Thursday, June 6, 2024

Concert Review: GroundUP Music Festival 2020

The 4th Annual GroundUP Music Festival returned to the North Miami Beach Bandshell over Valentine’s Day weekend for three days of jazz, funk, jamming, and the like, proving that there’s room in Miami’s musical landscape for a festival that isn’t built on rap or electronic music.

GroundUP is hosted and curated by Snarky Puppy, a Denton, Texas-born and New York City-based collective of musicians that has developed a reputation for being one of the country’s most exciting instrumental outfits since its inception in 2004. Snarky Puppy’s unique brand of contemporary funk-drenched jazz music is the primary draw for the annual festival in Miami Beach, and for good reason.

Along with curating the GroundUP lineup each year, Snarky Puppy also plays a full set on each day of the festival, with rotating setlists and musicians throughout each performance. After years of hearing so much praise for the Brooklyn outfit, it was a delight to finally see them perform in person. In addition, members of Snarky Puppy, particularly bassist and bandleader Michael League, sit in with other performers throughout the festival.

Photo: Bryan Edward Creative

Alongside the aforementioned perennial favorite and event mainstay, the 2020 GroundUP lineup featured acts that ranged from former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald performing with an acoustic quintet to funk band Lettuce, touching on a number of different genres and styles in between.

In comparison to some of South Florida’s better-known music festivals, GroundUP was especially quaint. The North Miami Beach Bandshell is a much smaller and more intimate venue than the region’s other open-air amphitheaters, but proved to be an apt setting for the weekend’s slate of performances. As mentioned in our “Week Ahead” feature last Monday, GroundUP is known not just for its singularly unique lineup, but also for its commitment to bucking the normal issues that music festivals so often suffer from. The event’s attendance cap of about 2,000 fans ensured that normal music festival pitfalls were avoided, such as all-too-common overcrowding and absurdly long lines, and acts were scheduled to avoid any overlapping sets.

Th event was especially laid-back; hammocks were hung between palm trees throughout the park, and attendees could be seen resting in between sets. To attend a music festival without feeling the need to rush from stage to stage or struggling to see and hear each performance was a true breath of fresh air. Free water was particularly appreciated by attendees, and served as a fitting indicator that the fans’ experience was the foremost concern of the festival’s organizers.

In addition to dozens of performances across two stages, the festival also hosted workshops, interviews, and summits that allowed attendees to interact with the artists they love in a new way. Highlights of those unique experiences included an interview with Michael McDonald, masterclasses with Brian Blade and Chris Potter, and an acoustic brunch performance by Snarky Puppy.

GroundUP Late Night Set at The Alexander

For those with more stamina than myself, the music continued into the wee hours of the morning each night at The Alexander, with late night sets beginning at 11 p.m. and continuing unabated until 4 a.m. each night. Personally, I was home long before any such late-night shenanigans began, but had no qualms after enjoying the headliners.

Though it hasn’t yet been 24 hours since the conclusion of this year’s GroundUP, the 2021 iteration of the festival has already been confirmed, and will be taking place February 12-14 next year. The festival is currently offering “blind faith” pricing for anyone who wants to lock down their passes before the full lineup is announced. That said, with Snarky Puppy returning to headline all three days again next year, it’s a safe bet that next year’s festival will be well worth attending.

James Biagiotti
James Biagiotti
James Biagiotti is a native of Boca Raton, a marketing professional in South Florida, and the former Web Editor of Boca Raton magazine. He is an avid music fan who spends far too much time listening to, dissecting, and traveling to see his favorite bands. He is also, unfortunately, a devoted Miami Dolphins fan.

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