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Time for some “Vitamin M”

Posted On December 5, 2019

The Rooster’s Wife’s Hunter Hess and his quest for a kidney

By Lesley Berkshire Bradley  »  Photo by John Gessner

Music and food have been at the heart of Hunter Hess’s life since childhood. So, it is no surprise that when he began his search for a new kidney that he decided to make music and food a focal point of his efforts.

Hess’s mom was the go-to music teacher in his neighborhood only three blocks from the Penn State campus. His dad was a tenor who sang opera, performed in madrigal dinners and in a barbershop quartet. His parents met when his mother was in the choral group and his father was in glee club at Penn State.

His mother graduated from Penn State University College of Arts and Architecture with a focus in music and founded a local music academy. From that point on, Hess’s life was “100% about the arts”, as he explains it. He sang in the choir, learned classical piano from his Aunt Jean and played the trumpet in high school.

In the summers, the family left Philadelphia for six weeks to go do summer stock in the mountains at the big Tudor-style White Star Hotel in Ligonier Valley.  This is where Hess linked music with food. At the White Star Hotel, people would dine and enjoy the show, and camaraderie would grow among guests. The whole experience was all about the personal connections people made through the dinner and the shows, and Hess was hooked.

So rather than major in music, the Penn State kid chose Florida State University for his hotel and restaurant degree. And from there went onto work for and establish his own restaurants and catering businesses in the Northeast.

Fast-forward to 1997, when Hess moved south again shortly after his father died to help his mother, now living in Pinehurst. Not long after his arrival in the Sandhills, Hess was diagnosed with Type-2 Diabetes. The diagnosis did not slow down Hess, as he spent the next decade bringing music and food together again at area restaurants and establishing an open mic night. Much of Hess’s time has been spent at the local music venue The Rooster’s Wife in Aberdeen. He creates and personally serves the food that accompanies the three-nights-a-week live music.

The Rooster’s Wife at Poplar Knight Spot, an internationally-recognized non-profit, brings live music, from local and national musicians, and many Grammy-Award winners, to the Sandhills in a relaxed, come-as-you-are atmosphere. Hess’s cooking melds seamlessly with the comfortable furniture and with the style of each weeks’ artists, whether that is bluegrass, blues, soul, country or jazz. It’s part of the magic for him.

Janet Kenworthy, The Rooster’s Wife founder, says that her time in post-Katrina New Orleans “emphasized the absolute healing properties of music in all our lives”, spurring her to create The Rooster’s Wife, to deliver “a reliable source of ‘Vitamin M’.”  Sharing the same sentiment, Hess joined her team.

“It was never about making money for me. Creating the menu and food for each show at The Rooster’s Wife helps me stay relevant; I get to be in a public forum to be available and play around with food, and I have the music. Look what I get to see every week!” exclaims Hess.

So, earlier this year, when Hess’s kidneys began to fail, requiring dialysis three times per week, he saw the opportunity to raise awareness about being a donor, especially a live donor, while he simultaneously began his own search for a new kidney.

He rallied friends and doctors, created a website (www.huntersnewkidney.com), locked in blue-eyed soul singer Billy Price, and secured dates at The Rooster’s Wife and Filly & Colts at Little River Farm, for two awareness-raising and fundraising events in November 2019. To round out the year, a music event at Penn State is in the works.

“There are over 700,000 people with kidney failure…and more than 100,000 people waiting for a kidney,” explains Hess.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, 12 people die every day while waiting for a kidney transplant. And of the transplants completed each year, only one-third are using a kidney from a live donor, even though the outcomes are better with a live donor, and meanwhile the wait for a kidney from a deceased donor can be up to four years.

If all goes well, Hunter will harness some of music’s healing energy, that necessary ‘Vitamin M’, and find himself a kidney as well as help the others waiting for a donor.

For more information on kidney donation, visit the National Kidney Foundation at www.kidney.org.