Spotlight: Deon “The Greektown Hotbox" Forrest

3 / 5 / 2022

Deon "The Greektown Hotbox" Forrest
Deon "The Greektown Hotbox" Forrest
Deon "The Greektown Hotbox" Forrest

Chances are, if you have wandered the streets of Greektown in Detroit, you already know who Deon Forrest (aka “The Greektown Hotbox”) is.

The bucket drumming street performer has become a hometown legend after going viral across social media. However, as he walks into our interview after finishing filming his portion of the Audetorium’s Visual Mission Statement, I am not introduced to a legend who has performed on Jimmy Kimmel or has graced the cover of albums. I am introduced to a kind, smiling man who is excited by his recent performance for the video and eager to share a drink with me while we talk.

“When you’re homeless you have nothing else to do but practice,” Deon tells me almost immediately when I compliment him on his performance. His willingness to share the intimate details of his life will be a theme through our conversation.

“I was homeless until about a year ago. Now I got a house, I got my kids back, I got a steady income and it’s all thanks to what I’ve been doing on these buckets.”

Deon’s success as a street performer skyrocketed to new heights when he was filmed by a spectator whose video went viral on social media, garnishing over 60 million views at the time this article was written.

“Honestly, after that happened I have just really tried to remain humble. I have had some really cool opportunities and it’s got me excited but I just want to remain myself. A lot of people change when things like this happen to them. I am grateful for all of it, but more than anything I am just happy to be off the streets.”

Deon’s story of success comes with a heavy load. It’s not as simple as “local man makes good with household cookware”. It dips in and out of a life filled with heartache and tribulation. Deon pours himself some more of the whiskey I had sitting between us before he begins to tell me his plight.

“It was rough for a long time. When you first become a street performer, it’s a battle. You have to earn your spots on the streets. When I started I was getting bullied. Other performers would sit up right next to me to try and get me to move and I had to kick some butt so I could earn better spots. It’s like Mortal Kombat and I had to beat each player that came for me to rise up.”

“For a minute though I wasn’t beating out people. I got halfway up the ladder and needed to add something in order to be different. That’s when I thought about Michael Jackson. I knew I couldn’t just be a guy banging on buckets and show people something they hadn’t seen before. I had to find my ‘Moonwalk’. That’s when I decided to add my speaker. That’s when I added the slide on my pot.”

Deon Forrest the Greektown Hotbox
Deon "The Greektown Hotbox" Forrest

This is something worth seeing and in one of the many videos of Deon performing. Deon sliding the top of a pot across the ground with his foot while playing his buckets to the beat of a song is the moment you know he has added something new to the art form. It shows you that he is not just a musician…. he is a performer. Seeing this live, you become aware of the fact that Deon was meant for the stage.

“Not everybody can get regular jobs,” Deon continues, “I can’t just go to someplace and get hired for what I really want to do because what I really want to do is bang on pots. I feel like God really wanted me to do this, too. I want to leave something behind. I want to be known for doing that and when I die and go to heaven I want to keep playing them up there.”

As Deon laughs at what he just said his eyes look up at the ceiling and I can tell he’s no longer really in the room with me. He might be looking into the future wondering how far he can take this new found glory, or he might be reminiscing about a past that he is trying his best to put behind him one performance at a time.

“See, when I was a kid my mother killed several people in front of me and I lost her. She went to jail and the police sent me to a group home. I remember it all and still have dreams about it. I have been dealing with that trauma my whole life. I ran away and was homeless for a really long time. I needed someone to talk to but there was no one. I just needed someone to tell me I was ok. I ended up growing up in the wrong way and at 15-years-old I was selling drugs. I knew it wasn’t for me but I needed to survive.”

“When I was out on the street selling drugs there wasn’t much to do so I was always banging on stuff because I was bored. Then one day I am walking down the street and I see a guy dressed like Michael Jackson and he’s dancing and people are tipping him, but I wasn’t ready to start doing anything like that yet. I didn’t know I had it in me. Things got even more heavy for me after that for a while and I had had enough so I went to a bridge and I decided I was just gonna take that leap and end things. You know who stopped me? That dude dressed up as Michael Jackson.”

“He gave me a place to sleep. He taught me how to become a street performer. He saved my life literally in more ways than one.”

(This is the part in the movie of Deon's life where you would insert a montage of footage of him using this second chance and a few buckets to turn his life around here.)

Spotlight: Deon "The Greektown Hotbox" Forrest

Eventually, Deon would get a steady enough income from his performances to get a place of his own and get his kids, who he had been estranged from, back. Still there was one piece of the puzzle that was missing from our hero’s life. Deon’s mother would eventually be released from prison after serving her time and Deon would let her back into his life in hopes of making up for lost time.

“My momma got out two years ago. She moved in with me. I was happy. I told her she didn’t have to pay any rent because I wanted to get it myself and show her how I was ok. After everything that had happened I was doing good. I wanted her to be proud of me. That wasn’t the case though.”

“I really thought we were going to have a bond. I showed her how well I was doing and wanted nothing more than for her to tell me she’s proud of me. All she wanted was my money and when I wouldn’t give it to her one night, she faked a seizure and I went to go help her and she cut me with a knife.”

Deon shows me the scar on his arm where his mother had only two weeks prior to this conversation cut him.

“It broke my heart. I realized I am still that kid looking for someone to talk to. Even after all this success and meeting all these famous people and being on the Jimmy Kimmel show and whatnot… all I have been looking for is for someone to talk to and for someone to tell me things are gonna be alright. I was hoping that my mother could do that for me.”

There is a somber feeling across the table as Deon and I share another drink. Deon didn’t turn his mother in, but they no longer talk to one another. I’ll find out later that Deon is younger than I am, through the years of being on the street and living with the pain that his mother has caused him make him seem much older to me. Still, with all this heaviness weighing on him,

Deon continues to push forward and perform on the streets. Making the people walking past him in Greektown - people whose lives aren’t filled with so much turmoil, on their way to a restaurant or casino or bar - happier if only for a moment. Giving them an experience through his practiced talent. He teaches his daughter how to play the drums so that she can hopefully one day use them to live her dreams as well. He remains humble and does what he can to improve his situation.

We end our conversation with one last shot of whiskey in the back of the church we are filming in. A youth choir that is being filmed sings soulfully in the other room as I say goodbye to Deon and for a moment I imagine him walking into the gates of heaven, preparing to sit down at his buckets and drum for the angels and the heavenly passersby.

Written by: :

Kalvin Lazarte

Photography by:

Xavier Cuevas

Photography by:

Rory McHarg