The third annual Ithaca Reggae Fest returns to Stewart Park Saturday, June 29, bringing together eight bands for a full day of music along the southern shore of Cayuga Lake.
The headliner is Mykal Rose, the former lead singer of Black Uhuru, the band that earned acclaim in the 1980s as well as garnered the first-ever Grammy Award for reggae in 1985. He’ll be joined by drummer Sly Dunbar, who also was a key component of that band. Unfortunately, bassist Robbie Shakespeare – Dunbar’s longtime musical partner – had to drop off the tour due to illness; he’s been replaced by Lloyd Parks, another outstanding player.
The rest of the lineup includes some familiar upstate favorites – Double Tiger, Kevin Kinsella, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, Cha Cha and the Medicinals – with San Diego’s E.N Young, formerly of Tribal Seeds, representing the West Coast scene, and Boston’s Dub Apocalypse, led by longtime John Brown’s Body drummer Tommy Benedetti, making their festival debuts. The Analogue Sons, the local jazz-ska-dub hybrid led by saxophonist Lee Hamilton, will perform short sets on the side stage during setups on the main stage.
Kinsella, co-founder of John Brown’s Body – the influential Ithaca-based reggae band currently on hiatus – will play a set of his classic JBB material, backed by members of Dub Apocalypse and vocal trio Five2. In fact, several JBB alumni will be performing at the festival, including Kinsella, Benedetti, Hamilton, Jon Petronzio, Jay Spaker (as Double Tiger), and Mike Keenan.
The festival also will once again host an Education Village, Wellness Village, Youth Village and International Food Village, with a new Art and Skateboard Village set up on the tennis courts just outside the festival gates that’s open to all for free. And members of the Cayuga Nation will start off the day at 11 a.m. talking about the history of the Cayuga Lake and its importance to their culture.
Besides the Stewart Park activities, there are a couple of other events happening in conjunction with the festival.
Friday, the festival will host an official pre-party at the Haunt. Inspired by legendary Jamaican dancehalls, the Selector Sound Clash will feature six local DJs – DJ ha-MEEN, DJ Ziggy, Proper Philth, DJ SolarLion, DJ Evo Evolution, and DJ Rockmon – trading sets and mashups from 8 p.m. to midnight. DJ Mike Judah of WICB’s “Reggae Explosions” and SistaAna will host the proceedings. Cover is $10 for the 8 p.m. show.
At 10:30 p.m. Saturday, the festival will host an official after-party at the Haunt featuring The Crucials, who have been holding down the weekly Reggae Night residency at the Range since late last year. Cover is $10.
A meaningful mission
While many festival fans are focused on the music, organizers stress that they have a bigger goal in mind with the event, one that’s reflected in the festival’s mission statement: “Ithaca Reggae Fest is dedicated to the protection of Cayuga Lake through a conscious celebration of Ithaca’s legendary reggae community and its history.”
That statement inspires the festival’s board members – Michael Mazza, Michael “Judah” Miller, Russ Friedell, Chelan Mazza, Ana Goldsmith, Ben Marlin, Gabe McCarthy, Micah Beem-Miller and Kevin Kinsella – as they meet throughout the year to plan the event.
“None of us here are financially driven; none of us are driven by recognition,” Mazza said. “We’re here because we care about creating this culture of reggae in our community. When you think about what reggae is, it’s about the ‘we are one’ or the ‘one-ness.’ When the community comes together and celebrates, we can all put our devices away and stop texting and doing social media and just be together as one.”
For this year’s festival, the board actually made a slight tweak to the mission statement, swapping in “conscious” for “vibrant.” The change was inspired by a line in one of Kinsella’s songs, “Festival,” in which he talks about a “conscious party.”
“We want people to show up believing in the ‘We are one,’ and that this is for everybody,” Mazza said. “We want people to show up believing in what’s possible when you can contribute to the lake – that’s what we mean by consciousness. We want everyone to have as much fun as they want, but it’s not just one of these festivals where’s there’s a raging party.”
Indeed, the intention behind the festival has been steadfast from its beginning.
“The focus was going to be on the water, and how you can connect water to the heartbeat, which is reggae music,” Goldsmith noted. “That connection between our intention and our consciousness of how we all benefit from Cayuga Lake by choosing to live in Ithaca. So how can we give back to, instead of take, and honor the Cayuga Nation, the first people here? We are on their land, so part of it is an intentional consciousness that we all share, How this started its very intentional, and that’s why it’s going to sustain itself for a long time to come. Not just because of all of our contributions and input, but because it’s bigger than ourselves.”
And returning to the theme of “one-ness,” Goldsmith added: “We are very unique in that we have all of our community participate in this event, not just certain parts. Which is not always the case in Ithaca, which can be very segregated in a lot of events that happen. This is one event that we really feel that we want to be a representation of everyone in our community. And reggae music allows that as ‘we are one’ – any of the ‘-isms’ don’t exist. That’s why it works and why it will be here for a long time.”
Cause and effect
To date, the Ithaca Reggae Festival has raised more than $10,000 in donations to local water-focused groups, including a $7,500 matching donation to support the purchase of a new boat for the Cayuga Lake Floating Classroom, aka Discover Cayuga Lake, an organization committed to inspiring future stewards of Cayuga Lake by providing hands-on learning opportunities in the interest of sustaining our Finger Lakes waterways for future generations,” according to a recent press release.
The Education Village will once again showcase organizations dedicated to maintaining clean water in the Cayuga Lake watershed.
McCarthy noted that the festival originally was going to create its own non-profit project to help protect Cayuga Lake, but then realized that a lot of good projects already existed. “Then it dawned on us that we could create the opportunity or platform for people to show what they’re up to,” he said. “So that’s how the Education Village came to be. We’re letting the people who are already working to protect or improve the lake showcase what they’re doing.”
Besides the Cayuga Floating Classroom/Discover Cayuga Lake, those organizations include the Cayuga Watershed Network, Cayuga Waterfront Trail, Friends of Stewart Park, Finger Lakes Land Trust, Community Science Institute, the New Roots Charter School, and others.
Mazza noted that the original inspiration for the festival’s focus on Cayuga Lake was the Cayuga Wetlands Project founded at New Roots in 2016.
“That’s now being funded by the DEC at $40,000 to run a youth corps the next three summers to planting wetlands in Stewart Park in concert with Cayuga Nation,” he said. “So when we were looking at these ideas, rather than focus on one project, we decided to spotlight all of them.”
The organizers are also devoted to maintaining a plastic-free festival, prohibiting its vendors from selling bottled water or using plastic cups. Instead, they’re renting reusable plates and silverware from the Dish Truck, borrowing a metal water dispenser from Cornell and offering reusable metal cups for purchase.
“It’s not so much about us, to show that we’re something special,” Mazza said. “We’re doing it to show that this can be done. We don’t have to tell people what’s right or wrong – we can just lead by example. And we hope that we can inspire other festivals to take this on as well."
If You Go
What: Third annual Ithaca Reggae Fest
When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 29
Where: Stewart Park, 1 James L. Gibbs Dr., Ithaca
Cost: $30 in advance, $40 at the gate
11 a.m. to 12 p.m. – Cayuga Nation
12-12:50 p.m. – Dub Apocalypse
1:10-2 p.m. – E.N Young
2:00-2:30 p.m. – The Analougue Sons*
2:30-3:30 p.m. – Cha Cha & The Medicinals
3:30-4:00 p.m. – The Analougue Sons*
4-5 p.m. – Double Tiger
5-5:30 p.m. – The Analougue Sons*
5:30-6:30 p.m. – Kevin Kinsella
6:30-7 p.m. – The Analougue Sons*
7-8 p.m. – Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad
8-8:30 p.m. – The Analougue Sons*
8:30-10 p.m. – Mykal Rose w/ Sly Dunbar
(*changeover sets on Leslie Puryear Stage)