Feb 6, 2023 - Things to Do

GroundUP Music Festival aims to reinvigorate Miami's music scene

Mexican singer Silvana Estrada performs with Snarky Puppy bandleader Michael League on bass. Photo: Martin Vassolo/Axios

I spent the weekend vibing at GroundUP Music Festival, the annual jazz festival at the Miami Beach Bandshell.

  • I rubbed shoulders with a Grammy-winning artist, saw some peak stoner behavior and felt my musical taste expand beyond the indie-rock confines where I usually reside. But more on that later.

The big picture: GroundUP, the brainchild of Snarky Puppy bandleader Michael League and Miami-based record label exec Paul Lehr, offers a uniquely intimate festival experience where the lines between artist and audience are blurred.

Why it matters: Miami's live music scene isn't as robust as places like Nashville or Austin, but festivals like GroundUP — now in its sixth year — can help inspire others to bring more events and experiences here, League told Axios.

  • "You can't create a scene by yourself. A lot of individuals have to take the responsibility and the initiative to build something," he said. "But also it involves everybody. Normal people have to go out and see gigs."

How it works: Apart from the multiple performances per day, artists host masterclass sessions where they teach attendees about their craft and — in some cases — invite audience members to play alongside them.

  • The footprint of the festival is so small that the artists themselves wander amid the crowds to catch other performances or hang with their families.

What they're saying: "There really are no green rooms or anything, so all the artists are here and you get to hang out with all of them," Lehr told Axios.

  • No kidding! I realized that someone I stood next to in the crowd was Snarky Puppy saxophonist and flutist Chris Bullock.

That feeling of artists and fans coming together was most pronounced during a masterclass hosted by the local samba percussion group Miami Bloco on the sands just north of the Bandshell on Saturday.

  • Led by percussionist and educator Brian Potts, members of the audience were invited to pick up drums and tambourines to join in a community jam session.

Hobe Sound resident Victor Hernandez, 32, smiled as he thwacked on a snare drum. Earlier in the day he attended a workshop put on by the drummers from Snarky Puppy, whom he looks up to as a drummer himself.

  • "I was waiting for the moment to hop in, honestly," Hernandez told Axios. "That's what music is about; it's about breaking barriers."

In another masterclass upstairs, Colombian jazz harpist Edmar Castañeda mesmerized fans with his signature style, playing bass lines and melodies on a blue customized harp.

  • He then invited his young children and wife, singer Andrea Tierra, to perform with him.

1 cool thing: As part of the GroundUP Music Foundation, a group of Miami high school students collaborated with Snarky Puppy pianist Shaun Martin to record an original jazz album, the Miami New Times reported.

  • "It's an important part of the ethos of the festival," Lehr told Axios about the initiative.

What we're watching: League told fans that Snarky Puppy was planning a week-long series of music workshops and classes in Miami this summer with artists of all ages.


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