Growing up in New Orleans, learning to play music was not only encouraged, but expected, Tab Benoit says.
"Everybody around me played music," says Benoit (pronounced Ben-wa). "Not necessarily for a living, but it's just to be something that everybody from Louisiana can do."
Benoit is no exception. He brings his Louisiana Southern-bred music to the City Auditorium at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Benoit sings and plays guitar, which in itself is an odd choice for a Louisiana musician.
"I was a drummer first, but there are so many drummers around and not enough guitar players," he says. "I could play guitar and I got a lot more calls to play guitar, so it just kind of spiraled from there."
While he may play guitar, Benoit uses the instrument to emulate traditional Southern music. He says he sometimes takes licks played on a horn in another song and translates them to the guitar.
"Those instruments playing those parts create a certain feeling in the music," Benoit says.
Benoit says he draws inspiration for his blues from the swamplands of Louisiana.
"There are lots of things to pull from - the feeling of the earth and Mother Nature living around you," he says.
To Benoit, the songs are already out there, waiting to be put into words. It's up to musicians like him to shape the swamplands into melodies.
The swamplands are so important to him that he created Voice of the Wetlands, a group of fellow New Orleans musicians who raise money to help raise awareness about the damage being done to the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Benoit's unique approach to his bluegrass music is obviously working well. Besides releasing 16 albums to date, the 45-year-old has been nominated for a Grammy; his 2006 "Brother to the Blues" was nominated for best traditional blues album.
"I've always tried to do things my way and not really conform. And for them (the music industry) to acknowledge you and recognize you, I think it's great," he says.
In fact, Benoit's desire to play by his own rules has made every show unique. He says he doesn't use a set list, but, instead lets the audience request songs. His band also plays the songs differently each time, which is a characteristic of much traditional blues music.
"Everything stays open, that way each moment is a fresh one and it's only for that moment and that night and those people and that venue," he says. "It stays fresh and exciting and fun for everybody, including me and the band. The music is always new. Even though it might be songs I've played before, they're going to be played in a different way every time we play them."
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: City Auditorium, 221 E. Kiowa St.
Tickets: $22, plus $2 service fee at amusiccompanyinc.com; or $22 at The Coffee Exchange (cash only), 526 S. Tejon St.; 635-0277, the-coffee-exchange.com