Bus-King Tristan Kline

Tristan Kline is a merry millennial in the midst of turning a school bus into a traveling tiny home. Kline confesses to playing an “absurd instrument” for tips — the Brits call it “busking” — as a way to earn cash. For now, he calls Wilton, New Hampshire, home. He’s got talent, determination, a vision for unencumbered living, and he’s given himself a year to literally get his busking, bus king show on the road.

Photo by Kendal J. Bush

In his own words:

  • The accordion was an impulse buy. I was 16 and in the car with my mom. We drove past a second-hand music store and I just had this bug to see if they had an accordion. I was embarrassed to ask my mom to pull over, but I did.
  • I had just stopped taking clarinet lessons because it was too rigid.  
  • When I started accordion, my approach was to find songs I liked and play them. I learned the basics from YouTube.
  • Busking is kind of like fishing. Sometimes you are out there all day and you don’t get anything, and some days you get an unexpected big fish.
  • The accordion itself is heavy and it hurts my hands, so I usually set a goal for myself for the day. Once I meet that goal, in either time or money, I just go.
  • I have a set routine, but I’ll adjust depending on the people I see. If I see nerds, I’ll immediately start playing theme songs or video game songs.
  • What I like about the accordion is that it’s kind of a one-man band in an instrument.  
  • It allows you to be much louder than one person should be. And it’s on your chest, so you feel the vibrations on your body when you perform. I like feeling the rumble of the low notes.
  • The accordion has established itself as part of the musical identity of many cultures such as Mexico, Germany and Poland.  
  • My mom is French, and I grew up with French music in the home. I heard this sound all the time. I liked the power of the accordion sound.
  • The most requested song is “Lady of Spain.” When people see the accordion, they think of the Lawrence Welk show. I’ve refused to learn how to play that song, although I do love Lawrence Welk.  
  • The second most requested song is the “Game of Thrones” theme song, but only after they’ve heard me play it.

Kline’s Busking Basics: Go to the biggest city nearby, and look for an event or a shopping center with a public space. Find a place where you can fit in with the passersby who want to be there, and not be a pain for people who have to be there. Faster, louder, happier songs folks are familiar with will hook people, then throw in something that is more emotive. When you finish a song, it has to have an epic ending. That’s when you really have to sell the donations.


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