Lettuce co-founder and guitarist Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff has had a recent spate of good luck as far as enviable tour dates are concerned. He and the other members of the six-piece funk band just wrapped up a series of shows that took them to the nautical Jam Cruise and saw them open up for Dead & Company at the Mexican beachfront festival Playing In The Sand. In light of their recent stops, it makes sense that Miami would be next on Lettuce’s itinerary: the group will be playing at GroundUp Music Festival, which is taking place from Friday, February 14 through Sunday, February 16 at the North Beach Bandshell.
Although the festival’s founder and Snarky Puppy leadman Michael League has been clear that GroundUp doesn’t have headliners, Lettuce is undeniably one of the biggest acts on the bill. Since its formation by four Berklee College of Music graduates in 1992, the group has advanced a sound all of their own, a cross-pollination of funk, soul, jazz, psychedelia, ambient, art rock, and even hip-hop. The group’s current status is a far cry from their early days as students when they frequently asked venues to “let us play.” The plea gave way to the Lettuce moniker (say the name slowly) and the jam band now enjoys the distinction of being a Grammy-nominated act, having been recognized for the June 2019 record Elevate. Although the experimental ensemble didn’t take home the trophy for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album, their sixth studio LP still debuted at #1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Album Chart and has been streamed more than two million times since its initial release.
“When we went in to record Elevate, we actually recorded close to 30 songs,” Smirnoff explains to New Times. “And the ten that came out on Elevate are only the beginning of what we view as a multi-chapter release. There will be more music, and a couple more albums to come, that are tied together.”
Lettuce took its Grammy-nominated album on the road last May, and barring a break in October 2019, have been touring North America for an unrelenting ten consecutive months. Their incendiary live performance features the sextet jamming on drums, percussion, guitar, bass, alto, baritone and tenor sax, a Korg X-911, trumpet, horns, keyboards and many more instruments, creating a multitude of soundscapes that never fail to get people grooving.
“Fans can expect to dance, no matter what,” Smirnoff laughs. “Not to be cliche, but I do think that’s the backbone of Lettuce: our love of playing solid grooves and funk music, and making your head bop. And we can explore different worlds of funk music while we’re bopping.”
GroundUp will mark the final stop on Lettuce’s marathon North American Elevate tour before the boundary-pushing outfit hops across the pond to embark on a 21-date European run that will flit through cities including Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Madrid, Berlin, and Oslo.
“I’m really ecstatic to hit places I’ve never been to before, and to play in front of audiences that we’ve never played in front of before,” he says. “There’s always something really exciting about doing a first-time show somewhere.”
As a festival that prides itself on encouraging artists to let loose and challenge their comfort zones, GroundUp is the ideal platform for Lettuce’s improvisational style and shape-shifting sonic palette.
“We’re going along with the flow of the festival, and what their vision is,” Smirnoff says. “When you think about Miami’s music scene, you think about some of the greatest trumpet players in the entire world, especially with the Latin music scene, and how incredible some of the Latin jazz players are. Hopefully, when we’re down there, we live up to that standard.”
Lettuce. At GroundUp Music Festival. Friday, February 14, through Sunday, February 16, at North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-672-5202; northbeachbandshell.com. Tickets cost $85 to $825 via groundupmusicfestival.com.