The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

Who is That Guy in the Orange Beanie?

Rich Thompson: Waco Street Drummer

6 months ago

By Avery Ballmann

Sitting in the third row of the many wooden pews in his hometown church, Richard A. Thompson IV, heard God speak to him, saying: “If you move back to Indianapolis, you will die spiritually.” Afraid and needing to turn his life around, Thompson packed up everything and moved to Waco in 2010. Here, he met his wife, raised his two boys and found his identity through his music.

Waco isn’t the first place that comes to mind when people think of music. Just 90 miles south is Austin, the music capital of the world, and 90 miles north is the DFW Metroplex with hundreds of music venues. But Thompson, known as the Waco Street Drummer, doesn’t need fancy music venues. All he needs is a street corner, his vibrant orange beanie and his drum set.

“Of course, Austin would be ideal because it’s the music capital or Dallas because the music scene is bigger, but for me, I feel like you can find it anywhere,” Thompson said. “I’m really big on relationships, so at one point in time Waco slowly grew on me and the people grew on me. I formed a lot of relationships, and that would be hard for me to break.”

The relationships Thompson has created since moving here in 2010 cannot be replicated elsewhere. Thompson frequently performs with the Waco Community Choir and hosts his monthly Rich and Fam shows with local musicians, poets and artists at Thrst Coffee Shop, 1500 Colcord Ave.

Thompson has not only formed relationships through music, it’s actually what raised him. Growing up a pastor’s kid, Thompson was always around church music and with a drummer for a father, he’s had sticks in his hand since he can remember.

“I started when I was 5. I didn’t really take it seriously until I want to say I was like 19, 20,” Thompson said. “Because that is what really saved my life besides work.”

In his early 20s, Thompson said this was a time in his life when he wanted to be better, so what better distraction than jamming out with other drummers? Thompson and his friends would go to church and have shake sessions where the musicians hear a song and create their own rhythm off that beat. Thompson said these sessions saved his life by filling his free time with something productive. He then showed this same practice to the kids of Carver Middle School, located in Waco.

Thompson worked at Carver during his five years at Waco ISD. He started out as Mr. Thompson to his students but because of the bond he created with them, he was affectionately known as Uncle T. He won the kids over by hosting a talent show and playing “Old Town Road”, then the kids became somewhat groupies at his first street shows in Waco. Thus, Waco Street Drummer was born.

Since his beginning days of performing in front of Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, Thompson has been creating a brand for himself. He has recently made drumming his full-time job and has made his orange beanie a part of his image, wearing it every single day.

“The color orange promotes creativity,” Thompson said. “Every time I look at it, it just gives me life, it feels like a crown.”

Along with his beanie, musicians such as Chris Dave inspire him before his shows. Thompson said sometimes he blacks out during shows and focuses only on the music and other times he connects with people in the audience.

“I also want to convey my passion to people,” Thompson said. “When people strike me in the crowd or if somebody’s smiling or dancing, or they are enjoying what I’m doing, I want to provide that service. I’m a helper.”

Thompson is providing Wacoans a different style of live music that Waco doesn’t normally see. Discover for yourself how a set of drums and a guy in an orange beanie can inspire the crowd with an energy that cannot be matched at his upcoming show at Thrst Coffee Shop on February 2 at 7:30 p.m. where Thompson will host his Rich and Fam show. Tickets can be purchased through his Instagram @wacostreetdrummer.