Ithaca Is Reggae

Ithaca, NY has a rich and renowned music scene that dates back to the early days of Rock and Roll with such artists as Bernie Milton and Bobby Comstock, who both had songs which garnered national attention. The 1970’s saw the genesis of the string band, or “Old Time” music traditions with the acclaimed Highroads string band leading the way in bringing national attention to the finger lakes region. They in turn inspired a younger generation to carry old time music into the 1980’s, from which sprang the national touring group Donna the Buffalo, who founded the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance, which has endured and enriched the local music scene for over a quarter century.

Alongside the old time stringed music, Reggae grew in popularity and influence in the 1980’s and has carried through to today. Upstate New York has become recognized as both a pioneer and leader in the U.S. Reggae scene, which in the past several years has grown to be a leader in the indigenous Jamaican genre itself. One of the current recognized leaders and pioneers of the U.S. movement is John Brown’s Body, which was formed in Ithaca in 1995 from the remnants of a previous incarnation of the group, The Tribulations, which had formed at Ithaca High School in 1986. Founding members Josh Neuman and Kevin Kinsella had been inspired by the works of Bob Marley and other popular stalwarts of the music that they heard on the weekly radio program “Reggae Explosions” which broadcast every Thursday morning on WICB, Ithaca College’s student run radio station hosted by the DJ General Moses. In conjunction with the weekly radio dosage of Reggae, Ithaca’s growing education and appreciation of the music was bolstered by the regular concert appearances of touring Jamaican Reggae bands that would make a stop at The Haunt, the local nightclub owned by Reggae enthusiast John Peterson, who along with a knack for bookings and promotion also owned a killer 45 collection of music direct from the Island. American Reggae band Bahama Mama, hailing from Rochester NY, supplemented the steady flow of live reggae in Ithaca as well as local reggae groups such as Rising Sign and Iphoria. The Tribulations made their debut at the Haunt in May of 1986 opening for NYC reggae group Moja Nya.

A legendary reggae scene emerged from this historical foundation which includes an abundance of local reggae bands and a strong weekly Wednesday “Reggae Night" hosted by The Crucial Reggae Social Club, an all-star ensemble of some of Ithaca’s finest musicians. The Ithaca Reggae Festival is a celebration of the vibrant and historical Reggae scene in Ithaca and throughout the Finger Lakes region with a one day event at Stewart Park, dedicated to the protection and restoration of Cayuga Lake.

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