The ‘not from around here’s

by Brian Clarey

The ‘not from around here’s

My sister insisted on buying the tickets — good ones, right up in the second row near the end, just a few yards from the small stage at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Greensboro. My parents insisted on taking the kids and bringing them anywhere they needed to be while under their supervision. My wife insisted on a proper evening out, with dinner before the show and an open itinerary afterwards.

And so it was that I found myself in the cozy confines of the Carolina Theatre on Friday night, in the second row, with enough leg room to stretch out and a view of everything on the stage except the keyboard player, but I didn’t know that until later. I came to see Buddy Guy, the living legend, one of the last of the old-school bluesmen. He walked the Earth with Muddy Waters and Little Walter, calls Eric Clapton and Keith Richards by their first names. Jimi Hendrix once canceled a gig to go see Buddy Guy play.

He’s a fantastic get for the Carolina Theatre, an honor for the city to host a gig like this from a guy like that, a real treat for me to catch him one more time before one of us outlasts the other — and frankly, my money’s on Buddy, who at 77 is more vibrant, electric and alive than most of the people I encounter throughout my day.

Before the show, as we took our seats, we took up a conversation with a couple in the row behind us: young, twenties or thirties I thought, here, like us, to see the living legend in this intimate setting.

The dude sized us up right away — maybe it was something in our dress or our speech — and made a statement that hear all too often.

“Y’all ain’t from around here.” It wasn’t a question.

I told him I’d lived here 13 years, that in fact I moved north to get here, and that in the part of Louisiana where I spent another third of my life, we consider everyone who lives north of Baton Rouge to be a Yankee. It sailed right over his head.

“Thirteen years?” he challenged me.

“Try 40.”

And so it went, until Buddy Guy stepped up to throw down.

But it got me thinking: Is anybody “from around here” anymore?

Sure, there are whole legions of Greensboro born-and-raised, who still remember when Pisgah Church Road was paved with dirt and oil and who insist that Yum Yum’s has the best hot dogs in town. Some of them moved off to other cities in pursuit of degrees, careers, families and then returned to their childhood idyll. Others never left.

But this city’s population has grown by almost 80,000 people since 1990, and its footprint has increased significantly.. We’ve moved further towards our urban future and away from our industrial and agricultural past. Our population has changed — more than 100 languages are spoken in the city these days — and we’re crafting a cultural and business climate designed to attract new people.

And overall, it’s working. I met a fellow dad during a middleschool hike over the weekend who spent time in Denver and Dallas before coming to Greensboro four years ago. Staff reporter Eric Ginsburg went to the Pop-Up Dinner in downtown Greensboro over the weekend; the sold-out event attracted not-from-around-here’s almost exclusively. To see more evidence of our encroaching influence, look no further than the city council election. Of the 18 candidates for office, a full third of them spent their formative years somewhere else. One of them will be our next mayor.

I suppose if I were from around here, I might not be all that welcoming to this crop of newcomers, upending years of tradition and custom, changing the curve in terms of education and income on both ends of the spectrum, scoring slightly better Buddy Guy tickets, walking around like we own the joint.

It needs to work, because from what I can see, what this city desperately needs is about 100,000 new residents who will come to town, buy homes, raise families, start businesses, pay taxes… and vote.

More importantly, we need the influx of ideas and talent in this city that’s trying to find its footing along with every other metropolitan area our size that’s not in North Dakota.

A letter to the Atlantic earlier this month, “A new type of growing city,” from a small-city mayor designates “a class of city that has not yet been identified on a national scale” — small cities, with “natural beauty, outdoor recreation, strong and supportive arts community, entrepreneurial spirit, progressive outlook, and a strong sense of place and ethos connected to the place people choose to live.” The letter writer was talking about cities even smaller than ours, but it’s a model that certainly rings true here. He describes places like this as “where the talent wants to live.”

The question of my talent notwithstanding, I can say that I sure do like living here. And it’s getting better all the time.