Ferg musician strikes a chord with students


Griffin Burks plays the guitar and trumpet outside the Ferguson Student Center.  CW | Amy Sullivan

Laura Testino

Burks, a freshman at the University, is pursuing a degree in international relations, but is not putting his love for music on hold.

“I’ve always loved performing – the practice side a little bit – but there’s a certain kind of thrill you get by playing for people, and when people get to enjoy the music,” Burks said. “And I’ve never really had a problem with putting myself out there.”

Burks usually sets up at least five times a week on a bench outside the SUPEStore. He has memorized the chords and lyrics to Blues Traveler’s “Runaround,” and, as the song goes, prefers both coffee and tea, often in a Starbucks cup.

A wide-brim hat and brown leather jacket are also staples to his performances, noticeable in the six times Burks has appeared on the Alabama Campus Snapchat story. Burks has owned the jacket since seventh grade, but this hat – though not his first – is rather new.

“I have played without [a hat],” Burks said. “But usually not in public, because I wear my hat out. Pretty much just because I like it.”

Although unintentional, some students see similarity between Burks’ dress and that of Indiana Jones. Occasionally, people will call out “Indiana Jones!” to him, which, no matter the intentions of the people in the car, is funny to Burks, he said.

“I was bullied not for the way I dress or for playing [music], but more for how I didn’t use brute force like the boys in 3rd, 4th and 5th grades thought you should,” Burks said “I learned from that that people are gonna think what they’re gonna think, but you just have to do your own thing.”

In addition to performing trumpet and guitar, playing music allows Burks to relax and unwind. Burks’ music has a bright tone, an artistic choice that his father – also a trumpet player – assured him was okay to make.

Burks has yet to compose an original piece, but has some in the works, he said. In addition to tendonitis and asthma that can affect his playing during certain parts of the year, Burks has a form of dyslexia that makes it difficult to write. Fortunately, it doesn’t affect his ability to play music, he said. In order to write his music, he uses a computer program called Finale.

“Music is definitely a release for the stress that it causes sometimes,” Burks said. “And it’s always been my equal playing field, other than asthma. I haven’t really let anything stop me.”

His dedication to playing has been influenced by Allen Jones, the professor for the Arts of Tuscaloosa course Burks is taking. Jones, an Honors fine arts instructor, has taught the course for 11 years.

“For [Burks], I guess it’s fortunate to have that talent and that training because he knows he loves it, and he know he wants to pursue it,” Jones said. “And he can keep that element in his life and explore what his passion may be.”

When discussing art, Jones reminds her students that art is not exclusive. It can be inserted anywhere into the world, she said. She thinks Burks does this by playing for the passerby at the Ferguson Center.

“I think when you have that kind of talent, it’s hard to keep it hidden,” Jones said. “He’s not keeping his light under a bushel. He’s putting it out there in a generous way.”

Burks has made friends by playing music on campus. One night on the way back to her dorm, Leah Fontaine stopped to listen to Burks play one of her favorite songs: “Your Guardian Angel” by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus.

Fontaine, a freshman majoring in anthropology, comes to do homework and listen to Burks play once or twice a week. He’s a loyal and selfless friend, and also funny, she said. Earlier this year, she went to his dorm with a friend to listen to comedians and eat cheese and crackers.

“The fact that he even has cheese and crackers cracks me up,” Fontaine said. “Because that’s so classy, and not like something that a college student would have.”

Music comes up in conversation, but Burks’ interest and knowledge in his international relations major also shows through in his personality.

“He’s one of those people who wants to save the world,” Fontaine said. “In any way he can.”