One of the few fun things to come out of the subway last winter was that viral video in which a little girl inspired a dance-off at the Bedford Avenue stop. On a recent afternoon in Washington Square Park, we followed the sounds of a sandpaper-meets-velvet voice and “old time rock ‘n soul” until we happened upon the band behind the video, Coyote & Crow.
“I was playing, but this girl was just dancing and dancing. This happens all the time and we never get it on film so I put my instrument down and filmed it,” explained Jaime Kopie, who sings and plays a hand-made bass while her husband, Thomas, sings and plays the banjo and foot percussion (yep, he actually turned that suitcase he sits on into a drum). “We’re really happy we did that because it got us a lot of international [attention]. Our fan base reached out all over the world. There’s people from different countries coming to see us at this park now because of that video. People recognizing us on the street everywhere we go.”
Now the video has more than 7.5 million views, and after hearing the couple perform live, it’s easy to understand why the little girl couldn’t keep her feet still. Yesterday, next to the stone benches at the center of the crowd stood Jaime, who wore a long, flowing dress and had her river of brown hair pulled into a pretty top knot. Thomas sat next to her, his full beard and plain t-shirt a perfect backdrop to his gravelly singing. As they played the first two songs of their set, a ring of onlookers deposited money in the collection box, shot videos and pics, or simply listened.
“We call it old-time rock ‘n soul. A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, it’s a banjo, [so it must] be bluegrass music,’” said Thomas. “But it’s a little pre-bluegrass, it’s not as clean. It’s a lot grittier, it’s a lot rougher and we had a huge rock ‘n roll influence. Music to us is like our soul. So we just mixed it all together and tried to do something new.”
Jaime and Thomas met at Bonnaroo, where they both worked crowd control, and have been an item ever since. “We’ve been together for 10 years, so we already we’ve got a strong bond,” said Jaime with a smile. “But being able to express ourselves together to everybody else really deepens the connection that we have. And people are always commenting on our chemistry, that they can see it and feel it.”
The couple has only been busking for five years. Originally from upstate New York, Thomas first picked up a guitar in his late 20s and later learned to sing on the streets of NYC.
“I guess it’s everybody’s dream to be a rock star. I knew I was going to be an artist ever since I was a little kid,” he said. While growing up “right under the Adirondack Mountains,” Thomas was inspired by the mountain music, which “is just in the air up there.” Coyote & Crow was also inspired by the huge classic-rock fan base that’s upstate. According to their website, the renditions and original songs they play are a “mash-up of folk-americana, bluegrass, old-time mountain music with a big influence from 60’s-70’s classic rock ‘n roll.”
The band’s most popular cover is “Me & My Uncle” by the Grateful Dead, which inspired that impromptu jig in the subway.
But do millions of video likes translate to earnings? “We don’t usually talk exact numbers, but we make enough to live off of it,” said Jaime. “We don’t have any other jobs or anything, this is how we make our income.”
Only recently has the couple started to go the more conventional route (if there is such a thing for musicians), as they’ve booked tours, performed at venues, and released another album, Old Time Rock’n’Soul, this past spring. But for the Kopies, no venue can top the experience of street performing.
“You can show up when you want and you don’t have to worry if the sound guy is going to be good,” said Thomas. “You just kind of go and play and it’s all acoustics, so it’s real simple.”
Coyote & Crow will perform at Busking at 30: Subway Musical Festival this Sunday from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m.