The Best Joke About Musicians

Aaron J. Shay
4 min readFeb 18, 2017

Two musicians walk into a bar, an accordionist and a banjoist.

The bartender says to the musicians, “What’ll it be?” The banjoist orders a whiskey. The accordionist orders a pint. The bartender asks, “You two playing somewhere tonight?”

They say they’re just passing through town and needed a drink before crashing on a couple of couches at a friend’s house just down the street, but if the bartender is interested, they could play some tunes here tonight, for tips. They do traditionals, originals, popular covers, whatever the bar’s patrons might be into.

The bartender smiles and thanks them for the offer, but says that the patrons tend to prefer the online jukebox, which contains every conceivable pop song from the history of the world (few of which are traditionally played on accordion or banjo). From the greatest of the greats, to the most obscure one-hit-wonder, it’s all there. Oh, sure, the bar had live music a while back, but neither the bar nor the artists were ever quite happy with how the money turned out at the end of the night. Besides, the fees to music publishing companies are so high, it doesn’t make sense to get a license. And if they did host live music without a license and anyone slipped up and played a cover while a company rep was in the house, the fine would be a huge burden. “No,” the bartender says, “we don’t really do music anymore.”

The musicians nod, take their drinks, and sit down in a booth.

The banjoist sips her whiskey and asks how the accordionist’s husband is doing. “All right,” he says. “It’s tough, being far away from him for so long, though. Tough for both of us.” The banjoist nods knowingly. The accordionist continues, “I wish I could get into selling my work to movies, TV, advertisers, that sort of thing, but my sound isn’t exactly fashionable… or traditional. And getting that quality of recording tends to cost a lot of money. It’s a big gamble.” The banjoist nods, commiseratingly. The accordionist continues, “But if I could do that, then I wouldn’t have to constantly be on the road all of the time. I could spend time at home with him. I could have some kind of life.” The banjoist nods, depressedly.

It’s a common misconception that banjo music is all happy and upbeat. Like good pop and folk music does, banjoists put a bright sound on dark moods.

There are many common misconceptions about accordion music. Too many to write a joke about.

The accordionist sips his pint and asks the banjoist how the new album is coming. “All right,” she says. “It’s tough, making one on your own. In the old days, lots of labels exploited their artists so yeah, there was a lot of risk in signing with them. But they handled the bureaucracy, for the most part. Now, we’ve all got to be small-business owners, too, and it’s easy to forget the music part of it all. My school days didn’t teach me much about being self-employed. And there’s one hell of a steep learning curve to it.” She pauses to sip her whiskey. “But the album is gonna be so good. I can’t wait for you to hear it, when it’s done. No label would have funded the kind of thing I’m working on… I think I’ve finally hit my stride.”

The accordionist smiles warmly.

Their host and old friend soon joins them. She used to be a gigging musician when she lived in the city; she was an amazing and inventive viola player. But the rent got too expensive, so she had to move out of town. The only affordable place she could find was so far away, she couldn’t do gigs anymore. Now she runs a small business, turning odd antiques into lamps and selling them at farmer’s markets and online. It’s not quite art, but it’s a living.

The three of them have a few drinks, telling stories and talking about art and philosophy and history and politics until late into the night, whereupon they head back to the house. The next morning, after a hearty breakfast and strong coffee, the banjoist and the accordionist pile back into their car and head off down the road, hoping against hope that everything will turn out well for them.

…What? Wasn’t the joke funny? Why the long face?



Aaron J. Shay

Writer and singer; musical taxonomist; pop-culture ruminator.