ITHACA, N.Y. — The shore of Cayuga Lake at Stewart Park will again be the site of a major musical celebration for the third Ithaca Reggae Fest. The festival not only features local and international reggae acts but emphasizes the importance of taking care of Cayuga Lake.
The festival returns Friday, June 28 and goes through Saturday, June 29 with pre- and post-parties at The Haunt and the main event Saturday at Stewart Park. The festival pays tribute to both Jamaican and Ithaca reggae roots and contains a mix of new elements and elements from past festivals.
Michael Mazza, Reggae Fest organizer and co-founder, said this year’s lineup reflects what the organizers have learned from the past two festivals. He said the first year was filled with local acts, which allowed the tickets to be affordable. The second year, he said, the lineup was filled with bigger names, so the ticket prices went up. This year hits the sweet spot.
“This year we have a mega headliner,” he said. “And we have a bunch of local talent underneath the headliner, so we kind of have taken the best of both years this year.”
The lineup this year includes a mix of locally, regionally and internationally recognized acts. Mykal Rose with Sly & Robbie of the Grammy-winning Jamaican reggae group Black Uhuru, will headline the event.
“I am very honored that we are bringing (them) in this year,” said Russ Friedell, marketing director for the festival. “Sly & Robbie are known as really the best drum and bass duo in the world, and they’re produced countless, countless of the best.”
Musicians with local roots include Kevin Kinsella, Double Tiger, Cha Cha and the Medicinals, and the Analogue Sons.
New to this year’s festival is the Friday night DJ Selector Sound Clash at the Haunt. The event will feature six local DJs competing and playing off each other. Mazza said the sound clash allows festival-goers to experience different, high-energy forms of reggae, such as ragga, reggaeton and dance hall reggae.
“We’re anticipating that night to be filled with energy, which we feel is a great way to kick off the festival,” he said.
Once Saturday rolls around, the festival will contain more than just music. Multiple “villages” will hold different events, similar to past years, to actualize the festival’s mission statement.
The statement underwent a small but weighty edit this year. The festival was previously dedicated to protecting Cayuga Lake through a “vibrant celebration of Ithaca’s legendary reggae community and its history,” now it is a “conscious celebration.”
Friedell said the organizers made this change because it’s easy to lose focus on the point of the festival. He said people can get wrapped up in the celebration and forget the values that the festival began with.
“This isn’t just a party,” he said. “We’re trying to do something bigger here.”
One of the key ways of carrying out the mission statement is through the education village, where water protectors, scientists and activists will provide interactive activities dedicated to educating people on how to take care of Cayuga Lake and be more conscientious of water in general. The festival also helps raise money for water-focused organizations. After the first year’s profits, the festival donated to Discover Cayuga Lake to buy a new boat for its Floating Classroom.
Another new element is a Skate and Art village, which, unlike other villages, will be free and open to the public. The village was created in partnership with the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, Friedell said. It will display art made by children in the community. The area will also have young artists creating live art, as well as a mini skatepark. The village will be located in the tennis courts at Stewart Park and will open at noon and the skateboarding competitions will begin at 2 p.m., Friedell said.
There will also be a wellness village, with massages, chiropractors and yoga, as well as a youth village, which will have face painting, lawn games and an area for nursing mothers. As in years past, those under 16 do not need tickets for admission into the festival.
The food village will have food catered by five local eateries. The beer tent will feature Ithaca Beer Co.’s brews, including the event-specific FYAH IPA. The festival also has a new drink option: Jamaican-inspired shandy, which is lager cut with ginger beer.
Mazza said many elements of the festival honor Jamaican reggae culture, but the festival is also about paying homage to the local reggae scene. Ithaca’s reggae roots run deep, as it’s home to multiple nationally recognized bands like John Brown’s Body. The festival lineup consists of four bands and musicians who were members of John Brown’s Body, including band founders Kevin Kinsella and Lee Hamilton.
“John Brown’s Body was the roots, and now we’re seeing the branches,” he said.
Mazza said he believes that Ithaca, and specifically local band John Brown’s Body, has influenced the modern American reggae scene. Mazza said Ithaca’s impact on American reggae was part of what inspired him to create the festival.
“There are too many people out in the reggae world that respect Ithaca for what we do from a reggae perspective,” he said. “I thought it’d be great for us to have a grand celebration.”
The festival runs from Friday, June 28 to Saturday, June 29. More information can be found at the Ithaca Reggae Fest website.
Featured image courtesy of Ithaca Reggae Fest Facebook.