Papa Grows Funk caps 13 years of bringing the funk to New Orleans and the world with two appearances this weekend.
The quintet stages a free fan appreciation party Friday at Carrollton Station, and then, Saturday at Tipitina’s, the group plays “The Last Jam: 13 Years of a Funkin’ Good Time.”
Papa Grows Funk announced its imminent hiatus in January. Out-of-town fans reacted quickly, booking trips to New Orleans shortly after the announcement.
“People we didn’t even know well,” singer and keyboardist John Gros said, “when they heard, they made it a point early on to buy a plane ticket, get a hotel room and come see us in New Orleans. This was all up through Mardi Gras. We weren’t prepared for that. It kind of caught us off guard. It was humbling.”
Fans and the band’s musician peers have been expressing their appreciation for Papa Grows Funk throughout the past six months.
“It’s really been an affirmation that all the hard work we’ve done matters,” Gros said last week, just before a final East Coast run of dates including the Bayou Boogaloo & Cajun Food Festival in Norfolk, Va., the historic Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., The Cutting Room in New York City and Paulie’s New Orleans Jazz & Blues Festival in Worcester, Mass.
The New Orleans-based ABIS Productions filmed the New York show for a documentary it’s making about the band.
“People have come out and seen us,” Gros said, “bought our CDs, supported us any kind of way we’ve asked them to or not asked them to. That’s been a great feeling for us.”
Since January, promoters have been suggesting that Papa Grows Funk play guest star-filled farewell shows. Many guests joined the band at its long-running Monday night residency at the Maple Leaf Bar.
“Tons and tons of friends came in for the Mondays,” Gros said. “Really, we’ve gotten everybody in who was available to come and play with us.”
No special guests are planned for the grand finale at Tip’s.
“We figure the best way to celebrate is just have the five of us do our thing,” Gros said. “Especially because we don’t know how long it’ll be before the next time we play together. So that’s what’s gonna make the whole night special, right there.”
The band’s hiatus arrives after an 18-month period that has been especially good for Papa Grows Funk. The group applied a career plan for 2012 and 2013, including management and a publicist.
“We were building markets, finally making a profit in towns we’d never made a profit in before,” Gros said.
Papa Grows Funk also released its fifth album, “Needle In The Groove.” Produced by Allen Toussaint and Better Than Ezra bassist Tom Drummond, it got positive reviews but, to the band’s disappointment, didn’t outsell the group’s previous albums.
“But by the end of the year, the plan had worked,” Gros said. “We had taken a big step forward. That’s why it was kind of a shock to me to hear that the guys want to do something else. It took a little time for me to accept where I was at and where everybody else was at.
“It’s the perfect time to take a little break or a long break. But it was their call. We have progressed and never taken a step backward through the whole process. But we haven’t made enough money to be independently supportive through Papa Grows Funk.”
The band’s 13 years also brought changes in the personal lives of Gros, guitarist June Yamagishi, bassist Marc Pero, saxophonist Jason Mingledorff and drummer Jeffery “Jellybean” Alexander, who replaced original drummer Russell Batiste Jr. in 2005.
“Some got married, some have kids, some had kids graduate,” Gros said. “We’re all in different spots in our personal lives than we were when we started. We still know that we play great together. We recognized that from the first gig. We’ll be reminded of that all the way through our last gig at Tipitina’s.
“We can hold our heads high. We have five CDs that I’m proud of. We traveled the world and made so many great friends. It’s been one great ride.”
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