Snarky Puppy Shines Light on LEAF Festival – Show Review 5-12-18

LEAF is a non-profit with the mission of connecting CULTURES and creating COMMUNITY through music and arts.  The LEAF Festival takes place twice a year on the site of the old Historic Black Mountain College with a stunning array of rolling hills, lakes, streams, and mountain beauty on hundreds of acres. LEAF scours the globe for artists, musicians, performers and facilitators that are not only masters of their craft, but who also care deeply for the power of arts education and family engagement. (Adapted from The LEAF website. Bold highlights added by

With the description above, Snarky Puppy (along with Bokanté) is a natural fit for this festival which they played for the first time on May 12th.  It was also the first time was in attendance and immediately on arrival, I sensed it was a different kind of festival – truly a festive family and spiritual celebration.  Musicians were representing many different countries and it seemed that everyone there was celebrating the joy of life, music and dance. Each musical act drew a large audience that were often seeing that artist for the first time and that was proven true for Snarky Puppy as well.  While the fest goers certainly appreciated all of the music, the majority were definitely in exploratory mode interested to hear new things and Snarky Puppy was hyped throughout the afternoon as one not to be missed.

And then the Pups came on at 10:30 pm and the crowd knew and grew!

  1. kicked off and Chris Bullock’s early solo was nicely accented by Jay and Maz.  Then Justin’s keyboard solo took over midway through and ruled with a “look Mike, no hands” bit showing his super funky chops ending with his stand up routine and segueing into McQueen finishing with some tasty licks.
  2. Beep Box up next featured an excellent Maz solo amidst so seriously heavy bass vibes by Michael on the Moog bass.
  3. Semente has its traditional upbeat flute intro and brief sax solo by Chris but then featured a nice extended flugelhorn solo by Jay.  Michael did his brief bass massage on the break and the tune closed with a sweet piano/keys outro.
  4. Grown Folks was one of the virtuoso momeents of the night.  At about the 3 1/2 minute mark of the tune and 32:50 mark of the set, Michael took a rare, extended 3 1/2 minute solo and he funked it up as we’ve rarely seen him.  It was flat out booty shaking groove and I’ll come back to that segment many times to experience the sheer joy of the moment.  It was punctuated at the end by the bop, bop, bop notes from the horn section and when Chris Bullock’s solo continued, Maz and Jay came back in with those staccato notes.  The song also features an excellent but shorter solo by McQueen and this tune was one of the night’s highlights.
  5. Thing of Gold was the first non-Culcha Vulcha tune of the night and featured the newest pupster Vaughn Henry on keys.  We hear that Vaughn came through the connection with Roosevelt Collier down in Miami and did an excellent job filling in. Jay played beautifully on the trumpet solo here. Vaughn closed it out with a nice keys improv solo (without Shaun’s typical lead of crowd chanting) but the fans roared approval as the band headed into…
  6. What About Me? The tune started with the now regular, slower intro into the full paced tempo.  At about the 2 minute mark of the tune, the band exited, leaving Justin to solo on keys (with JT and Nate accompanying on drums and percussion). Then Michael came back on to lay down some dirty bass grooves. Then horns back in to do some call and response with Justin who actually turns a couple of times to see what they’re up to.  Michael then gets in on the action with Justin back and forth before the whole band gets back into the groove.  The tune closes with the vaunted bass/drum refrain and horn chorus.
  7. Shofukan is a song that even most casual Snarky fans know and the festival proved to be no exception as the fans did sing, whether  they knew it or not and brought a smile to everyone’s faces. Keita Ogawa joined on percussion here and stayed on for the remainder of the set. One of the many things I love about this tune is the way Michael pounds and massages the bass to give a unique sound, almost psychedelic. Maz took a nice turn on the trumpet solo.  A percussion trio between JT, Nate and Keita shows how strong the groove always is with Snarky Puppy.
  8. Lingus (encore) was great as usual.  At about the 4 minute mark Chris and Maz had a nice trading session trying to outdo one another.  This was followed by the “heartbeat” section of the tune where Vaughn took another nice jazzy solo.  It closed out with trading between McQueen and the horn section battling to the end.

Overall, a spectacular show of course. At the end of the night, I caught the crowd buzz – there were definitely a lot more new and newer Snarky Puppy fans — already planning where they could catch the band next. You can watch the full set here:

  • Michael League – bass
  • Chris Bullock – Sax and flute
  • Jay Jennings – Trumpet and flugelhorn
  • Mike “Maz” Maher – Trumpet and flugelhorn
  • Justin Stanton – Trumpet and keys
  • Chris McQueen – Guitar
  • Vaughn Henry – Keys
  • Jason “JT” Thomas – Drums
  • Nate Werth – Percussion
  • Keita Ogawa – Percussion (Shofukan and Lingus)
  • Matt Recchia – Sound