“I was kilt-stupid, I knew nothing about kilts. I had just seen them but I didn’t know how they worked; I didn’t know what it felt like to put one on. I didn’t know about all the equipment – like the kilt pin, I didn’t know what that was for,” admits Rick Baldwin, a man committed to wearing a kilt for a year – maybe even longer.
“The pin is a decoration but it is really there to keep this,” (he says, gesturing at the garment flap) “from flying up. They can be very ornate. Some of them you can buy for several hundred dollars - I didn’t know any of that. From learning how to wear it properly, to how to deal with people who stop you and say things - it’s really been an experience.”
Both of Rick’s parents, Jim and Edwina Baldwin, are musicians. His father sang with Tina Turner and Jerry Lee Lewis and his mother sang on television and radio. “Dad had aspired to be a rock and roll guy, but he gave up his dreams to support seven kids. He is more of a showman and mom has more of a Sandi Patti-trained–type voice. My mom was so fun and she taught us dances and silly songs; we grew up with a good sense of humor. I get that from her,” Rick says.
When Rick and his six siblings were kids, his parents went Christmas shopping for them and they had to wait in their Volkswagen bus. “It seemed like forever and, to keep from being bored, I would do voices and characterizations of my grandparents and aunts and I made everyone laugh. I learned that there was some kind of weird power in laughter and I had that ability to do something with that. With that many brothers and sisters I had a built-in audience,” Rick quips.
Rick’s interest in his Scottish roots came about when he was in his thirties. His Scottish heritage comes from mother’s side with two clans being the McDonald clan and the Wallace clan.
“Dad is almost all Irish. When I was growing up I remember wanting to be something more exotic – either Native American or Italian. I knew nothing about my heritage really but I wanted that pride in ‘who’ I was. I had heard stories that I had some Scottish in my background and, when the movie Braveheart came out, it blew me away and I knew that was my heritage. I felt a connection and it started the interest in who I was and where I came from,” Rick says.
“I love finding out about family and my family’s names – how everyone is connected. Genealogy should be in every high school. Sometimes you realize someone’s family came from the same place your family did and it is a way of accepting others. I love diversity and I love celebrating your heritage - no matter what your heritage is. We are all kind of watered-down anyway,” Rick contends.
When Rick was a boy, he wanted to be in show business. Having an uncle with a traveling show, Rick was taught to juggle and other tricks that were fun to him. With a Southern Baptist upbringing, Rick also searched his heart and decided he wanted to go into the ministry.
“I had this struggle in me - wanting to be a minister and wanting to be a performer. I never really thought they may be the same thing,” he laughs. “I attended Carson-Newman College and I had to pass by their theater department. I would look in and see where they built the sets and I knew my heart was there. After just one summer semester, I changed my major from religion to theater,” Rick states.
After his first professional audition and seeing the vast majority of people who showed up, knowing that he could be tossed aside if he had the wrong eye color, Rick knew he could not depend on theater to make a living. He then decided to go into stand-up comedy.
“I wrote an act and performed in a comedy club and that was what I decided to do. I really wanted to come into in a church setting; working with church groups, like performing for banquets and youth groups. I had opened for a few bands and things like that. I kind of wanted to be like the ‘George Carlin for churches’,” Rick claims. “I didn’t want to get up and perform Hee-Haw type of humor. I wanted to be a little more edgy. I wanted to make them think.”
Being a Knoxville native, Rick moved to Chattanooga in 2004 and started a company with his now ex-wife called Imagination Atmospheres. “I work with a lot of churches; they are my biggest client base right now,” Rick says.
Imagination Atmospheres is a theming company where Rick creates themed environments.
Rick’s creativity goes beyond performing. He is an artist in various forms. While living in Knoxville he drew political cartoons for the Metro Pulse for about seven years. Before that, he had drawn for CCM (Contemporary Christian Magazine), a national publication, and his strips were viewed all over the country.
When he came to Chattanooga he picked up drawing cartoon strips for the Pulse. “I couldn’t really get a grasp on Chattanooga politics when I came here. Knoxville politics always seemed so much more fun to me and more complicated – there was so much stuff going on there and more to make fun of,” Rick says.
The notion for wearing the kilt for a year came about in a random sort of way as Rick was voicing ideas about it with his girlfriend. Eventually, it came full circle with a website to follow.
Rick has accumulated close to 15 kilts so far over the past year. He planned to begin his year of the kilt on his fiftieth birthday in April of 2012 but he ended up beginning at the first of the year when it was still cold outside. “I started wearing the kilt with long johns under it,” Rick admits. “It was like ‘kilt training wheels’,” he jokes.
Though the summer months proved to be more uncomfortable, Rick has welcomed the cool weather lately and says he will not use his training-wheel long johns this winter. “Kilts are made for Scottish weather and this weather lately has been Scottish weather,” he says.
“I have to say that I have gained a huge respect for women in how they get around in skirts. I can’t go to coffee shops and relax anymore. I used to cross my leg over my knee and also, when you are wearing a kilt, everyone is looking at you. If I am situating or crossing a leg over and I slip up with one wrong move, someone is probably looking!” Rick laughs.
Recently, Rick went to Wine Over Water and wore a very royal purple kilt. “I thought it would be perfect for a wine tasting event. My girlfriend has purple hair and she wore all purple too. Wearing a kilt may not be a good idea for a wine tasting party though it is so entertaining to watch people have lots of wine and they seem less inhibited to say certain things,” he maintains.
“No one in public has been too over the line but I have had women come up and ask me if I was wearing anything under my kilt. I think that is very strange because if I went up to a woman and asked her what she were wearing under her dress, she would punch me or I would get arrested!” he voices. “But women are comfortable with making comments. Maybe they think guys can take it or don’t mind as much. I tried to be prepared for this question knowing I may get asked it a lot.”
Rick handles those situations by evading the question. “I never tell them. I like to leave it as a mystery. A guy I met at the market is in a pipe band and also wears a kilt. He told me something that happens to him on occasion is that girls will ask if they could get their picture made with him. They would say ‘1-2-3!’ and the girls lift his skirt up right as the camera flashed. I understand the playfulness, but there is also a rudeness to it,” Rick asserts.
How hard was it for Rick to begin wearing a kilt? “Even though I have always been a performer, I don’t like to be the center of attention all the time. I wouldn’t go to Walmart for a long time but I knew I eventually had to do it. With people taking pictures with their phone - trying not to let me see them taking them, I have gotten used to it and - it’s fine. Part of this is sharing the experience,” he says.
“I have definitely gotten some looks and some questions, but so far no one has made fun. I don’t know why that is because I know that Knoxville has a very large Celtic population and Chattanooga probably not as much, but the people are so accepting here,” he states.
“I think there is support for fringe groups here and a little more tolerance – even though there are a lot of traditional and professional people. There seems to be a tolerance for people who are different; I think that’s kind of cool,” Rick says.
Normally a very quiet and somewhat shy person, Rick says he is now more outspoken and this experience has given him a lot more confidence.
“When you commit to wearing a kilt, you have to commit to the whole thing. If I want to just run out for a second it is hard to put all this stuff on, so that is the one drawback. But when the year is up I think I am going to keep doing it. I think I will take this into my next venture,” Rick says.
He hopes to turn the kilt experience into a performance as soon as he gains enough material for stories and a stand-up comedy routine.
“I may change it up some after the year is up because I can’t really wear cowboy boots with a kilt and I kind of miss being able to do that. So on occasion I may wear something like that but …this feels the most natural and I like it. It will always be a part of my wardrobe now and probably will be the way I dress most of the time,” Rick vows.
“So I guess it went from an experiment …to something permanent.”
To follow Rick’s Kilt experience join his website at: www.ayearinakilt.com/
Or visit the Facebook fan page at: https://www.facebook.com/#!/AYearInAKilt?fref=ts