Papa Grows Funk headlines 7th Annual Blues Festival and Art Show at Keystone
The end of summer is closing in, and if that has you singing the blues at home, then why not head to Keystone this weekend to celebrate it in like-minded company with some imported greats?Of course, headliner Papa Grows Funk probably does not share your lament, as summer sultry nights are bound to last a bit longer down south in New Orleans where the band originates. “We are purveyors of a music tradition that predates Louis Armstrong while pioneering directions for new generations to follow,” said frontman John Gros, after whom the band is named. He described their sound as “New Orleans funk aka booty shakin’ Mardi Gras party music.”A resident act at New Orleans’ Maple Leaf Bar, Papa Grows Funk’s “fun, funky, unpredictable and energetic” acts have no playlists or rehearsals. “We let the spirit of the venue and mood of the people direct our journey,” Gros said. Born of an all-star jam session eight years ago, the band blossomed into a New Orleans classic, selling an impressive 30,000 combined copies of their four albums without a record label or distribution deal. They average 100 tour shows per year, including Mardi Gras, “heart-pounding Jazz Fest weekends” and gigs as far away as Club Quattro in Tokyo, Japan. The band’s craziest endeavors include “non-stop three hour plus sets,” once with nearly 20 different guest artists joining in. Fortunately for band members, each of their reduced oxygen Saturday and Sunday sets will last only 90 minutes.One of the band’s most surreal experiences has been “providing the escapism for our people and city recovering and rebuilding from the failure of our levees after Hurricane Katrina,” Gros said. “It gave us a sense of pride and duty to what previously was taken for granted. Overnight, it went from people wanting our music to people needing our music.” If their music were a tangible item, he said, “Gumbo is the logical choice: It’s a hunter’s soup made from different flavorful leftover ingredients simmered to make you warm and fuzzy all night long … (and) you’ve got to hunt us down; you won’t find us on T.V. or commercial radio. Leftover ingredients refer to the fact that we are not young guns,” he added. “We had successful careers before we decided to play together. We will make you feel good and sleep well after a night of jamming with us.”Also on this weekend’s lineup for Keystone is Mississippi bluesman Grady Champion, a harmonica player and blues singer who has been compared to Sonny Boy Williamson. Champion released his first album in 1998 and is currently on tour for his 2011 release, “Dreamin’,” which topped the chart on Sirus/XM Bluesville Aug. 8. The album features “Weight of the World,” a track that made it to Number 1 on the American Blues Network’s top 20 countdown in June.”Champion has been quietly building up a discography that keeps getting better and hotter each time out,” said Chris Spector of Midwest Record. “With a sound and fury that would have been at home during Muddy Waters’ west side Chicago prime, this cat hits hard and fast with snazzy sounds that sound like aural street fights he’s going to win.”Rounding out the weekend’s music is The Soul of John Black, the musical alter-ego of Los Angeles-based John Bigham of Fishbone fame, whose highly-acclaimed June release, “Good Thang,” celebrates the newfound joys of family life, garnering significant media attention since its release.In addition to the star-studded music lineup, which is not only a step up from 2010 but also free of charge, the 7th Annual Blues Festival and Art Show will feature 20 artists showing a range of work including painting, photography and jewelry, as well as regular KidZone activities. As usual, pets are not allowed.”This is my 7th year with the festival and I think it is one of our most successful years,” said Lesley Johnson, event manager for the Keystone Neighborhood Company. “We have bigger bands … and it’s going to be a fun family event where families can bring their kids, visit the KidZone, look at the art and listen to the music. I think it’ll be a fun time for everyone.”
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