When it comes to food here in Providence, we’re pretty spoiled. Any capital has its top notch eateries, but here you can’t throw a rock without hitting an amazing restaurant. So when the owners and staff from Chez Pascal, Persimmon and Nick’s on Broadway all came together to form some sort of foodie Illuminati brain trust, it’s perfectly acceptable to start drooling all over yourself. What could this super group possibly be cooking up? Turns out it’s rock and roll.
The band, Turn for the Wurst, grew out of the impromptu jam sessions people would have at Chez Pascal owners Matt and Kristin Gennuso’s New Year’s party.
“People just play and hang out,” explains Nick’s on Broadway’s Derek Wagner. “And as the party goes on it just gets louder.”
So that’s where the seed was planted, and as is often the case with these things something serendipitous happened: Chez Pascal was having its tenth anniversary and they wanted to do something special for their staff and loyal supporters. “Music is a big part of our staff parties,” Matt says, “So we said ‘why don’t we try to rent The Met and put on a concert?’”
“We didn’t know if it was really going to work,” adds Chez Pascal’s Brian Gibney.
That was three years ago, so obviously they did something right. In fact, that first Ham Jam was so much of a success that it blew away not only the band’s expectations, but the club’s as well. The Met figured they were renting the room out to a private function so sure, why not book a band for afterward. The way these chefs tell it, Rich Lupo was pretty bummed they couldn’t have their run of the place for the whole night, so last year when it was time for Ham Jam 2, there was a touring act booked for after the party. Ham Jam was the main event, drawing a crowd of over 400 people.
For them, getting to step out of their chef’s whites, up onto a stage and to get that kind of reaction is a huge rush. “You see some great bands there; it’s cool to be on that stage,” says Brian.
“It’s super rewarding,” Derek adds. “After the first couple of songs the energy picks up and you know what kind of show it’s going to be. It feels good. It’s pretty special.”
The show is a chance to show their staff a different side of themselves. According to Derek it “kind of blew their minds” that first year. But it’s also an opportunity to embrace a shared love that many of the band’s members had to choose not to pursue at one point or another. For many of them the love of music is as powerful as their love of food, but as is so often the case, life has a habit of forcing us to pick one passion over another.
“When all of us were coming up working in restaurants we played out more, but each of us had to make a choice at one point,” says Derek. “You had to choose and make your worlds separate. I think the great thing about our culture now is that lines are blurred. It gives us an opportunity to explore that other side of ourselves and not choose between food and music.”
But what they’ve found is that artistically the parallels between food and music are many. Planning and practicing a set list is writing and perfecting a menu. A performance on stage in front of 400 people in Pawtucket is serving meal after delicious meal to a full house with a line out the door. They play off the crowds energy, they adjust to the unpredictability of a kitchen and the whims of a customer.
Art is art. Ham Jam is just a way for this one particular group of artists to approach it differently than they do every other night of the year.
Of course it wouldn’t be a true celebration of food and music without some proper grub on hand. New Rivers and Tallulah’s Tacos will be providing the eats while Turn For The Wurst are serving up tasty jams.
Like last year, the bill for Ham Jam’s third run at The Met will consist of Wade Devers and the Death Bed Confessions, Mark Taber & Son and Smith & Weeden. Turn For the Wurst closes out the evening. For them, getting to headline a bill stacked with so much talent is no small honor. “They’re the professionals,” Matt says, “ And they let us play after them.
Catch Ham Jam on March 15 at The Met, 1005 Main Street, Pawtucket, featuring Wade Devers and the Death Bed Confessions, Mark Taber & Son, Smith & Weeden and Turn For the Wurst. Doors at 4:30, Tickets $5