The Cayuga Sound music festival returns to Stewart Park in Ithaca this weekend, with a lineup featuring Young the Giant, Matt & Kim, Ithaca’s own X Ambassadors, and more. We got the chance to talk with Casey Harris, the keyboardist of the X Ambassadors, about how and why the festival came together. We also spoke about their favorite parts of their hometown. You can read the full interview below.
Ariel: Hi, you’re here with Ariel on WVBR 93.5 FM, Ithaca’s Alternative! We’re here today with the X Ambassadors who will be performing at the Cayuga Sound Festival here in Ithaca on September 21st and 22nd. So to start us off, what made you decide to start Cayuga Sound?
Casey: Honestly, it came out of just a pipe dream. Me and my brother grew up and started our musical careers in Ithaca. As kids we always wanted to hear these cool up-and-coming bands, but they never came anywhere near Ithaca. We imagined how cool it would be if there was a festival in our hometown that would invite these kind of artists.
We thought why not give it a try? We made a master list of all the artists in our wildest dreams and just started making calls. We played The Roots Picnic earlier that year and they told us that if we played their festival, they’d be down to play ours and that was incredible! All of a sudden all these other artists started responding. Next thing you knew we had a full roster of really amazing musicians and bands. We talked with local vendors and organizations in Ithaca, especially Dan Smalls who did a lot of the ground work there. It was very organic.
Ariel: That’s awesome! Why did you choose Stewart Park as the venue for the festival?
Casey: Stewart Park is amazing and was a major feature of our childhood. My brother did little league soccer there and I was a frequent visitor to the park either with my school or with our family. So it was pretty iconic in our memories when we were visiting Ithaca and looking around for spots. When we went down there, it was a beautiful day. It’s this big open area and it just felt perfect. It turned out to be just as perfect as we’d originally hoped. It was really a magical place to have it.
Ariel: Yeah, it’s beautiful there. So you’re originally from Ithaca. What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re in town?
Casey: Right now my favorite thing in town is to go home. Last year I bought back my childhood house, so that’s still pretty new and fresh. I haven’t gotten to spend as much time there as I’d like to. Me and my wife are in the process of making it a whole new place again. Other than that, I’ve got to give a shout out to Collegetown Bagels and the Ithaca Beverage Center. My favorite thing about Ithaca is that I can just walk around. I’ll walk around Downtown and Collegetown and everywhere I go will bring back this flood of memories. It’s amazing being back and visiting Ithaca.
Ariel: What do you miss most about living in Ithaca?
Casey: Honestly the walkability. I’m visually impaired, so that’s a huge thing for me. I lived in New York City, which is very walkable, but it’s also very intense and chaotic. Now I live in LA which is famously not walkable, and has turned out to be pretty true. I miss being able to walk around Downtown completely independently, with no fear that I’ll get completely lost, because I always know where I am.
Ariel: What’s it like being in a band with your brother?
Casey: It’s honestly fantastic. My theory is that me and my brother got a lot of the fighting out when we were younger. We had a very close and extremely physical relationship as kids, so we got all that tousling out of our system. Now we’ve learned to deal with each other. Honestly, it’s very reassuring to have someone who I can count on through thick and thin. It’s a very grounding feeling for me and I would hope he’d feel the same way.
Ariel: Who’s your favorite musician that you’ve ever toured with?
Casey: Man, that’s so so hard. For me personally The Roots are still a highlight. We had the chance to jam with them on stage for a couple songs and that was one of the coolest things. It was one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most amazingly transcendent things. I got to play with these incredible musicians that I’d grown up idolizing, and managed to hold my own, I’m proud to say. That was one of the most special times on tour.
Ariel: What’s going to be new about the Cayuga Sound Festival this year as compared to last year?
Casey: It’s going to be bigger. We’re extending it to two days because we had so many artists and vendors sign-up. It’s going to be extending the entire experience. The vibe last year was so incredible throughout the entire day. It’s really cool that we’re going to be able to keep the party going for a little longer this year.
TJ: I know last year there was a bunch of local Ithaca artists who were playing. Will they still be playing this year?
Casey: We have quite a few local artists. We have a couple of the same names, and a few new locals who I’m very excited about because I’ve never heard of them before. My brother picked them out and discovered them. If there are any local musicians listening, we need you to sign up for next year because it is the backbone of the festival. I’m really excited to hear some of the new artists. My brother had a pretty cool selection.
TJ: Yeah we’re excited to hear them. I wanted to ask one other thing about The Roots. I was at the show last year and saw you guys playing together. It looked really natural. Did you guys practice that beforehand?
Casey: No, they are the most professional band I have ever seen. Questlove is like the ringmaster of it all. He has this little headset with the microphone on. He’s sitting there playing the drums and he’ll just call it out to band. He’ll say into his microphone, “Okay guys, give me 4 hits,” and the band will give him 4 hits just perfect. We were trying out best to keep up with them. I think we did a pretty good job holding our own, but they could play with anybody. They are so professional and so good at what they do. They could play with the least musical people and still sound good.
TJ: Yeah, that was super exciting to watch. We’re so excited to see you guys this weekend!
Casey: Oh man we’re so excited to play. I can’t tell you how stoked I am to be back home and play for the people again.