Cayuga Sound Ups The Ante: The Festival's Second Year Packs a More Robust Lineup and Magnificent

>> Impending thunderstorms threw all of Cayuga Sound into high gear Friday. The set times were moved up, acts shortened and the crowd rallied. As local band Lady D & The Shadow Spirits wrapped up their set, the excitement began to peak as Sofi Tukker was up next with Young the Giant soon to follow.

The second year of Cayuga Sound at Stewart Park in Ithaca had begun.

The festival hosted, curated and founded by Sam and Casey Harris of X Ambassadors, who grew up and went to school a few miles from where the festival takes place, had expanded from a one day festival to a two day one, bringing with it more vendors, a better stage set up, more acts and a second year amazing performances that made its inaugural event so memorable.

Pop duo Sofi Tukker, well known for their hit song “Best Friend” found an audience anxious for their goofy, energetic set as the blue skies were slowly filled by grey clouds. As Sofi sang and played guitar for the beginning of their set, Tucker managed the production and drummed in the background. TC Milan (of Crush Club, and a backup vocalist for X Ambassadors) joined Sofi Tukker on stage as they danced and helped hoist hometown hero, and frontman of X Ambassadors Sam Harris on stage to dance along with the group. The band’s use of Portuguese took some crowd members by surprise, yet their fun, vivid and lively performance of “Batshit” and “Best Friend” kept them all on their feet and ready for the next act.

Announcements of severe weather drawing closer put a damper on fan’s spirits. It wasn’t a question of if fans would see Young the Giant perform; it was a question of how long they’d be on stage. The answer was a short 40-minute, eight-song set, tackling three of their biggest hits “Cough Syrup,” “Mind Over Matter,” and “Something to Believe In” and a few of their newer or lesser-known songs, “Superposition,” “Titus Was Born,” and “I Got” amongst others. Brief, yet extremely powerful and engaging; Young the Giant held nothing back. Frontman Sameer Gadhia didn’t waste a second as he led the band into “Amerika,” dancing about the stage and passionately singing away. Combining Sameer’s heartfelt deliverance with the rest of the band’s staggering talent, their beautiful lighting, and the crisp audio, and Young the Giant’s 40-minute set was well worth seeing.

As the crowd was illuminated and evacuation announcements were made, the band genuinely looked sad their set had come to an end - matching the emotion of the crowd that was shuffled on to busses just in time for lighting and rain to fill the sky.

The next day began with a trickle and a shuffle as attendees slowly began filtering in and acts were divided between the main stage and an acoustic stage closer to the water. Vee Da Bee kicked things off with an acoustic set, quickly followed by young rapper, No Comply performing on the main stage. For such a young man, his rapping and stage presence showed promise, entertaining the dozens of attendees that had joined the crowd during his set. Next up, four-man band, Aaron Rizzo took over the acoustic stage to grace the crowd with chill guitar, saxophone, drums, and vocals. Aaron Rizzo and his band provided the perfect contrast to the pop acts that filled the stage for much of the day, like Knew who was the next artist on the main stage. Knew, a young female rapper, set on promoting her community and her career, took turns passionately rapping on stage with her brother and his friend, thoroughly entertaining the swelling crowd that quickly shifted back to the acoustic stage for an electric performance by Uni, whose eclectic style created one of the most unique performances of the day. Frontman Jack James’ led a band of string instruments and guitar. The lawn by the water was filled with crowd members sitting to enjoy food and drinks from the array of food trucks at the festival and enjoy some upbeat tunes.

Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones was the next band to take on the main stage and delivered one of the best sets of the day. Wicklund’s spirited singing, combined with the band's tenacity and zeal on stage made for a new age rock ‘n roll set that stood out amongst the varied acts of the day. “Bomb Through the Breeze” and “Shadowboxes and Porcelain Faces,” left fans of the band and new listeners alike in awe as the band wrapped up its set.

As one of the festivals main goals, the constant variance of performer and genre was never more apparent than the remaining acts: The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow on the acoustic stage, followed by Towkio and Talib Kweli - two pop artists / rappers and the festivals final headliners: Matt and Kim, a dance-punk band, and X Ambassadors, an alt-rock act that closed out the evening in an immaculate fashion.

Towkio, who won a Grammy for his collaboration with Chance the Rapper, delivered a solid performance, dancing about the stage and rapping to a swelling crowd, displaying his experience as a performer well into his artistic adolescence. Talib Kweli, far more seasoned that Towkio, used his time on stage to keep the crowd swaying and dancing on their feet. His movements were much more controlled and grounded, and his speech about the Second Amendments and the divisiveness of our country provided a conversation starter amongst the crowd that lingered until Matt and Kim emerged on stage.

Well known for their high energy, upbeat, drum and keyboard performances the couple played a set filled with vigor, rarely pausing except to crack the next joke or hurl a new object into the crowd, including an inflatable rideable bull, hundreds of balloons and a dozen sex dolls and two enormous beach balls for fans to entertain themselves with. People jumped to “Daylight,” swayed to “Hey Now,” and danced to “Let’s Go” as beach balls and balloons flew overhead and gorgeous sunset gleaned over Stewart Park. They played all their hits, never skipping a beat and never losing the energy that’s made them one of the summer’s most popular touring acts. With their set at an end, the couple embraced and kissed before tossing some shirts into the crowd and wandering off stage. The excitement in the crowd was at a fever pitch; X Ambassadors was up next.

As the stage grew dark once more, fans cheered. Sam Harris walked his brother Casey up to his keyboard and charged the front of the stage, as Adam Levin began drumming the beat to “Ahead of Myself.” The crowd didn’t need much help to get on their feet and enjoy the show, but Sam’s energy was infectious. He and his brother were home and their band was set to deliver the best set of the show. The lighting was perfect throughout and the band sounded eerily close to their studio productions throughout most of their set. It was nearly perfect. As they progressed through “Jungle,” “Loveless,” “Hang On,” and “Don’t Stay,” the band played two unreleased tracks “Happy Home,” and “Recover” - a song for those times when you’re at your lowest and you need a reminder to get back up again and keep moving forward. Sam rarely stopped moving while the band was on stage, swapping between his guitars, a saxophone and displaying his insane vocal range, his back up vocalists providing the chorus for many of the band's songs as Casey sang along and jammed out on the keyboard, stringing the set along with key progressions between songs. As the band got midway through “Unsteady,” Sam noticed something in the crowd, a fight or a scuffle and had the song halted until the conflict was resolved, taking the opportunity to remind everyone that his band’s festival, like his experience of Ithaca growing up, was one of peace and inclusiveness; not conflict. They started the song over, playing a few more tunes until he led into their final song. “Gorgeous,” playing on the Ithaca slogan “Ithaca is Gorges” with his over version “Ithaca you’re so gorgeous.” A perfect song to end an amazing set and two days of amazing music that no thunderstorm could truly ruin. <<