By Ciara Lucas and Miranda Materazzo. This story was originally published in Ithaca Week.
Several corrections have been made to this story as of 6 p.m. Friday.
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ITHACA, N.Y. — For one local musician, Ithaca’s thriving music scene helped him launch a professional career.
Jonathan Petronzio, also known as “JP”, started his musical training studying classical, but found his passion playing pop and reggae.
“Ithaca has so many talented musicians. It’s a great place to be an artist, and I think the music industry is just starting to take notice,” Petronzio said.
Petronzio attended Ithaca College where he studied music in the Whalen School of Music. During his sophomore year, he was first introduced to pop/funk music and joined a band called ‘Revision”. For Petronzio, it was his first time playing in a group, but Ithaca’s local music community made it easy to grow a fanbase. Petronzio’s fanbase soon grew when he joined John Brown’s Body, a nationally touring reggae band from Ithaca.
“I had always loved reggae, it resonates with me for sure,” Petronzio said. I ran into Elliot Martin who’s the lead singer of John Brown’s Body and I asked ‘Do you need a keyboardist?’ and at that exact time he said they did. It seemed like universal timing.”
Along with its newly blooming reggae scene, several other roots and Americana genres are still going strong in the Finger Lakes.
Ithaca has multiple music venues throughout the city for artists to perform, but one location especially dedicated to the reggae sound is The Dock.
On Wednesday nights colorful lights begin to flash as the sounds of steel drums and a saxophone suddenly fill the air. Reggae music, often considered the anthem of the Caribbean, starts to play. The dreadlocked patrons of The Dock shuffle, shimmy, and groove on the dancefloor in front of the stage. The Dock resembles a bar in downtown Montego Bay or San Juan. Previously called Castaways, The Dock opened in 2014 and is located in Ithaca’s west side.
The venue hosts live music seven days a week, but Wednesdays bring a distinct island flair to the bar on Taughannock Boulevard.
The weekly event was first organized by booking and events manager Angelo Peters about a year ago.
And while reggae may not be the first thing people associate with folk music in the Northeast, Assistant Manager Mike Brindisi maintains that the roots genre- which encompasses folk, reggae, blues- is expansive enough to appeal to a wide variety of people.
“People are so dedicated to that genre and there’s such a loyal fan base,” Brindisi said. “Reggae fans are just very big-hearted and welcoming. If you play that genre of music you don’t even have to be the greatest, they just love you.”
That love is mutual, too, with reggae night bringing in an average of 150-200 people. During the summer, when many patrons enjoy the view of Cayuga Lake, Reggae Night’s attendance can jump to 400 or 500.
“At one point this past summer we had about five bartenders on, somebody in the window…I mean it just picked up like a snowball. It was amazing!” Brindisi said.
Many fans would call The Dock’s house band, the Crucial Reggae Social Club, amazing, too. Among other locally and regionally famous acts to play at The Dock are Jimkata, Mosaic Foundation, Big Mean Sound Machine and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad and John Brown’s Body.
Ithaca College junior Josh Dufour regularly attends Reggae Night, and says his experience is unique to any others.
“It’s just a different energy, like a different vibe I’ve never felt anywhere else in Ithaca. It’s definitely a different world in there,” Dufour said. Dufour had not been a fan of reggae music until this past spring, when he first attended the event with his roommates.
Reggae’s themes of peaceful social change and loving acceptance often create a very relaxed atmosphere for those who enjoy it.
“I feel like if every person in the world went to reggae night we would truly have world peace,” Dufour said. “It’s a hidden music that speaks to your soul.”
Ithaca’s ever-growing reggae music culture has created a community with the common goals of friendship, peacemaking, and support.
“The music and the words are all about love, peace, and the world,” Dufour said. “It speaks about all the issues of the world and gives the simple solution to them, which is that love cures all.”
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