A self-described lover of the arts, Peno's Pepe Kehm is doing his part to make sure the music stays alive.
Normally, Pepe Kehm is all about the soul food, but this weekend, he's celebrating art of the audible kind. On Sunday, the chef is opening the parking lot and patio of his Clayton restaurant, Peno Soul Food
(7600 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton; 314-899-9699
) to benefit local musicians impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Billed as the Soul Food and Jam Micro Festival, the all-day, outdoor event features a lineup of musicians and guest chefs who will come together to raise money for members of the local music scene. Kehm was inspired to act as a way to help those — many of them his friends — who've seen their livelihoods vanish as live music venues have gone dark over the course of the pandemic.
"I've been around music — I used to sing — and I've seen all these guys who've been affected," Kehm says. "All of those guys are my friends. I think you will find that, a lot of times, musicians are cooks, too. I want to help them out, and this gives us a chance to get people out again. We want to show that if we can have a nice, safe event, maybe we can build on that."
The Soul Food and Jam Micro Festival will begin Sunday at 11 a.m. and will consist of three different seatings, each one pairing a chef and a musical act. For brunch, Kehm has brought on Mike Risk of the Clover and the Bee to put together a Champagne Blues Brunch, featuring Billy Barnett. At 3:30 p.m., chef Will Pelly of Rock Star Taco Shack will put on a Rockstar Matinee with the Dave Farver Band. Closing down the evening, Sugarfire's Mike Johnson is hosting a Big Porchetta Dinner with music by St. Louis legends Danny Liston and Tony Campanella. The suggested donation for the daytime seatings is $50; for the evening dinner event, it's $75.
For Kehm, who recently partnered with his bar manager, artist Ocean Alexander, to raise money for his employees by auctioning off paintings
, the music and restaurant industries are cut from the same cloth. Both, he notes, are important parts of our cultural identity, but as restaurants have, for the most part, been able to maintain at least some financial lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic, musicians have been hit even harder. He hopes this event will help turn that around, or at least give them some hope during this challenging time.
"For us, when we are cooking, it's a totally different thing when there is the energy and interaction you get from having a live audience in the dining room," Kehm says. "That's really part of the deal, and I've always said that cooking is like a show. I feel like, for musicians, it's very similar. There are a lot of people who are bummed out they can't play in front of a live crowd. They can do video and online, but there is no way it's even close to the same feeling as get out and play in front of people."
Kehm feels the event is a good test case for what might be possible with live music in the age of COVID-19, and he points to the willingness of the Clayton municipal government to work with him on putting together the event. His hope is that, if they can pull this off successfully, it might show that there is a way to get people out enjoying live music again, and musicians in front of their fans.
Kehm is dedicating the festival to his late friend, the iconic St. Louis restaurateur Kim Tucci, and he hopes that this will be the first of many annual events that celebrate Tucci's love of the arts — sometime he, too, holds close to his heart.
"I try to be proactive for the arts, because it matters so much for what we do," Kehm says. "We have to have it. What's the world without music?"
For tickets and additional information, visit penosoulfoodstl.com
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