This story was written by Olivia Riggio and Jacob Mroczek
ITHACA N.Y. — Ithaca is known for its vibrant festivals, and now there’s another one to add to the list. On Saturday Sept. 23, Ithaca hosted its first annual Cayuga Sound Festival, founded and curated by now-famous Ithaca band, X Ambassadors. Working alongside upstate New York-based booking agency, DSP Shows, the band helped aggregate a lineup as diverse as the music they were exposed to growing up in Ithaca.
Notable for booking lesser-known bands alongside national acts, Cayuga Sound drew a sizable audience from the community, local college students, and even some who traveled from afar to see their favorite bands perform.
The weekend kicked off Friday evening, with intimate shows for VIP ticket holders at The Haunt and The Dock. The D.C. power-pop band, Jukebox the Ghost played both at The Haunt on Friday night and during the festival Saturday afternoon.
Though much of the crowd was just beginning to wander in at noon when the festival began, a small audience listened intently as local folk-punk band, Imperials, played the first set of the day.
Later on, Izzy True, a Trumansburg and Ithaca-based three-piece band, played. The band’s energy and groove along with frontperson Izzy’s quirky banter quickly drew a crowd.
Izzy’s mother, Becky Stocking, hails from Trumansburg. She took the opportunity to attend the festival to support the band.
“I don’t see them play that often, so it’s exciting to see them here,” she said.
Giana Marquetti, bassist Kyra Skye’s mother, said she was extremely proud of her daughter and excited to watch her play on the festival stage. Marquetti came from Rockland County, New York to watch her daughter play. Kyra is a sound recording technology and engineering sophomore at Ithaca College.
“It’s a nice change from my basement,” Marquetti said. “She just really has a passion for music and writing, so she’s in her element.”
Ithaca-raised feminist hip-hop artist, Sammus is close with the band, Izzy True, and both Marquetti and Stocking said they looked forward to seeing her performance.
When Sammus took the stage in the afternoon, the audience appeared captivated by her expressive, relatable lyrics and powerful stage presence. She rapped about topics like complexity, duality, racism and mental illness. During her last piece, she left the platform to perform in the audience. Shaking hands and hugging fans afterward.
Sabine Adler, a junior at Ithaca College, said she was excited to see Sammus and Izzy True play as to acquaint herself with bands on the bill she was less familiar with.
Adler said she bought her Cayuga Sound tickets in the spring while she was studying abroad. She had learned about the festival on Facebook.
She said she liked the relaxed feel of the festival, and felt it wasn’t as overwhelming as other festivals she’s experienced.
“I love Stewart Park and I love music festivals, so I bought a ticket,” she said. “It’s really nice to be by the lake, it’s really chill. It’s a nice, calm atmosphere.”
To hype up the crowd for the first of the oncoming headliners, X Ambassadors, Dan Smalls and Mayor Svante Myrick walked onstage and addressed Stewart Park. They talked informally about how the festival came to be, thanking the audience and the staff, the organizations—the overall collaborative effort that allowed Cayuga Sound Festival to happen. Amidst the gauntlet of challenges the festival faced, the true test, apparently, came early on.
As the crowd hung on every word, Dan Smalls related that he and X Ambassadors had been planning the event well before they received a ‘green light’ from the city of Ithaca, an exciting, nerve-wracking part of the festival’s saga, to be sure.
The Roots, amazingly enough, had accepted to headline this fledgling concept of a festival, on merely the word of the X Ambassadors. So, Dan Smalls was tasked with gaining Myrick’s approval. In arguably the most epic text Ithaca has ever known: “F— yeah” was the Mayor’s response. The crowd roared with laughter at hearing that.
X Ambassadors took the main stage at dusk, just as the waxing crescent was poised over West Hill.
They played an impressive set of crowd favorites, and even debuted a new, never-before-heard song. The band exuded confidence and humility. When “Unsteady” – their 2017 Billboard Music Awards-nominated song – began, the thousands in the crowd were in rapture. A bluish sea of lighter flames and lit-up cell phone screens wavered over the park. As the solemn tones from the electric piano faded away, lead vocalist Sam Harris offered the mic out to the crowd and everyone sang the remaining lines of the chorus.
While the format of X Ambassadors’ set was straight-forward ‘songs’, start to finish, The Roots wove their musics together dynamically like a quilt made of jazz and hip hop, battering the crowd with guttural shouts, syncopated beats, and clarion horns.
As lead vocalist Tariq ‘Black Thought’ Trotter wove through and around his fellow bandmates, looming over the audience spitting out knowledge rhymed, de facto bandleader Ahmir Khalib ‘?uestlove’ Thompson sat seven feet high in the back of the stage, deftly drumming, overlooking everything.
It was masterful. It was beautiful.
And that was the first chapter of Ithaca’s new music festival that took place next to the waters of Cayuga Lake.
Feature photo by Ed Dittenhoefer