Rock icon David Crosby has been this way before, seen his country riven by fear and prejudice, witnessed civil rights demonstrations and police crackdowns, watched the coming of tin soldiers and Nixon. His latest album, “Lighthouse,” illuminates this landscape with clarity and an extraordinary prescience for how things would play out after its October release.
But, first, can Crosby lay a little sunshine on you?
“I’m just so happy. I just finished another record, two days ago,” Crosby blurts into the phone before his interviewer has time to pose a question. “I can’t believe that I’ve done three really good records in two years — he said modestly — but I have [laughing]. It’s a really good record, and I’m really happy about it.”
After more than two decades between solo records, Crosby released the well-reviewed “Croz,” recorded with son James Raymond, in 2014. Last fall came “Lighthouse,” a collaboration with Michael League of the Grammy-winning jazz band Snarky Puppy, as well as vocalists Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. His just-completed album, a return to his rock-oriented work with Raymond titled “Sky Trails,” should be out in April or May.
On Friday, Feb. 10, Crosby is scheduled to perform at the inaugural GroundUP Music Festival at the North Beach Bandshell on Miami Beach, three days of concerts organized by League and his Brooklyn-based GroundUP Music label. Joining Crosby, League, Snarky Puppy, Stevens and Willis in the eclectic lineup are Esperanza Spalding, Chris Thile (host of "A Prairie Home Companion"), John Medeski's Mad Skillet, Grammy-nominated vocalist Jacob Collier, Terence Blanchard, the Charlie Hunter Trio, Roosevelt Collier and the Lee Boys, and many others.
Crosby says that in spite of what he acknowledges is a dark period for the country and the world, he can’t help but be pleased with the unforeseen creative bounty he’s received the last couple of years.
“It’s been a very fertile period,” says Crosby, 75. “Of course, anybody, when they get older, wants to get it all done before they accidentally fall down and break their hip and can never do anything again. But the songs have been coming and I’ve been writing, and it’s working. I don’t know what to say. I’ve been very happy.”
With a jacket image of a beaconed tower standing defiantly against the ocean’s ferocity, “Lighthouse” includes a song warning of the dark forces of politics (“words can often frame the game,” Crosby sings prophetically on “Someone Other Than You”), an ode to challenging authority ("What Makes It So?") and a poignant argument for the humane treatment of refugees (“Look in Their Eyes”). “She's holding her child / The way your mother held you. / Is turning her around / What you really wanna do?” Crosby sings on this last one.
Crosby calls “Lighthouse” one of his favorite albums and writing and recording with League “one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”
“Look in Their Eyes” was inspired by a story Crosby shared with League about a friend who travels to Greece to help refugees from Syria and other countries as they arrive by boat.
“She drives herself to the beach, where the boats come in, and spends all day and all night helping people out of the water. The stories she told me about helping people out of the boats next to people who were floating there, dead, including children, were just so shocking and so undeniable. You can’t pretend this isn’t happening. It is happening,” Crosby says. “Those are human beings. Whether you think it’s OK what they believe or where they come from or anything, they’re still human beings in trouble. And so we felt that writing that song was completely a necessary thing.”
Crosby says releasing an album of music before the election that seems to have predicted what would come later isn’t all that difficult when you are a cynic and hold politicians in general in such low regard. “Sky Trails” will have a song written with Raymond titled “Capitol,” which Crosby calls a “severe indictment” of Congress.
Recalling the tumultuous heyday of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and an anthem such as “Ohio,” Crosby says the current unrest includes something new.
“We certainly fought our way through civil rights and racism before. We certainly fought our way through antiwar s--t before. And I have no doubt in my mind that this a--hole will get us into another war,” Crosby says. “I think maybe it is worse because the people that we were dealing with then were at least somewhat constrained by normal restraints of behavior. This guy has no idea what normal behavior is.”
Those looking for an antidote to the gloom need look no farther than the GroundUP Music Festival, Crosby says.
“Come to this festival, man. There’s going to be a bunch of music there that will lift your spirit,” he says, sunnily. “Chris Thile’s coming. Esperanza Spalding is coming. There will be a lot of really talented, really, really good people.”
Co-produced by Snarky Puppy’s GroundUP Music label and the Rhythm Foundation, GroundUP is the final event of Festival Miami, sponsored by the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami.
League agrees with Crosby about the quality of the musicians at GroundUP, but he says South Florida already has its share of great performers. One of his missions for the festival in coming years is to solve the conundrum of South Florida’s enduring reputation as an EDM-dominated, live-music afterthought.
“Which is to me is so counterintuitive, given the amount of diversity. You would think because there are so many people from countries with really rich musical traditions there would be a massive scene for that,” League says. “So that is one of our goals with the festival, to do our part to help cultivate that live-music scene and make the people of South Florida aware that there are so many great musicians there.”
To that end, GroundUP has a second stage mostly dedicated to performances by South Florida artists, among them Roosevelt Collier and the Lee Boys, Emily Estefan, Aaron Lebos Reality, Electric Kif, Shelly Berg and the New World School of the Arts Jazz Ensemble. Master classes, artist Q and As and other festival features are designed to further engage the local music community.
He may sound like the latest of the well-meaning but doomed music missionaries to arrive on our shore, but League brings with him a growing reputation as a musical visionary and a willingness to defy convention, illustrated by the boundless sonic journeys of Snarky Puppy, which has won two Grammy Awards, and is up for a third on Sunday for the album “Culcha Vulcha.”
A dozen members strong, most with flourishing side projects (several performing at GroundUP), the young band has taken its hybrid of jazz, funk and pop into unmarked territories since its founding 14 years ago at the music school at the University of North Texas. The New York Times calls the now-Brooklyn-based Snarky Puppy, who are performing all three nights at GroundUP, “a barnstorming, groove-centric instrumental act with a rabid fan base and a blithely unplaceable style.”
Crosby has his own take: “They are a bunch of people who are pretty much solely concerned with music. They are not there to get their face on Rolling Stone. They are not there to get rich, and they’re not trying to get laid — they have no problem doing that, anyway. They are a bunch of really nice guys who really care about playing the best music they possibly can all the time.”
After winning two Grammys for music recorded in live settings — the 2014 song “Something,” featuring vocals by Lalah Hathaway, and the 2015 album “Sylva,” a collaboration with the Metropole Orkest — League took Snarky Puppy into the studio to record an album for the first time since “Bring Us the Bright,” nearly a decade ago. This makes the possibility of getting news of a Grammy win for “Culcha Vulcha” during GroundUP on Sunday extra sweet, League says.
“We’re all very restless musicians, very noncomplacent. People say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ but I’m kind of the opposite. If something is working over and over again, and people are coming to expect it, you have to make a turn, whether you’re an actor or a director or a poet or a sculptor. When people expect you to do something, and you do it, that’s a bad thing,” League says, laughing.
GROUNDUP MUSIC FESTIVAL
The inaugural festival takes places Friday-Sunday, Feb. 10-12, on two stages at the North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., in Miami Beach. Tickets cost $85 per day, $225 for a three-day pass. Premium passes, which include access to the beachfront VIP and artists' Skylounge, cost $170 per day, $450 for three days. Late-night shows on two stages at the Deauville Beach Resort cost $10 for festival ticket holders, $30 for those without tickets. Tickets to daily pre-concert meet and greets with Snarky Puppy and other performers cost $125, in addition to festival admission. For tickets and other information, visit GroundUpMusicFestival.com.
The performance schedule is:
FRIDAY, FEB. 10
House of Waters, 1 p.m. Michelle Willis, 2 p.m. Bill Laurence, 3:30 p.m. Frost School of Music American Music Ensemble, 4:20 p.m. Jacob Collier, 4:55 p.m. Zach Larmer Band, 5:45 p.m. Banda Magda, 6:15 p.m. Forq, 7:10 p.m. Snarky Puppy, 8 p.m. The Heavy Pets, 9 p.m. David Crosby, 9:50 p.m.
Deaville Beach Resort: Ryan Scott, 11:20 p.m. Bob Lanzetti, 11:20 p.m. Mark Lettieri Trio, 12:40 a.m. Ghost-Note, 12:45 a.m. Jacob Collier, 2 a.m. Roosevelt Collier & Phunk Phactory, 2:10 a.m.
SATURDAY, FEB. 11
Lucy Woodward, noon Shelly Berg, 1:15 p.m. Emily Estefan, 2 p.m. Charlie Hunter Trio, 2:50 p.m. Electric Kif, 3:45 p.m. Terence Blanchard, 4:30 p.m. Nikka Costa, 5:25 p.m. Laura Mvula, 6:10 p.m. The Funky Knuckles, 7:05 p.m. Snarky Puppy, 7:55 p.m. Esperanza Spalding, 9 p.m. Pedrito Martinez Group, 9:45 p.m
Deauville Beach Resort: Philip Lassiter, 11:20 p.m. House of Water, 11:20 p.m. Magda Giannikou, 12:40 a.m. Breastfist, 12:45 a.m. Zach Brock and Bob Reynolds, 2 a.m. Shaun Martin’s Go-Go Party, 2:10 a.m.
SUNDAY, FEB. 12
The Lee Boys, featuring Roosevelt Collier, 11:45 a.m. Carlos Malta, 1:10 p.m. Becca Stevens, 2:30 p.m. Modern School of Music Band, 3:15 p.m. John Medeski’s Mad Skillet, 3:55 p.m. New World School of the Arts Jazz Ensemble, 4:45 p.m. Bokante, 5:30 p.m. Aaron Lebos Reality, 6:20 p.m. Chris Thile and Michael Daves, 7 p.m. Maz, 8 p.m. Snarky Puppy, 8:50 p.m.
Deaville Beach Resort: Charlie Hunter and Jeff Coffin, 10:30 p.m. Pedrito Martinez, 11 p.m. Derek Smalls and the Bottom Feeders, midnight Jamison Ross, 12:30 a.m. Nigel Hall, 1:30 a.m. Carlos Malta and Company, 2 a.m.