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Snarky Puppy’s Michael League Talks GroundUP Festival, New Projects And More

Early next month, Grammy-winning jazz-funk collective Snarky Puppy and GroundUP Music will host the first-ever GroundUP Music Festival. The festival will take place on the waterfront in sunny Miami Beach, FL from February 10th – 12th, and with a diverse lineup of performances and only 1500 tickets being sold, the inaugural event is sure to be a unique, intimate, and unforgettable experience.

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Snarky Puppy was formed in Denton, TX in 2004, and has since grown into a one-of-a-kind musical enigma, defying conventions every step of the way. What genre are they? Tough to say: there’s elements of jazz, funk, fusion, pop, world, soul–it’s all of these genres, and none of them. Who’s in the band? Well, that depends on the night: they draw from an ever-growing pool of virtuosic musicians from every corner of the globe, changing the lineup for each performance. Aside from the fact that they are all incredible musical experiences, no two Snarky Puppy shows are quite alike.

The one constant in the world of Snarky Puppy is bassist, composer, and bandleader Michael League. From steering the Snarky ship, to running the band’s label GroundUP Music, to producing and promoting new artists from around the world and across the musical spectrum, this incredible artist is in a league of his own. We spoke to the maestro about Snarky Puppy, his loaded new band Bokanté, and all the reasons that the inaugural GroundUP Music Festival is not to be missed.

***You can find tickets and more information about GroundUP Music Festival here!***

Live For Live Music: Considering the overall collective, collaborative nature of Snarky Puppy and GroundUP Music, it seems like it was only a matter of time before a festival like this was organized. Can you tell us how this new event came to fruition? How long has this idea been in the works? And how did you decide on the intimate Miami Beach location?

Michael League: The idea of starting a music festival has been in my mind for many years, but I never really thought of it as realistic until Andy Hurwitz, who’s the president of our record label GroundUP Music, suggested it last year. He seemed confident and comfortable and felt like this was the right moment in the band’s career where we could host something like this. So, I rolled with it. We don’t know exactly how it will be other than there will be a lot of great music, but we will do our best to create the perfect environment for this kind of event.

It was our Executive Director Paul Lehr’s idea to do the festival in Miami Beach. We wanted to do it in the off season and in a warm, beautiful place for people to escape the cold winter months. Paul is from Miami and very plugged into the scene and of course it’s always best to have someone on their own turf to enhance the festival experience. The weather’s perfect, it’s right on the beach, we have Miami super-chef Michelle Bernstein doing all the food, we have great music in an intimate setting with great acoustics–I think he’s done a beautiful job of organizing it all. Hopefully it will provide this kind of musical paradise in a beautiful climate for people who are trying to escape the cold or locals just wanting a great musical experience unlike any other, we hope.


L4LM: Of course, the centerpiece of GroundUP Music Festival is three nights of Snarky Puppy on the beach. Do you have anything special planned for these shows? Which members of the Snarky family will be on hand that weekend?

ML: Pretty much every member of Snarky Puppy will be at the festival, so about 20 people. The cool thing about the Snarky Puppy performances during this festival is that each one will feature a different lineup. So you’ll see Snarky Puppy play three nights in a row, but it will be a different drummer each night, a different percussionist each night, a different guitar player each night. We have so many members in the band that we can actually turn it over three times. It’s really fun, I think, for us not only to keep the lineup different so the music stays fresh, but also for the guys in the band to see how the other guys in the band play. It’s just going to be a big hang for us, and we’re really excited about that.  

L4LM: Artists like David Crosby, John Medeski, Esperanza Spalding, Chris Thile and so many more are sure to make this an eclectic, diverse weekend of music. How were you able to put together such a well-balanced lineup? What acts are you most excited about?

ML: Our listening tastes are so diverse, so it was very easy to put together a lineup of artists from all over the world that are playing different kinds of music. It’s not like we had to stretch ourselves to create a balance diet for the listener. It was more like we had to cross names off of a list. We couldn’t invite everyone we wanted to the party, but I think the balance in the schedule will keep the listeners stimulated throughout the whole weekend and always hearing something fresh.

Watch Snarky Puppy And David Crosby’s Magical Musical Fusion On ‘Somebody’s Home’

Because we handpicked every single artist on the festival, I would say that I’m equally excited about everyone. I’m not just saying that to be diplomatic. The thing that all of these artists have in common is not only are they great musicians, but they’re great live performers. I think there are a lot of different ways of making music, you know? You could be great at making records but not great at playing live. All these artists are so great live and there really isn’t anyone that I’d rather see more than anyone else. I think for me, it’s all just great music. 

L4LM: One of the most exciting things on the docket for GroundUp Music Festival is the live debut of your new project Bokanté which, in true GroundUP fashion, boasts a pretty mind-blowing lineup. Tell us about this new project! How did it come together? 

ML: Bokanté is a band I just started that features musicians that I’ve met throughout a variety of settings of my musical life. From Jamey Haddad, who has been playing with Paul Simon for decades, to André Ferrari from the Swedish band Vasen, to Malika Tirolien who was on [Snarky Puppy’s Grammy-winning 2013 album] Family Dinner – Volume 1. Then there’s Roosevelt Collier who we have been playing with at jam band festivals for years, and two guys from Snarky Puppy. It’s a very cumulative project for me, and we have our very first performance at this festival, so I’m very excited about that. 

Watch Roosevelt Collier Lead Members Of Snarky Puppy, Dopapod, & Kung Fu At Brooklyn Comes Alive

L4LM: Do you have further plans for Bokanté in 2017 beyond GroundUP Music Festival?

ML: Yes, absolutely. We are going to Australia in March to play The WOMAD Music Festival. We’ll be playing in North America and Canada in June, as well as possibly Japan. We’ve got some really great shows set up in the US including Red Rocks with Umphrey’s McGee, and also some major festivals that we can’t announce just yet. In July, we’re spending the whole month touring the European festival circuit. There’s also the possibility of a South American tour in the end of August, so it’s going to be a busy first year for the band–all of this following the release of the band’s debut album in May, which is called Strange Circles

L4LM: What else do you have in the works (with Snarky Puppy, Bokanté, GroundUP, and beyond) that fans can get excited for as we dive into 2017?

Oh man, there are so many great records coming out on GroundUP Music this year. We have the newest one from Becca Stevens, Regina, and from Banda Magda, Tigré. We also have Bokanté’s debut album Strange Circles, a new record from FORQ, two records from young vocalists Alina Engibaryan (who won the Montreux Vocal Jazz Competition in 2015) and Tippan Phasuk (who’s a half-Swedish, half-Thai singer). I’m doing a lot of producing–I’m producing those records, I’ll be producing Roosevelt Collier’s record, and I’m producing the newest record from guitarist and singer Eliades Ochoa. So really, it’s just a lot of music, a lot of producing, a lot of records coming out and a lot of gigging. It’s going to be a really fun 2017. I’ll have to do something to stay cheerful, I think.

With all the incredible music on its way from League, Snarky Puppy, and the rest of the GroundUP family, music fans surely have plenty to be cheerful about in 2017. Find more info about the upcoming GroundUP Music Festival here.

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