The origins of the 12-hour concert happening Sunday, March 30, in Meredith are both touching and amusing. Joseph “Giuseppe” Gnerre passed away suddenly in 1995. Following the funeral, his family and friends returned to the pizzeria/ristorante that his daughter Julie Gnerre-Bourgeois had named after him.
It was a Sunday, traditionally open stage day at Giuseppe’s, so the weekly host invited over 50 musicians to play tribute to the elder Gnerre. At one point, someone passed around a black hat. Exactly who is a mystery, but it ended up stuffed with over $350.
“That’s kind of weird, collecting money for us,” Gnerre-Bourgeois recalled thinking. “So we decided to start a fund in his name, a scholarship.”
The JTG Music Memorial Extravaganza has happened every year since, raising over $30,000 for students in the Lakes Region with plans to study music after high school. The impulse comes naturally for Gnerre-Bourgeois; her husband is guitarist Michael Bourgeois.
“We met at open stage and I ended up marrying him,” she said with a chuckle.
She’s proud that Giuseppe’s features live music seven days a week, with well-known names like David Francey and Willy Porter appearing at ticketed shows every few months. Her late father was also a big fan and occasional performer.
“He played piano and had a love for music,” said Gnerre-Bourgeois. “He encouraged my brothers and I to play and perform at talent shows when we were kids. He loved and supported it.”
The urge clearly runs deep in the family. A supergroup of sorts featuring sons Billy and Joey Gnerre, along with Bourgeois on guitar, will appear at the event. Joey Gnerre regularly plays piano at the Giuseppe’s he runs in Gloucester, Mass. Third son Tyler Gnerre would also play, but he’s drumming now with a touring band and can’t make it.
The all-day event is so popular among musicians that it’s often a chore to pare the list down to a manageable size.
“At the first one, we had 55 performers show up — the night wasn’t long enough,” said Gnerre-Bourgeois. “All the performances happen on the main stage in the dining room. We thought about moving it somewhere else, but we don’t want to change the vibe even if it gets crowded.”
Some players are monthly regulars at the restaurant, like Maine guitarist Justin Jaymes and singer songwriter Joel Cage. For others, Giuseppe’s is the only place they ever perform.
“Many are not professionals; they come to open stage, play and enjoy the show,” said Gnerre-Bourgeois, and mentioned the duo Pocket Change. “They get together at home and play bluegrass but they don’t play out; it’s not their thing. They don’t want to be paid musicians, but they’re really good.”
Of all the performers appearing on the bill, Peter Brunette has the longest history with the event. He organized the initial show and also hosted open stage when Giuseppe’s first opened in 1989.
“He must have just taken charge,” said Gnerre-Bourgeois. “When I moved to Meredith I didn’t know anybody. I don’t remember how it all went down.”
Brunette will play with his current band, The Wharf Rats.
Every year, local retailer Northern Light Music makes a top-of-the-line Taylor guitar available at a deep discount. It’s then raffled off; 200 tickets are sold at $20 each. A few years back, one of the musicians won — Tim Theriault, who ambled up on stage with his new guitar and played a spirited cover of Steely Dan’s “Peg” to celebrate as the crowd clapped along.
It was another high point in what’s become a community tradition.
“A bunch of people who donate their time for a gift certificate — it’s amazing,” Gnerre-Bourgeois said.
As seen in the March 27, 2014 issue of the Hippo.