Sam Boyer, Blogs Editor / '90s Blogger
If you ever find yourself walking down Court Street in the early evening, chances are you'll come across a handful of street musicians. They come in all shapes and sizes. You have your garden variety acoustic serenaders, playful bongo players, and the odd violinist.
The bottom line is, if you really want to stand out as a street performer (and rake up some serious cash), you have to have a unique gimmick.
So why not learn to rap while playing the accordion?
It was still fairly early in the evening when my friends and I decided to head to The Union. Our original plan was to check out the Girls Rock Camp Benefit Show at Casa, but our hopes were dashed when the doorman refused to let one us in without an ID (which was kind of ridiculous considering that my friend was willing to pay more money at the door, but I digress). While we were traipsing down Athens' main drag grumbling about this grave injustice, we came across a group of boys standing at the corner of Court and Union (right in front of Whit's Frozen Custard). They were positively enthralled by a man sitting in a rather small camping chair with a very expensive-looking accordion resting on his lap.
This guy was an exceptionally talented accordionist. Like, on par with Weird Al Yankovic. I have a lot of respect for accordion players. I mean, have you ever tried to play one of those things? It's insanely difficult.
So normally I don't stop for street musicians. I know I'm not the only one. I'm usually in a hurry to get somewhere and I always feel awful when I don't have any cash to donate. And if this guy had just been jamming on his accordion, I probably would have walked on. But when I heard him start to rap, I just had to stay a while.
Accordion Man was a regular Biggie Smalls. I'm not even exaggerating. When my friends and I walked up to him, he was rapping about Athens. Some of it sounded pre-written, but a lot of it had to be improvised. The group of boys were cheering him on and one of them whipped out his phone and started recording. There's nothing like seeing a super talented white guy rapping over an unconventional instrument late at night. It kind of felt like a sideshow attraction, but in the coolest possible way.
When Accordion Man noticed that his audience had expanded to include three attentive girls, he immediately turned on the charm.
"You girls ever heard of Big L? Eh, maybe he was a little before your time. How old are you guys? Like 18, 19?"
We informed him that we were 20, thank you very much. He laughed, lit a cigarette and readjusted the accordion on his lap.
"Alright, so at least you guys are legal. Anyway, Big L was this rapper in the '90s. He was pretty offensive. Really misogynistic. I'll play one of his 'cleaner' songs."
"Cleaner" must have meant "only slightly misogynistic." Regardless of the subject matter, Accordion Man spit rhymes like a pro. He even improved a bit after the chorus, pausing only to take a drag of his cigarette.
We ended up standing there for a good 20-30 minutes. The group of boys left after a while, so we were the guy's only stationary audience. He would occasionally get heckled by drunk passersby, but his snarky attitude caught them off guard.
We ended up chatting between songs (and by chatting, I mean he openly flirted with me since I was the only one who carried on a conversation with him). I dropped a dollar in his collections basket (which is a pretty rare occurrence for me) and he began to play more "accordion-appropriate" tunes, including "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean." He got us to timidly sing along and we laughed at the sheer absurdity of it all.
My friends and I eventually decided to go on our merry way, but not before saying goodbye to Accordion Man and thanking him for his super rad set.
So if you ever see this guy on your way to a bar or a show, stop and give him a listen. It's worth it, I promise.