It’s been more than two years since music fans last gathered at the North Beach Bandshell in Miami Beach to listen to the eclectic sounds of the annual GroundUp Music Festival. That was February 2020, to be exact, less than a month before the gigging industry entered a long, dark hiatus due to COVID-19.
The acclaimed music festival finally returns to the Miami Beach outdoor venue May 6-8 with a lineup of artists worthy of a post-pandemic return. In addition to nightly sets from regular headliners Snarky Puppy, the fifth annual GroundUp Music Festival will bring attendees performances by Kimbra, Emily King, the Nth Power, Louis Cole, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Eric Harland, Moonchild, Cory Henry , Munir Hossn & Elas, and South Florida native Roosevelt Collier, to name a few.
GroundUp was supposed to return to the bandshell in February, but the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant just before the new year prompted festival organizers to postpone the event to the spring.
“I wasn’t really worried that we might never be able to do it again,” said festival co-founder Paul Lehr. new times on Zoom. “I was just a little frustrated, you know, having to do everything after everything was already ready.”
Lehr and Snarky Puppy bandleader Michael League have been the masterminds behind the festival’s underdog success since the inaugural GroundUp Music Festival in 2017. In a city known primarily for its dance music scene, Lehr and League have always offered a diverse lineup of genre artists – stretching musicians from all over the world – many of whom could be considered hidden gems in the vast depths of the music industry. This may be the duo’s secret to setting GroundUp apart in an oversaturated North American music festival market, as attendees get to see and hear artists who don’t typically appear at typical pop festivals. .
“It’s harder because people don’t usually recognize the artists we have,” says Lehr. “But the way we organise, we now have a reputation where people trust us and understand what they are going to get is something that will open their eyes. They will discover new artists they have never heard of and who are now their favorites in their playlists.
“The artists mingle with the audience in a way that gives them the opportunity to see behind-the-scenes the artistry of these musicians.”
In addition to performances on two bandshell stages, attendees will be treated to workshops and masterclasses with Moonchild, local samba drumming collective Miamibloco, and other yet-to-be-announced artists. The weekend festivities will also include stripped-down acoustic sets and late-night shows at the Citadel in Miami’s Little River neighborhood.
“The idea is that in this festival it’s not just about what happens on stage,” says League, who joined Lehr on a brief break from a recording session. “Artists mingle and engage with audiences in a way that gives audiences a behind-the-scenes look at the artistry of these musicians.
“Those kinds of things, in general, provide a bit more depth to the festival-goer experience instead of a standard festival experience which can sometimes put the music and the musicians on the back burner. [behind] the party,” adds League. “It’s really about art and music, but in an accessible way.
This depth of unique entertainment programming and the extensive roster of artists are the two main forces behind GroundUp’s success as an independent festival. In December 2019, the New York Times featured GroundUp on its list of “10 Definitive Moments” in Jazz Throughout the Decade. Rock ‘n’ roll icon and GroundUp 2017 performer David Crosby once said new times“I don’t think you’ll have a better chance of hearing real music than at this festival.”
Lehr and League met in 2016, when the former was CEO of the Miami-based National YoungArts Foundation.
“Mike was one of the master teachers who came to do a masterclass, and basically he was one of the most outstanding artists and humans I’ve ever met,” Lehr recalls. “The course he gave was so exciting and phenomenal that when I left YoungArts, Mike and I decided to work on GroundUp together, and we came up with the idea of a festival.”
While hosting a festival was an idea League had considered for some time, it wasn’t until it teamed up with Lehr that it turned into a feasible opportunity – although Miami didn’t. wasn’t initially multi-instrumentalist Snarky Puppy’s first choice for a venue. .
“Paul sold us out and promised us it would be a good move, and he was 100 per cent right,” League admit. “It’s hard to imagine it being anywhere else now because the festival has largely taken the shape of the space we’re in Miami – the two are very intertwined. Basically the short answer is that Paul pressured us and we happily agreed to spend February on the beach.
“I didn’t pressurize; I cheered,” adds Lehr, correcting his partner.
“What we did was we cut out everything we didn’t like about festivals and decided we weren’t going to do it here,” Lehr says of their mindset during GroundUp planning. “We don’t have overlapping sets because we want people to be able to hear every piece of music. We have everything organized. We keep it small so people can move around and not be crowded together. The artists stay there for three days, which is very atypical. Normally an artist would come in, go to their trailer, do their set, go to their trailer and leave. Now they’re all doing workshops and masterclasses and giving back to the community and hanging out with the fans, and so the barriers between the artist and the fans are broken down. We’ve tried to create a unique experience for attendees and performers as well – and so far it looks pretty successful.
While Lehr brings expertise in the commercial realm of the industry, League brings the artist’s perspective to the planning process.
League’s Grammy-winning collective Snarky Puppy has been GroundUp’s de facto house band every year since its inception. The band will perform again on all three nights in addition to an acoustic brunch on the second day of the event. The band also plans to release new original music for attendees throughout the weekend. Earlier this year, Snarky Puppy also released a compilation of live recordings made during the festival over the years.
“We tried to create a unique experience for the participants and the artists as well.”
“The idea is to put artists in a new context,” League said. new times in January 2020. “I tell all artists to use this festival as an excuse to do the thing you always wanted to do but were too scared of.”
The pandemic has forced League and Lehr to pivot and adapt in 2021. The festival went virtual – and overseas – taking place over three days last June in the small village of Prats, Spain, where League lives. . The event was offered for free to village residents and broadcast live for fans around the world to enjoy.
When Omicron delayed the return of the festival earlier this year, Lehr and League faced another hurdle to manage in the form of competing with the Miami Grand Prix, which takes place the same weekend in May.
“When I had to reschedule because of Omicron, the only dates I could get were in May. I was like, ‘Oh great, everything will be cheaper and that’s okay,’ and I was able to hold back all the artists, not realizing it’s F1, and not realizing how big a deal Formula 1 is,” Lehr said of the rescheduling process. “So instead of being cheaper, everything is three times as expensive and the rooms are not available. So that was frustrating, and next year we’re going back to our regular schedule in February.
Despite the setbacks, the Miami Beach festival continues to thrive despite a two-year absence and considerably fewer financial resources compared to the larger, traditional pop festivals that dominate the industry. That seems to be fine with Lehr, knowing that GroundUp is building a solid reputation and earning the lovable respect within the fan and artist communities that can’t be bought with multi-million dollar budgets.
“For us, and for me in particular, I don’t want to go see the same lineup and be crammed with other people and eat shitty fried food, you know,” Lehr notes of the core philosophy of the event. “I want a different experience. What we’re trying to do is just think about what our artists and our audience would like and create an experience where they come back every year, and they tell everyone.
“It’s a very different experience,” he adds. “But people seem to like it and are drawn to it.”
GroundUp Music Festival. Friday, May 6 through Sunday, May 8 at the North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-672-5202; northbeachbandshell.com. Tickets cost between $119 and $519 via www.groundupmusicfestival.com.