published Friday, August 3rd, 2012

New Orleans funk improvisers kick off Riverfront Nights series Saturday

IF YOU GO

What: Riverfront Nights concert featuring Papa Grows Funk.

When: 7 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Ross's Landing, 100 Riverfront Parkway.

Admission: Free.

Phone: 756-2211.

Website: www.riverfrontnights.com.

THE OPENER

The Kymera Project is a horn-based funk band with elements of rock and jazz featuring Taylor Freeman, Nathan King, Dylan Ripley, Sam Sencabaugh, John Tunstall and Zach Loveless. For more information, visit www.reverbnation.com/thekymeraproject.

The band's moniker may be a play on his last name, but Papa Grows Funk's John Gros (the "s" is silent) said the New Orleans funk ensemble's greatest strength isn't one person.

"I've got five guys in the band, and they're all monster players," said Gros, who sings lead vocals and plays the Hammond B3 organ. "People think the band is about me, but it's not. Musically, it's about how we interact together."

Papa Grows Funk started in 2000, growing organically out of a weekly jam session at the Old Point Bar, a venue in the Algiers Point district of the Big Easy. The group's early sets were composed mostly of covers of New Orleans hot jazz artists such as Fats Domino, The Meters and Louis Armstrong.

The future bandmates' connection was immediate, but at the time Gros was committed to another band as a member of Runnin' Pardners, a funk group founded by Meters bassist and singer George Porter Jr.

Because of these other commitments, Papa Grows Funk couldn't meet on weekends, but every Monday, however, Papa Grows Funk took the stage, slowly building a fan base and reputation.

In 2000, the band played an after-party in San Francisco for what was, at the time, a one-off reunion for The Meters. Based on the enthusiastic response the members received, the band soon landed other gigs, began writing original material and recorded its first album.

When Porter gave Runnin' Pardners notice in summer 2001 that The Meters would be attempting a reunion and Runnin' Pardners would go on hiatus, Gros decided it was time for Papa Grows Funk to become a full-time project.

"It was at that point that we made Papa Grows Funk our first priority," Gros said. "Ever since 2002, it's been our baby."

Saturday, Papa Grows Funk will kick off this year's Riverfront Nights concert series as the first headliner. That show will be the latest in a career that has seen the musicians perform around the world, from the Highline Ballroom in New York City to the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan.

Now that Papa Grows Funk has five albums of its own material, it leans less heavily on the classic covers it started out playing. The group's music is composed a little more tightly than before, too, but Gros said the focus remains on exploring the music and improvising.

"It's the musical heritage we come from [in New Orleans]," he said. "When you're playing in Papa Grows Funk, a lick can completely disappear and come back at a different time in 100 different ways. We've played it for 11 1/2 years, and it's never the same."

THEME NIGHTS

Riverfront Nights spotlights more than just the music. Each concert also will have a tie-in with a key "lifestyle element," such as healthy living, conservation, sustainable development, love of the outdoors and animal welfare. The following organizations and businesses will be featured Saturday.

On the green: Disc Sports Night, featuring ultimate Frisbee/Frisbee golf.

GreenSpaces tent: Habitat for Humanity's ReStore.

Pup tent: Pet Placement Center.

SAVE THE DATE

Remaining Riverfront Nights dates:

• Aug. 11: Grant Farm

• Aug. 18: Yellow Dubmarine

• Sept. 1: Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds

• Sept. 8: Fishbone

• Sept. 15: Joe Robinson

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, young adults, technology and people of interest. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German. He previously worked as the features editor for Sidelines at Middle Tennessee State University. Casey received the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists Award of Excellence for Reviewing/Criticism in ...

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