I’d gotten the word on Facebook: Laith Keilany had thrown down the gauntlet. He declared, oud in hand, that he would take back Market Square once and for all for high quality buskers everywhere while expurgating the three-chords and an exploited dog act for all time. The 6:00 PM start time went out as a clarion call to oud lovers everywhere.
As I approached the square I knew a foul wind blew on this night: amplified music spilled down Union Avenue. As fate would have it, Saturday Night Gospel had taken the Market Square Stage in all its amplified glory. The banner suggested the music would begin at 9:00 PM, but behind the banner at 6:00 PM stood a white man in khakis singing a praise band version of black gospel music. An oud would never be heard over the cacophony.
After looking at the stage and listening for a minute or two, I walked past the barbecue and tables brimming with motivational pamphlets toward Krutch Park, thinking if there is a sanctuary for the tender sounds of the oud, it is Krutch Park. By the time I worked through the crowd to the south end of Market Square, I saw him. Not Laith. Not even the three chord busker, at first. It was the dog dressed in his lei, drawing attention and money as always, his owner leaning on his guitar, perhaps himself exhausted of C-G-D followed incessantly by C-G and, surprise, D.
I found Laith, oud at full-steam, Preston Davis bowing his upright bass and laying down an ethereal groove. Whitney Davidson shot photographs from various angles as they played and Karl Hess intermittently listened and contributed a beatbox sound to the proceedings. After listening for some time to the delicate sounds of these talented, if sometimes irreverent musicians, I noticed Karl produce a chess set.
After some discussion, an evenly matched chess game ensued. I’ll have to say it was another “New York Moment,” playing chess with a new friend in the park while the strains of middle eastern music filled the air. Sure east Tennessee filtered into the moment via the amplified praise band in the distance, but still.
Mischief also filled the air. Only after I looked at my camera later did I realize Whitney not only took the photographs of myself and Karl engaged in our epic battle, but she caught Preston red-handed, attacking me with his bow. If I am found dead in the near or distant future, please report this photograph to the authorities. I think this may have been an attempt on my life. The afternoon also included the aforementioned Whitney going all rock star with the oud – encouraged by Preston – while Laith took a bit of a break. I had visions of a smashed oud and a raging Laith running amok in Krutch Park. As it turns out, Whitney is an excellent professional photographer, and you can check out her work here.
A few other friends dropped by, including Jodie Manross, everybody’s sweetheart. Passersby sometimes paused to stare at the odd instrument. The music really felt magical in the early evening light filtered through the lush foliage of Krutch Park. Other places beckoned, but the pleasure of this magical moment in the park lingered with me as I reluctantly moved on.
So, who won the battle of the bands? Well, Saturday Night Gospel wins for loudest and biggest crowd. They get extra-credit for the angels pictured here. Three-Chords-And-A-Dog probably made the most money for the evening. Laith and Preston won the talent portion of the competition, hands down. So maybe they all won. They all got what they wanted: the Gospel crew got their crowd, Dog Man got his dollar bills and Laith and Preston had fun and made art. Not a bad evening in the city for and of them – or the rest of us, for that matter.