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GroundUP Weaves itself into SoFla Culture

GroundUP Weaves itself into SoFla Culture

By Jules Dean | Photo by Brad Stevens

“I didn’t choose Miami…” quipped Michael League, bass player / bandleader of Snarky Puppy, mid-set as he explained how the GroundUP Music Festival was conceived and now found itself in its sixth year at the North Beach Band Shell. In the case of GroundUP Music Festival, it was the push from festival director, Paul Lehr, that initially brought this assembly of exceptional musicians to Miami for the past 6 years.

While Miami doesn’t have the deep musical lore of cities like New Orleans, New York or Austin, GroundUP is in a good position to change that. If you have fans traveling to attend, then you know you are in the midst of something special. The festival’s set up is simple yet intimate. There are two stages, the larger but still accessible Art Deco designed Bandshell and the smaller Park Stage. Bands and musicians aren’t booked concurrently, so festivalgoers could easily catch every performance. Peppered throughout the event are workshops and more intimate brunch performances for attendees holding VIP passes.

Since the festival is outdoors right next to the beach, the weather could be as unpredictable as the improvising musicians. During Keyon Harrold’s set on the Park Stage at sunset, the wind started to pick up and jammed with the band adding a breezy ambience and rustling palm leaves to Keyon’s soulful tunes. Later in the evening, a form of Snarky Puppy took the stage. Given the limited room on the stage, only 11 out of the sometimes 25 members of the collective performed. In the beginning of the set, Michael League noticed that this exact configuration of the band never played together before. Even with the improvised configuration, they still worked as a cohesive unit and had everyone grooving and enthralled. The night was capped off with Nai Palm. Frocked in a bright pink fluffy overcoat, patterned catsuit and white Jackson Flying V guitar, she commanded the stage as she performed a solo set. Her unconventional fashion coalesced with clean tone Jazz chords beneath her poignant lyrics and soulful singing.

Late Night at the Faena Theatre is an opportunity to catch some musicians who weren’t part of the day’s schedule. The after hours jam session kicked off with the International trio of Jorge Glem on the Venezuelan Cuatro, Michael League on bass, and Gregoire Maret on harmonic improving over tunes. YAYennings Quartet, a jazz quartet rooted from Snarky Puppy, took the side stage while the main stage was set up for Louis Cato, band leader of the Late show with Steven Colbert. They jammed out some classic R&B and funk covers and had Michael League take over on bass. Deeper in the set, Isaiah Sharkey took over the guitar for a few tunes. After six years, GroundUP has found a a place for a festival of jazz, world music, funk, R&B and fusion into a city better known these days for EDM and Hip Hop.

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