Meet Gabe Worden, the new General Manager of vomFASS, University Avenue. Always eager to take a leading role, Gabe’s promotion was a natural evolution and perfect fit for vomFASS. Among his many talents, Gabe will also perform at DelecTable as a singer/guitarist.
Toni Jakovec: Congratulations, Gabe, on your new position. For those who don’t know you, how about giving us a survey course in your background and what brought you to vomFASS?
Gabe Worden: I was born in Baraboo and raised in Wisconsin Dells, the tourist capital of the MidWest. It was a wonderful town to grow up in, but a lot of people don’t even realize there is a high school in the Dells (where, incidentally, Gabe was Home Coming King). My father was a rock driller and a musician (drums and bass), my mother was a behavioral specialist at the school.
TJ: Wait a minute; your father was a rock driller? What is that?
GW: He blew up mountains for a living. He built foundations, tunnels for Noah’s Ark, drilled through bluffs for roads, dug quarries for quartz.
TJ: Thanks for the explanation. Sounds like an exciting job. So, please go on.
GW: I was always surrounded by music, and the Dells was a great town to grow up in. You always had a job if you wanted one. My first job was at a concession stand, until I was old enough at 16 to work on the river, which is where most people in the Dells work if you are good at talking to people. You’ll probably work at either the ducks or the boats. I worked at the Upper Dells boat tours. If you count my first job at the concession stand, I worked on the river for 16 years. I was always surrounded by canyons and worked in customer service, which is how most of the town earned a living. Let’s see, I was a tour guide for 3 years and named “Tour Guide of the Year” 2 out of those 3 years. I have been a pilot ever since, getting my 100 ton Master’s License from the US Coast Guard in 2018. I have been piloting the dinner cruise for a few years, in addition to the regular tours. I spent three years on the “bull crew” doing dock working, painting, sand blasting, scraping…general boat maintenance, allowing me to learn first-hand the nuts and bolts of boats. I went to UW Oshkosh for a year in radio, TV, and film, but decided that wasn’t for me. Seems I spent most of my life in Oshkosh playing my guitar. I had originally wanted to get an audio engineering degree from the Madison Media Institute, which is now defunct. I had a great time there, but realized I didn’t want to work inside. So I went back to the boats, however, since about 2011 I have been living in Madison in the winters and then moving back up to the Dells in the summers. My mother and my brother both also work for the boat tours.
TJ: What boats did you work on that we might know?
GW: I was one of the two captains on the 100 year old Clipper Winnebago, which is the dinner cruise boat. And I had a boat in the tour group that was mine, but it didn’t have a name.
TJ: Frankly, it sounds idealic. What prompted you to move to Madison?
GW: I had always loved Madison. In fact, coming to Madison with my dad was one of our many bonding experiences. We’d drive down together and spend the day going around the many music stores here in town. Around 2018 I moved to Madison full time and found vomFASS. I have an insatiable appetite for knowledge and vomFASS proved to be very interesting. My eagerness to learn was applied easily to the rabbit holes of information on wines, spirits, olive oils and vinegars and their processes. Also, Justin Gibson (owner of vomFASS and DelecTable) was the first employer to allow me to leave for the summers so I could continue my work as a river pilot. But finally, this year, I’m 30 now and looking for a new chapter. For a variety of reasons, I just didn’t want to commute to the Dells anymore. I wanted to spend more time in Madison, enjoying this community and giving me more time to enjoy the hobbies I have developed over the years. Especially biking, tennis, kayaking….as you can see, I’m still an outdoor dog who loves being outdoors camping and hiking. I grew up out in the country, pretty much on my own, hanging out with my dog in the woods. And then all those years working outside on the boats with a rock wall always only 6 feet away. I was a third generation boat pilot in the Dells, and we can trace our heritage back to the first settlers there. I loved telling people about the local history. This interest dovetails nicely with my new passion, the intricate history of wineries, distilleries and the complex processes of olive oils and vinegars.
TJ: Congratulations on your promotion to General Manager at vomFASS. What has led you to this position?
GW: Every job I have had has always led to more responsibility. I am a hard worker and learn as much as I can. For example, with the boat tours, once you become a pilot you are basically managing all aspects of the boat and the tour. Given that parameter, I’ve been a manager since I was 19. Especially In the past years as pilot of the dinner cruise you manage everything, which will be similar to my duties managing vomFASS.
TJ: Since you began working at vomFASS few years ago, what have become your favorite products, whether spirits or oils and vinegars?
GW: Honestly, I am not that much of a cook myself, but I do like to have excellent quality ingredients available. For example, you can just tell how much better the vomFASS olive oils are, even to a novice cook like me. Grocery store olive oils now just taste like bad vegetable oil to me. I especially love the San Gimignano oil, it has every flavor note under the sun. I probably personally use the curry oil the most, for breakfast foods and other things. Being more of a “drink focused” person, the Cragabus scotch, after trying many, many Islay scotches, is still my favorite. There so much great wine here that I could talk about, but my personal favorite is the Beau Joubert Ambassador. I like strange wines…I want to taste the moss, the earth, the forest floor, the funk.
TJ: I can see how your history and natural curiosity would be an asset at vomFASS. But let’s also talk about your music.
GW: Well, like a lot of kids, I was originally forced to take piano lessons, which I hated. The lessons proved to come in handy however, when I started playing guitar at 11. I played the saxophone in high school, where I won several awards, but the guitar was the right instrument for me. I started composing before I even knew what the chords were. My dad bought me my first guitar, showed me 8 chords and how the change the strings, and I was self-taught after that. My brother and dad were both drummers, so I also drum a little bit. I have dabbled with several other instruments including piano, saxophone, ukulele, banjo and pretty much anything else I can make noise with.
TJ: What type of music will you be playing at vomFASS and will you include your own compositions?
GW: I will be singing and playing guitar. I will include any of my compositions that are suitable for the environment as well as interpretive covers.
TJ: I had the chance to listen to some of your music and you are a gifted guitarist and composer. I think it will add greatly to the atmosphere of DelecTable. I noticed one of the songs titled “Cambrian Memories” and I was curious what the reference was.
GW: I was referring to the Cambrian geological era, although most of the sandstone in the Dells is pre-Cambrian, it was that period when most of the plant life and microbes started to proliferate. The title “Cambrian Memories” is actually a John Steinbeck reference. It’s a quote from when Steinbeck wrote about the Dells.
TJ: You do like your history. Very interesting. As I listened to your guitar, it sounded very like a 12 string to me.
GW: No, I don’t use a 12 string. That was an older recording, perhaps 10 years ago. I had a recording degree by that point, and to make the sound “bigger” there was “over-dubbing” to achieve a stereo sound. It’s a big sound, but it’s all me, even singing the harmonics.
TJ: I hate to compare artists, but I actually thought I heard a hint of Al DiMeola. Was he an influence for you?
GW: It’s funny you should say that. One day I was playing in my room and my dad came up stairs and he saw me and said, “Oh that was you. I thought it was Al DiMeola.” But I have to say, DiMeola was not an influence for me. In fact, I had never even listened to him. Of course, I did look him up and listen after my dad’s comments. Now this changed later, but when I was younger I never wanted to play any normal chords. So actually, there probably isn’t a single song on my original recording with standard turning.
TJ: Let’s talk about the future. Do you have professional and/or musical goals you’re working toward?
GW: Well, I have dreams of course. I would like to live out west someday and have a river boat tour, but who knows if that will ever happen. Professionally I always want a job that challenges me and still affords an opportunity to pursue my many passions and activities. As far as musical goals, I wouldn’t say that I am ambitiously pursuing them. I suppose as a dream goes musically, I would love to play someday at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. Or perhaps a state park tour, since so many parks have amphitheaters. That would be very cool.
TJ: What would you like people to take away from this brief glimpse into your life?
GW: This may sound corny, but I want people and our customers to know that I genuinely care about their experience here at vomFASS. I love when people discover things, and if I can contribute to that experience, that is a day at work well spent.
TJ: Well said. Again, congratulations on becoming the vomFASS General Manager. And we look forward to your first “performances” at DelecTable Friday, June 17 and Saturday, June 18.