GroundUp Music Festival 2019
North Beach Bandshell, Park Stage
Miami Beach, FL
February 8-10, 2019
An internet acquaintance has a running post gag that she labels with #BecauseFlorida. In it she basically puts forth all of the unattractive, wacky and head-scratching reports that come out of the Sunshine State. It IS funny (and seemingly never at a loss for material) but I suspect you could easily paint many a state as a bastion of insanity if you used the right brush.
But let's face it, all jokes aside, Florida IS different. A wildly unique mix of ethnicities, cultures and attitudes herded into an enviable climate. Within THAT lies Miami Beach, where it seems the multipliers-that-be have elevated that Florida model to a whole other level.
It's a totally appropriate place then for the GroundUp Music Festivala musical smorgasboard offering a wonderfully improbable mix of styles and sounds that does its setting proud.
With the familiar laid out next to the exotic, it was easy for attendees to indulge in a variety of musics that they might never have thought to try on their own. From the Moroccan sounds of Innov Gnawa
and percussion powerhouse PRD Mais from Brazil, to Canadian singer-songwriters The O'Pears and the iconic David Crosby
's Lighthouse Band, to jazz/R&B goddess Lalah Hathaway
and, Multi-instrumentalist, singer (and whistler) Andrew Bird
, to the dulcimer fusion trio House of Waters
and the funky fun of Tank and the Bangas, 2019 festival-goers were given a wide variety to sample.
The connecting thread through it all seems to be a precious, if not elusive niche that host band Snarky Puppy
has always endeavored to tap intoone of uncommon musicianship coupled with populist accessibilityor as SP likes to put it: "Music for brain and booty."
This proved to be a solid recipe for crossover appeal for the festival's three days. Looking at all manner of people(some sporting wildly disparate T shirts from Toto and Weather Report to Dream Theater and gulp, Marilyn Manson)grooving hard to the powerhouse funk of Ghost-Note one minute, and then spotting them swaying to the breezy sounds of Afro-Peruvian grande dame Susana Baca
the next was an extraordinary thing to witness. Maybe this willing eclecticism is indicative of their fan base in general but as with many things SP, it really does seem to fly square in the face of conventional wisdom.
So too does their leader, bassist and festival artistic director, Michael League
"My vision for the festival is for people to come to it and maybe not recognize anyone who's on the bill, but end up with a list of new artists they've discovered. That's the dream for meand maybe eventually not even announce the artists, period. Just to have people come and experience everything blindin a very pure and open-minded way. "
This suggests another measure of the festival's success could be how many times one might have said, "Wow, I think I've found my new favorite band..." Admittedly, this was experienced at GUM Fest more than once but It's hard to say how many times because, truth be told, it gradually became an expectation. High marks there...
In addition to an extremely talented musical roster of knowns and unknowns (a complete list is below), there were a host of other things that also set GUM Fest experience apart:
Unlike many festivals, the main performances at GroundUp were scheduled with no overlap on two different stages in close proximity so attendees never had to miss a show. A big plus to be sure, in light of so many worthy acts performing. Add to this a very egalitarian schedule with all artists doing one set only (with no encores), tightly timed to maximize the number and variety of artists presented(rather than a handful of openers with a few big names hogging inordinate amounts of time). If there is one small caveat here, it would be that the scheduling might have been timed just a bit too tight. At a few points, it felt that the addition of couple of minutes between acts might have been nice to make the move from stage to stage a bit less urgent(an urgency magnified by all else regarding the festival being so chill). All in all though, it was a very minor thing in light of the amount of music this afforded per day.