Nearly every Thursday evening, with the exception of GrassRoots week, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance will host the CFCU Summer Concert Series. This free weekly event features acts such as the Afro-Latin group El Rumbon, the indie-pop artists Saint Mela, the hip-hop group The Gunpoets, and several other local acts and genres.
Tatiana Sy, the Director of Events for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, curates this summer event. Sy joined the DIA in April 2015 and said she tries “to present a well rounded narrative of what (music) goes on here in Ithaca.”
Sy graduated from Ithaca College in 2009. Prior to working for DIA, she was a Talent and Production Director for Brooklyn Bodega, the organization behind the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, and Pretty Much Amazing, a music blog. These positions required Sy to consult and book talent, curate festivals and manage events in New York City. As the Director of Events for the DIA, Sy oversees the planning for music related events in Ithaca.
Elena Piech, the Outreach Coordinator for MegsRadio.fm, interviewed Sy about the Summer Concert Series and Ithaca’s music scene. Piech interviewed Sy on June 26, 2017,
Elena Piech: Why did you want to be the Director of Events for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance?
Tatiana Sy: I was planning music festivals and other types of live music related events in New York City for a little over 5 years. I was interested in coming back to Ithaca for this particular position because I thought it would be interesting to take on the challenge of a public space re-imagined for a lot of different types of experiences throughout the year—among other reasons.
EP: Talking about reimaging a space, what is the decision making process like for deciding what bands are on the lineup of this series?
TS: I try to present a well-rounded narrative of what goes on here in Ithaca. The thing about having a 6 to 8pm free show is I like that element of open discovery and making it accessible. My thought process is a combination of things. We try to maintain a balanced mix of what goes on here in terms of genres and folks and groups who we attract downtown. And we try to have a balance between staples and newcomers and everyone in-between.
EP: For someone who has never heard of the Summer Concert Series, how would you describe it?
TS: I’d say it is a 13 part free live music series downtown. It has become a staple in the community. You are almost always guaranteed to come and want to dance! It’s an open, free arts and culture event that is pretty consistent in that it is every week all summer long through September. And it is a good time for all ages.
EP: How does the Downtown Ithaca Alliance decide what bands to feature for the series?
TS: We have events throughout the year, like Apple Harvest Festival, where if you apply, that is where I get the entire lineup from. This is a little bit different in that it’s a combination of me paying attention to what direction I want to go in. What kind of story I want to tell. What’s going on, if there are reunions or anniversaries for certain local bands. It is just a combination of things. But yeah, we listen to everything that gets submitted to us—when folks want to get on our radar as well.
EP: You just said when folks want to get on our radar. What do you mean?
TS: So when I got here two years ago, it was 2015. It was the first concert series on The Commons. And there was a sort of celebratory approach, I think, to what I was doing. I wanted to go big to make sure that there was a lot of positive energy on the space. I also kind of wanted to throw some things in there that didn’t always happen here in Ithaca—especially for free. So we had Son Little, who is an awesome national act. And then we had Talib Kweli as part of the series. So I think we accomplished having that positive energy in that first year on The Commons. But it just kind of depends.
This year I think I’m still just going with that discovery element and I think there is a nice mix of really solid talent that you would almost have to really be invested in going to the clubs and going to a lot of residencies to know who some of these artists are. And so for your average concert series attendee, I’m getting, even in just the first week alone, there have been a lot of folks who are like, “Oh I had no idea who Julia Felice was, but her voice was awesome.” So I think it is going to be a summer (where) acts that are on stage are going to attract a completely new following just by proximity of sound—like people walking by and being like, “Who is that?” So that’s going to be really cool. There is a lot of collaborations this summer. So I think my approach was just like kind of highlight where the local musicians are, all year round when the series isn’t going on. We got Cosmic Joke Collective which is a pretty dope monthly event that happens at Lot 10. We are going to be doing another addition of their “We’ve Got You Covered,” which is when local musicians cover local musicians. This will be a fun way to get even more artists involved (in the Series) in a creative way.
EP: Cosmic Joke Collective is putting on a show where local artists cover other local artists. I feel as if not many small cities would be able to accomplish such a task. What do you think makes Ithaca’s music scene so vibrant?
TS: I think this market, this city, this area has a community that is very much invested in local talent. As (an event) booker, it is important to remember that because folks are paying attention to who is being represented locally at all times. So I think that is why something like that works here. Where the community is, there are a lot of artists and the community is looking to see that they get prioritized in terms of programming. So I think that is why things like that work so well here. It is just the kind of place that is very much invested in itself.
EP: Talking about the different communities and genres, do you think there are genres that are more prominent in Ithaca?
TS: There is a lot going on here. I think it is just how you look at it. Ithaca Underground covers a lot of bases in terms of what could be considered underrepresented or sub-genres that don’t get mainstream attention in terms of the types of venues they get booked in—or radio representation. So (representation for non-mainstream genres) exists, it is just the access to it. Empowering those communities so they have a platform. We are not perfect. I don’t know that any market really is. But, there are certainly genres here that have a really strong core following. Zydeco is like a big thing here in Ithaca. Our bluegrass, Americana and folk roots here are taken very seriously. I think in terms of hip-hop and R&B, we probably have a little bit of work to do.
It is an exciting time. I think Ithaca Underground is killing it and I think that they’re getting a lot of well-deserved attention. It is fun to see so many successful consistent residencies pop up.
EP: Looking at some of the different genres we have here in Ithaca, are there any particular shows that you are looking forward to watching?
T: I’m excited about our collaborations. I’m excited to see how the audience responds to Cosmic Joke Collective. I’m excited to see if that translates into more folks going to their residencies. Maybe it could translate to new support for our local venues and merchants.
I’m excited about the Wednesday show, the week of Grassroots, with Saint Mela. They were formerly known as Alter. And Wolf (Weston), the lead singer, was the lead singer of Second Dam while she was at IC (Ithaca College). If you’ve heard her, then you know she will have everyone with chills by probably the first song. I’m really, really, really excited to give them a platform in our realm. That is going to be an awesome night.
And we have new things that we are going to try out, I don’t have too much information for the public just yet, but we are working on a Battle of the Bands to end the series.
EP: So right now on MegsRadio.fm, we have a station for the Summer Concert Series. We want MegsRadio to be a tool that promotes upcoming local events. What do you think of the idea behind MegsRadio?
TS: I think it is great. I think it is very fitting for what we were discussing about this community. This community is invested in itself and it is the kind of place where people are kind of looking to see local acts represented consistently. So it makes sense to have something like MegsRadio.