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INTERVIEW: Snarky Puppy’s Michael League Talks GroundUP Festival

Snarky Puppy’s leader Michael League on Bass

Snarky Puppy’s GroundUP Festival hits Miami next month, and we couldn’t be more excited to hit it up! We linked with ringleader Michael League to discuss the festival, Miami, and the rising jazz fusion band.

I gotta ask, why Miami?

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 festival 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.

What has your role in the festival been? In what ways has it been different from what you’d expected?

My main role in the festival has been doing the programming; picking the artists and pitching ideas to the creative process. I haven’t been handling the logistics or anything like that, there are people doing that who are much better at that than me. But I guess you can say I’ve been the artistic director.

How did you select the artists playing who aren’t affiliated directly with Snarky Puppy?

I know that there are a lot of Family Dinner – Volume 2 artists on the bill. I didn’t want everyone who’s played with Snarky Puppy to play this edition of the festival, because I didn’t want it to be a Family Dinner Live thing. I wanted to have artists outside of our normal kind of crew and comfort zone, and artists who we’ve been excited about working with for a long time.

What’s one thing that you’re excited about that you think people may not expect from GroundUP Festival?

I think the experience as a whole (full days of concerts, special events with the artists, amazing food from renowned local chef, the beautiful backdrop, late-night shows until 4:00am) will be something that most listeners have never really encountered. We’re trying to create a sense of community for everyone present.

The band has blown up in the last 5 years, and because of that, certain members are pursuing their own solo careers. What’s it like for you to watch a Cory Henry or a Bill Laurance step out of the Snarky Puppy shadow to create their own impact?

This has not only been something that we all expected to happen, but it’s actually part of the whole point of the band. We’ve always tried to provide a platform for discovering other music, and people branching off to make their own albums is an integral part of the process. It’s not realistic to think that a musician will be content to spend their whole life playing in someone else’s band. Snarky Puppy is my baby, and everyone deserves to have their own as well. I really think it’s a good thing for everyone. We all have our outlets and bring our individual experiences back to the band.

You’re also premiering a new project at GroundUP, Bokanté. What can we expect from that? Why start a new project when Snarky Puppy has so much momentum?

I’m the bandleader for Snarky Puppy, but that doesn’t mean that it encapsulates every thing I am or want as a musician. I grew up with the blues and rock and roll, and later got pulled into West African music, which have a deep familial relationship despite the massive distance between continents. This band combines all three genres, mixed with elements from a lot of other styles of music. I play baritone guitar in Bokanté, which is one of my favorite instruments. Variety is an essential ingredient to my happiness, and having both bands as well as my various freelance projects as a producer and player give me a healthy dose of it.

What’s your favorite thing about Miami?

I love the the mixture of Latin and U.S. culture. It has a beautiful combination of the two, and you see it in the food, the music, and the energy of the people. I’m looking forward to diving right in this February.

Thanks for your time Michael! Anything else to add or plug?

Nope, thanks!


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