Get ready for the Fun.
When Casey Harris of X Ambassadors talks about last year's Cayuga Sound festival, you can hear the passion in his voice. With every syllable he utters, you can practically hear him flashing back to the inaugural show. "The vibe there was absolutely unbelievable, it was such a welcoming and joyous occasion," he reminisces. "It was like a huge, nearly-5,000-person family."
It's pretty obvious where the excitement is coming from. It has nothing to do with the fact that, even though the maximum capacity was set at nearly double the expected turnout, the place was almost full. And it has nothing to do with the fact that, even though it's incredibly difficult for a festival to break even in its first year, Cayuga did that and more, actually managing to turn a profit. (All of which it donated to local organizations.)
It has to do with a vision that the Harris brothers had years ago, something that Casey describes as "a pipe dream."
They wanted to create a festival that was special to their home city of Ithaca, something that they would have loved while growing up there. Something that gave business to local vendors. Something that really captured the thriving local music scene, as well as wonderful music from across the country.
"Year 1 was all about making that vision come to life," said Seth Kallen, founder of This Fiction management, and the X Ambassador's manager. "Pulling a line up together that was eclectic and that really showed the bands taste, and the diversity of the music they grew up loving."
As the festival gears up for its second year (it'll begin on the 21st), it's goals haven't changed. And, well, that's pretty exciting. Because the idea of curating a unique experience, not to mention a diverse lineup, is quietly slipping away.
As festivals get bigger and bigger, they compete more and more for a pin-sized pool of acts; there's not a whole lot of names that can sell a hundred thousand tickets.
If you'd like to see the result of this rat race, all it takes is a quick glance at a few identical-looking lineups. (If the name of the festival wasn't on there, would you even be able to tell them apart?)
Look similar below?
But if you want some real data, you're in luck- in 2015, the New York Times was kind enough to get some statistics for us. They found that 14 of the top 20 music festivals were headlined by Florence and the Machine, Muse, or Avicii. (And to get a semi-accurate idea of this year's line-up, just replace Florence and the Machine with The Killers, Muse with Eminem, and Avicii with… I dunno… The Weeknd or something).
"The longer the festivals go on, I think that they're starting to become one," said Seth Kallen.
"Bonnaroo used to be the hippie jam band festival, all about experimentation and collaboration. And Coachella was the left of center, alternative, indie festival. And now I look at them all and of course I want to go to all of them, and I want my bands to play at all of them, but they're starting to look similar."
And while the musicians at these festivals are by all measures pretty incredible, it doesn't leave a lot of room for unknown acts to be seen. Even if smaller band makes it on the lineup, they're often pushed to the side. "I think that's something that's particularly bothering me," said Casey. "That stratification between big names and smaller bands… you have to have success before you can prove how good you are on stage."
That's what Cayuga is helping to change. They can showcase artists that inspire them, even if they won't necessarily draw a crowd. They can even put them on the main stage. It's a sort of freedom that huge festivals don't have, and it's the reason that smaller festivals have developed such a draw. After all, discovering new music is half the fun of going to a festival.
If Cayuga Sound's success is any indication, we may be at the start of a festival renaissance. Because Cayuga isn't alone. It's just one piece of a movement to grow more boutique, artist driven festivals. Eaux Claires is curated by Bon Iver. Camp Bisco is put on by the Disco Biscuits. And Jay Z's Made in America
bridges the gap between artist run festivals and big names.
So the wonderful thing is, you don't have to love Cayuga's lineup, and you don't have to love Camp Bisco's. In fact, if one speaks to you, the other one, in all likelihood, won't. But you can choose. And you can go have an experience that was created for passion, instead of profits. And I think that's beautiful.
Now onto the Line Up:
Young The Giant
These guys charmed us on a stoop a few years back and have been known to put on a great live show.
Charisma oozes from these two. They will have everyone up waving their arms in the air for most of the set
Lady D & The Shadow Spirits
Local Ithaca Favorites worthy of arriving early to see.
This year these guys get to headline their own festival after humbly letting The Roots close the show last year. Be prepared for a set of big, emotional tunes that will talk to your soul. we caught them as they were just blowing up:
Photos From Last Year's Set
Matt and Kim
Veteran party music favorites. Their antics may be toned down this year as Kim blew her knee apart last summer on stage. We have a super vintage chat with them from the McCarren Park Pool Party days - you know you miss these.
Talib made universes collide when he performed with Phil Lesh and The Terrapin Family Band at Harlem's Apollo Theater.
Another amazing young hip artist from the Chicago scene.
Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones
Get ready for some power in the middle of the afternoon
A woman with something to say. Her description from Facebook - "Black Feminist Thought + Hip Hop"
Emerging Hip Hop from NYC