For the last two years, the city has lost one of its most important seasons – festival season – while the world dealt with the coronavirus pandemic. As spring approaches, and the weather changes to a consistent level of hot, so does the revival of a few of our favorite festivals, the biggest perhaps being the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Not only is the seven-day event attracting artists like The Who, The Foo Fighters and Erykah Badu, but it’s also continuing its focus on supporting and promoting local artists and talent. Among our local favorites such as Tank and The Bangas, Big Freedia and Rebirth Brass Band, Jazz Fest will welcome artist Rich Collins. Not only is Collins a founding member of the Imagination Movers, also a local favorite among mini-New Orleanians, but he is also a writer and editor for Renaissance Publishing’s “New Orleans 500” and BizNewOrleans.com. Collins’ creative background and long-standing ties to the city of New Orleans, makes him the perfect addition to this year’s lineup. We asked Collins about playing the big festival solo at Jazz Fest for the first time, as well as what’s next for him and the Imagination Movers.
Q: How did your path lead to NOLA? My [then] future wife and I drove from Washington, D.C.in a maroon Ford Taurus station wagon full of furniture, one cat … and a Virginia ham. It’s a long story, but basically, I grew up in the D.C. area and attended college there. I met my wife, who is from New Orleans, at school and followed her down after graduation.
Q: How did the Imagination Movers begin? In 2002, my friends Scott Durbin, Dave Poche, Scott Smith and I wanted to create a music-based show that combined the sincerity of Mr. Rogers with the music energy of the Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers. We workshopped the idea, wrote some songs, recorded an album in my spare room, booked local gigs, pitched the idea to anyone who would listen, and ultimately connected with Disney execs in 2005 at Jazz Fest. That led to 75 episodes broadcast in 50+ countries, years of international tours and an Emmy award.
Q: When did you start branching out professionally or has that always been a part of your life? I’ve been playing drums and guitar, singing and writing songs since I was a kid, but the Movers project unlocked a ton of creative inspiration and opportunities and it provided a context for me to start making more music. I’ve been writing, recording and releasing my songs for the last decade.
Q: Who is Rich Collins the artist? It’s a singer-songwriter vibe combined with New Orleans grooves. I’m a fan of everybody from Sam Cooke to Dua Lipa, so all over the place stylistically. I love finding musical “hooks” and almost always write the melody first. I’m unapologetically pop and definitely unpretentious. I’ve got more to write about now than when I was a kid because I’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs, mistakes and successes. I definitely don’t live a rock star lifestyle, so a lot of my songs are about home life and about the simple things, like drinking cheap Whole Foods wine while dancing around the kitchen.
Q: You’ve played at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival before, but this time your name is on the talent card. How does it feel to get to play as a solo Rich Collins? I love playing Jazz Fest with the Movers and I wish we were on the bill this year, but this is also a dream come true. I’m proud of my song catalog and I’ve got a great group of people performing with me.
Q: What’s the best part about playing at Jazz Fest? I’ve played on several different stages and it’s always a thrill to look out and see a sea of people. … Plus, the bathrooms are clean backstage, and you get free snacks.
Q: What are you most looking forward to? Making a great impression!
Q: What’s next for solo Rich Collins and the Imagination Movers? I’m releasing my third collection of songs this year. My daughter Abby directed a video for the new song “All the Pretty Houses,” which is already online. The Movers, meanwhile, are celebrating our 20th anniversary with a bunch of live shows. We plan to release new music and some other fun surprises. All our episodes are on Disney+ now in many countries, so we’re making new fans.
Favorite Jazz Fest food: Caribbean fish and jerk chicken pattie from Palmer’s
Favorite local band (besides yours): Marina Orchestra – great hooks!
Favorite snoball flavor: Chocolate with condensed milk
I interviewed Chris Rock for Gambit in the 1990s. A decade later, I met him again in New York City when he brought his then-wife and three daughters backstage before a Movers show.