Aside from baking bread, getting a pet or mixology, one of the most frequent methods people used to ease pandemic anxiety was learning to play an instrument. So says Music Trades magazine’s 2022 Music Industry Census, which revealed that COVID-19 yielded the U.S.’s biggest one-time musical instrument year-over-year sales gain—22%—ever.
A local contributor to those national statistics is Andy Connolly. To chase away his social-distancing blues, he resolved to use his second stimulus check to either get a tattoo…or buy an accordion. Yes. An accordion. “I’m a dork and the accordion is kind of a dorky instrument, and so I went with that,” Connolly says. But even then, he had no inkling of the joyful ride that “dorky” instrument would take him on.
Connolly moved to Salt Lake City just a couple of months before the pandemic began. Before then, the Kansas native had leveraged both his master’s degree in geology and outgoing personality in Grand Teton National Park where he was an interpretive ranger. After spending several summers in the Tetons and getting engaged, Connolly’s quest for year-round work near the mountains he’d come to love took him to Salt Lake City. In September 2019, after landing a job with the Utah Museum of Natural History as a school outreach coordinator, he and his fiancé moved into a small apartment near Liberty Park. “I got to travel around to fourth-grade classrooms all over the state teaching science. And a month after moving here, we got married. Everything seemed great. Until it very suddenly wasn’t,” Connolly says. “The pandemic was rough on an extrovert like me.” Enter the accordion.
Connolly grew up playing the piano and singing, so figuring out the keyboard side of the accordion came fairly easy to him. To learn how to play the buttons—or the instrument’s base side—and bellows, he took lessons from Accordions International, the local accordion store.
Then, one day while Connolly was playing outside of his apartment building, two passing cyclists stopped to listen and changed his life. “That made me really nervous,” he says. “But then they commented on how good I sounded.” Connolly realized maybe there was something to this whole accordion thing. He considered busking for the first time.
“Also, as an educator,” he adds, “I don’t make that much money and it seemed like a great way to make a little extra cash.”
After much more consideration, one afternoon in May 2021, Connolly donned his accordion, walked over to Liberty Park and made his busking debut—just two months after he first picked up the instrument.
“Admittedly, I was nowhere near as prepared as I should’ve been but, because of that, I think I learned fast how to be a performer and what my audiences want to hear,” he says. “It was definitely nerve-wracking at first, but the positive feedback I received from my first outing—and making $20 after playing for just an hour—gave me the courage to keep at it and get better.”
Connolly has since broadened his busking venues to include the 9th and 9th area and Park City. “I think the accordion is great background music and, with all its outdoor restaurant patios, I feel like Park City’s Main Street is a great place to play,” he says. He’s also honed his busking persona with a stage name (“I use the same name I’ve taken when I’m teaching—Ammonite Andy.”), built a performance wardrobe around his bow tie collection and regularly draws enthusiastic crowds who flock to him for requests.
A few of the most frequent asks are accordion classics most people know, waltz-y tunes like “La Vie en Rosé,” the theme music from The Godfather and Fiddler on the Roof’s “Sunrise, Sunset.”
This year represents what Connolly describes as a “brave new world” for his budding busking career. He’s played regularly at the Busking Bus Theatre, a mobile stage featuring performers in multiple genres, and busks every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Downtown Salt Lake City Farmers Market.
“As an educator, I do a lot of public speaking, but that’s science, which I talk about all the time. Busking is nothing like that,” he says. “I still get nervous every time I go out to play, but I love it. The accordion is such a fun instrument and I’ve made so many people smile.”
To find out where Connolly is playing next, visit @ammoniteandy on Instagram.