No, I’m not from here. Every night I am approached by people who like my show. They say, “Were you born and raised here?” I find that people are often disappointed when I say that I’m not from New Orleans. It doesn’t fit with the story they had made up in their head. As I tell them I’m from Staunton, Virginia, I watch carefully to see the way their faces contort, like when you sniff a jug of milk and find it has spoiled.
I once conducted an experiment, and answered with different city names. I measured the disgust on people’s faces from 1 to 5. Impressed responses would get a 5, while a 1 would be the face you make when you are in an elevator with someone who really needs a shower. Places like Bogalusa, Opelousas, and Boutte got appreciation… really any Louisiana town with an unusual name got a 5. It was acceptable for me to be from Chattanooga, Ashville, Memphis, and Tishomingo but Cleveland, Spokane, Salt Lake City, and Providence got 1s, just like my hometown.
I know some musicians who lie and say they are from New Orleans, just to get that nod of approval. There was one trombonist who was from Poland, and spoke like he just got off the plane. People smiled politely when he claimed to be from New Orleans. When he played, it seemed that he had never even HEARD New Orleans music. Shortly before I moved to New Orleans, I was introduced at a gig in Hampton, Virginia as “Soon to be from New Orleans, Richard Scott!” When that happened I said to myself, “well, I guess I can’t change my mind now!”
Virginia is a great state, and I’m proud to be from it. I love the way it has all types of features, from mountains to beaches. There are historical stories under every rock, amazing places to enjoy nature, and plenty of friendly people. In fact I even considered nicknaming myself “Virginia Richard” (or something very similar) just to pay homage to my home state. This is where I was inspired to be a musician. This is where I learned not just about how to play music, but how to gig. This is where I got my start, playing marches with the Stonewall Brigade Band, contradances at the Dayton Learning Center, Solo piano at the Pullman, Jazz combos in Norfolk, second-lines on Palm Sunday, and church picnics at Bethel Baptist. I would have been happy to stay, but I knew if I wanted to learn New Orleans style, I had to come and learn it from the masters. There are plenty of masters to learn from, and guess what: many of THEM are not from New Orleans either! They are cats like me, who fell in love with New Orleans music and devoted their lives to it as I have. Anyone who likes my music is digging some Virginia as well as what I have learned in Louisiana too. (There’s some Tennessee in there too, but we’ll talk about that later).
People come from all over, excited to seek out New Orleans music. There is great music in other places, too, and local musicians who can use your encouragement and support. Bring that same musical curiosity to YOUR town and see what you find! Every place has a story, (including Cleveland) and you don’t have to be a professional musician to enjoy learning and sharing it. Open those ears!