meta-script10 Must-See Acts At BottleRock 2023: Cimafunk, Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, Danielle Ponder & More |
danielle ponder live 10 Must-See Acts At BottleRock 2023
Danielle Ponder

Photo: Rick Kern/WireImage


10 Must-See Acts At BottleRock 2023: Cimafunk, Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, Danielle Ponder & More

Ahead of the 2023 BottleRock festival in California’s Napa Valley, held May 26-28, preview some of the notable up-and-coming acts who will hit the festival’s four stages.

GRAMMYs/May 23, 2023 - 01:19 pm

Roughly 120,000 people will head to California's wine country May 26-28 for the 10th BottleRock festival, which  serves up music, food and libations at the Napa Valley Expo. BottleRock leans in on the food and beverage experience: on social media they refer to themselves as "a food festival with music playing in the background." 

On the festival’s culinary stage, headline musical acts join celebrity chefs and personalities for cooking demonstrations: at past festivals, Martha Stewart has chopped vegetables alongside Seattle rapper Macklemore, and Snoop Dogg has rolled sushi with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. More than a dozen wineries participate, as well as breweries and distilleries. The festival also features a silent disco, spa, pop-up live music jam sessions and art installations.

But beverages, food, art, and massages are not the headline act: Spread across four music stages, more than 20 musical artists perform each day. Post Malone and Smashing Pumpkins headline on Friday, Lizzo and Duran Duran on Saturday, and Red Hot Chili Peppers and Lil Nas X headline Sunday. Well-known marquee acts will play early-evening sets: Billy Strings and Bastille on Friday, Leon Bridges and Japanese Breakfast on Saturday, Wu-Tang Clan and the National on Sunday.

A handful of festival acts will also feature at BottleRock Presents  "after show" performances at venues in Napa, San Francisco and around the Bay Area May 23-28. Some of these after-show performances are sold out, but tickets are still available for Cautious Clay, Lucius, the Wrecks and several other acts. At the time of writing, three-day festival tickets are sold out but individual day tickets are still available.

In addition to the many big-name acts on the bill, noteworthy artists further down the roster will be performing from about noon onward. Representing pop, punk, blues, hip-hop, indie rock and more, the following 10 rising artists stand out for their originality, style, and approach.

Oke Junior

Oakland, California-born, Napa-raised Matthew Osivwemu raps under the name Oke Junior. He made music throughout middle school and high school: his song "Elmhurst" is a reference to Elmhurst Middle School in Oakland. 

An older brother mentored Osivwemu , encouraging his early musical pursuits and making sure  he was a student of the rap game. "The first time I rapped for him, I thought I was raw. He broke it down straight up and said ‘Man, that ain’t it. If you’re gonna rap, you gotta make sure it has meaning…don’t be out here just saying anything," Osivwemu said during a "Sway in the Morning" interview last year. 

In 2017, Oakland hyphy rapper Mistah F.A.B. spotted Osivwemu at open mic nights in Sacramento, and took the young rapper under his wing. In 2016, Oke Junior tweeted that he wished he could have performed at BottleRock, and then joined Too Short onstage in 2019. He’ll perform at 1 p.m. on the Truly Stage on Sunday.


Erik Alejandro Iglesias Rodríguez, a.k.a. Cimafunk, is a Cuban singer who performs funky Afro-Cuban music with a nine-piece band with an energetic intensity that has drawn comparisons to James Brown. 

For his 2021 album El Alimento he collaborated with Lupe Fiasco, CeeLo Green, and funk legend George Clinton, an experience he said was like "talking to a friend." The album was nominated for a GRAMMY Award for  Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album at the 2023 GRAMMY Awards.

Rodríguez grew up in a tight-knit community in Western Cuba, surrounded by music: Mexican music, Christian music, and salsa, mixed with African rhythms. "We had a big family. We were always dancing in the house and every Sunday, we were dancing– salsa and other types," Rodríguez told "Everybody loved music and we all listened to music the whole day. In any house, at some point, many types of music would be playing — Mexican music, reggaetón, Lionel Richie, or Michael Jackson, that was my fave."

Cimafunk performs at 4:15 p.m. Sunday on the Allianz stage.

Danielle Ponder

Ponder, a former public defender from Rochester, New York, is also a powerful R&B/soul singer who has performed on late-night talk shows and at festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. Ponder was serious about her legal work, but was also making music on the side for several years She made the jump full-time to music after she turned 40.  

Released in 2022, Ponder's debut album Some of Us are Brave is filled with upbeat, spiritual bangers and chilled-out confessionals. The music often pulls way back, allowing Ponder the quiet space to convey to listeners that she feels their pain and their joy, and she wants to uplift them. The album's title track is a timely anthem for social justice: "all we want is to be ourselves … we don’t want problems," she sings. 

"We did an album and everything through law school. I just always felt like I didn't want to be struggling. I had this fear of financial instability, and so I just was like, I can't do music full time. But eventually it just pulled me," she told NPR

Ponder performs at 1:45 p.m. Saturday on the Jam Cellars stage.

Joey Valance & Brae

This Pennsylvania hip-hop duo, with their cocky, high energy Beastie Boys vibes and pop culture references to topics like Star Wars and fresh produce bring a heavy dose of prankster, '90s hip-hop style — but from a humorous, adolescent Gen Z perspective. Scroll to the bottom of their Spotify page and you’ll see this: "Who tf reads Spotify bios." 

The rapper-producers  — real names Joey Bertolino and Braedan Lugue — are longtime fans of early rap innovators like Biz Markie, Eric B. & Rakim and the Beastie Boys, but also EDM. They met at Penn State University and both credit their fathers with being big musical inspirations. The duo make most of their music in Valance’s bedroom. "He comes over and we just mess around until something fun comes out of it what we f—ing love," Valence told Ones To Watch

After gaining traction on TikTok, the duo performed their song "Double Jump" on the "Ellen DeGeneres Show" and won a $10,000 talent show grand prize. They now have more than 850,000 followers on TikTok. 

Joey Valance & Brae perform at 7:15 p.m. Sunday on the Truly Stage.

Maude Latour

The Sweden-born singer has an enviable breakout story In March 2020, during the early pandemic lockdown, Latour — who was a student at Columbia University — posted a video of herself singing "One More Weekend," an upbeat tune about college heartbreak, to TikTok, where it has since been viewed more than 455,000 times. A year later, Latour was applying to summer jobs when record labels approached her and she signed with Warner Records. Last summer, she performed at Lollapalooza on the same day as Metallica.

A child of journalists, Latour studied philosophy in college, and her songs explore a range of emotions tied to relationships, death, messy bedrooms, and existentialism. 

"I feel connected to this overpowering awareness of my mortality. It is what makes life beautiful. This is my ‘thank you’ to existence," she told Billboard.

Maude Latour performs at 2:45 p.m. Saturday on the Allianz Stage.

Thunderstorm Artis

Growing up in Oahu, Thunderstorm Kahekhili Artis played in a family band with his dad, Ron Artis, an artist and Motown session musician who, played with artists such as Michael Jackson, Van Halen and Stevie Wonder

After touring with his older brother Ron Artis II, Thunderstorm was invited to perform at the wedding of Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu, and was a finalist in the 2020 Spring season of "The Voice," where he performed renditions of "Blackbird" by the Beatles and songs from artists like Louis Armstrong

Thunderstorm has gone on to perform his blendings of folk, rock, soul and country music alongside artists like Jack Johnson and Booker T. He’s been known to play renditions of songs from artists such as David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Elton John

Thunderstorm Artis performs at 12:15 p.m. Sunday on the Verizon stage.

Ayleen Valentine

The 21-year-old from Miami dropped out of Berklee College of Music in 2021 to pursue music full time. She combines guitar, piano, and saxophone with electronic beats to make moody dream pop. 

Valentine has said that she loves to watch videos of her favorite artists before she takes the stage, listing a who's who of famous rock stars that inspire her: "Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Mitski. I used to love Kanye — not so much anymore. James Blake. Axl Rose is very theatrical. Fiona Apple is cool and very scary."

Valentine released Tonight I Don't Exist, a seven-song EP of bedroom pop, last year, and more recently released a video for the song "Next Life" from that EP.

Ayleen Valentine performs at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the Jam Cellars Stage.  


The head-bobbing, dancing crowd and flashy, bright lights of a Meute show look almost exactly like any average club scene, but instead of a DJ and turntables and laptops, crowds see 11 people wearing marching band uniforms and holding brass instruments.

Like most brass bands, the 11-piece German brass collective Meute offers up lush harmonies and expressive horn solos backed by marching band percussion. But Meute is a "techno marching band," that aims to create a high-energy, hypnotic club vibe with marching band instruments. Meute founder and trumpet player Thomas Burhorn loved the ecstasy and intensity of going to raves, but thought it would be more interesting and exciting if there was a live band onstage instead of a DJ.

"We do interpretations…It’s a nice part of art, and a nice part of the history of music… when you can give the composition something new, when you can see it from another point of view, it’s a beautiful thing," Meute founder and trumpet player Thomas Burhorn told Variety.

The group toured 18 cities across North America last summer and performed at Goldenvoice’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. 

Meute performs at 8:45 p.m. Saturday on the Allianz stage. 

The Alive

The members of The Alive are teenagers from Southern California, but they make music that sounds like a collage of '90s and early 2000s alternative rock.

"We’d grow up going surfing and skating. In the car, our parents would start playing music," singer and guitarist Bastian Evans told an interviewer. "I didn’t pay attention the first four or five years I was alive – but after a while, I started really listening to what was playing, and got a connection to some of the bands, especially Queens of the Stone Age. My dad would play it all the time in the morning, especially on the way to school."

The Alive have performed at Lollapalooza Chile and Ohana Fest, and opened up the main stage at BottleRock in 2021 and played an after-party show with fellow Laguna Beach musician Taylor Hawkins and his former side band Chevy Metal.

The Alive was named one of Stab Magazine’s "30 Under 30 Culture Shifters of Tomorrow" and has performed benefit concerts for the Surfrider Foundation, Surfers Against Sewage in England, Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, and Save The Waves.

The Alive perform at 12:30 p.m. Sunday on the Jam Cellars Stage.

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram

When 24-year-old Christone "Kingfish" Ingram won the Best Contemporary Blues Album award at the 2022 GRAMMYs, he told the crowd, "For years I had to sit and watch the myth that young Black kids are not into the blues, and I just hope I can show the world something different."

His debut album, Kingfish, produced by Tom Hambridge, was released on Alligator Records in 2019, and earned him a nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album at the 62nd annual GRAMMY Awards.

Ingram grew up in Clarksdale, Mississippi, playing drums, bass, and guitar. He studied music at the Delta Blues Museum under Bill "Howl-N- Mad" Perry and Richard "Daddy Rich" Crisman, and was playing gigs around town by seventh grade. 

In 2014, he performed for Michelle Obama at the White House with the Delta Blues Museum band. Ingram joins a long legacy of artists to emerge from Clarksdale: John Lee Hooker, Ike Turner, Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters are just a few.

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram performs at 5:45 p.m, Sunday on the Allianz Stage.

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Photo of Skepta performing at Wireless Festival on September 11, 2021, in London, England. Skepta is wearing dark black sunglasses, a black shirt, and a vest made of bullets.
Skepta performs a headline set at Wireless Festival on September 11, 2021, in London, England

Photo: Joseph Okpako/WireImage


10 Must-See Artists At Coachella 2024: Skepta, The Last Dinner Party, Mdou Moctar, Cimafunk & More

Peso Pluma, Lana Del Rey, Doja Cat, Tyler, The Creator, J Balvin and a reunited No Doubt may be some of the biggest draws at Coachella 2024, but the beloved festival will host a multitude of must-see artists whose names appear in smaller text.

GRAMMYs/Apr 22, 2024 - 03:00 pm

Ah, springtime. For the average person, that means sunshine, flora in bloom, perhaps a figurative fresh start in the new year. But for music festival fans, it signals another season starter: Coachella.

An estimated 125,000 people will flock to the Empire Polo Fields in Indio, California for the first weekend (April 12-14) of the 23rd Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. While the first weekend is already sold out, tickets are still available for the second weekend (April 19-21).

Coachella's headliners have been busy: Both Lana Del Rey (headlining Friday) and Doja Cat (slated to close out Sunday) just wrapped extensive tours at the end of 2023 and, while Saturday closer Tyler, the Creator's only other 2024 festival date is at Lollapalooza, he did stage a large-scale appearance in 2023 at the Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival in Los Angeles. Still, it stands to reason that there are scores of fans who missed out on those tour stops, and Coachella would be an ideal chance to catch them in a particularly special setting. 

There's also the potential to see a slew of surprise guests (a long-standing Chella tradition) and much-hyped reunions. Coachella 2024 attendees will likely flock to see a reunited No Doubt and Sublime, the latter with a Nowell back at the helm (Bradley’s son, Jakob).

Then there’s the economic logic behind opting to see those bigger acts at a festival: for a price not much more than what you’d pay for an arena ticket, you get the bonus of catching dozens of other incredible artists while you’re at it. The diversity and quality of music throughout even the lower tiers of the Coachella lineup is staggering, so overall the price for a pass is quite the steal. Read on for the inside scoop on 10 of this year’s most exciting undercard performances.

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Cuban artist Cimafunk has been relatively quiet since releasing a third studio album, El Alimento, in 2021. But the success of that record — which garnered his first GRAMMY nomination for Best Latin Rock or Alternative album at the 2023 GRAMMY Awards — appears to have propelled him to new career heights. He will be the first Cuban-born artist to perform at the festival, kicking off a string of worldwide shows that begin with his appearance at Coachella on April 12 and 19. 

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Cimafunk’s sole release since his last album was the December 2023 single “Te tango en salsa,” which expands upon his self-designated brand of Afro Cuban Funk with accents of disco and grooves filled with New Orleans-style horns. Though the track hasn’t been publicly connected to any upcoming EP or album, one might presume that his impending run of concerts is a precursor to a complete body of new music. Perhaps Coachella will function as a testing ground, and considering the inclusion on El Ailmento of prominent artists George Clinton, CeeLo Green and Lupe Fiasco, who knows what other surprises might be in store at the desert festival known for delighting audiences with plenty of guest features.


Through the years following their inception in 2012, French pop band L’Imperatrice have played primarily in Europe and surrounding regions, so it’s no small feat that they’re poised to make their second appearance at Coachella in two years. They first played the fest in 2022, a makeup show for Coachella's 2020 COVID-19 cancellation. 

Their slots on April 12 and 19, stops on their just-launched Double Trouble Tour, follow the 2018 release of debut full-length Matahari and performances at prominent festivals like Austin City Limits and Outside Lands. Self-produced sophomore album Pulsar arrives on June 7, and its infectiously groovy and sensual debut single “Me Da Iqual” promises a Coachella set sure to incite emotional release among the masses — ideally during one of the fest’s famed golden hours to match the music’s euphoric vibes. 


Regarded as one of the most influential rappers in the UK grime scene, Skepta is set to commence his latest return to stateside stages with appearances at Coachella on both Fridays, which marks his second time at the festival after lauded dual appearances in 2017. 

Following a semi-secret DJ set at Austin’s South by Southwest festival in March, these shows will preview a run of summer dates in the UK and Europe and the release of upcoming sixth solo album Knife and Fork

With that record’s release date still in question but imminent, it’s a good bet that he’ll introduce new material to build upon the January drop of lead single "Gas Me Up (Diligent)," which adopts a flow and melodic structure more akin to popular American rap. To that end, Skepta’s previous collaborations with U.S. rappers like Drake, Ye and members of ASAP Mob could lead to a loaded lineup of guests during his Coachella set. It has the potential to be a huge moment, though his reputation for high-energy and rowdy gigs are reasons enough to prioritize his performance. 

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Mandy, Indiana

English-French noise rock upstarts Mandy, Indiana make music that isn’t necessarily easy to digest. Minimalist and chaotic compositions, primarily from their widely celebrated 2023 debut album I’ve Seen a Way, resonate as tunes tailor-made for technically minded music nerds. Still, danceable moments emerge among the sonic helter-skelter, which combines experimental elements of industrial, classic house music and samples aplenty (think Death Grips with more palatable melodies and exclusively French lyrics). 

So far, the dynamic four-piece hasn’t played much on this side of the pond — their debut shows at Coachella arrive on the heels of a handful of U.S. appearances in 2023 that included the SXSW Music Festival. Which means Mandy, Indiana’s sets on April 13 and 20 will mark relatively rare (and therefore must-see) chances to embrace their overtly wonderful weirdness in the desert among the more prominent pop-leaning artists on the roster.

The Last Dinner Party

If you’re not yet keen on British indie rock band the Last Dinner Party, it’s time to get with the program. With only one album under their belt, Prelude to Ecstasy (released Feb. 2) — which echoes various influences ranging from Siouxsie and the Banshees to Kate Bush and ABBA —the quintet has already earned multiple awards and accolades, including topping the UK Album Chart. To boot, they opened for the Rolling Stones in London’s Hyde Park two years prior to putting out their record.

The band’s performances are reportedly jaw-dropping, further evidenced by the complete sell-out of their current U.S. tour. That jaunt wraps with their April 20 appearance at Coachella (they also play during the first weekend on April 13), so, unless you want to pay ridiculous resale prices for one of their club shows, this is a prime chance to see them live with the added benefit of catching many more amazing acts while you’re there.

Young Fathers

Young Fathers are often categorized under the umbrella of hip-hop, but it would be wrong to pigeonhole them that way. True, one can pinpoint elements of a spitting, old-school style — especially on debut album Dead (winner of the prestigious Mercury Prize in 2014.. However, their sound spans the landscape of many genres, often weaving in threads of electronic, industrial, and trip-hop. It should be telling that they’ve collaborated multiple times with Massive Attack.

The music clearly resonates with a substantial audience. They’ve reached prime positions on the UK Album charts, their fourth and latest album Heavy Heavy (released Feb. 3, 2023) won them their third Scottish Album of the Year Award, and this year marks their second invitation to Coachella (catch them on Sundays: April 13 and 20). With a full year gone since putting out new songs, there’s no telling if they’ll serve up anything fresh. Regardless, fans of heavy-hitting experimental music, assuredly energizing at any time of day or night, should prioritize seeing their set.

Oneohtrix Point Never

It’s a wonder that Oneohtrix Point Never has never played Coachellal until now given his string of consistent releases since emerging in the early 2000s (with never more than three years between albums) and Coachella’s penchant for historically championing experimental electronic artists. Following the Feb. 29 release of his latest EP “Oneohtrix Point Never - Ambients,” he debuts in the desert on April 13, with his second weekend encore on April 20. 

The Massachusetts-bred beatmaker’s music swings from sparse to compositionally complex. It's not geared toward a typical EDM dance party, but always cinematic and hypnotizing, creating a space where listeners can truly lose themselves in the sonics. Given his style, it’s safe to assume he’ll occupy an evening time slot, so if you’re the type who prefers something a little more raw to the mainstream big-timers topping the bill, Oneohtrix Point Never might be just the ticket.

Mdou Moctar

If there’s one artist on this year’s Coachella lineup that will truly thrive in a desert setting, it’s Mdou Moctar. The Niger-based musician plays rock music steeped in the style of Tuareg, guitar-based blues-rock fusion that originates in the Sahara region. However, Moctar’s music decidedly transcends the traditional sound, often reverberating as sublimely psychedelic.

His performances in Indio on April 14 and 21 precede the release of his sixth album Funeral For Justice (arriving May 3). Based on the two singles made available from that record so far (title track “Funeral for Justice” and “Imouhar”), the people of Coachella are in for a true desert trip.

Atarashii Gakko!

When Japanese “girl group” Atarashii Gakko! make their Coachella debut on April 14 and 21, anticipate the unexpected. The four singers’ have a stated goal of “redefining what it means to be a girl group.” They’re technically categorized as J-Pop, but among the many catchy choruses, their music also incorporates shades of speed metal, trap beats and alt-rap à la Rage Against the Machine, all of which you can hear on their latest album ICHIJIKIKOKU.

What you can certainly expect is an outrageously high-energy show chock-full of nonstop, self-designed choreography performed in colorful sailor-fuku uniforms (essentially sailor suits worn by Japanese students in the ‘70s and ‘80s … think Sailor Moon but intentionally less provocative). If you need an adrenaline boost on the final day of the fest, look no further than Atarashii Gakko!.

Olivia Dean

Dear America, it’s time to give a proper welcome to an artist destined for stardom:  Olivia Dean. With only a handful of U.S. shows in the bank, the 25-year-old British neo-soul singer’s debut at Coachella on April 14 — arguably her biggest U.S. gig yet — will serve as the most well-deserved of receptions. 

Sure, her nominations for the 2023 Mercury Prize (for debut album Messy) and 2024 Brit Awards (Best Pop Act, British Artist of the Year and Best New Artist) should merit attention enough for those who don’t know her. But even a few moments of listening to key album tracks “Dive” and “The Hardest Part” (don’t sleep on the alternate version featuring Leon Bridges) are the real deal-sealers. The richness of Dean’s recorded vocals are absolutely arresting, evocative of and equal to top-tier divas who preceded her. It’s thrilling just thinking about the impact she’ll make at Coachella — do yourself a favor if you have the chance and go witness it firsthand. 

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Students participate in Getting Funky In Havana
Cuban music conservatory students perform during Getting Funky In Havana 2024

Photo: Eduardo Reyes Aranzaez


At Getting Funky In Havana, Young Musicians Feel The Power Of Cross-Cultural Connection

An annual program organized by the Trombone Shorty Foundation and Cimafunk, Getting Funky In Havana explores the deep connections between Cuba and New Orleans — and provides student musicians with once-in-a-life-time learning opportunities.

GRAMMYs/Mar 25, 2024 - 08:34 pm

It’s sweltering inside the Guillermo Tomas Music Conservatory, a primary school in Havana’s Guanabacoa neighborhood, where American visitors enjoy what will likely be the best school recital they'll ever see.  

A series of teen and tween musicians — some in trios and quartets, others in larger ensembles — are playing a mix of Latin jazz, orchestral overtures and even a rousing rendition of the Ghostbusters theme. During an interpolation of Aretha Franklin's "Think," three young horn players burst to the front of the group in a competitive but friendly battle of brass. 

The performance is the centerpiece of Getting Funky in Havana, a four-day music and cultural exchange program developed by GRAMMY-nominated Cuban funk artist Cimafunk, GRAMMY-winning New Orleans multi-instrumentalist Trombone Shorty's namesake foundation, and Cuba Educational Travel. Now in its third year, Getting Funky brought nearly 200 American music lovers, artists and students to Havana in January to explore the deep connections between Cuban and New Orlenian sounds through a series of performances, educational activities and panels. 

"Cuba and New Orleans have a long line of influence, and we have special things that happen in both places that people can hear through our music," Trombone Shorty, born Troy Andrews, tells "Passing along music and knowledge is…how the music's staying alive. I always try to tell the kids, learn everything that came before you, but also be very innovative."

While there are many conservatories in Havana, Guillermo Tomas was chosen in part for its similarities to New Orleans' Treme neighborhood, where many of the Trombone Shorty Foundation students live. Guanabacoa is "probably the deepest Afro-Cuban cultural neighborhood" in Havana, says Foundation Executive Director Bill Taylor.

Those shared roots and experiences were on display during several capstone concerts, which were also open to Havana residents. At a massive outdoor concert blocks away from Havana's famous Malecón, Getting Funky attendees enjoyed performances from Cuban salsa legends Los Van Van, reparto star Wampi and Shorty's Orleans Avenue. At a pinnacle performance the day before, more than 30 artists gathered at Havana arts hub La Fabrica for a sold-out international jam. Shorty, Big Freedia, Ivan Neville, percussionist Pedrito Martinez, PJ Morton, Tarriona "Tank" Ball, drummer Yissy Garcia and others joined forces with Cuban artists Reina y Real and X Alfonzo to create an unceasing groove. 

Getting Funky In Havana outside school embed

Cuban and American students perform outside Guillermo Tomas┃Eduardo Reyes Aranzaez

While the concerts certainly brought the energy to a fever pitch, the beating heart of Getting Funky is its mission of music education. Ten members of the Trombone Shorty Foundation's brass band traveled to Cuba, where they performed at Getting Funky's opening night party and several other events. Throughout the week, the New Orleans students shared stages with their Cuban counterparts,  learning each others' musical idioms and finding common ground.

"So much of the music [we hear in New Orleans comes] from Africa through the Caribbean to New Orleans, then spreading throughout the United States. When our students connect with those [Cuban] students, there's a natural, symbiotic connection that takes place," Taylor says. 

High school senior and sax player Dylan Racine called the trip — his first time out of the country — a life-changing experience. "I learned so many new skills on this trip, including how to network, how to collaborate with young people from a different culture than me, and more," he says via email. Drummer and pianist John Rhodes, another senior,  added that the experience was invaluable. 

"I was able to interact with another culture and understand other young people through music. Although we couldn't speak the same language, we understood each other musically," he writes.

Both Cuba and New Orleans' unique musical cultures require constant innovation to survive, Taylor adds. "You honor the past, but it needs an infusion of new life in order to thrive. Getting Cuban musicians together with New Orleans musicians infuses a shot of energy into both of those musical styles." 

The trip also put students from both countries in contact with working musicians, whose own perspectives were expanded by the experience. 

"Music education and pedagogical expertise is so important. We need the next level to come up and be dope, just like we are," says trumpeter Keyon Harrold, whose work has taken him from sessions with Beyoncé to the 2024 GRAMMYs. This was Harrold’s second year at Getting Funky. "It's even more visceral and engaging to actually see these kids at the age of 10, 11, 12, and to know that in five years they're going to be the next." 

For many of the musicians who attended, Getting Funky was an inspirational experience that furthered their existing work as well. "I perform for a living, but performing and playing with [students] is super dope. [Their energy is] clean," says GRAMMY-winning producer, rapper and mentor Deezle. "If I can in any way help to guide their path away from the pitfalls that I've encountered and endured, I would love to do that."

Legendary singer/songwriter Ivan Neville said he was blown away while watching young musicians from different worlds performing together. "This music was making their souls feel so good. I know music is good for the soul, but it was another level that I saw."

Getting Funky In Havana Primera Linea

Fabio Daniel (center) and members of Primera Linea, or "first line"┃Eduardo Reyes Aranzaez

Since Getting Funky In Havana was established in 2020, the program has had a measurable impact on Cuban students' lives. In 2023, several young Cuban musicians traveled to New Orleans during JazzFest, where they visited Shorty’s studio and performed together at legendary venue Tipitina's. When the group returned home, they formed their own brass band, Primera Linea. 

"This band is working; they are playing many places in Havana and that's thanks to the project. They were so into the satisfaction of [feeling] that they are valued," says Erik Alejandro Iglesias Rodríguez, who records as Cimafunk. "They are learning good quality things in terms of human relationships and in terms of music. [The program is] something that changes their mentality and lets them know that they can make it." 

While Cuba harbors an incredible amount of musical talent, "making it" as a musician in the country comes with a unique set of challenges. The country's shrinking economy, high rate of inflation and low monthly incomes have 62 percent of Cubans reporting that they "struggle to survive" financially, according to a 2023 survey. Purchasing a professional calibur instrument, which may cost hundreds or thousands of U.S. dollars, often comes with great sacrifice.  

It's an emotional day back at the Guillermo Tomas, where 10 of the school's top students will be awarded an instrument.

"An instrument is not something you can buy in a store," says Amanda Colina González, an art historian and one of the trip guides, who studied saxophone in conservatory. Colina González, like the majority of students, was given an instrument to play for the duration of her studies but had to return it to her school upon graduation. Remembering that moment brought tears to her eyes.

Because of its high cost and the possibility of leading to international travel, owning their own instrument can truly change a young musician's life. Getting Funky has donated approximately 50 instruments to Cuban students over three years of programming. 

Fifteen-year-old Daniela Hernandez was awarded a trombone for her skill and dedication to music outside of school. Harried and teary-eyed after the recital, she shared her happiness and pride for being able to play with musicians who she's long admired. She plans to use her new trombone to study and will "take it with me everywhere."

Daniela and classmate Fabio Daniel (who received a trumpet during the first edition of Getting Funky in Havana in 2020) joined Trombone Shorty onstage at Getting Funky, performing for more than 15,000 people. Several of their friends and classmates brought their instruments to the concert — the largest held in Cuba in the last four years — and played back at the band from the crowd. 

"Cuban musicians really enjoy playing and making other people feel joy through music,” Daniela says. Fellow trombone player and awardee Cristian Onel León says it's important to play for people outside of Cuba, and enjoys teaching people about his country's rhythms and keys. "I’m [also] learning other forms of playing, that aren’t mine. And it feels good,” he adds.

The program's instrument donation is spearheaded by the long-running nonprofit Horns To Havana, and supported by the Gia Maione Prima Foundation and private donors. Tickets purchased to attend the program also fund its efforts; Taylor says 2024's Getting Funky raised approximately $50,000. The Trombone Shorty Foundation hopes to continue the annual event, and expand into different countries; a 2025 Havana trip is already in the works.

For Rodríguez, who recently moved to New Orleans, the effect of this musical exchange is tangible. He's noticed more musicians who are open to collaborating across borders, and is working on new music with artists who have attended Getting Funky in previous years.

"Just jamming changes everything," he says. "That changes the minds of people; that changes the sound."

The connections made during Getting Funky have led to a variety of opportunities for students on both sides of the Gulf of Mexico. Foundation alto saxophonist Jacob Jones credits the trip for broadening his way of thinking while playing music; Deezle says he wants to get Cuban trumpeter and bandleader Fabio Daniel on a track; Primera Linea may perform at San Francisco's Outside Lands festival in August. 

"To be able to facilitate that, and give to these young musicians of Cuba, is unbelievable," Andrews says of the program. "It's just a blessing to be able to be a blessing and help out the next generation, and help those musicians see a brighter future."

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Danielle Ponder's Powerful Song Of Reckoning
Danielle Ponder performs during 2023 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival

Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images


Danielle Ponder's Powerful Song Of Reckoning: How The Singer/Songwriter Melds The Personal & Historical On "Manhunt" Theme

Former public defender Danielle Ponder is known for her deeply emotive R&B. Her latest release is the theme for AppleTV+ historical thriller "Manhunt." Ponder unpacks music's power to connect and heal — whether that's on stage or on the silver screen.

GRAMMYs/Mar 18, 2024 - 07:32 pm

Danielle Ponder has an intriguing and eminently re-tellable origin story —  a many-forked path that winds through the courtroom and to the global stage. 

The Rochester, New York artist began her career as a public defender, later changing lanes to become a R&B and soul singer/songwriter. Most recently, Ponder is the composer and singer of "Egún." The theme song for the buzzy AppleTV+ historical thriller "Manhunt," "Egún" — which means "ancestor" in Yoruba — is as haunting as it is catchy. Its reverb-drenched, clap-driven refrain of "you can’t keep running" is an irresistible singalong about the inevitability of historical reckoning. 

It’s a perfect fit for a miniseries about the race to capture Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth, and a thematic branching out for Ponder, who specializes in woozy, soul-baring songs about individual heartbreak. Of course, from Ponder’s perspective, it’s all part of the same whole. 

"If my heart has been broken because of a man, or my heart has been broken because of experiencing racism, I'm still just sharing my life," she tells "But I don't got no man to cry about, so that has opened up a lot of space to cry about the government." 

After listening to her talk about the many-forked path Ponder has taken  — from being discouraged from listening to secular music by her pastor father, to performing in a family band, to leaving her career as a public defender, recording her solo album Some Of Us Are Brave and touring the globe with artists including Trombone Shorty — the question that lingers, thrillingly, is where else she’ll go. Ponder spoke with about the power of music to restore fuller humanity to incarcerated people, the joys of live performance and solo composition, and the hip-hop legend who encouraged her to focus wholeheartedly on music. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

As a former public defender, you have a very specific and elegantly synthesized belief about how music could contribute to actual criminal justice. How did you develop that philosophy, and how does it inform your work today?

When people ask me about being a public defender versus being a musician, there's two kinds of themes that I see. I think both require the art of storytelling, the ability to tell someone's story in a way that a listener is hearing you, and not only hearing you, but empathizing. And then when I say empathizing, it brings me to the second piece of it. I think music has such a beautiful way of placing us in someone's world. I use the example of Alanis Morissette, because that song, "You Oughta Know" — I heard it when I was 16, and, child, I thought I was going through a breakup! That song just made me feel. She articulated emotions in a way I couldn't even understand at that age, but I immediately can empathize with the pain she was going through.

We need that empathy so much in our criminal justice system. It's so easy to other people, to call people defendants, to call them perpetrators, and not see their humanity. When I was working in the criminal justice system, representing over 100 people in a day sometimes, you can lose faith in humanity, because you see those people being treated terribly, being dehumanized consistently. 

But then I got to play shows on the weekend, and I saw the best of us. I think about how we capture the energy of empathy that we feel in music, and apply that to other parts of our lives. Specifically, when it comes to criminal justice reform, how do we also hear those stories, and as human beings be able to connect with where a person is, or where a person was in their life?

You and your band performed at Attica Correctional Facility, where your brother was incarcerated at the time. Would you talk about that for a little bit? As soon as I heard the story, I wondered if you’d consider following in Johnny Cash’s footsteps with a live album recorded at a prison. 

I'm still trying to get my own footing, but I know that part of my work has to be highlighting not only criminal justice reform, but the people behind the stories. Being involved with people who are incarcerated is a beautiful way to do that. I do have some things that I'm working on right now that involve me working in a prison and I'm really excited about that. 

Going back to Attica, that was my favorite show. I play a lot of shows, but there’s something really beautiful and painful about seeing talented people in cages. There was a man who had been there since 1976, serving a life sentence. He plays the saxophone so beautifully, and as a society we’ve made it so the worst thing he has ever done has defined his life. We had people join us on stage, they rapped, and sang, and played the keyboards, and knowing that this is talent that the world may never see? The rate at which the U.S. incarcerates people, one of them could be our next Billie Holiday, or our next Miles Davis

The other piece was watching the guards and the incarcerated men react to the music equally. In the beginning of the show, the guards were really trying to just keep it together, but eventually, they started clapping along with the music, and it was beautiful to watch. Those lines between guard and inmate begin to fade, and two groups of people who have been institutionalized in many ways, connect and clap on the same beat. That's why art is important — it breaks down the walls that we build up. And it's our most ancient way of connecting. We need that more than ever right now.  

You’re well-known for your deeply personal songwriting, often about romantic relationships. "Egún" is quite different, it’s got a historical theme, and a significant invocation of ancestors. What’s the story of how you wrote this song — did it exist before you were approached to work on something for the series?  

The music already existed; it was a riff I wrote in law school, but the lyrics really came when [series creator and showrunner] Monica Beletsky spoke to me about one of the witnesses at the trial, who was a Black woman, Mary Sims. [Sims had formerly been enslaved by Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was tried as a co-conspirator with Booth.] I wanted to write something from that angle, from that character. I knew I could connect to that, but I needed it to go somewhere a little deeper. For me, that was to think of all of the people who lost their lives to the most horrific institution that this country has known, and that we fight for freedom — we are persistent in our fight not only for ourselves and for our children, but for those who have died under slavery. 

The song was much bigger than saying "we're gonna catch you for killing Lincoln." It was saying that a reckoning will always come; I wanted it to send a message that liberation is going to happen, and as dark as our world can feel, we have made great strides. I wanted it to feel like the ancestors will literally haunt you. You can't run away from it, you can't hide. When I think about people who spend so much time attacking trans folks or attacking Black folks, I just think that hate is living in your heart, how is it serving you?

It’s a fascinating song, because it’s so personal while mapping to something much bigger, thematically. This is such an extraordinary moment for personal and confessional songwriting, particularly among female artists. Who are the artists you respect and look up to in that cohort alongside you? 

Jamila Woods is such a great writer — she was a poet earlier. I'm always jealous of the songwriters who used to be poets, they’re so good at writing and they can also sing. I just did a project with Adi Oasis, too. I love her work, and this song that we've done, "Dumpalltheguns." Brandi Carlile is obviously the GOAT of songwriting. These are just a few in my rotation — there's so many people who I really admire, whose songs I listen to and feel like Oh, my God, why didn't I write that?

Along those lines, how do you discover music that’s new, or just new to you? A number of your influences are — and I mean this as a compliment to them — weirdo British eccentrics, but I know that you listened to very little secular music in your childhood. How did other genres of music and artists like Pink Floyd and Portishead come into your life?

It really started with Columbia House — I owe them like $10,000. My dad backed off of his no secular music rule when I was 16 years old. So I just went ham, and bought a lot of hip-hop, artists like Lauryn Hill, KRS-One, and Jay-Z. But I also bought Alanis Morissette and Pearl Jam. Through my love of alternative and hip-hop, I discovered trip-hop, which to me, is like the child of those two genres. That's how I became a Portishead fan. Pink Floyd is a band I discovered later in life, probably in my college years. It may just be because everyone had that damn poster on their wall. 

Trip-hop evokes so much emotion, and it's cinematic, and that's the type of music I love. I just live for emotion. I want to feel something deeply when I hear music, I want to get goosebumps! There's times when I just want to party, but mostly, I want to cry. I want to feel something really deep, and that's what I want my music to do for people.

So where are you now, as a songwriter? Are you writing your second album at this point? 

I am in it. I just came back from some sessions in London, and am going to do some sessions here — I was working on music this morning. 

A lot of space has opened up for what they would call political music — I don't love that title. Because it's just my life. You know, if I talk about heartbreak, or my heart has been broken because of a man or my heart has been broken because of experiencing racism I'm still just sharing my life. But I don't got no man to cry about. So that has opened up a lot of space to cry about the government. 

That interest in provoking emotional responses, and the cinematic quality of your own work, are such strong throughlines across your early material, and you’ve brought it with you on songs like "Egún." What draws you to creating songs so suited to TV or film?

Cinematic music is emotional music, because the person who's writing the score is attempting to get you to feel something. They're very deliberate and intentional about it. The music can change what you feel is coming in the next scene, how you feel about the characters. It's shaping the story, and I am obsessed with getting people to feel things. 

When I first saw one of my songs synced to the "Manhunt" credits, I cried, because it just felt perfect. I was in court two years ago, and now I’m watching the credits — I just started screaming. It's a perfect marriage.

You’re composing and recording, and you’re a relentlessly touring musician. What does playing live do for you like as an artist?

I mean, it's my favorite thing to do. Being onstage is my sanctuary; it is where I am most present in my life, it's a meditation. When I hit that stage, I could be stressed, I could be sick, but something happens where I kind of forget about things, it's when I'm most fully present. 

Community is very important for me, I don't want to be sitting in my house, playing the guitar to myself. And going back to this ancient way of connecting, it’s bringing your music to the public square and playing for the village. I think the intention, the purpose of music is to build community. And when I'm performing on stage, I feel like the luckiest person that I get to do that, and that someone gives me a check after, is really insane.

I can't overstate how lucky I am to perform live. But I will tell you that you have to take time to be in the creative space. And so right now, I'm not performing that much, and I'm really thankful for the break, because I need to know what's next to say.

When you’re in that creative space, or squeezing in those moments while you’re on the road, how frequently do you play songs in progress for a live audience?

Well, "Roll The Credits," for example, I wrote that song on tour. I had and loved the music, and I was like, "Let's just perform the song tonight! I'll freestyle something." And then at the next show, some of those lyrics stuck, they were actually good! So I added some more – honestly, I wrote this song live on stage. By the fourth or fifth show, I had the lyrics. 

Usually, the music comes first and I usually write lyrics last, sometimes grudgingly. There's a song right now I'm ready to perform, and I have not finished writing it, but I'm wanting to perform it next Friday. So hopefully these lyrics will finish themselves.

Let’s bring this full-circle. When you were playing in that first band with your brother and cousins, what did you imagine the future would hold? 

Honestly, we thought we were gonna be the Jackson 5.

I love that. Kids don’t have limited ambitions, they don’t hide their light under a bushel, so they straightforwardly plan to be the literal king of pop music. Why not?

I'm trying to do that now. As you get older, you start downsizing your dreams — I did that. And then the universe showed me I didn't have to, because things were happening that were beyond what I could imagine. 

And so now…I don't want to put any limitations on myself because of my age, or because of how late I got into this. If I’d done that, I wouldn't have believed that I could write a theme song for a TV series, I would have been too scared to do it. So I'm working on transforming my thinking, because I could actually do all the things. 

Was there one particular moment when you realized you were going to return to that youthful energy and feeling to pivot entirely to being a professional musician? 

There were several little moments within the span of a few months, but one that sticks out was a Zoom call with Q-Tip. And he said, "I know about your work as a public defender, and you've been an activist for years, and it's time for you to be rewarded for your work." 

It gave me goosebumps when he said that. It gave me permission — I’d been wondering, should I leave this very important work to just do music? — but also that permission was coming from Q-Tip! He heard my music, and it gave me some validation. So that was one of the moments where I knew I’d be telling my boss, "Hey, man. I can't be here much longer."

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Levi Platero
Levi Platero

Photo: Jacob Shije


Meet Levi Platero, A Formidable Guitarist Bringing Blues-Rock To The Navajo Nation

"I don't want to be in some crazy-a— limelight. I don't want to be a superstar," the guitar scorcher tells But limelight or not, Levi Platero's illuminating a path forward for blues-rock in Indigenous communities.

GRAMMYs/Apr 4, 2023 - 03:58 pm

Back in 2022, Levi Platero spoke to about his then-new album, Dying Breed. Two days later, a city bus slammed into his touring van.

The Arizonan blues-rock guitarist, who hails from the Eastern Agency of the Navajo Nation, was on a West Coast tour. After lunch in downtown Portland, kaboom: their van was totaled. When hearing about this close call, something poignant Platero had said came to mind.

"I just want to be able to keep going, man. Especially with blues music, you can kind of play forever," he expressed near the end of the interview. "Not to put down any other musical genres, but I can't see myself being a rap artist at, like, 60 or 70 years old. I can see myself being a blues-rock guy until the day I die."

Looking decades into the future, it's hard not to imagine Platero and his music being buoyed by the community he helped create.

An absolute burner on his instrument — behold Dying Breed highlights like "Fire Water Whiskey" and "Red Wild Woman" as examples — he stands with few others as a blues-rock great in the Navajo Nation. Or just one, in his estimation: Mato Nanji of the band Indigenous, who he affectionately calls "Big Brother." 

Perhaps Platero — who's eyeing a new van, and getting ready to head back into the studio in late spring — will also inspire others in his wake. And the more he sings and plays, the more likely that outcome seems — that his "dying breed" will flourish forever.

Read on for an in-depth interview with Platero about his latest album, how Indigenousness inspires his artistry, and why he "doesn't want to be a superstar — I just love to play."

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Tell me about your background, and the musical community that brought you up.

I grew up in church. My dad was an evangelist. He went out, did things for the church and that kind of community. I would sometimes tag along, but I was getting involved with some of the worship leading and stuff like that. But my dad would write his own tunes, and he would make his own music later on. And I would go out and help him just play drums. I was just in the background area.

Later on, I started playing guitar, and listening to a lot of old gospel tunes and gospel hymns. That's where I got introduced to the blues. And after I learned about the blues, from then on, that's all I ever really listened to. 

Now, a lot of things have changed. I'm out in the world doing my own thing and writing my own music about some things that I feel — not necessarily anything that has to do with the church community. But, that's where I got started.

What's your conception of the blues? To me, it's kind of like the word punk. It can be a certain way of playing power chords, or an entire state of being — an opposition to the status quo. Likewise, the blues can mean 12 bars, or the totality of human angst.

I think it's probably the rawest form of musical emotion that I can feel — that I've ever really felt for myself. But that's only my own opinion. That's my perception of it. I always hear a lot of people say that it's a little redundant, and it's kind of boring and whatnot. But for me, it's something that's just really raw, emotional, really straightforward.

And as far as the lifestyle, I mean, I would have to say that being a part of a blues community, I'm really [grounded among] people who are really respectful. 

And the people who are respected the most are the people who generally [may] not have the most talent, but collectively, they're a great person — they have a great personality. They really enjoy one another's music, and they're really involved in the blues community where they help each other out, or they get each other's gigs, they sit in. 

It's just this really friendly dynamic in that area. Rather enjoyable. I love it.

Living or dead, whether you know them or not, who are the guitarists that formed you?

I have to say my biggest influence was Mato Nanji from Indigenous. They were a Native American blues-rock group back in the day, probably in the early 2000s. They made a really good name for themselves in the blues circuit, and I [had] the opportunity to actually travel and open up for him and also join his band.

I really learned a lot from kind of hanging out with him and just being a part of his group. He's one of my biggest guitar influences and as a person — as a role model.

Otherwise — people who I have not met — I have to say, of course, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan. David Gilmour was a good influence. Doyle Bramhall II — little Doyle, big Doyle.

And then as far as in my community, back in Albuquerque, Darin Goldston — he plays for the Memphis P-Tails. He hosts the blues jam every Wednesday night. Whoever is upcoming and just wants to play some blues, they come out and jam. It's pretty awesome.

And, of course, Ryan McGarvey. If you don't know who that is, he's in the blues-rock circuit. He's a great guy — a pretty influential person.

With all those inspirations on the table, how did you start to develop your own voice on the guitar?

Just being well-seasoned, I guess. Just constantly playing over time. For some people, it doesn't happen right away, to find their own sound. With other people, they have to go through seasons and learn new things, until one day, they really become identifiable just by the first couple of notes they play.

I don't think it was a hard thing for me. I was just playing until it started becoming identifiable to some people's ears.

I'm sure specifically Indigenous influences must make it into your sound in some way.

Yeah, of course. I mean, those drum patterns, those drum beats — they're really similar to all that chain gang stuff they used to do back in the day. Those call-and-repeats and stuff like that.

Sometimes I try to incorporate that into some of the music I have. Indigenous influences are there, as far as jewelry and hats. Even as far as a little bit of graphic design. That stuff definitely makes its way into the fashion part, and the promotion.

Tell me what you were trying to artistically impart with Dying Breed.

I just wanted to put out an album, because I need to. I love writing my own music, and of course, the ultimate goal is to make music that inspires and reaches people — and also inspires Indigenous artists and people at reservations to go after whatever they want to go after.

Because it's like: yeah, there's education on the rez, but as far as outlets — fashion, music, art, film — some of those things don't make it as far as the reservation.

So, just being an Indigenous artist in itself — to be able to write and put out music like that, for others to hear — I guess that's kind of the ultimate accomplishment in what I'm trying to do. Just to keep inspiring people — inspiring my own people, natives all across the U.S.

**Can you talk about your collaborators on Dying Breed?**

That's actually kind of funny, because I'm doing most of the work on the album.

I did all the guitars. I did all the bass guitars. I did the lead vocals. My cousin [Royce Platero] did the drums. I only had my rhythm player [Jacob Shije] play on, like, two tracks, and he was only doing small-fill guitars and that's it. I had a good friend of mine named Tony Orant come in and play keys on two of the songs as well.

As far as all the songs go, I wrote all of them. I composed everything. I came up with the arrangements and the core progressions. I mean, it's all mine.

One of my favorite people and producers right now, a sound engineer who helped me with the album: his name is Ken Riley and he's based out of Albuquerque. He has a really beautiful and awesome old adobe recording studio, right by the Rio Grande. It's called Rio Grande Studios. He's kind of a legend. He's worked with so many artists and still works with big-name, major artists.

I think he recently just worked on Micki Free's album. He worked on a couple of songs with  Santana and Gary Clark Jr. Christone ["Kingfish"] Ingram. He works with some heavy hitters, and I approached him. I was introduced to him by a friend of mine named Felix Peralta. He told me to meet this guy and said, "You need to do your next record here."

So, we finally got to meet, me and Ken, and it just kind of went from there and everything came out really good. I really enjoy this record. It's probably my favorite one that I've done so far.

Levi Platero

*Levi Platero. Photo: Jacob Shije*

Are there any other Indigenous musicians in the blues and/or Americana world that you want to shout out in this interview?

Foremost, as far as blues guitarists: I have to give a shout-out to my — I call him Big Brother. Mato Nanji, and that means "standing bear." He's a big role model, and probably the only other Indigenous blues-rock guitarist out there besides me who is trying to do it.

Anything else you want to mention before we get out of here?

No, I just want to keep playing. I just want to keep doing this — meet more people, keep expanding. I don't want to be in some crazy-a— limelight. I don't want to be a superstar. I just love to play. I just want people to enjoy my music and come vibe at the shows. That's it.

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