No sentences I attempt can adequately describe the first ever GroundUp Music Festival experience. That sounds like some kind of an easy dodge (and a way to back away from offering any semblance of a review). On the contrary, it’s anything but.
This much I knew. I knew it was going to be a few steps from Miami’s sandy beaches (plus). I knew it would be relatively small as far as festivals go, allowing a maximum of 1,500 attendees in each day (plus, plus). I get to see Snarky Puppy in all its many musicianed glory each night and that, yes, the impossibly talented Esperanza Spalding would be bobbing and weaving throughout the whole shebang.
And you know? If it had been just that and nothing else, it’d have been enough.
That was before I saw the Charlie Hunter Trio with DMB’s Jeff Coffin (!!!) try not to melt away in the sun and slay all within earshot. It was before I adequately knew names like Michelle Willis, Becca Stevens and Lucy Woodward (each managing to leave my jaw somewhere near my feet). David Crosby offered the gentlest of aural getaways with a full moon overhead. Banda Magda sparkled with brilliance and The Lee Boys were far happier than they had reason to be on a blurry Sunday morning. Sidenote? The Lee Boys made my day, many times throughout their set of electrified gospel. I’m pretty sure I was floating at some point.
There are more names, yes, but hold to this honest-to-goodness truth: there wasn’t a single misfire at GroundUP. Not a solitary one. And for a three-day festival, that’s saying a lot. I now trust Snarky Puppy’s Michael League taste in music more than I trust some people I’m related to. I’m still shaking my head and dumbfounded at his ability to pull this kind of greatness off. My hat is off, way off.
I wasn’t prepared to have my head unhinged. I never expected, from one performance to the next, to have a festival feel like the longest hug I’ve ever had, one I didn’t want to stop. This was a community of musicians who respected one another enough to land on one another’s stages playing backup, and regularly. GroundUP celebrated the most carefully selected musicians not for how well known their names were, but for how well its founders knew they would be received. It means we got workshops. We heard stories. We loudly sang along by the sea.
With three days of music easily filled with more front women on stage than men, GroundUP represents a hard shift in the right kind of direction.
Well before League casually offered he considered the three days of music an overwhelming success, we believed him. Our sunburns proved it by that point. We didn’t hide from the overbearing February sunshine. We flanked the stage. We sang and danced. We wanted a lot. Lucky for us, we got even more.
If this is the direction festivals are headed—and let’s all cross our fingers that it’s true—we’ll always have something rather spectacular in reserve to look forward to.
GroundUP Music Festival 2017 Live Review and Photos by Dainon.
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