Walk through Washington Square Park on a beautiful spring day and you’ll be met with a cacophony of sound: Children laughing, dogs barking, the splash of the water fountain, the ever-present rumble of passing vehicles, and the tangled sounds of performers entertaining crowds from every corner of it’s nearly 10 acre footprint.
The park is a physical manifestation of New York’s creative soul. A frenetic buzz that’s fueled by talent, ambition, eccentricity and imagination. Every time I return—which should be more than I do—there’s always something (or someone) that delights.
On my last visit, this past weekend, it was no different. Sitting west of the fountain, I heard Coyote & Crow (a.k.a Thomas and Jaime Kopie) before I saw them. Thomas’ voice had an aggressive, James Hetfield-esque growl that immediately caught my attention. (Yes, I’m a Metallica fan.) Later he would tell me it sounded a little “Kermitty” in the beginning, until a bad cold turned it into the gravelly texture it is today. Jaime sang back up.
Sartorially, the two were a hipster / Appalachia mix. He had the prerequisite beard and man bun (hidden under a black hat), and wore a paisley shirt with skinny jeans cuffed above his suede boots. She donned a long floral prairie dress with flat, embroidered Mary Janes and wore her chestnut, waist-length hair loose à la Crystal Gale.
Thomas, banjo in hand, sang sitting on a handmade suitcase he fashioned into a foot-operated snare drum. (He made all their instruments.) With his left foot, he controlled the beater. With his right, he stomped on a tambourine. Jaime, playing a stand-up bass that looked like Thomas’ banjo but 5 times the size, stood next to him. As soon as they started to sing, people gathered around 2-3 people deep to enjoy the show. An angelic little boy, perhaps five years old, wearing turquoise sneakers and a shy smile, had a grand old time dancing his little heart out. I’m also pretty sure he was sweet on Jaime.
Technically, the two sing Americana, a blend of bluegrass, ragtime, folk and mountain music, but the duo doesn’t feel the term quite fits them. Their songs switch between original compositions and covers of classic rock-n-roll tunes from the 60’s and 70’s, all performed with a hillbilly flair they’ve coined “Old Time Rock n’ Soul,” inspired by “nature, folk tales, love, and life experiences.”
Jaime confessed to being a novice musician, but Thomas has played most of his life, teaching himself the guitar and later the banjo, and then he taught Jaime to play the bass. In his youth, music was an integral part of his “hanging out” as a full-time skateboarder, which he did until his body finally said, enough.
The pair have been together 10 years, married almost four. They met, prophetically, on the way to a music festival in Tennessee. Today, they busk full-time in various parks in the city, and in the subways when it gets too cold. They also play a handful of small venues and private gigs.
Washington Square Park is their favorite spot. They enjoy playing for the diverse crowds, meeting new people, and the sense of camaraderie that exists among performers there, “overall, we have each others’ back,” says Jaime.
They say they love their life (“It’s better than the crappy retail jobs we had upstate”), and I could see the sentiment wasn’t betrayed by even a hint of irony. They play a few hours a day, 5-6 days a week, and enjoy the rest in Brooklyn with their dog, Paisley.
Watching Coyote & Crow, I remembered how much I enjoy Americana, folk, or whatever the hell it is, but I rarely play it at home. I use to put “Man of Constant Sorrow” by the Soggy Bottom Boys on repeat along with the rest of the cuts from O Brother, Where Art Thou, years ago, but that was pretty much the extent of my listening habits.
Inspired by the couple, I started to pick up a CD and then remembered that I didn’t own a CD player anymore, having given in to iTunes long ago. Lucky for me, their website sells full album and single track downloads. My favorites are “Old Time Rock’N’Soul (This Ol’ Banjo)”, “Things Aren’t the Same”, “Witch’s Kitchen”, and “Mountain Rivers”.
If you’re in Washington Square Park, look up Coyote & Crow, and if you see them, say hi for me. But more importantly, take a few moments to relax and sit a spell.
It’ll be time well spent.
P.S. I put together a short teaser below of Coyote & Crow’s cover of “House of the Rising Sun” with a bonus: that little boy I told you about getting down to the music. He totally slayed me. (Also, continuity Nazis, I know this video is a bit of a mess, but I didn’t originally intend to put an edited video together. Note to self: Plan better.)