock.
Ricci said it is the makeup of the stages that has shifted the most over the years. In the beginning, the event was more focused on rock, with five to 10 stages of the genre. But now, hip-hop and electronic dance music each have a stronger presence. He said those changes reflect the changing demographics of the area, which has skewed more Latino in the last decade. The festival aims to draw an over-21 crowd all the way to about age 44.
“It’s an ever-changing dynamic, based on the demographics and that mixed with the musical genres that are popular at the moment,” he said.
He said last year’s lineup brought lower-than-expected ticket sales with rockers Puddle of Mudd, rapper DMX, pop star Aaron Carter and reggae band Iration headlining. Puddle of Mudd also ended up canceling last minute due to “ongoing health issues” with its lead singer. About 15,000 people attended in 2013. At its largest, more than 18,000 have packed into the event.
Ricci said in response this year the headlining lineup has moved away from modern rock and more toward hip-hop and electronic music. It’s a move he said has angered some fans, but has others excited. So far, tickets sales are double this year over the same time last year. But, he said, people should not think this year is only a hip-hop affair.
“I also think there’s a perception here that there is a huge number of hip-hop acts on the show. If you hear Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, they’re more like R&B than hip-hop, really,” he said. “I think that the good news about our lineup this year is that people are either excited or really, really mad. But I like that because it’s better that they care either way. I wish I could please everybody.”
A look at some of the other headliners in the lineup:
• E-40 – The veteran East Bay rapper was at the forefront of the hyphy movement that popularized terms like “go dumb,” “ghostriding the whip” and “stunna shades.” His 2006 single “Tell Me When to Go” cracked the Top 10 U.S. Rap Charts. Since then he has collaborated with several other hip-hop artists including T.I., Chris Brown and Juicy J.
• 3OH!3 – Colorado-based electronic music duo Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte cracked the Billboard Hot 100 with their 2009 single “Don’t Trust Me.” They have since featured Katy Perry on their single “Starstrukk” and Kesha on their single “My First Kiss.”
• Dev – Manteca-raised electro-pop singer Dev rose to fame when she was featured on the Far East Movement No. 1 hit “Like a G6” and as a result of her own debut single “Bass Down Low.” In 2011 the Sierra High School grad made her first X-Fest appearance and this year she released the first single off her sophomore studio album, “Kiss It” featuring Sage The Gemini.
• Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam – English singer-songwriter and guitarist Mason was a founding member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inducted band Traffic. His new project Traffic Jam will highlight his work from that classic rock era.
Ricci said one of the other things he is most proud of over the course of the festival’s 15 years is the ability to keep the ticket price relatively low. For about the past decade, advance sale tickets have been $20.
“One reason why we were able to survive the recession is because of our low ticket price,” Ricci said. “People know for $30 you can get an X-Fest ticket and a beer and a hot dog and have a really good night seeing 120 bands. That makes it recession proof. I think as long as I am able to figure out what people want to see in this county, I’ll keep doing X-Fest.”