The Unlikely Story of a Street Musician Who Shared the Stage with JAY-Z

By | Posted November 21, 2017
For at least one night, eryktheradical reminded me that anything is possible for those who are always ready.
2017-11-21-jay-z-street-musician-story
Photo Credit: Chanel Love

“So if you stay ready, you ain't gotta get ready, and that is how I run my life” - Will Smith

The magnetism of curiosity arrested JAY-Z's attention. In a building big enough to be considered a colosseum by ancient Roman standards, his eye was caught.

Throughout his performance on the Atlanta stop of his 4:44 Tour, Jay had been the momentary center of our universe. Yet, something in the distance transfixed the man who held a near-capacity arena spellbound. My eyes roamed from the stage where he stood to where his eyes stared, and I saw a golden trombone held toward the heavens. It was surreal watching as the trombone moved closer to the stage, per a request made by Hov himself. To the sound of applause, a random man looked out toward the crowd, trombone in hand, standing beside one of hip-hop’s greatest.

eryktheradical had arrived.  

Eryk blowing his horn during an impromptu performance of “The Story of O.J.” is impressive, but even more impressive was the fact he got into Philips Arena with a trombone. In a fortress where a bag of Skittles would be a struggle to smuggle, he managed to bring with an instrument the size of Shaquille O'Neal’s forearm. The lack of a microphone affected the crowd's ability to hear every note, but watching the performance unfold was a joy in itself.

To watch Eryk was viewing an impossible mission accomplished—no one walks out of their house believing the night will end alongside an idol. It’s the kind of thought that dreams are made of.

To my surprise, while walking through a sea of people en route to my car, still floating off the high of seeing Jay live, the sounds of a horn playing “Encore” cut through the chatter of post-concert Downtown Atlanta. There stood Eryk, for the second time, playing for the people. Everyone displayed a smile of admiration. I half expected Eryk to be backstage, playing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" for Blu Ivy, but he was back playing on the street, a hustle JAY-Z himself wouldn’t dare to knock.

Over the phone, a week after the show, Eryk told me about a conversation he had with his wife three days prior to Jay’s concert. The subject of their discussion was goals and what he hopes to accomplish as a musician. Like anyone with a passion for live exhibition, the answer was to play in a sold-out arena. Saying his dream aloud wasn’t an attempt to manifest destiny, but to ensure his words were alive in the universe.

There was no scheme to infiltrate the show, no premeditated finesse, he was simply able to bring his trombone into the venue uncontested. Many questioned how he was able to bring it in. Eryk believes it’s due to carrying his instrument every single day for the last 10 years—it’s a part of him, no different than the shirt on his back or the phone in his pocket. Sometimes it takes 10,000 hours just for five minutes in the spotlight.

Once Jay made his way out onto the stage, Eryk was urged by his wife to take his horn out and play. Eryk explained how he didn’t want to be a distraction, or cause any disruptions to the show. There was just a long enough pause in the show for him to seize the moment, a moment that Jay saw and acknowledged.

Thinking back to my encounter with him in the parking lot after the show, I asked Eryk what possessed him to leave the arena to perform outside versus trying to further solidify his relationship? “I’m a street musician,” he stated happily. “I've been playing on the street for the last five to six years. I've been in Atlanta for four years. That’s what I do. Every event I be out. At the Phillips, the Georgia Dome, wherever. When the concert was over I still had to do my job, know what I’m saying,” he ended with a chuckle.

Living and breathing his craft is why Eryk believes he was able to bring his trombone into the arena uncontested. He also believes that the city of Atlanta inspires his gusto and go-get-it mentality. In the first episode of FX’s Atlanta, Donald Glover’s character Earn was able to get his cousin Paper Boi’s song on the radio. It was a strategic finesse, the kind of backdoor plan that harms no one and accomplishes a lot. That drive, to take an opportunity instead of waiting to be gifted a chance, is a direct reflection of Atlanta, a sentiment Eryk and I both share.

"When I was taking the stage, it was Atlanta. I’m not from Atlanta, but I been here, and this is what Atlanta is about—grabbing it. Atlanta is about going for it. After the show, I still made it a point to play because this is what I do. Because this is Atlanta. You see everyone happy because it wasn’t just me; Atlanta got to play for JAY-Z, Atlanta got a chance to participate in the show. When artists come to Atlanta, this is how we respond. We do it, we here."

Speaking to Eryk allowed me to clearly see his passionate pursuit of opportunity, not just for himself but for all artists who want to be heard. When asked about how it felt to be walking toward the stage, there was no fear in his heart:

"I play for thousands of people all the time. On the street, they pass me, but I’m playing for each and every one of them. So the people didn’t make me nervous. Walking up those steps man, to see JAY-Z right there, waiting on me, it was like walking to the throne. That’s what I see everyday when I put on my horn. That’s what I see everyday when I’m practicing. I see the sold-out arena. I don’t really see the context behind it, but I see that. The feeling was also crazy. Being in the center, I couldn’t hear, I could barely see, but I hoped I was getting through."

I never quite thought about it until my conversation with Eryk, but playing music on the corner for years will eventually equal the audience of an arena show. Anyone can approach and pay attention, and the performer must always be prepared. The instrument is the only predictable tool of the job, and each day brings new and unique opportunities. Eryk’s personal mantra: be ready.   

"I would just say, more than anything, be ready. Be ready, do you, but being ready is really the thing. Even if you don’t feel like you're ready, be ready. That’s what will keep you going and growing. I didn’t know what I would play but I was ready to get on the stage. Street musicians know anything thing can happen at any time. You might not know what you’re about to play, but someone can walk up to you and yell the most random thing to play and you got to be ready. I was ready."

Eryk knew, even while on stage with JAY-Z, that the streets weren't far from him. The exit door was in sight. It’s a way of thinking that keeps you humble, that keeps you hungry. Being ready and knowing that at any moment you can be thrust into the spotlight or back onto the corner keeps a musician on their toes. For someone who makes music to fulfill a passion, it’s less about fame and fortune, and always striving toward playing that next note and making it better than the last.

For at least one night, at a JAY-Z concert in Atlanta, eryktheradical reminded me that anything is possible for those who are always ready. 

By Yoh, aka Yoh The Profound, aka @Yoh31

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