Lately, when I’m rushing to catch the L to work, skipping down the stairs from Bedford Avenue two at a time, one sound freezes me dead in my tracks- the banjo.
When I hear strings being plucked and a hefty boot stomping on a tambourine, I tiptoe down the rest of the stairs, as if anyone can hear my flats on the concrete over the screeching train. I put my hood up, sunglasses on and sneak behind a pole. The roaring blast of Americana that once was a sound of comfort and home now has me slithering with fear to the yellow strip to wait incognito for the next Manhattan bound train.
I’m avoiding any chance of confrontation with the raspy voice of Coyote and Crow, Thomas Kopie.
Back in December, I sent Thomas and his lovely wife Jaime an email asking to set up an interview. After the New Year, they warmly welcomed me over to their home. I trekked out to Bushwick one Saturday late in January, and spent the afternoon asking them questions about their life and listening to a softer version of Thomas’ familiar voice of harmonize with Jaime as the snow drifted down outside.
I got to know the couple. Sitting on a couch in their living room, Thomas told me how he fell in love with a long haired girl traveling southbound to work Bonaroo in 2005. How Thomas and Jaime met up later that summer at the Mohawk River and splashed around knee deep in the muddy water.
I learned how Thomas entertains the tunnels of Brooklyn and Manhattan three to five hours a day, most days of the week, relying on his happy, yet haunting songs to fill his pockets. Jaime joins him occasionally (the crow of Coyote and Crow) but at the time was avoiding the frigid stations during the Polar Vortex. They told me stories of how their songs got people dancing and even twerking. How recently a little girl and her mother heard them from the sidewalk and came down to listen to six or seven of their tunes. I learned about the informal community of buskers, the unwritten rules and the money making stations. How they’ve become friends with other performers around the city, all so different, but united by a common lifestyle.
Thomas talked about how the cavernous tunnels bring this rough and loud voice tumbling out of his mouth, shocking at first even to him, and how the subways are the perfect place to conquer any fear. I listened as they recounted traveling to Ireland for their honeymoon and writing the song Witch’s Kitchen, inspired by the local folklore. A song that seems simple enough to outside listeners, but will always tie back to that moment in time for them, a love note to each other.
I met their dog, Paisley.
I had all intentions of writing up a profile immediately, but then I got caught up in an unexpected move- everyone knows how fun looking for a new apartment in NYC can be- and my own procrastination got in the way. And here we are… April. The snow is gone, but the sounds of Coyote and Crow are still filling up the Bedford Avenue subway station. So, Thomas and Jaime, I’m giving my sincerest apology and next time I hear your banjo as I’m coming down the stairs, I’ll come right up and say hi. And put some cash in your open case. I hope anyone reading this will do the same. See y’all underground.