ITHACA, N.Y. — As colder weather and college students prepare to move out and tulips in the Commons begin to move in, the city is preparing to kick off every Ithacan’s favorite time of year with it’s annual Ithaca Festival.
Executive Director Ben Greenberg explained that Ithaca Fest began in 1977 when Loretta Louviere, ‘the godmother of the Ithaca Festival,’ convinced a group of nationally recognized artists to host a celebration in Ithaca. Greenberg said the artists collaborated with the local community to create a celebration downtown – one of the highlights then included a sculpture floating down the streets supported by helium balloons.
“It was quite a party the first year,” Greenberg said. “40 years later, its obvious Loretta certainly was correct that Ithaca was a good selection for it.”
Greenberg said the arts scene in Ithaca had a lasting impact on him as a young adult. At age 22, he was headed for a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigations when he said he was exposed to the local scene through Grassroots and Donna the Buffalo.
“I owe my entire career to (local talent) and a large part of who I am as a person today,” he said. “To me, this is a chance to give back to the same scene that has given me so many blessings over the last few decades.”
While there are countless events going on this weekend, keep these in mind for the next three days during the celebration of Ithaca.
This extraordinary parade will travel south on Cayuga St, hitting Lincoln St., and ending on Court St. The Ithaca Youth Bureau will kick off the parade with a mile run at 5:45 p.m. and the parade is set to start at 6:30. More than 100 groups are listed to participate in this year’s parade, which will include costumes, music, dancing and floats. Serena Exantus, the reigning Miss New York Teen USA and Ithaca native will also make an appearance. “The Parade is certainly a must-see if you haven’t been before,” Greenberg said.
Local music performances
Between GIAC, Dewitt Park, Ithaca Underground, the Bernie Milton Pavilion and various other spots throughout the city, there will be no shortage of performances this weekend. Over 100 performances are scheduled throughout the three-day festival at various locations. The Sim Redmond Ban will wrap up the parade on Friday at the Bernie Milton Pavilion at 8:30 p.m. Other headliners scheduled at the pavilion include Gunpoets at 6:15 p.m. and Big Mean Sound Machine at 8 p.m. on Saturday and The Blind Spots at 7:45 p.m. on Sunday. Make sure to check out the full list of performances here.
The House of Merlot’s Drag Show
Ithaca’s House of Merlot will be bringing a free, two-part drag show to this year’s Ithaca Festival to celebrate LGBT+ visibility in the city. While the House of Merlot will be performing in the parade, they will also be hosting a show on Saturday which will take place on Cayuga St. outside The Chanticleer. The show is scheduled to last from 4 to 4:50 p.m. when the performers will walk down the Commons “runway style” and finish their show outside Simeons from 5:10 p.m. to 6 p.m. Join them after for an unofficial after-party at The Range.
If you have ever attended any of Ithaca’s many themed festivals, you are familiar with the scores of local vendors. Whether it’s crafts or food, there are countless booths to visit, which will be set up on the Commons or along Cayuga St. The craft fair, which is organized by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance will feature over 100 vendors selling goods ranging from jewelry and woodworking to sheepskin pillows and handmade soap.
“To me, The Ithaca Festival is the one time that all of the creative energy and diversity that makes Ithaca such a special place to live, comes out on full display,” Greenberg said. “Its a celebration of our unique culture and an opportunity for us all to get together to celebrate each other, our community, and this wonderful place we call home.”
Featured photo by local photographer Ed Dittenhoefer at the 2016 Ithaca Festival.