ITHACA, N.Y. — This year, the city of Ithaca will be host to a new herald of spring: The Finger Lakes Thaw, a music festival scheduled to last two days and take place throughout several local venues.
This music festival is the first major project of Sticky C Key, an Ithaca-based company started last November by founders Nick Frazier and TJ Schaper.
A defining concept for the Thaw is “The City is the Venue,” inspired in part by the Winter Jazz Fest in Greenwich Village, which Frazier attended while living in Brooklyn.
“I really liked the idea of having a cold weather festival where people get the opportunity to have a sense of community surrounding a whole collection of different venues and artists, and just one ticket, and you get to see all this amazing stuff. As long as you can get in the door, there’s something cool happening all over town for you for a weekend,” said Frazier.
Frazier reached out to Schaper, who was finishing a Master in Arts Presenting and Live Entertainment Management at the University of Miami through an online program designed for touring musicians.
“He actually wrote a prospectus for his class on this idea,” said Frazier. “The groundwork was laid to do something similar so we decided to team up, start a company and pursue it.”
He went on to describe what makes this event unique for Ithaca: “Buying this pass gets you the opportunity to see large acts in intimate venues … Because it’s such a rich thing (the scene) already, it’s hard to sort of find a way to make things new and different so … exploring ways to create new venue spaces and do things in existing venue spaces — that haven’t really been done.”
Frazier characterized Ithaca as a kind of proving ground, saying that the enthusiastic population has made it a great place for new artists to take root and grow their sound. He commented on what a fertile space it has been for cultivating talent that goes on to tour nationally, citing bands like John Brown’s Body, The Blind Spots and Big Mean Sound Machine.
Their goal, he said, “is to utilize the population’s enthusiasm as a way to make it a destination for bands of that caliber as well. Not only embracing the fact that we’re an incubator for all this great stuff, (but) help try to turn Ithaca into the kind of place where an exchange of ideas can take place within that community. So pulling a lot of out-of-town talent has been a priority for us: things people don’t usually see in Ithaca.”
The lineup is impressive with over 35 acts, including performers with local roots like Big Mean Sound Machine, Stone Cold Miracle and Richie and Rosie, along with visiting performers such as Cas Haley, Double Tiger, and PJ Morton, and man who was recently nominated for Best R&B Album and Best R&B Song for at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.
“I’m really excited about PJ Morton … he’s a super legitimate player … in the R&B/Soul world, and he’s also spent years as the touring keyboardist for Maroon 5. I’m also really excited about Cas Haley. We’ve gotten more fan response about booking Cas Haley — he’s from Paris, Texas — than any other act. I’m getting emails from people telling me how long they’ve been trying to get him to come play Ithaca.”
Schaper emphasized another element that will be unique to the Double Tiger performance: “The Double Tiger Sound System. I was introduced to sound system culture when I went on a tour to France in 2015. There was and is a huge sound system movement happening out there which originally comes from Jamaica, decades ago. In some ways, experiencing certain music out of a sound system can be life changing. Slowly they are making more of an appearance in the States with help from people, like Jay Spaker. Being that sound systems are rare to come by in the US, we are very lucky to have one right here in Ithaca and more specifically, at the Thaw.”
“The ‘sound system’ does not just describe the carpentry/vehicle delivering the sounds to one’s ear, but also is a group of disc jockeys, engineers and MCs playing ska, rocksteady or reggae music. The sound system is an important part of Jamaican culture and history,” Schaper clarified.
“He built (it) himself to convey what he wants to convey in his music,” added Frazier.
Schaper also expressed his excitement for the opportunities he hopes the Thaw will provide.
“I’m pumped for the potential relationships that are going to come out of this,” he said adding that he perceives that many of these artists are on the edge of becoming big and well-known nationally, and he’s excited to provide an opportunity for people to see them in an intimate setting.
According to both Frazier and Schaper, they’ve been met with overwhelming support from Ithaca businesses and venues including Lot 10, The Range and Casita Del Polaris.
“I’m also excited about bringing new … perspectives to a couple of venue spaces that aren’t necessarily (popularly) recognized yet, so the Warehouse at Argos is gonna be one of our larger stages. That’s a new space, people don’t really know it yet. It’s a great opportunity to provide a proving ground for that venue as it grows. It’s beautiful inside. And the Space at GreenStar is going to be our main stage. We’re building out a large stage in there with a lot of production value,” Frazier said.
Schaper added, “And they also recently renovated the Space and this is the first time they’re putting a stage in there.”
In addition to the Thaw weekend itself, they’re hoping to set up events all over town in the week leading up to the festival. Several of these are still in the works, but they did tease an event on St. Patrick’s Day.
“Ben Ortiz is the assistant curator of the Cornell Hip Hop Collection, and he wants to do an Ithaca DJ Festival, so we were like, ‘Let’s partner with you!’ So St. Patrick’s Day, at the Argos Warehouse, the Finger Lakes Thaw is presenting the Ithaca DJ Festival, and it’s free to our ticket holders,” said Frazier.
Ticket holders can also look forward to discounts at several local businesses with their wristbands during the festival, and to a special Finger Lakes Thaw beer from Bacchus Brewing Company.
“We want to get local businesses in on this and use it as an opportunity to come out of the winter with a strong incentive for tourism in the community, to bring a lot of interested people around to explore what Ithaca has to offer,” said Frazier.
“…Not just for people that come from out of town, but people that live here.” Schaper added.
Though Sticky C Key was founded in November 2017, both founders have been active in the industry for much longer, in Ithaca and across the country.
Frazier dates his earliest industry experience back to the age of 13, when his next door neighbor Scott Ogle, a sports videographer, took him on to assist at a shoot.
“He got me on board going with him to film the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb car race when I was 13… I’ve been interested in it (film) ever since,” Frazier said.
He then worked as a music photographer and videographer all around the country, and attended film school and worked in Los Angeles. Shortly after working as Director of Photography on the successful short film “Memoir of an Honest Voice,” he moved back up to this part of the country to refocus on working with musicians.
Schaper studied music at Ithaca College, and has since been a music teacher at a variety of levels and high school marching band director, and is a frequently working, touring trombonist.
“This past year I played with over 30 bands. I do touring by myself sometimes, about every five to six weeks.” He went on to describe a recent nine day tour from Boston to Buffalo in which he played in eight cities with 11 different bands. He also described his tour of France with Jay Spaker, working on a project called Tour de Force, and performing in Paris in 2015 just three days after the Bataclan Theatre attacks.
“We played for 6,000 people in Paris and there were armed guards. Each of us had our own armed guard pretty much, it was pretty insane. So I’ll remember that forever.” Schaper said.
Both Frazier and Schaper are eager to bring their many connections, experiences and skills to the table to make the Finger Lakes Thaw a success this year and in years to come and to create an ongoing exchange to strengthen creative relationships in Ithaca and across the country.
“Between the two of us we know people who can accomplish pretty much any task in the live music or studio music production space, and we’re a catch-all, problem-solving space for people in the music industry. Especially on the touring level,” said Frazier. “The aspiration for Finger Lakes Thaw is that it becomes a regional event, not unlike SXSW. We think the northeast is in need of something like that, that sort of comes across as a work vacation for actively working road musicians.”
The Finger Lakes Thaw will take place all around the City of Ithaca on March 23 to 24. Tickets and information can be found at www.fingerlakesthaw.com.
Featured photo: Singer Chris Kazarian from the band Chris Kaz and The Velcro Soul Provided photo