2019 Year in Review Highlights

For FunkCity.net, 2019 was a remarkable year that is recapped here.  I apologize in advance for the self-serving nature but it was definitely a year like no other in my experience based on a combination of personal music achievements and fantastic music events.  It was a huge year for four of my favorite groups, Snarky Puppy, Lettuce, The New Mastersounds and The Budos Band! Here’s the nineteen top happenings in 2019 –

  1. Snarky Puppy 17 Compilation: The year started with my proudest musical moment – Snarky Puppy came out with a limited edition, 4-vinyl recap of their 2017 world tour.  The project selected 17 of the top song cuts, from 17 cities around the world for the year. Being a huge fan and listening to all of the available recordings, I got to assist in track selection and was credited for it with Michael League and Mike Chadwick. It is something that I’ll never forget for magnanimous kindness.
  2. GroundUP Music Fesitival 2019: For the last 3 years, Snarky Puppy has hosted the GroundUP Music Festival in Miami Beach in February and each year its been my favorite weekend of the year.  Not only do you get to see Snarky Puppy for three nights, but there is always a spectacular lineup of label mates and other artists that will blow your mind.  This year, some of the highlights were Lalah Hathaway, Andrew Bird, Chris Potter, Bokante, Bill Laurance, Jonathan Scales and Yay Yennings Quartet.  Hard to believe that the next one is only 7 weeks away and will feature one of my favorites, Lettuce, along with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, FORQ and a bunch of others that I’m eager to stream before hand and check out live at the festival.  Not to forget, each night features a full slate of six late night sets running to 4 in the morning!.  Here’s a video of Snarky Puppy’s first night set at the festival featuring Lalah Hathaway performing “Something” which was the group’s first Grammy winner!
  3. Lettuce Elevate: This album is remarkable and each tune is a winner.  If you’re a huge Lettuce fan like me and have seen them over the last couple of years you probably have seen live versions of the songs before the album’s release.  Nevertheless, each song is totally polished with fantastic solos and terrific overall musicianship.  No wonder it was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.  You can see my full album review here and catch a great live set from the Suwannee Rising Festival here.
  4. Lotus Caverns: Another favorite of mine is Lotus and they hit The Caverns venue in Pelham, TN. It was my first time in the “cave” and it turned out to be a wild experience.  I had seen Lotus the prior night in Asheville and that was a killer evening with two sets (2nd set here). But I didn’t know what to expect from this venue or the group.  It turned out to be a perfect match and the show was awesome. You can listen to the full Lotus Caverns set if you have a subscription to Nugs.net.
  5. Lettuce Caverns Video: Just two months later on Friday, September 13th, I was thrilled to go back to the cave to see Lettuce.  The icing on the cake was that my good friend, Randy Bayers from FunkItBlog had arranged to shoot video of the show and invited me to record with him as official press. I got there early for sound check, then hung out for a few minutes with the band before the show started (what a great bunch of guys!) and then was front and center filming. The group knocked it out of the park, naturally.  And Randy compiled an absolute masterpiece for the first video release of Purple Cabbage here. Some of my footage is used in the video and wouldn’t you know there’s a few cameos of me filming the video I helped film.  The Matrix!
  6. Ghost Note: This group formed by Robert “Sput” Searight and Nate Werth, both of Snarky Puppy lineage has become a rising star of the funk field.  They feature none other than MonoNeon formerly Prince’s bassist and some other badass players like Jonathan Mones on sax.  I had distinct pleasure of filming them at Atlanta’s Aisle 5 which was my first video mixing the soundboard with the video and it became a fast riser on FunkCity.net on YouTube with nearly 17,000 views as of this writing.  The double album Swagism is a heater and one of my top albums of (late) 2018.  Then, almost immediately after this show, the Suwannee Rising Festival was announced and the band would be playing twice more and I captured both shows live.  At New Orleans Jazz Fest, the band put on Ghost-Note’s “Junk Yard Funk Jam” at the Music Box Village a unique setting and I heard it was wild.  Lastly, I get to set them for the fourth time this year on Saturday, December 28th back in Atlanta on a co-bill with the jam band Dopapod and I’m sure it will be another “Sputacular” and “Werth” every penny.
  7. Suwannee Rising Festival: After the demise of the Bear Creek and Wanee Music Festivals there was a void in the funk-jam festival calendar as both were held at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park.  The brilliant team of Paul Levine (Purple Hat) and Michael Berg (Silver Wrapper) who also put on Hulaween came up with this fantastic spring festival in the time period of Wanee but with a lot of the flavor of Bear Creek.  The initial lineup was nothing short of incredible for me – it included a ton of my favorite bands, but equally important, musicians referred to in this article who had become my friends including Lettuce (2X), The New Mastersounds (2X), Ghost-Note (2X), Electric Kif, The New Orleans Suspects, The Fritz and Voodoo Visionary to name a few. Three of those bands (NMS, VV and Suspects) were kind enough to sport FunkCity.net logo headwear! I busted my butt filming as many sets as I could and you can catch most of them on YouTube including this Yocacoka cut from the lads from Leeds.
  8. House of Waters: Ever since seeing this band at the first GroundUP Music Festival, I was captivated.  After all, how many “power” trios comprised of hammered dulcimer, 6-string bass and drums have you heard?  Their sound and virtuosity are totally unique and incredible.  Max ZT is called the “Jimi Hendrix” of the hammered dulcimer.  Crazily enough, I got to catch two of their shows in one week in July and then two more in September when they opened for Snarky Puppy.  Here’s their September Birmingham show in its entirety.  Their latest album Rising should be on every jazz, world, fusion, funk playlist of the year.  The icing on the cake was the opportunity to do my first podcast with House of Waters. I really dig these guys and think you will too!
  9. Snarky Puppy Immigrance Album and Tour: Snarky Puppy is a groundbreaking, earthshaking ensemble that continues to evolve from their roots at University of North Texas nearly 15 years ago.  Their last three albums Sylva (Grammy winner), Culcha Vulcha (Grammy winner) and Immigrance (March 2019 release) show a progression from orchestral music to intricate world oriented funk to funk oriented world music. The group embarked on a seven month 123-date tour that wrapped in November.  I first got to hear the album at the GroundUP Music Festival in February, then attended seven more shows during the year highlighted by a six show September including this gem from Charlotte.  On top of that, I was privileged to lead a session on Snarky Puppy Horns Podcast.  Looking forward to more wonderful adventures with the Pups in 2020.
  10. The New Mastersounds: This was the 20th anniversary year for NMS another of my favorite groups.  In some respects, it started a full year prior in 2018 at Terminal West (I was there, of course) when they started their collaboration with Lamar Williams, Jr., presumably for one show.  This led to the collaboration on the album Shake It recorded in late 2018 and released in September 2019. Prior to the release, the group co-headlined Suwannee Rising Festival with two sets.  On top of that, I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of the album to write this release date review of Shake It.  And then a short two weeks I later caught their sizzling set at Terminal West on video where they played the album end to end to close out the set.
  11. Budos Band V and  Variety Playhouse Show: Here’s another group that resurfaced in 2019 in a big way with their first album in five years and their first Atlanta show in 8 years! V builds on the momentum from Burnt Offering with a unique brand of hard-edged metal funk-rock.  Yes, that’s the best way to describe it! Despite the long absence of the group from our scene, the line was down the block for the show and I caught them on the street beforehand for a quick chat.  They were nice as could be.  Once the show started it was a full onslaught of a party.  The band thoroughly enjoyed the show (yes, the band) with drinks and high fives between each song, among themselves and with the fans.  Definitely one of the best shows of the year!
  12. Hulaween 2019 as a Fan and Press!: For the first time ever, I applied for and received press credentials for Hulaween and it was a spectacular time.I was able to video eight full sets and experience the full visual, audio and social experience that this wonderful event represents.  Here’s one of the highlight videos from Ripe, not mentioned elsewhere in this recap.
  13. Polyrhythmics:  Following on the Hulaween theme, one of the groups that I had bookmarked as a “must see” was Polyrhythmics, a funk-fusion band out of Seattle. The group lived up to expectations and then some, as it was one of the best sets of the festival.  I’ve added them to the list of bands not to miss when they’re in town.
  14. Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals: Anderson .Paak was at Hulaween 2016 and I caught just a little of that show.  My buddy and music aficionado, Bee Getz from Upful Life gave me a heads up that this was gonna be a highlight of this year’s fest and sure enough they were slotted on Saturday night on the large Meadow stage.  I was there to catch the full set and was wowed by the overall show.  It was the total package with the band performing dressed as Kiss.  Then, just two short weeks later they came back to Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse for a sold out charity benefit and I was again able to capture.  It was more than enough to make me a new fan – been singing Jet Black every since.
  15. Electric Kif: This was a huge year for the Miami-based fusion band Electric Kif with the release of their stellar album Jefe and festival performances at Suwannee Rising and Hulaween.  The album is super tight from end to end with every song a burner.  Cosa Nostra II is a personal favorite and looking forward to seeing them back in Atlanta in February at Aisle 5 with Shaun Martin (Snarky Puppy).
  16. Ajoyo: This was a sleeper surprise catching Ajoyo at  The Velvet Note in Alpharetta.  The band is Brooklyn based and plays songs that celebrate JOY and LIFE through West African dance rhythms.  Their latest album is awesome and the blend of afrobeat and funk is infectious.
  17. Jeff Coffin: Another brilliant show at The Velvet Note – this time with an all-star quartet of saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews Band/Bela Fleck & the Flecktones), drummer Keith Carlock (Steely Dan/John Mayer), guitarist Nir Felder (Esperanza Spalding/Terri Lynn Carrington), & bassist Felix Pastorius (A$AP Rocky/Yellowjackets/Cindy Blackman Santana) for one incredible. Each took their solos to great heights before coming back together for some tight grooves.
  18. Anat Cohen Tentet: You may not be familiar with Anat Cohen but she is considered one of the world’s greatest living clarinetists.  She brough her full ten-member Tentet band to Kennesaw State University for a wonderful and intimate show.  The two Tentet albums, Triple Helix and Happy Song, are both great.
  19. Hometown Homies at Variety Playhouse: Last but not least was a great triple header show of Funk You, Voodoo Visionary and Hedonistas at Variety Playhouse. These three young Atlanta bands each had a breakout year.  Funk You and Voodoo Visionary are now full fledged national touring bands as headliners and festival lineups.  Voodoo Visionary hit Suwannee Rising and Funk You will be at the upcoming Sweetwater 420 Fest in Atlanta (as well as Hulaween last year). Hedonistas has played at 420 fest a couple of times and has their second album in the works.  Back in September, they teamed out for a killer show at the Variety Playhouse. And what a fitting way to close out the decade with a Voodoo Visionary show at Aisle 5 in ATL!

There was a lot more to the year and lots more to come in 2020.  Hope you enjoy some live music and maybe I’ll see you at a show soon!