ITHACA, N.Y. —Our Outreach Coordinator, Elena Piech, had the chance to interview Kevin Kinsella, an Ithaca reggae legend. Notable bands Kinsella has been a part of include Tribulations, John Brown’s Body, and 10 Ft. Ganja Plant. In 1996 Kinsella teamed up with other popular upstate New York artists to form the independent record label I-Town Records.
Deciding to take advantage of the central and upstate New York reggae scene, Kinsella and other artists began organizing Ithaca’s first annual Reggae Fest. Ithaca Reggae Fest will take place on Saturday, June 24th at Stewart Park in Ithaca, New York.
This interview originally aired on WRFI Community Radio. A selected part of the interview is transcribed below and the full interview can be heard below or found online on Soundcloud.
Elena Piech: Can you give me a little bit of your musical background and let the listeners know more about who you are?
Kevin Kinsella: I was born here in Ithaca, New York and I started my first band in high school called Tribulations. And when that group ended, I started another band called John Brown’s Body and I also just have worked under my own name, Kevin Kinsella. And I have worked such as Ti Ti Chickapea, Crucial Reggae Social Club, and a lot of local musicians. I’ve been here a while just playing music.
EP: You named several different bands a lot of them are from upstate New York or even the Ithaca area. I’m just wondering, how does Ithaca have such a vibrant reggae scene?
KK: I think a lot of it is, [it]owes a lot of it to John Peterson who was the one of the owners of the original [The] Haunt when it was on Green Street. And he used to get a lot of the Jamaican bands when they were touring. They would come and play The Haunt. A lot of the classic reggae groups like Chalice, The Itals, Burning Spear, King Yellow Man, Culture, [The] Meditations.
When I was in high school, I was just—I got into reggae and it blew me away. I saw that these groups were coming to The Haunt on Greenstreet in the alley. My friend and I, we were too young to get into the club, and my friend’s stepdad took us down one afternoon and we meet with John Peterson and we pleaded with him. ‘Can we please get into the club? We don’t want to cause trouble or drink. We just gotta see these bands.’ And he was very cool. I think he turned a lot of people onto reggae by having those groups come in. They were a pretty big deal. Those shows were the talk of the town.
EP: What do you think is going to be the appeal of Reggae Festival? Can you talk a little bit about that festival?
KK: Well Reggae Fest. This is the first annual Reggae Fest. So yea, Ithaca has been big into reggae for a long time, you know? And groups like, you know, Tribulations, John Brown’s Body, before those bands there was a group from Rochester [New York] called Bahama Mama which became the Majestics. And they made a record with Lee Perry way back in the early 80s. So yea, central New York always kind of had this reggae scene going. This festival is, you know, part of it. It has a two-pronged mission. The main mission is being, like, advocating for the lake, Cayuga Lake. For the health of the lake, you know, educating people about it, community outreach, [and]advocating on behalf. And the second, you know, mission was kind of like to celebrate the history and legacy of Ithaca’s and central New York’s contribution to the reggae scene.
EP: I saw that the event is held to kind of be benefit for Cayuga Lake and that you’re working with several different charities and nonprofits that are talking about environmental rights and what’s going on in our Ithaca climate. So how exactly does the event work to benefit the lake?
KK: Well it is a nonprofit, that’s why we are charging $10. All proceeds are going to the lake, you know. And different organizations that are working to protect the health of the lake. Advocate for the lake, like I said. I think what the main thrusts of what were finding this year for Friends of Cayuga Lake, is the name of the nonprofit that’s organizing this Ithaca Reggae Fest. What I think we’re finding is that, like, we’re really just creating an antenna and a reason for people to gather and to learn more about all the great, different nonprofits that are working on behalf of the lake. So its kind of like, uh, you know we’re going to set up a big tent and we’re going to have an education village where all these different nonprofit, advocacy groups on behalf of the lake are going to gather and table and make presentations. I really want it to be a day of celebration and education for people. And any money we do make will go directly towards – we’ll probably just dole it out accordingly to the different groups that are working actively everyday for the lake.
EP: Who came up with the idea for having this festival?
KK: Michael Mazza I think was the main guy. He was the guy who first came to me and I was really excited about the protection and stewardship of Cayuga Lake that really interested me the most. I got right aboard. And I know all of these other bands. They’re my friends, they’re my brothers. So I was like ‘Oh, I’ll try and get the talent together.’ You know what I mean? And it came together amazingly well.
Listen to the full interview below. Purchase tickets for Ithaca Reggae Fest here.