Meet GroundUP’s Paul Lehr

📸 Photography by Brett Hufziger

Greetings, Paul. Who are you? What do you do?

I am currently the CEO of GroundUP Music Foundation and GroundUP Music Festival, and before that, I was CEO of YoungArts (I was super proud to help transform YoungArts, acquire the spectacular Bacardi campus, and collaborate and create programs with so many phenomenal artists).

I’ve been working in the arts in South Florida for 20+ years. I grew up the son of a great painter/artist, Mira Lehr, and I was trained as a classical pianist before turning to playing ’80s synth pop/rock and other genres as they came into fashion during my performing life. My happy place is definitely anywhere I can play music and be surrounded by music and musicians.

What neighborhood(s) are you reppin’?

Miami Beach — born and raised and never leaving.

What brings you most alive about the 305?

The close friends and family and the energy, creativity, and diversity of Miami’s cultural landscape. And lots of great food and chefs! More than a few years ago, I worked at Bal Harbour Mall at a store across from the jewelry store where Michelle Bernstein and her mom both worked – I literally knew her then! So excited for Sra. Martinez to return!!!

What’s your favorite Miami memory?

Probably going out to eat with my family, with my father who co-founded a famous health program ordering some of the worst-for-you food.

I started with fried shrimp at the Turf Bar south of Fifth, back when South Beach was not South Beach; Embers dressing and prime rib, and Lums. My favorite was probably a fancy dinner at Gatti’s on West Avenue (which is now Barton G), ending with a Boston Cream Pie.

If you could eat only one meal from a local restaurant for the rest of your life, what would it be?

My special and very large meal to share at Eric and Carol’s Petit Gourmet Diner: artichoke, house salad with the special dressing, French onion soup, giant mussels with the freshly baked bread, veal chop, a double order of French fries, Dame Blanche Belgian chocolate and homemade whipped cream on the side for dessert, and finishing it all off with Blow Pops from the counter while somebody else drives home.

Outside of the obvious stop above, share where else you’d go on your perfect Miami day.

Walking around different walkable, interesting neighborhoods — residential or commercial.

Beach, when or where it’s not crowded (bonus if there’s a restaurant actually on or with a view of the beach, but very rare now, unfortunately).

Going to one of my favorite restaurants at the time — always love fooderies by Michael Schwartz, Michelle Bernstein, Danny Serfer, and George’s places (Burgers & Shakes and Sazón across from the Miami Beach Bandshell where we do GroundUP every year). And then going to whatever James and Laura and The Rhythm Foundation may be putting on at the time.

What’s your favorite local social media account to follow and why?

Biased for sure, but @groundupfest and @snarkypuppy because of my GroundUP Music Festival and my partner Michael League/Snarky Puppy’s dedication to musical excellence, artist-centric approaches, and artistic genius. By all accounts, what we do at GroundUP and the artists we bring in and support is very unique in Miami. It just feels like a big musical family in a very laid-back and interactive scene.

If you could give any one piece of advice to locals, what would it be?

Embrace the diversity and creativity that Miami offers and support working artists. The arts are what connect us all and what civilizations are remembered for so go all out to support and nurture the brave people who can’t not be artists.

How does Miami help you do what you do or influence your work?

Born and raised here, Miami is just so ingrained in me. Most places I drive or walk by, or work at, or go to have a long history for me filled with memories over decades; it feels like I’m always around family with all the people I’ve grown up with or worked with or met along the way.

And Miami’s exotic appeal is most certainly instrumental in helping me draw the arts audiences for the programs and festivals I do here. I remember when I did the first GroundUP Festival in Miami in 2017, I convinced the truly wonderful local arts granting authorities that I’d be able to bring in attendees from all over the world. That turned out to be wildly true, with 65% of the GroundUP crowd coming from 48 states and 54 countries, but if our home weren’t the wonderfully diverse, dynamic, spectacular Miami Beach in February, those numbers would be very deflated. So yes, Miami inspires my passion and my programs.

If there was one thing you could change, address, etc. about Miami, what would it be?

More investment and support in arts education and accessibility and working artists of every genre.

And better mass transit.

What are you looking forward to in 2024?

With my GroundUP Music Festival coming up this weekend, that’s my primary 2024 focus. Then taking a little time off before starting to dream about the 2025 GroundUP. My happy place is bringing a bunch of new artists to Miami and exposing them to the amazing and diverse Miami audiences and artists and exposing the Miami audiences to artists they oftentimes don’t know but with whom they will fall in love.

That’s a wrap on this week’s Locals to Know. Know someone who ought to be featured or would like to be featured yourself? Reach out by sending an email to [email protected] with the subject line “TNT Locals to Know 2024.” If chosen, you might just see yourself or a friend in a future newsletter.