Thao Nguyen Gets Down at the Sinclair for an Oxfam Fundraiser

The Thao and the Get Down Stay Down frontwoman collaborated with chef Keenan Langlois on a locally-sourced meal for her fans, and a good cause.

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down

Image of Thao Nguyen via Maria Kanevskaya

Musician Thao Nguyen has long had a relationship with the non-profit Oxfam, and on her tour for her new album A Man Alive, they decided to try a new kind of event. The charity partnered with the Sinclair, where Thao and the Get Down Stay Down will be making their Cambridge stop, to create a fundraising dinner. Chef Keenan Langlois designed a menu full of locally-sourced food—picture a spring salad with pea shoots, Island Creek oysters, and more—and Nguyen and other members of the band will be helping serve the food prior to their concert. We talked to Nguyen about charity work and eating on the road.

You’ve been involved with Oxfam for a long time. What is it about that charity that made you want to work with them over the years?

Oxfam and I started working together I think in 2008, and I just have always been impressed with their transparency and their respect for the people they’re helping, [because of] the way they get in touch with different communities, and actually find out what will be useful to these communities, instead of just imposing whatever their ideas are on what would benefit a given population. And given the breadth of their organization, it’s really remarkable. Everyone I’ve met over the years that I’ve worked with is so kind and enthusiastic and good at what they do. It’s very easy to collaborate with them and be affiliated with them and feel very excited about it.

How did this fundraiser come about? You’ve played the Sinclair before, but I don’t think you’ve done something like this with them before.

We didn’t know it was an option, or else we would have done it before! Oxfam and the Sinclair got in touch and asked if we would be interested and we are all enormous fans of food. We’ve participated in food justice events with Oxfam before at Bonnaroo and other festivals, where we were helping prep and we were meeting food growers, and so it was an extension of the history of that relationship.

Did they come to you with ideas, or were you involved with the process?

I wanted to leave it up to the experts with their food expertise. I did collaborate with the menu. I was able to take a glance and we all started salivating, so I thought that was a good sign, so we just left them. That’s the original menu that they approached us with. But I definitely wanted to be a part of helping to serve the food. I think I asked that the band to be the ones serving the food so we could help out in more of a tangible way.

You have a very New England meal planned. Was that part of the appeal?

Yes, it was. I did ask if it could be characteristic of a New England meal, and local, and sustainable, and all the things that you want but it’s hard to get. We feel very privileged to partake in such a meal.

Is it hard to eat that way when you’re on tour?

Oh, god, yeah. It’s a pain in the ass. In the South, it’s hard to eat that way. Well, the South is delicious. It’s just afterward you should only have—you know the fasting thing where you only drink cayenne and lemon? That’s what I want to do after the southern wing of our tour. It is tough. We try to eat as healthily as possible, so there’s a lot of popular chains. Which I don’t necessarily want to support, but it’s the only thing around. You can go to the salad bar or whatever. There’s a lot of salad bars happening.

That’s a solid place to pretend you’re eating vegetables and then pile a bunch of cheese and other not great things on top of it.

Right? And then somehow you’re just also eating mac and cheese. I went for raw broccoli, I’m eating mac and cheese. I don’t know how that happened.

You often incorporate an advocacy or charity side to your work. Has that always been part of what you felt was important about being a musician?

Definitely. That’s such a great fortune of ours, that we’re able to do it in whatever capacity we’re able to do it. When I was in school, my intention was to go into women’s advocacy and social justice work, and I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t have the constitution to do that work on the front lines, and I think people who do are incredible. But when I chose music it was non-negotiable that I would stay as supportive of causes that were close to me as I could be, and that I would use whatever platform I would eventually hopefully gain to help out.

Interview has been edited and condensed. Tickets for the dinner are $55, or $72 for dinner and the concert, which is on Tuesday, April 12 at the Sinclair.