Ground Up Music Festival: celebrating good endings and renewal.


Snarky Puppy at the North Beach Bandshell, Miami Beach, Sunday, closing the third annual Ground Up Music Festival. Photo courtesy of Luis Olazábal /The Rhythm Foundation ©

Gracious hosts to the end, Snarky Puppy closed the third annual Ground Up Music Festival at the North Beach Bandshell in Miami Beach yesterday with a killer set that seemed to sum up the weekend’s musical experience: superb musicianship, unexpected collaborations (trumpeter Nicholas Payton and the Gnawa music group Innov Gnawa)  and moments of brilliance, all wrapped in an unassuming-but-still-kick-ass presentation.

Ground Up Music, Snarky Puppy’s label, created and produced the festival, and the band played a set every day while several of its members also appeared with other artists (unless proven differently, I believe there is more than one Michael League) or leading personal projects throughout the weekend.

Sunday, Snarky Puppy took the opportunity to, again, present music from their upcoming album Immigrance. If Saturday’s performance suggested they might be taking a simpler musical tack, that was laid to rest in Sunday’ set, as the writing and the playing showed a band that continues to probe and push.

There were (again) what sounded like echoes of electric Herbie Hancock circa 1974; but also the punchiest, daredevil horn and brass arrangements this side of early Irakere; superb soloing, a hint of disco and, for a band fond of flexings its muscles, moments of almost romantic, cinematic music style storytelling.

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Ground Up Music Festival, Day Two, Some Global Travel Included


Snarky Puppy performing at the Ground Up Music Festival Saturday. On the foreground, Michael League, bass, left and Chris McQueen, guitar.
Photo courtesy of Luis Olazábal /The Rhythm Foundation ©

You annoy the goddess of weather at your own peril.

After some people (I don’t want to mention any names here …) humble-bragged about the setting, the mild temperature and the light breeze on a Friday evening in February, it was almost a given that Saturday would be cloudy, windy, and with periods of light rain and drizzle. Still, the groveling and the apologies apparently were accepted because the skies cleared for the latter part of the afternoon into the evening. Lesson learned. It won´t happen again.


Snarky Puppy performs at some point every day of the festival and Saturday’s set mostly served to debut music from the group’s upcoming album Immigrance. The new songs, while still sourced in broadly varied traditions and featuring smart arranging, were mostly anchored by uniform, steady grooves setting the table for improvisers. On a first impression, they sounded almost minimalist in comparison to the suite-like, thru-composed pieces the band is known for.

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Ground Up Music Festival, great music, good vibes and a slight breeze from the ocean. Any questions?


Andrew Bird (left) and Richard Bona at the Ground Up Music Festival in Miami Beach, Friday. The set was promoted as the festival version of Bird’s “Live From the Great Room.” In case you wonder how loose things were, as they talked on stage to figure out what to play next, Bird said to Bona “I know little about you except that you’re a badass.” Mr. Bird, Mr. Bona; Mr. Bona, Mr. Bird. And yes, it worked out fine. 
Photo courtesy Luis Olazabal /The Rhythm Foundation ©.

The Ground Up Music Festival at the North Beach Bandshell in Miami Beach opened yesterday with a Chamber-of-Commerce-wish-list combination of strong performances,  good vibes, and 70-degree weather with a slight breeze from the ocean.
That’s one way to spend a Friday evening hanging out outdoors in February.

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