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Positive Jam Preview: A Loud, Beer-Soaked Weekend in Ithaca by bzr
Positive Jam: a weekend of good beer and great music

Positive Jam: a weekend of good beer and great music

Check out the rest of 20 Watts’ exclusive coverage of Positive Jam here!

PREVIEW: Get the 20 Watts Positive Jam Mix here!

Music festivals and beer go together like ice cream and Grey’s Anatomy.

That was presumably on Ithaca concert promoter Dan Smalls’ mind as he began to organize the first Positive Jam Festival, featuring The Hold Steady, in conjunction with Ithaca Beer’s annual Brewfest at Stewart Park.

On Saturday, Sept. 5, beer lovers in Ithaca’s Stewart Park will indulge in the Ithaca Beer Company’s brews (alongside those of other small breweries across New York State) while enjoying the scenery of Cayuga Lake. The next day is all about the music — but both days will involve plenty of beer, with little corporate intervention to spoil the mood.

“It’s not just a big corporate moneymaking event, it’s about the city [of Ithaca],” Smalls told 20 Watts in a telephone interview. “There’s so many beautiful parks here, and Ithaca is just such a great summer location that it would make sense to have a summer venue like this. I think two successful years of putting on the Brewfest allowed us the leeway with the city to take a chance on something like this.”

Positive Jam features a solid line-up of four indie rock ‘n’ roots acts. The Hold Steady have been compared to Bruce Springsteen for their lyrical, riff-heavy brand of classic rock, and are currently on tour with The Dave Matthews Band. Their latest album, 2008’s Stay Positive, peaked at number 30 in the Billboard 200 and received end-of-year accolades from a wide range of critics.

The Felice Brothers, Deer Tick and The Rural Alberta Advantage round out the afternoon, with more opening acts to be announced next week. Festival-goers can expect lively, Dylan-esque roots-rock from The Felice Brothers and lo-fi Americana from Providence natives Deer Tick. Meanwhile, The Rural Alberta Advantage, a highly buzzed, up-and-coming act recently signed to Saddle Creek, deliver endearing and ramshackle folk ballads like a less-neurotic Neutral Milk Hotel.

It’s a decidedly independent festival, to say the least, and Smalls takes pride in his efforts to support burgeoning talents. Major corporate-spawned festivals are on their way out, he says, and with Ticketmaster sales plunging 70% this quarter according to the Associated Press, grassroots indie festivals may be the way to go.

“It’s finally the backlash that I think everybody saw coming,” Smalls said. “When I started it was more about independent concert promoters and regional promoters that have been more about artist development. I think that’s why guys like me are having some success in the industry right now, just because we care about the artists we work with.

“I think this is a good opportunity to see bands that are on the cutting edge … It’s about young talent with creativity and uniqueness, and that’s what I think these bands are. They’re bands that know how to have a good time.”

Positive Jam will just be day two of a week-long festival devoted to good beer and better music. If you’re interested in going, it’s at Stewart Park on the shores of Cayuga Lake. A little over an hour from Syracuse, Ithaca can be reached via Interstate 81 South to Cortland, then Rt. 13 directly to the Park. Tickets are $25 when pre-purchased online ($35 at the gate), or $50 in combination with the Brewfest. The music starts at noon; expect to find your eardrums again after sundown when the gates close.

— Blake Rong and Charlie Weeks


Felice Bros. may steal the show – great lineup. THS’s Craig Finn may be the most talented lyricist going right now (has to have a novel buried in him somewhere, right?) and the Rural Alberta Advantage “Hometowns” disc is easily one of the years 10 best.

Would love to win a pair of tix and turn this into a holiday weekend roadtrip.

To steal Craig Finn’s line, “we got to start it off with a…”


Comment by Marc Sanders

[…] dates with Jonny Corndawg, Cotton Jones, Holy Sons and Dolorean.  [Previous 20 Watts Coverage: Deer Tick Plays Ithaca, 20 Watts Reviews Deer Tick's Born on Flag […]

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