Downtown Charlottesville real estate developer Ludwig Kuttner has been ordered to stay away from one of the city’s street musicians for 90 days or risk a possible assault conviction. The case came to Charlottesville court Thursday, but the complainant asserts it is only the latest in a long running-dispute over his busking on the Downtown Mall.
"This guy’s been after me," musician Ricky T. Webster told The Daily Progress after the hearing. "He’s harassed me for eight years."
The 58-year-old Webster has alleged that the 77-year-old Kuttner elbowed him in the chest in mid-October, in what Webster said was just the most physical development in an ongoing effort to push his performances away from Central Place, Kuttner’s mixed-use property beside the Paramount Theater that is home to such eateries as Petit Pois, Zocalo and Corner Juice.
"That’s a good spot," said Webster. "Off and on, I’ve been there eight years."
Webster, who said his fondness for talking about Jesus Christ has earned him the nickname "the Preacher Man," can be found in the warmer months dancing, playing the keyboard and tapping upturned 5-gallon buckets.
"Don’t go changing," he began crooning after his courtroom appearance, singing the first line of the Billy Joel classic "Just the Way You Are."
Webster said he had been homeless but now has a downtown residence provided by the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
"I need money, so I’ve been doing music," said Webster.
Webster’s alleged assailant is also a familiar face downtown. The German-born Kuttner owns several buildings in the area, including the Terraces, a multistory mixed-use property on the Downtown Mall, as well as the sprawling Ix Art Park complex several blocks to the south.
"He doesn’t want anybody to make money but him," Webster said. "He doesn’t like me because I’m a hustler like him."
But according to one downtown shopkeeper, Kuttner has shown forbearance and politely asked Webster to tone down his drumming on multiple occasions.
The shopkeeper, expressing concern about the possibility of reprisal, agreed to speak to The Daily Progress on condition of anonymity and said that Webster may not realize the severity of his "noise pollution" as he loudly beats his homemade drums. Other Downtown Mall musicians, the shopkeeper said, do better.
"There’s an incredible Ukrainian family with an accordion and violin, and people gather around them, and they’re a benefit to the Mall," said the shopkeeper.
Frequent Mall-goer Kemper Thacker said he recalls when Charlottesville police would carry sound meters to ensure compliance with the city’s noise ordinance. The current law bans sound in the downtown business district above 75 decibels.
"There’s virtually no enforcement on the Mall at all," said Thacker. "The city’s got bigger fish."
Thacker considers Webster’s drumming a mixed offering.
"He gets children and parents dancing," said Thacker, "but he can get too ostentatious."
Thacker said that busking has a proud heritage in Charlottesville, and he noted that a pre-fame Dave Matthews used to play guitar on the popular commercial strip.
"Busking needs to come back to the Mall," said Thacker, "but it can’t be at the expense of the vendors and the markets."
When Webster’s assault charge against Kuttner was called in Charlottesville General District Court Thursday, it first appeared that the case would be dropped by the prosecutor. But after Webster revealed himself sitting in the back of the courtroom, that changed.
"Oh, you’re here," the prosecutor, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Will Tanner, said with a surprised expression. "We’ve been trying to get in touch with you."
While Webster’s home address was correct in the court’s paperwork, his phone number was not. He said he must have supplied his "Obama phone," a no-longer-working number tied to a free government-provided telephone.
Judge Andrew Sneathern quickly agreed to the motion to drop the charge pending good behavior after the next 90 days, and he also ordered Webster to stay away from Kuttner’s Ix Art Park.
Had the judge agreed to hear testimony, Webster said he would have told the court about what happened on Oct. 13. On that day, he said he was visiting a bicycle shop at Ix for repairs to his electric bike when he encountered Kuttner, who he said quietly cursed him and then bumped him with an elbow.
After court Kuttner was urged not to comment by his attorney Christopher Tate. Reached via email by The Daily Progress, Tate repeated that Kuttner had no comment on the matter.
That matter is slated to return to court on April 18.