ITHACA, N.Y. — Platinum selling alternative rock band, X Ambassadors have dominated radio waves for the past few years with songs like “Renegades” and “Unsteady” topping the Billboard charts in 2015 and 2016. While the Ithaca-born band has toured the world, there’s still something special about their hometown that brings them back. 

“All kids are super eager to leave their hometown and strike out into the big, wide world,” keyboardist Casey Harris said. “We haven’t seen all the world, but we’ve seen a lot of it. It’s pretty awesome, but there’s something about Ithaca. Every time we come back, we discover something new to appreciate, some new magic about the city… It’s a special place.”

The band — made up of Harris, his brother and vocalist Sam Harris, and drummer Adam Levin — founded and curated the Cayuga Sound music festival. It’s set to take place for the first time this Friday and Saturday at Stewart Park in Ithaca.

Casey Harris and his brother Sam grew up in Ithaca. Casey said despite the band’s excitement the break into the international scene, they credit their hometown with being a place where music thrives.

As a budding act, Casey said, he and his band benefited from the inclusive environment Ithaca offered to young, up-and-coming artists. He said they appreciated festivals like the Ithaca Festival that showcased local artists and Grassroots which brought in national artists, but wished there was an event that combined the two.

“We did always sort of wish that there was a festival that was kind of a hybrid between an Ithaca Festival where there are a lot of local acts playing and bringing in a lot of the new artists from around the country,” he said.

X Ambassadors took it upon themselves to create such a space. The genres of music featured at Cayuga Sound will range from hip-hop to rock to folk.

Though a performance at a festival of this caliber requires the same focus and energy as a more intimate show, Casey said the band has allotted two full days of rehearsal in preparation for Cayuga Sound.

They rented out a rehearsal space in New York City, where they set up all stage equipment in order to test it out. Additionally, Casey said, the band has been rehearsing new music they are excited to debut at the festival

“We’re going to be playing a few new tracks that are on our new, unreleased album. One of which, we’ve never played live before,” he said.

Though X Ambassadors has been perfecting their part of the program, Casey said he is excited to witness the festival not just as a performer, but as an audience member.

“It was just shots in the dark, seeing who we could get to sign up,” Casey said. “I can’t believe and I’m so humbled and grateful for all of the amazing artists that have signed on.”

The festival will feature acts from both the local community and beyond, including X Ambassadors, The Roots, Margaret Glaspy, Jukebox the Ghost, Sammus, Izzy True and more. A portion of the proceeds will benefit a number of local non-profits.

The artists will be split up between two stages, and local food vendors will be on site. VIP ticket holders will also have the opportunity to attend a dinner sponsored by Ithaca Beer on Friday as well as more intimate shows at The Haunt and The Dock.

Tickets for the festival are $59.50 and VIP tickets have already sold out. They can be purchased here. 

Ithaca-based promoter Dan Smalls and X Ambassadors Manager Seth Kallen Photo by Lauren Kallen

Featured photo by Catie Laffoon