Finally getting to putting my thoughts together on the fantastic GroundUP Music Festival 2023 experience. This ‘Snarky Puppy’ festival is like no other, an intimate 14-hour per day, 3 day intimate event put on at the North Beach Bandshell for a max crowd of 1,500, comprised heavily of musicians and of course avid music fans.
Michael League, Snarky Puppy founder and leader, is a musical genius and he compiles a lineup like no other in the world- a mix of well-known or up-and-coming or under-the-radar artists all with unique voices and sounds. Each day schedule features a Snarky Puppy set, always with them ending the festival on the last set Sunday.
But the party goes well into the night with composed sets and full on jam sessions. The virtuousity never ends and always amazes. Here, I’ll share an abridged (yes, true) travelogue of my time down at the fest, with words, pictures and videos covering each day and night session.
Thursday, Preparty with Electric Kif
I’ve only made two of the “preparties”, last year and this one. The Magic 13 Brewing company was a spectacular venue for this with an gorgeous outdoor stage area and we had the perfect night weather also. Electric Kif and friends lit up the stage with their cosmic funk for the first set.
The second set somehow topped the first with no less than six Snarky Puppy member sit-ins along with Pedro Martins. I was glad to be able to record the two sets with my brand new upgraded equipment (Zoom F3 recorder and Rode SVMX mic).
Snarky Puppy Day 1 Set List
Day 1 schedule was interesting – Michael League opened with a masterclass on “Making a Record Start to Finish” — both from the strategic order and the content. Of course Michael drew a big crowd for the workship ensuring that everyone would plan to get in as early as possible. The opening music setwas a super rare harmonica-harp duo, so amazing to see live. Then Snarky pounded out a bodacious opening set six songs but all wow – Three Empire Central tunes, one older tune, one for ‘Nard and one for ‘Croz. Every one was flawless. Bread Sandwiches was super funky despite Michael saying that it was the first time they actually are ‘rehearsing’ the song. Becca Stevens took the lead the Croz tune ‘Somebody Home’ and absolutely crushed it (who’s cryin?).
Becca came right back on with Attacca Quartet a four piece string group including her husband. It was super lush as you’d expect and great afternoon respite. Silvana Estrada from Mexico absolutely charmed the whole audience and earned a ton of fans. Then, for me Kurth Rosenwinkel was an absolute cruise through the Caribbean seas. When Madison Cunningham finished belting out from the main stage, it was hard to believe the day had passes so fast.
Of all the late night venues at GUMF, The Faena Theatre was my alltime favorite. It had a main stage and side stage so the music was all in one place and no breaks in between. The upstairs VIP balcony had perfect sightlines and some great seating for me to cool off. I caught the Bob Reynolds guitar band set which was a priority of mine and I think I’ll have Zach’s set up in a while as well. Bob’s set was as sharp as he is and glad I was able to make it all the way!
Some Day 1 Photos
Snarky Puppy Day 2 Set List
Again Saturday started with another highly anticipated MasterClass with the Snarky Puppy drummers talking about making Empire Central with three drummers. As projected it was a windy day with rain anticipated, so windy in fact that for the first time ever I didn’t wear my signature Pork Pie. Mirrors, a new Michael League, Justin Stanton, Gisela João, Becca Stevens, Louis Cato supergroup made one of their first live appearances. Then the Mark Lettieri Group tore up the main stage – many that had no idea immediately became fans. Keyon Harrold was great but I believe it started to rain a bit at that point – I was able to video his fine late night set.
After just a short break, the Pups were back up on the main stage. This was a classic set – four new EC tunes followed by four recent favorites and topped off with the classic Shofukan ending.
Unfortunately after the Pups finished, it really started coming down so I caught Lizz Wright from the VIP lounge upstairs mostly. Still the rain did not dampen the spirits of the fans as it was heavily raining and still crowded during the outpouring from Nai Palm, the one woman phenom lead of Australian band Hiatus Kaiyote.
Late Night 2 was another rock solid lineup end to end. I’m gonna dig up the YaYennings footage shortly. In the meantime, you can relive the stellar Louis Cato set and the funky fun of Shaun Martin’s Go-Go Party. I may have some recency bias but these late night sets were as crisp as any I’ve seen
Some Day 2 Photos
Snarky Puppy Day 3 Set List
Sunday’s outlook was for rain again but this day was destined to bring thunder and lightning as well! For the second time in GUMF history, the Grammy Award Ceremony was taking place on the last day of the festival, this time for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for Empire Central. Anticipation was high for the Pup fam and we were all pumped. Jamison Ross kicked off with his joyful music – he’s an amazing drummer and unbelievable singer. I was fortunate enough to catch him again just a few days later in Atlanta. Rachel Eckroth and Shaun Martin were both performing in some rain – again I watched and enjoyed from the lounge and the VIP cabanas to soak it all in. I was tipped off to Isaiah Sharkey by some musician friends as a master player and he didn’t disappoint.
Late in the afternoon, some super fans and fam were tracking the Grammy show – Jamie Margulies, JT Thomas and Nic Hard made the trek to LA to participate and then during the Jeff Tweedy set we got word of the big win. I managed to babble a few words of congrats to Michael, the coolest cat around, and snap a blurry victory pic. I was confident that the win was in the bag for Empire Central, an album of a lifetime, but it’s never certain. I knew that this would fire up the fellas and did it ever. The closing set was a mix of old and new. Take It! for Bernard Wright with Gregoire on harmonica was incredible. But nothing could top the celebratory speech from Shaun and Michael (Shaun stole the mic) – I think I have the whole thing recorded to dig up and the follow up closer Ohio. The Croz song closer belted out in harmony by Michael, Maz, Jamison and others was unbelievably moving. I always think at the end of GUMF that it can’t get any better and it always does.
It was great to see Nai Palm again for her encore late night set, in an intimate and dry setting! She’s a helluva talent and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to see her like that again. One of the best surprises of the late night was Quiet Colors with Marcelo Woloski and Joanna Kucharczyk – it’s another that I think I have some footage to share soon.
Keyon Harrold also got an encore set and his late night performance made me an instant fan. I’m always grateful for Michael’s vision and sharing of artists that we should be listening to. The closer this year was the fab Isaiah Sharkey, and he was accompanied by a Snarky +++++ all-star cast including Cory Wong, guitar (Cory Wong, Vulfpeck), DJ Williams, guitar (Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe), Drew Tucker, vibraphone and five pups.
Once again, I made it end-to-end. It flew by and I can’t wait to do it next year. I capped the whole thing off by touching base with Cory Wong as he was walking out and getting ready for his next adventure, off to Jam Cruise with Mark Lettieri and The Fearless Flyers. Oh well, 11 months to go to 2024!