Sights from last year’s Reggae Festival, including Yao Foli Augustine, also known as Cha Cha, who will be performing with Cha Cha and the Medicinals this year.

Sights from last year’s Reggae Festival, including Yao Foli Augustine, also known as Cha Cha, who will be performing with Cha Cha and the Medicinals this year. 

As Ithaca’s festival season continues, one of the area’s newest annual events returns to celebrate the strong local reggae tradition.. 

This year’s Reggae Festival, being held this weekend, will feature a full day of reggae music on Saturday, bookended by pre- and post-parties held at the Haunt. Tickets are still available for $40 and $30 for a weekend pass or Saturday-only ticket, respectively, though prices rise slightly for day-of purchases. The event is family-friendly and kids under the age of 16 can enter for free. 

The festival is organized by Michael Mazza, Russ Friedell and a team of others, and held to benefit Cayuga Lake protection efforts; over its first two years, over $10,000 has been raised for the cause, according to organizers. In addition to music, the festival will again feature educational and environmental aspects, including the Cayuga Lake Floating Classroom and other ways to provide hands-on learning experiences that shed light on the importance of future care of the Finger Lakes. 

Of course, the most important element of any music festival is the lineup, and the organizers’ excitement over this year’s roster of performers is palpable. The main event will take place on Saturday, June 29 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. in Ithaca’s historic Stewart Park, featuring performances from legendary Grammy Award-winning Jamaican recording artists Mykal Rose with Sly & Robbie (although Robbie dropped out with health issues), alongside Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, Kevin Kinsella, Double Tiger, Cha Cha & The Medicinals, Dub Apocalypse, E.N. Young, and The Analogue Sons. 

“They’re pretty iconic, they’re pretty well-known,” Friedell said of several of the performing acts, in particular Mykal Rose with Sly & Robbie. “So for us to get them is a pretty big deal.”

Friedell said they strive to make the festival a full community event, and to that end they have. The official pre-party on Friday, June 28 will feature a DJ sound clash, and the after-party on Saturday, June 29 will be hosted by The Crucials. Both parties will be held at The Haunt. There will also be a wallride and street jam in the Art and Skateboard Village. That feature will be in Stewart Park, sponsored and produced by the Greater Ithaca Activities Center in partnership with the festival.

Ithaca’s reggae bloodlines run fairly deep, Friedell said, especially considering how far removed it is from the genre’s traditional Caribbean strongholds. The city’s relationship with reggae is something people would know had they attended last year’s festival, when organizers and the History Center teamed up to create a timeline of reggae culture in Ithaca as well as make a booth where people could share their reggae experiences from the area. 

Friedell said the idea for the festival was originally born out of an affinity for the traditional final day of the Ithaca Festival, which was held on Sunday at Stewart Park. The final day became a favorite of Mazza’s and others who enjoy reggae and liked the outside park setting, and in 2017 they decided to build a separate event to celebrate the genre. He said he thinks the festival has given a larger platform to the still-burgeoning reggae scene in Ithaca during its first two years, and with increasingly prominent names gracing the marquee, that could continue. 

“Our goal is to really give back, and have this be an educational, fun thing where people can come with their family and have a really fun day relaxing,” Friedell said. “It’s about a community, it’s not about us trying to make a buck, which a lot of festivals are.”

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