Papa Grows Funk the high-powered New Orleans funk band put together by keyboardist John Gros and guitarist June Yamagishi back at the end of the 1990s, wraps up its history with a flurry of appearances at festivals and clubs around the country this month, ending with one final local blast at Tipitina’s June 29.
The band’s signature gig, Monday nights at the Maple Leaf, ended on the Monday after Jazz Fest with a wild party that went on through the night. I have never seen the Leaf so crowded, with so many people that the event was more of a hang than a chance to check out the music. Hundreds of people milled around outside the club on Oak Street, gorging themselves on 500 pounds of crawfish poured onto long tables.
“It was a great way to end that run,” an exhausted Gros commented after the Leaf show. “The fans responded as soon as we made the announcement. As the weeks went on more and more people showed up. People were flying in just to see PGF one more time at the Leaf.”
The average listener might wonder why Gros couldn’t just reconfigure a new lineup and keep the name, especially since the band’s rhythm section has undergone a couple of changes over the years and saxophonist Jason Mingledorff didn’t always accompany the group in road trips in recent years. But the strength of PGF is its collective groove. Each member plays a crucial role in the band’s overall sound. That was apparent during Jazz Fest when Yamagishi had to return to Japan for a couple of days and missed a show at d.b.a. Brian Stoltz filled in on guitar. Stoltz is one of the best guitarists in New Orleans, and his contribution to the Nevilles set at Jazz Fest was among the high points of this year’s renewal (he also sat in with Yamagishi and Brian Seeger in a memorable guitar jam at the Leaf). But his rougher-edged tone seemed out of place in a PGF lineup that relies so much on the lyricism of Yamagishi’s playing. Yamagishi’s absence was so startling to fans that he had to assure them on Facebook that he had not moved back to Japan.
Some people ask me “Are you moving back to Japan ?” he wrote. “Hell No!! I ain’t move nowhere this is my home sweet home New Orleans!”