X Ambassadors Bring Music, Charity To Ithaca With Second-Year ‘Cayuga Sound’ Festival

X Ambassadors
Graham Fielder
– X Ambassadors
frontman Sam Harris during Cayuga Sound last year.

The second-year Cayuga Sound festival kicked off tonight, headed by X Ambassadors in the band’s hometown of Ithaca, N.Y., with two days of music including Young The Giant, Matt And Kim, Sofi Tukker, Talib Kweli and others after last year selling more than 4,000 tickets and actually making money as a first-year, one-day festival
“Last year was great. We did about 4,000 tickets, which was amazing for us,” X Ambassadors manager Seth Kallen of This Fiction Management told Pollstar. The first year of Cayuga Sound featured The Roots, K.Flay, The Knocks, and others.
“It’s common knowledge that festivals typically lose money in the first few years, but we actually profited in year one and donated all the profits, which was about $50,000, back to the city of Ithaca in one way or another, to different local nonprofits or to the park. We were obviously thrilled.”
Kallen added that capacity this year is 5,000, with one large main stage at Stewart Park right on Lake Cayuga and a second acoustic stage right by the lakefront. The festival kicks off with a “half day” Friday night and the full festival action Saturday. 
Although thunder storms were likely Friday night, Saturday’s forecast appears more pleasant. 

The festival announced it would start music a bit earlier than planned to avoid some of the rain Friday night.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Due to the threat of severe weather, music will start earlier than planned. Ticket buyers should arrive at 4pm, as music will begin very shortly after gates open. This is to keep you safe and ensure you still enjoy all the music today! See you tonight, Ithaca!</p>&mdash; Cayuga Sound Fest (@cayugasound) <a href=”https://twitter.com/cayugasound/status/1043154759547596801?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>September 21, 2018</a></blockquote>
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“Friends in the industry say it’s a tough business but if you win you’re going to make big money,” Kallen said, “but for or us, and this might sound cheesy, it’s just not about that. We want to do something cool for the city, to build something special that the band can own a piece of in the future. We want to do something we believe in and we’re not expecting to make money or profit in the first couple years. Anything we do make is a bonus, to be honest.”
It was fun on the artist side, too.
“The Roots were my idols from a very young age,” said X Ambassadors keyboardist and co-founder Casey Harris, “So to get to watch them from the side stage right after we played — they’re amazing, incredible musicians but they’re also having a part up there onstage. It was so much fun.” Overall, the inaugural fest “turned out better than we could have expected, turnout was bigger than we expected, but really the vibe was the main thing — just the most welcoming, joyous and incredible,” Harris added. “Everyone from the fans, to the people in the other bands, to even the vendors serving drinks and food, everyone was in such a good mood.”
Cayuga Planning
– Cayuga Planning
Dan Smalls (DSP Shows), John Sanders (DSP Shows), Seth Kallen (This Fiction) prepare for Cayuga Sound in Ithaca, N.Y.
Kallen dreamt up the idea of hosting a festival in the band’s hometown and reached out to local promoter Dan Smalls of DSP Shows, who booked shows for X Ambassadors before they were even known as such.
“It’s also great marketing for X Ambassadors,” added Kallen, whose This Fiction Management also handles Great Good Fine OK, Jukebox The Ghost, Mail The Horse, Panama Wedding and others. 
“It looks great that they’re doing this, and fans around the world want to fly out to Ithaca and learn about the band and city.  There are so many residuals and intangibles that come from doing your own event,” he said, adding with a laugh that “it’s extremely stressful and I plan it all year” and “wake up in a cold sweat and have crazy dreams about not having a beer sponsor.” 
Kallen’s This Fiction is a partner with Friends At Work management, which is run by Ty Stiklorius and counts Alicia Keys and John Legend among clients.
Today the artist-led festival appears to be a growing trend, with everyone from Cody Jinks to J. Cole (which was just rescheduled after Hurricane Florence) to Post Malone to even G. Love getting in on the action.
“It’s a great idea that seems like it was just sitting out there waiting for someone to realize how obvious it was,” Harris said. “When you just talk to people and ask whether they’d be willing to go for an idea, so many are willing to take a chance. In this day and age you never know what’s going to be successful. There’s no formula to follow anymore. It’s really just a matter of giving it a try. 
“A lot of times the reason there are so many artist-led festivals is because the artists are willing to take that risk. They say hey, if i don’t make money on it, no big deal. I can afford to take the risk on it.”
Harris is no stranger to festivals, with X Ambassadors playing everything from the KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas to Hurricane and Southside festivals in Germany, and says having your own gig in your hometown brings a very tangible level of comfort.
“The big festivals have amazing musicians, but sometimes too many people,” Harris said. adding that he often may catch one or two bands and then head back to the green room. “The fact that Cayuga Sound is a smaller festival, where we even know a lot of people in the audience, for someone like me who is visually impaired to be part of the audience is a great thing. Big festivals can be great to dive in, but they get overwhelming.”
Harris is expecting the birth of his first child in November, after which the band’s sophomore album is expected as they fine tune and work the kinks out of a lot of material.  

X Ambassadors
Graham Fielder
– X Ambassadors
Casey Harris during last year’s fest.
The band has remained busy since it’s VHS LP debut inn 2015, with four singles released in 2017, a soundtrack collaboration with Bebe Rexha and Machine Gun Kelly and one of their previously unused tracks being used by Eminem on his Revival album.
They also were on the road for much of 2018 on the Joyful tour, which Kallen said had sellouts at Red Rocks near Denver and the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. 
Boxoffice reports submitted to Pollstar include 1,086 tickets sold to Knitting Factory Concert House in Spokane, Wash., July 14, a sold-out Roseland Theatre in Portland, Ore., May 7 (1,320, $43,972) and another 1,919 tickets at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago April 27, which grossed $43,586.
“There’s always so much pressure for the second album,” Harris said. “Sometimes an entire career judged by the second album. The pressure is kind of self-imposed but we really, really want to make sure this new album is the best possible material we could have come up with.”