The Neighborhoods performing at Ralph's, date unknown.
Having survived the temporary loss of its coolness factor at the turn of the century, and the death of namesake Ralph Moberly last year (rumored to have died living a lifelong dream to run the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Rocky-style), Ralph's Chadwick Square Diner, the 400-seat Worcester night-life landmark that's showcased several decades worth of local, Boston, and regional bands (plus some national headliners), celebrates its 30th anniversary this weekend. Most of the underground venues competing with Moberly's lunch-counter-cum-second-floor-rock-"cellar" when it opened in 1979 are long shuttered and demolished. But the former firehouse-meets-circa 1930 Worcester Lunch Car Company Dining Car (#660) — listed in the National Register of Historic Places, no less — remains a living tribute to rock and roll and Americana, motorcycle/mannequin-leg décor and all.
"The club survives on its own inert style," says garage-rock veteran J.J. Rassler, who'll be rejoining DMZ guitar cohort Preston Wayne to reform the Odds, who used to push the room's fire-code limits on a regular basis in the 1980s, for the anniversary celebration. "It is the quintessential rock-and-roll scene of the crime, straight off a movie set. And that's just its appearance. The real vibe is from the countless bands, patrons, and staff, and the people who did the initial artwork and design."
These days, Rassler plays with the Downbeat Five, Wayne with his surf-instro Preston Wayne Five; both can regularly be heard on Little Steven's Underground Garage. They'll be joined at the Ralph's bash by the Slik Family Orkestra (bluegrass and mountain music), Portsmouth's instrumentally driven Hot Rod Fury, and early-rockabilly preservation society members Jason James and the Bay State House Rockers.
Ralph's official address, 95 Prescott Street, has confused and eluded first-timers for years; regulars know to access the place from Grove Street. The place isn't really in Chadwick Square, either. That equally elusive location several blocks west is where the diner was originally built. Ralph's is buried at the end of a somewhat creepy dirt-moonscape driveway and abandoned railroad tracks, easily recognized by its neon beacon — and the combination of sounds vibrating its brick walls and smell of its trademark cheeseburgers.
"A subversive rock-and-roll icon? You bet it is," says Rassler. "And no place but Worcester can lay claim to it. A match made in heaven."
Ralph's 30th anniversary show takes place this Saturday, May 9, at 8 pm at Ralph's Chadwick Square Diner, 148 Grove Street, in Worcester. Visit ralphsrockdiner.com or call 508.753.9543.