In an ongoing effort to highlight Ithaca’s thriving alternative music scene, we wake up local musicians at their homes (or touring artists on the couches they’re crashing on) and have them play their music for us. From The Ithaca Voice, it’s the Bedhead Sessions.

ITHACA, NY – Last Thursday, Kurt Riley and his band took the stage at the Bernie Milton Pavilion for the latest in the CFCU Summer Concert series. Despite feints of rain and the grey overcast, both the crowd’s and the band’s spirits were bright. (But, with Rock’n’Roll, dancing, and drinks on the Ithaca Commons, how couldn’t they be, right?)

Besides being an ideal hometown romp in support of his self-released 2017 album Tabula Rasa, the show was also a pleasant adieu to Riley’s guitarist, Sam Packer, who recently graduated from Cornell University and stuck around this summer to play the gigs they had scheduled. Packer moved Friday, the very next day.

The band onstage, Aug. 3, 2017. From left to right: Sam Packer, Kurt Riley, Rick Kline. Photo by guest contributor Kristi Gogos

“We’re looking at legitimate major label distribution, and all of that… that’s certainly the end game. But I love Ithaca very much. I love being someplace where I can be weird and not feel out of place, it’s nice.”

We met with the band for a Bedhead Session at Riley’s home in Groton one humid July morning, and after several pajama-clad musical performances, spoke with them about how they came to be.

“I was just walking back from eating at the dining hall and, yeah, I heard music” recalls Packer while sitting in-between the frontman and Bassist Rick Kline. Riley, also a Cornell alum, had been playing in the Just About Music (JAM) space on campus. “I was practicing with prior drummer Olivia (Dowd), and Sam just walked in” Riley explains. Kline’s wife had found a listing on Craigslist for a band in search of a bass player, and he reached out.

Although Ithaca is commonly regarded as a city of people ‘just passing through’, Riley doesn’t plan on moving anytime soon, due in large part to this kind of openness to collaborate.

“It’s such a fertile area to play in,” he says, “So that’s been wonderful.”

Now, Riley & Co. are focusing on the future. His next album is in the works, and with a substantial amount of recordings made in his home studio, he’s nearly there.

“I wanted to write a record that sounded like if The Rolling Stones were a bar band in (Rick) Deckard’s universe, in Blade Runner,” he says of the new music, whose concepts owe to Riley’s fascination with how advances in technology impact human interactions. But subdue any uprising Singularity-phobic thoughts: Riley is known to keep at least one tongue in his cheek (after all, his bathrobe bears the Starfleet emblem).

Kurt Riley at The Dock, June 10, 2017. Photo by Jacob Mroczek

But what happens when Riley’s music takes off, so to speak, and the ship is charted for new worlds? Will he follow it to an ‘uncanny valley’? Will he go Hollywood?

“We’re looking at legitimate major label distribution, and all of that… that’s certainly the end game,” he says. “But I love Ithaca very much. I love being someplace where I can be weird and not feel out of place, it’s nice.”

Time will tell.

With the recent departure of Olivia Dowd and Sam Packer, Riley is currently auditioning musicians for both guitar and drum roles. He plans to put out the next record, his fourth, later this year. The band is slated to play September 9, at The Nines.

Sponsoring this installment of the Bedhead Sessions are sister stores Mama Goose and Mimi’s Attic. Mama Goose buys & sells gently-used children’s clothing, maternity wear, toys, gear, new products & more. Mimi’s Attic buys & sells previously-enjoyed furniture, housewares and home decor. Visit them at 430 W. State Street. Open 7 days a week!

This article’s lead photo and the video cover illustration are by sisters Kristi and Eleni Gogos, respectively.