Arts & Culture

Keytar Hero

Content warning: discussions of racial violence

Authors’ note:

I remember the day vividly. It had been a long day full of weekend activities with friends, the kind where the homework schedule is thrown out the window and all that matters is the day in front of you. I fantasized about my Twin XL bed towards the end of our journey as we finally descended into the Harvard T-station. I could feel the dampness of the underground station and the darkness clouded my mind. We walked down the stairs to the Alewife track when I heard music. Piano, was it? In my Harvard T station? Across the tracks from me was a bear with a keyboard in the shape of a guitar—the keytar. He was grooving as he rocked the keys, jamming to the beat of the music. I felt my spirits lifted; for a moment, I forgot where I was. I let the music overcome me and started to dance in the middle of this very public place. The Keytar Bear noticed me and my friends dancing and pointed at us. Out of the crowds, he noticed us. I felt seen. To my dismay, not everyone knows about Keytar Bear. It is my duty to allow him to be seen by the Tufts community.

Though few know the identity of the man inside the costume, Keytar Bear has been an easily recognizable symbol of Boston since he began performing in 2011. With his keytar across his chest and amplifier at his paw, he’s found on street corners, in T-stations, at sporting events, and—if we’re lucky—playing at the center of our very own Davis Square. Shrouded in mystery, Keytar Bear never provides his real name, and describes his age as somewhere between twenty and thirty. What we do know is that Keytar Bear is a Boston area local, having grown up in Sutton, Massachusetts. And when he’s not keytar-ing in his bear costume, he is both a music and breakdance teacher.

Other bits and pieces of the man under Keytar Bear’s mask we know from a rare interview in 2014 with Boston Magazine, in which he opens up about the trials and tribulations of being Boston’s favorite keytar-playing bear. Aside from special Boston events, he tends to perform mostly at night, on weekends, and sometimes during early mornings. His favorite ballads to play come from Prince or Rick James; his goal is to play songs that are “danceable,” so that people will “hear the music and walk differently…[with] a pep to their step.” The furry bear suit he wears is inspired by a Ted themed Halloween costume. Other than a few complaints regarding the heat and the smell that his suit traps—which he describes as “horrifying”—he calls the Keytar Bear lifestyle the “best experience ever.” He loves the thrill of his Spiderman-like alter ego—the secrecy of it all. Not even his closest friends know the truth about his identity. But most of all, Keytar Bear just likes “putting people in a better mood.” 

The Tufts community finds his self-assessment to be true: Keytar Bear makes us smile. Shantel Bartolome, a senior, is an avid Keytar Bear fan and especially loves the surprise Keytar Bear brings. According to her, “they bring a bit of whimsy, joy, and also mystery to Boston. I love Keytar Bear sightings because you never know when or where they’ll happen and brighten your day.”  

People embrace Keytar Bear because he can be a refreshing distraction. Sophomore John Davis said, “When you’re busy or stressed or sad about a breakup, a giant teddy bear playing the keytar is the perfect distraction. Keytar Bear has made so many people smile through the years.” 

Keytar Bear has also built a steady fan base that stretches far beyond our Tufts community. On Facebook, there is a group called “We Love Keytar Bear,” which has almost 11,000 page likes. The page features videos, memes, pictures, and personal testimonies which all demonstrate great love for the Boston icon. During our interview, the admin of the “We Love Keytar Bear” group’s most memorable moment with Keytar Bear was seeing him aid a woman in a wheelchair up Park Street. Beyond Facebook, Keytar Bear’s momentum extends to other social media platforms. Coming out this year, there will be a snapchat filter for Boston locals that consists of Keytar Bear doing what he does best: jamming out. Even Trillium Beer Company came out with an IPA named after this local hero. 

But despite the love and local clout he has received, not everyone reveres and respects Keytar Bear. As a foil to the “We Love Keytar Bear” Facebook fan page, there exists a “We Hate Keytar Bear” Facebook enemy page. In a post to the page, one user describes the group as a way to “[tell] the truth about a person who has some serious issues they need to address,” though “the truth” seems to be lost in awkward selfies of group members and angry messages such as, “I hope he gets wet and his equipment fails, hate that guy.” However, there are quite a few uploaded screenshots of inappropriate Facebook message conversations—which include racist, sexist, and generally vulgar remarks—that users report to have had with an alleged Keytar Bear account. 

The hate does not stop at the “We Hate Keytar Bear” Facebook page. In 2014, Keytar Bear suffered three different physical assaults. The first incident saw a Snapple bottle hurled at his keytar, leaving him with a broken instrument. This was followed by a fake-selfie stunt, in which a suspect pretended to snap a photo with the Bear only to deliver a strong punch in the nose. That same year, police charged two individuals for robbing and beating Keytar Bear, as they scooped the money from his tip jar and punched him repeatedly afterward.

However, the most alarmingly hateful attack came three years later. In 2017, three New Hampshire teens attacked Keytar Bear near Faneuil Hall. Slamming him to the sidewalk, violently ripping off his bear head, and tearing the strings from his keytar, the teens publicly assaulted Keytar Bear while calling him racial slurs

These acts of racism stem from the larger reason why Keytar Bear originally assumed this persona. In his interview with Boston Magazine he said, “I’m trying to kill racism in my own way. I want to be responsible for the demise of racism.” 

The idea to dress in costume came from a “racist ass cop.” The cop, as Keytar Bear stated in the interview, was known for unnecessarily bothering street performers. In his interview, Keytar Bear reasoned that if the cop could not see who he is or his race, then how can this “racist ass” cop bother him? 

Nevertheless, it is clear that Keytar Bear has cultivated a presence that brings joy. Revered as a local hero, he reminds us we can be silly and have fun even in horrid weather or dreadful moods; as Davis said, “Keytar Bear is a small reminder that it’s okay to have fun.” So next time y’all are in Tisch or in the dorms or are sitting in Dewick feeling glum, break out some danceable music and just jam out. Let loose—for Keytar Bear.