Does Miami Really Need Another Festival?
February 9, 2017
Yes, but you actually have to show up.
Have you ever wondered why some of your favorite artists have canceled shows here? More often than not, it’s low ticket sales. Langerado, BANG!, UR1, all gone and all a testament to why we can’t have nice things. With some of the most failed music festivals and concerts in the country, what does this say about Miami to the rest of the world? When a show isn’t supported far enough in advance, this doesn’t tell artists that Miami’s not interesting enough to come back to, we’re telling them that the city’s just not that interested.
When we look at the state of Miami’s creative scenes, we see a bursting diaspora on the verge of something absolutely great. We know it because we live it every day, and the rest of the world is just starting to notice. But if the city really wants to become the world-class, artistic destination it’s already puffing its chest out to become, we have some work to do and it starts with the live music scene. These music festivals and concert series are more for our benefit than anything else, and in a city with an equally somber amount of closed venues, our eyes watered when we saw GroundUp Music Festival was coming to Miami from February 10th – 12th, because we know this means a potential for real change.
When deciding on a location for the 1st-annual festival, GroundUp Music Executive Director Paul Lehr had to fight for his hometown to win the bid: “We had promoters from Argentina, Chile, Europe and all over trying to convince us to have the festival in their countries,” he said. “But we wanted a very international city, which Miami certainly is.” Mirroring their own lineup, which features acts from Brazil, Spain, and even Greece, Miami’s melting pot of culture was a perfect fit. But the deciding factor? The local music scene. “Miami’s music scene isn’t as significant as other cities where you have venue after venue of live music that’s supported by the city,” said Lehr. “So we saw this as a launchpad where people would start supporting live music more.”
How much does a huge mega festival actually impact the local music scene within their host city? Probably not that much. But when a festival is created with the local scene in mind and how their footprint will affect its future, it’s a whole different thing altogether. “It wasn’t to sort of come in, do our thing, and get out,” Paul said. “This really is home and we really wanted to establish these roots here.”
GroundUp isn’t a festival with big-name acts that will pack the place with people looking to fill their social feeds, and that’s not the point. The goal of the festival is to inspire local musicians and listeners alike to experience a deeper understanding of the power of live music. With headlining acts that include the GRAMMY-winning Snarky Puppy, Hall of Famer, David Crosby (of Crosby, Stills & Nash), and the incredible Esperanza Spalding, intermingled with emerging acts like UK prodigy Jacob Collier, Laura Mvula, and Emily Estefan (note the last name), this is offering something entirely different.
A new experience for Miami’s music lovers. A real taste of jazz, rock, funk, soul, and any genre of live music that takes real guts to tackle in today’s modern world. All of these artists are seeds hoping to help plant the roots that will allow something formative to continue returning year after year. “We felt that if we help music become a bigger part of the fabric in this city, we could become an annual event that people look forward to almost like the Art Basel of live music.” And rightfully so.
Miami needs more cultural options like this one in order for it to truly understand what kind of creative identity it wants to embody. Open the gates to progressive live music and we’ll see the paradigm shift happen. “We want to start spreading these seeds so the spark can go and hopefully become the advent of more live music in Miami,” he said. But GroundUp Music Festival isn’t shoving someone else’s idea of a good time down our throats. In fact, it’s going above and beyond to incorporate the city as much as possible. Take the venue, for example. It’s all taking place at the historic North Beach Bandshell, a testament to the city’s creative prowess and a citadel in its own right. Or in Paul’s words: “You can’t find a place that is more spectacular.”
Embodying the local culture is essential in order to successfully strengthen local musicians’ belief that the city supports them. With support from The City of Miami Beach and the Rhythm Foundation, a huge goal for the festival is to inspire these Miami-based artists to stay and grow in the city and help the local music scene grow alongside them. With a strong list of local acts like The Heavy Pets, Aaron Lebos Reality, Electric Kif, and even performances by local music schools like Frost School of Music, support is definitely in sight. Aside from the music, the actual experience is also flooded with local love. The grounds will feature artisanal local vendors, and Miami culinary powerhouse, Chef Michelle Bernstein cooking up all of the food–showcasing the extent to which this city’s talent runs in all creative spaces.
Everything about the festival was intricately woven to create a different experience than any festival you’ve ever gone to. There’s the Bandshell’s esteemed sound quality so that listeners can be entirely immersed in the music without distractions. The awe-inspiring selection of workshops and masterclasses like you’ve never experienced, where you can sit on the beach and have an a cappella circle with these world-class acts or learn a new drumming technique at the percussion session. The in and out privileges, shady park stage, and access to the beach are also a plus. There will also be no barriers between audience an artist: “We really wanted to make the experience music-centric for the audience and the fans where you could really get some more unique personal moments rather than the usual separation that comes with these kinds of festivals” said Paul. Everything they’re doing this year is to make people comfortable and feel welcome, only to get better and be able to come back for another year.
As magical as all of this sounds, and unsurprisingly to us, it hasn’t been easy. “Miami’s notoriously last-minute,” said Lehr. “It’s hard to pierce this market. I would love to have a greater support by the Miami community and that’s been the biggest challenge.” When there’s all these other options for events and happenings, it’s hard to hook your audience from the very beginning, especially with a lineup so exceptionally different and entirely live. But if there’s anything that the current state of the world has taught us, it’s that when you want something to happen, you actually have to show up. I don’t mean ‘like’ an article or be ‘interested’ in going to an event, disconnected through an intangible digital sphere, you need to support physically and viscerally in order to affect things for the better. The people who make the decisions don’t look at follows and traction and when it comes to real change, neither should you. “In order to make an impact, you have to get them there.”
Here are the real facts: out of their current ticket-buyers, more than 50% of the audience is coming from out of state, and 16% from out of the country. That means locals are the minority at a festival that was literally created with our city in mind. Again, what does that tell them about us? When a team this talented thoughtfully pieces together an experience this unique to our cultural fabric, there’s no other option but to tell the rest of the city that yes, we want more of this. Eventually, the inspiration will flow and other creative spheres will blossom. This is a defining moment for us and we can’t let another chance slip away.
So buy your tickets and don’t look back.