MerleFest Spotlight – Todd Albright

Todd Albright is bringing his blues to MerleFest again this year, with three separate performances across three stages.  A gifted musician and historian, Albright meshes his pre-war blues with vivid storytelling–a talent that keeps fans engaged and excited between songs.

Be sure to catch Albright over the weekend at any or all of these performances:

Friday, April 26, 2019 @ 11:35 AM – 12:00 PM @ Cabin Stage
Saturday, April 27, 2019 @ 3:25 PM – 3:55 PM @ Austin Stage
Sunday, April 28, 2019 @ 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM @ Americana Stage

If you can’t make it to MerleFest this year, check out Albright’s sound on this 2017 Live on KEXP session!

 

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Interview – Lindsay Craven, Merlefest’s New Artist Relations Manager

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Festival season is upon us…

For many festivarians, each year is greeted not only with new wishes for success, health and prosperity, but also with a child-like giddiness as they await the first signs of music festival lineup teasers and announcements.

Whether longing for the lush, legendary landscape of Mountain Jam, the boho-chic vibe of Coachella, the gritty soul of New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival or the harbor breeze of Newport Folk Festival–there is certainly a festival out there for any and all musical tastes.  While the overall feel, location and extra perks may entice festival goers to consider buying that multi-day festival ticket package, it really is the lineup that seals the deal.

So, what exactly goes in to putting together a stellar festival lineup?  It certainly doesn’t just appear out of thin air.  On the contrary, planning and confirming a multi-day, multi-stage music festival lineup often involves a dedicated and innovative team of people who start reaching out and booking artists over a year in advance.

A lineup for everyone…

To learn a bit more about the process, EOAF caught up with Lindsay Craven, the newest Artist Relations Manager for MerleFest–North Carolina’s premiere music festival.   Now in its 32nd year, MerleFest continues to stay true to its “traditional plus” and family friendly roots.   Craven credits the late, legendary musician and festival founder, Doc Watson, for laying the groundwork and creating a culture that celebrates all types of music, not just that of the western NC region.

“We’re very thankful to Doc, for developing that phrase [traditional plus].  And, it’s very much what Doc did.  Doc’s music wasn’t restricted to bluegrass or blues, and he loved everything.  He wanted us to share all kinds of music with people,” Craven said.

After over three decades, “traditional plus” remains the driving force for anyone in charge of booking artists and filling out the four-day festival schedule across 13 stages.  By bringing in the industry’s best in traditional Appalachian and Bluegrass music, in addition to Americana, Folk, Rock, Blues, and Gospel, MerleFest appeals to a wide, diverse audience that travels to the great Tar Heel state in late April every year.  The diversity of genre and dedication to keeping the festival family friendly really set MerleFest apart from other big festivals.

“With audiences that aren’t familiar with the festival, I think a lot of people just say we’re just a Bluegrass festival, or that we’re just old-timey country music and it’s just not the case at all. We have those things, but we have lots of others. The traditional plus motto is far from one musical genre. You’d be hard pressed to be any kind of music fan and come to MerleFest and not find something you like,” Craven said.

Though she’s worked part-time for MerleFest in some capacity for over a decade, Craven was hired into this full-time position in July 2018, and has been non-stop ever since.  Craven worked directly under previous Artist Relations Manager–Steve Johnson–learning first hand the enormous amount of work that goes into setting a lineup.

“Steve knew during last year’s festival that he was going to be moving out.  So, he did a lot of work ahead of time to help us stay on track and not start from way behind…we’re really appreciative to him for everything he did to make sure it was kind of a seamless transition, as much as it could be,” Craven said.

While Johnson did a great deal of work leading up to his departure, the business of booking artists and setting a lineup can often feel like watching the shifting sands of The Outerbanks.  The landscape can change daily, and early plans do not always stay in place.

“A lot of our headliners changed from the original plan just because of scheduling conflicts, money not working out, and things like that,” Craven said.

Though green in this particular position, Craven had to solve some significant problems in her first few months.  By all accounts, it looks as if she took the proverbial bull by the horns and accepted the challenge, because this year’s headliners are superb–The Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlile, Amos Lee, Wynonna and The Big Noise–along with heavy-hitters like Keb’Mo’, The Milk Carton Kids, and Tyler Childers.   Let us not forget the MerleFest alumni, who fans return for year after year–Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Kruger Brothers, Scythian and more.

“[The most challenging part of booking] is competing with the amazing number of music events and venues in North Carolina now. Just trying not to overlap artists that the same audience can see in five different places within a year. It’s fantastic that there are so many music venues and there are so many music festivals. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s just a huge thing to compete with when planning said festival,” Craven said.

Let the fans be heard…

Artist Relations Managers, also often called Talent Buyers, rely not only on their team to help build out a lineup, but also on the festival fan base.  Social media platforms have changed the way fans and artists can communicate directly with festival organizers.

“I pay attention to [the artists’] social media pages to see what kind of following they have. We listen to their music.  We pay attention to our own social media, too, to see what people are asking for,” Craven said.

Festival organizers often post teasers or clues leading up to the initial lineup announcements, to get the fan base excited.  At least for MerleFest, the responses that come out of those teasers become important in terms of current or future lineups.

“Since this is my first year in this particular job, I’ve really been paying attention with each announcement–what people were guessing right before we made the announcement, and then what they hope to see on the next announcement.  If we don’t have [the artists] on the docket already, I make sure I make a list of those people and consider those for going forward,” Craven said.

Painting the canvas…

Outside of fan feedback, Craven and her team search for talent through different music association awards and conferences–namely the Americana Music Awards (AMA’s) and International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) annual conference, respectively.  Additionally, there is a longtime running “wish list” that has trickled down from each former artist relations manager that now sits in Craven’s hands.

“In the beginning, it’s just kind of an open canvas.  We are just looking at our wish list and looking at the chatter from other events, saying ‘what seems to be doing well?’ and seeing if would fit for us and fit our budget,” Craven said.

As that canvas fills up, other elements–like spreading genres across multiple stages–begin to factor in to the planning equation.

“As we get closer to festival time, it gets a little more scientific in trying to see, well, [this artist] has to go on this stage so we kind of want more of this flavor of music,” Craven said.

According to Craven, MerleFest artists fall into one of three main categories, “the ones that are here every year, the headliners, and the people we have fresh and new every year.”

Communication with artists can take many forms, and this typically depends on the level of artist/band success and/or the longstanding relationship with the festival.

“We have some artists that are here year in and year out, and most of those artist we communicate directly with.  The bigger artists–The Avetts, Brandi, Amos–we talk with their agents initially, and then the tour manager for sure.  We rarely talk to them directly,” Craven said.

Much of Craven’s work involves reaching out to the agencies that have worked with MerleFest in the past to learn about up and coming artists.  They discuss budget and schedules and try to see if it will work for all parties involved.  The final MerleFest lineup boasts over 100 artists, not including those who have been invited to compete in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

“It’s a big job,” Craven said.

And a big job requires a big budget in order to pull in the best artists and to ensure smooth operations from start to finish. The MerleFest budget is determined year to year by past and projected attendance. Interestingly, MerleFest is a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College, further strengthening the symbiotic relationship between the festival and college.

Though Craven’s main responsibility is to direct the booking process, the work doesn’t stop once the contracts are signed on the dotted line.   With the lineup set and about a month to go, Craven is currently busy with the artist relations portion of her job–hotel reservations, merchandise, direct communication with artists, and coordinating schedules.

A path to MerleFest…

So, how did Craven get to sit in her current position–perhaps a little luck, certainly a lot of working up through the ranks, and an immeasurable amount of drive and good old-fashioned love for the work.  A journalism major and graduate of Appalachian State University (App State), Craven always had a spark for the entertainment industry.

“I always thought I was going to be an entertainment writer.  That was my initial goal.  The funny thing is, I guess it was in middle school, I think we were doing some school project where we had to decide what we want to be and [we had to look] through these books that had all kinds of different job descriptions and what you needed to do to go to school to become that.  There wasn’t an artist relations, it was artist representative, or something along those lines, and that was what I did my school project on,” Craven said.

So, when she decided to apply to App State’s artist management program, it seemed like a good fit, until she learned she had to be a music major.

“It wasn’t an option to pursue that particular degree.  But, I kind of fell into anyway,” Craven said.

Falling into this role, sounds a bit passive, when actually her path to MerleFest has been more than just being in the right place at the right time.  During her undergrad years, Craven was proactive in getting involved in local opportunities that aligned with her interests and skills.  A simple perusal of the internship listings on App State’s website seems to have been the catalyst to pave the way.

“I started with [MerleFest] as an intern in 2007, and then came back again as an intern in 2008.  And then after I graduated, I filled in throughout the year whenever they needed extra help.  In and around credential time, or around some announcements and things like that, they need an extra body in an office to get some information from artists.  And every year I’m here for the festival working in the artist relations trailer,” Craven said.

Her MerleFest experience over the next several years, led her to the Yadkin Arts Council, where she worked as their Executive Director.

“I did all of the booking for our theater there, for the last five or six years. It’s a very, very small staff. So, due to all of the experience I gained from basically wearing all of the hats at that theater, that’s what got me to the point where I was qualified enough between what I’d learned working [at MerleFest] and what I learned working there, that they felt that I would work in this role,” Craven said.

From MerleFest to Yadkin Arts Council and back to MerleFest, Craven positioned herself to be both primed by those who came before her and primed by her own career ventures to succeed in her new role.

A bit of advice…

Somewhere, there is an eager, starry-eyed middle schooler writing a paper about the glamorous life of an Artist Relations Manager. Craven, having put in over a decade of hard work–both paid and unpaid–can offer some sage advice to those who may wish to follow in her footsteps.

“Work for any and every opportunity. This all came about just because I was looking at internship listings on the App State website. Look local. It doesn’t always have to be the biggest thing. You don’t have to be working stage-coach for Bonnaroo. You can start small and there are so many small festivals out there right now,” Craven said.

Opportunities are not always paid, and those are often the ones that get a foot in the door.

“[Festivals] are looking for young talent with energy to volunteer and help. And that is important. You have to be willing to volunteer. You’re not going to get paid right away or probably for a very long time. But, if you stick with it, you’re going to make connections. If you are hard-working and dependable, people are going to see that and when something comes available, they’re going to be looking to somebody that they can trust and count on,” Craven said.

Having a genuine love for and understanding of music and the festival scene and showing up year after year are important elements that have translated into a successful career trajectory for Craven.

“You don’t have to listen to every single artists on the docket, but you should at least have a desire to know and appreciate the music you’re presenting,” Craven said.

Making her mark…

Aside from booking talent, Craven has also been very focused on observing the vast number of traditions that take place each year at MerleFest. While she is excited to make her mark on the 2020 lineup, her experience with MerleFest has taught her the importance of maintaining the festival’s rich and cherished traditions. From coordinating the Veteran’s Jam and Mando-mania to planning outreach performances at 17 Wilkes county schools, Craven’s job goes beyond what the main lineup schedule indicates.

“There are lots of individual things that go into the festival that aren’t just what you’re seeing on the stages. I’ve got to learn what things happen year in and year out, so I make sure I build those in and don’t mess with any of our traditions,” Craven said.

With tradition comes a level of expectation, in particular from those artists who have made MerleFest an annual event over several years.

“We don’t want to offend any of the artists that have been with us a long time. We value them. We want to honor what they do and continue to bring new and interesting things for people to see. I am just trying to make sure I learned lessons before I get super deep into putting a schedule together. Right now, I am getting through the first festival and making sure I know as much as I can before I dive head first into throwing a ton of offers out,” Craven said.

MerleFest 2020 will be Craven’s first full run in this position, and she already planning out how her workspace will function best to match her visual mind–giant empty versions of the stage schedules plastered across her walls with an endless supply of dry erase markers and sticky notes.

“I have to see it all out in front of me. It’s easier to look at one big wall of things as opposed to 20 pages over four days,” Craven said.

One can imagine the thrill Craven will feel as she begins to fill the empty time slots for MerleFest 2020. Orchestrating such a beast of a production with so many moving parts is not for a disorganized mind. It takes creativity, imagination, and the ability to envision how the whole experience will translate into something greater than the sum of its many parts. With that creative freedom comes a heavy responsibility to also maintain the elements that make MerleFest such an amazing festival.

“I really don’t think that there’s anything more that I would add to the festival. I really feel like our goal is to not work on getting bigger, but keeping our event the best quality that it can be. If at some point an opportunity presents itself, that we could expand something or create something new, we’re never opposed to those kinds of opportunities. But, it’s not something I’m actively looking to do right now. We’re more focused on just making sure we keep it top-quality and keep all the things that people expect from it,” Craven said.

Once the dust settles from MerleFest 2019, Craven will be right back at it, standing wide-eyed in front of her blank canvas with that same child-like giddiness music fans experience when a lineup unfolds before them. It is evident that Craven’s unique journey through the MerleFest ranks has prepared her to excel in this position for years to come, and it will be exciting to watch lineups evolve across her tenure.

For more information about lineup and tickets, please visit Merlefest.org.

Are you headed to MerleFest this year?  If so, download your MerleFest ’19 app for Apple or Android to make your experience even better!

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2019 MerleFest Lineup

Racn - 2002

Now in its 32nd year, MerleFest is well-known as a family-friendly, 4-day music festival tucked into the rolling hills of western NC.  Boasting 13 stages, this tight-knit, yet “busking at the seams” festival  books the industry’s best from bluegrass, folk, Americana, country, rock, gospel and more.  Year after year, festival organizers leave little in terms of wants from their loyal fan base.  Whether it is the supersized lineup, intimate songwriter workshops, late night test revivals, kid’s activities, unique local vendors, or square dancing lessons, there is something for absolutely everyone.

Take a look at this year’s lineup and it is easy to see that the loyal Merelfest fan base is about to explode.  Stacked with both beloved alumni and a new class of fresh faces, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better music festival at a better price.  This year’s headliners include, The Avett Brothers, Brandie Carlile (coming off a heart-wrenching Grammy performance and huge win), Amos Lee, and Wynonna and the Big Noise, along with heavy-hitters Keb’ Mo’, The Milk Carton Kids, and Tyler Childers.  Festival traditionalists will find comfort in the return of Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush Band, Peter Rowan, Jim Lauderdale, The Del McCoury Band, Scythian, and The Kruger Brothers to name a few.   And don’t forget to stick around for some good ol’ fashioned storytelling, singing, and salvation at Jim Avett’s Gospel Hour on Sunday morning.

EOAF’s 2019 Fresh Face to watch is Molly Tuttle–the magic she creates when her fingers meet the strings will leave your mouth agape and your heart pounding.  Check her out yourself:

Muilti-day tickets packages and single-day tickets are now on sale for the April 25-28, 2019 festival.  Kids 12 and under are free (what a deal!).  The festival takes place on the beautiful, lush campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC.    For more information visit merlefest.org.

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Tank and the Bangas @ Haw River Ballroom 5/12/18

I went in blind.  Meaning, the only exposure I had to the New Orleans-based band, Tank and the Bangas, prior to their SOLD OUT show at Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw, NC, was a 20-minute snapshot through the lens of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series.  I was the fish, and I was hooked.

When I found out that a few days after this discovery, Tarriona “Tank” Ball and her Bangas would descend on that utopia along the banks of the Haw River, I made the conscious decision to stay above ground, avoiding the YouTube rabbit holes.  I wanted my virgin live experience to be pure.  I wanted every moment to feel new, which is in itself a lofty desire, but one I was willing to put out into the universe. I was not disappointed.

Tank – They must call her Tank because of the presence she brings when she enters the room–formidable and strong on the outside with intricate, delicate machinery on the inside.  A mix of fury and finesse, Tank shared her tornado of expressions without pause.  Within seconds on stage, the joy in her face and the swing in her hips told the crowd that it was time to have fun, and that while the carnival of emotions might take us from elation to exhaustion, all of it should be embraced. 

 

With close to three decades of life experience under her belt, Tank has stories to tell.  That night, below the glow of the word THRILLS, Tank seamlessly wove these stories together, calling upon childhood fearlessness to emerge again despite the confines of adult responsibilities.  Her authenticity and old-soul wisdom empowered and energized the crowd effortlessly.

The juxtaposition of her strength and fragility was simultaneously conflicting and comforting.  This push-pull generational struggle was embodied by the multiple personalities tucked in the pockets of her limitless vocal range.  From her wide-eyed, bright-pitched, girlish pops and squeals to her salt-of-the-earth, gritty, seasoned tones, Tank covered the spectrum of emotions easily in the first five minutes she was on stage. 

In life, people like to categorize things–place them in tidy, little boxes.  We are all guilty to some degree of this practice.  As I watched and listened, it became harder and harder to put Tank in a box.  She exudes originality, so much so that making direct comparisons to other female artists is futile.  Capturing her style in one or two words is like playing an endless game of whack-a-mole.  Just when you think you can nail her down, she’s gone.

The Bangas – Tank was joined on stage by Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph (background vocals), Norman Spence (keys), Joshua Johnson (drums), Albert Allenback (flute, alto saxophone), Merell Burkett (keys), Danny Abel (guitar) and Jonathan Johnson (bass).  Collectively known as The Bangas, this crew of artists lifted Tank to another level.  The standout element of improvisation across all instruments (voices included) made the whole show feel less like a cookie-cutter production and much more like a jam-band, gospel, funkdified tent revival–paddle fans, praising hands, crowd participation and all!

Worth noting is Ms. Joseph’s contribution to the whole live experience.  While Jelly is labeled a background singer, and has been called Tank’s “fly girl,” my impression after seeing her live is that those labels don’t quite hit the mark.  Sure, she helps keep the crowd hype, but she also shines in her own light–out from Tank’s shadow.  The tightness of her vocals with Tank’s felt genetic, like sisters who spent their lives singing together.  The love and respect between these two was palpable.  To be obvious, she’s the jelly to Tank’s peanut butter–you don’t have one without the other.

The Show – While I expected similar feelings to those I felt watching that Tiny Desk Concert, what I could have never predicted was the myriad of places the band would take me throughout the set.  As a kid growing up with the rise of hip-hop in the 80s and 90s, I was transported back to my days of parachute pants and one-strap overalls.  It felt as if I was witnessing a modern-day resurrection of Native Tongues, but with a new twist–spoken word and smooth, soulful jazz peppered with hip-hop, rock, punk, and Broadway theatrics.  Welcome to Bangaville.

Spoken word erupted in the 1950s in the US, and has evolved over decades of war, oppression and  social injustice, as a means to bring words to life—give them depth and dimension that is often denied in printed poetry.  This art, achieved through an intense and syncopated delivery that demands attention, is the centerpiece of Tank’s brilliance.  And while she certainly can and has commanded a crowd as a solo artist, the richness offered by The Bangas, expands the ripple effect far beyond the confines of a one-woman show.

At one point in the show, Tank asked, “Did you think I went through all that I went through to stay the same?”  Profound statements like this were sprinkled throughout the set, making it almost impossible not to stop and reflect.  In between the fun, silly moments, a message of hope and the importance of self-acceptance embraced the audience without warning or apology.

The set itself was solid, including fan-favorites Walmart, Boxes and Squares, Oh Heart, and their newest hit Smoke Netflix Chill.  The band took us all back in time with a rambunctious cover of Nirvana’s 1991 hit Smells Like Teen Spirit and a slowed-down soulful rendition of Outkast’s 2003 jam Roses

Following the set, and a brief moment off-stage, Tank and the Bangas reemerged to encore with Rollercoaster–a perfect way to end what was in itself an evening of ups, downs, twists, turns, and as my three-year old son would describe it, “tummy tickles.”  As the house lights came up, I looked back on the sold out crowd– a sea of faces lit up like the 4th of July, ready to get back in line and take another ride.

 

To learn more about Tank and the Bangas visit: http://www.tankandthebangas.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tank and the Bangas – Tiny Desk Concert

You know the feeling of being stopped in your tracks, frozen by an image hitting your retina or vibrations banging against your tympanic membrane?  The input–visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, whatever–is so striking, and so overwhelming that your nervous system can function only to process it and nothing else, hence your inability to move.  THAT is how it feels when you get your first taste of Tank and the Bangas–a mix of old school hip hop, spoken word, jazz, funk and spunk served up on a bomb ass platter for EVERYONE to enjoy.  You are going to want seconds.

Help yourself…  http://www.tankandthebangas.com

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And it goes on and on…The Art of Scott Avett

Six years ago I was waking up in Charlotte wishing I could relive the previous night.  I, along with a small group of friends and strangers, were treated to an evening of storytelling and art by Scott Avett.  While Avett is best known for his songwriting and musical prowess as co-frontman of The Avett Brothers, he also wears other creative hats.  That evening, donned in all black, Avett–proud, yet introspective–opened up about his journey as a visual artist.  As we sat, surrounded by what felt like a lifetime of his paintings, charcoal sketches, and linolium prints, we listened and watched intently as he spoke.  The event–The Paintings of Scott Avett: Exploring Story and Spirituality–was  about more than gaining a glimpse into the world of someone we admired.  It was about raising awareness for the Educational Center in Charlotte.  It was about personal expression and the spiritual journey that we are all on, regardless of if we recognize it or not.  It was about community.

Since that evening, Scott has participated in similar, intimate events–whether it be to discuss his music, visual art or both.  These events are designed to keep people close, to stir emotions in a relatively small space.  While they appear exclusive, that is not the driving force or goal.  The ripple effect that occurs after such events–the spreading, sharing and intermingling of ideas–is akin to the root system in a forest.  It is sustaining and strong.  It connects and grounds us.  While most of Avett’s fans will never experience him in this type of forum, he has begun to share his artistic process with those who are interested.  Through social media, Avett reveals the evolution of a painting or print, the development of color, the depths of shadow, and the complexities of the world around him.  His most recent progression–like many of his paintings–is centered on his family and the interaction and energy of generations.

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source: @avettar instagram

In the spirit of community, connectedness and inclusivity, here is the transcript from that magical evening six years ago (2/26/2012).  While the feelings evoked in the moment can not be reproduced by these words, perhaps the stories told will push that ripple a bit further beyond its current limits.  Enjoy…

Shelia Enis:  The center is over one hundred and sixty years old and it all began when someone left a baby on the doorstep of at St. John’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis.  The woman of the church took the baby in, so the center started as an orphanage and was called The Church Association for the Relief of Orphans and Destitute Persons.  That was in January of 1843.  The first year they admitted three more children and the budget for that year was $37.75.  So obviously the church association was concerned with the physical and mental well being of the children.  They also became concerned about their spiritual lives and religious education.  The entire history is very fascinating.  What came out of this is a research center and spiritual education that has been nationally acclaimed a pioneer in research of religion education, particularly in the methodology called miutic, which is the Greek word for midwife and it means as a teacher or facilitator.  You are not the authority.  You simply help another person work what that person may already know.  The thing that we do is to create curriculum resources and events and retreats to enrich people’s spiritual journey.  We deal with life questions that have no answers.  The goal, the vision and mission behind the center is that we all evolve spiritually and psychologically and socially and that we become conscious along the way.

Tilly Tice (President of Board of Directors of the Educational Center):  Who would have thought that two and a half years ago when I got a call from Shelia Enis saying we really need to move The Educational Center to Charlotte, North Carolina instead of St. Louis because the crux of the support for the center is really in the Carolinas, particularly in Charlotte.  I never would have thought that an event like tonight would come to be.  It is just incredible to me that this event was actually bestowed upon us by the insight of Shelia and Tom.  Of course I knew about Scott Avett.  I knew about his music, but that Scott himself might make himself available and his remarkable artwork as a catalyst for a benefit for the Educational Center was never even in a seed in the pod of possibilities that I saw.  And had it not been for Shelia and the fact that she had the realization that we need to move from St. Louis to Charlotte.  Had she not been married to Tom Schultz, who had become such a wonderful supporter of the Educational Center.  Were it not for the fact that Tom happened to be owner of a gallery empathinc and met Scott Avett, none of us would be here tonight.  Do I believe in synchronicity?   Absolutely, without a doubt.  You can bet I do and Tom and Shelia recognized it.  The better they got to know Scott, the more deeply convinced they were that, ‘Hey this is a fella who is very much about the same kinds of things the Educational Center is about.  Here is someone else who is committed to moving beneath the layers of human stories, of personal history and experiences to discover deeper levels of spiritual reality and knowing.’  On behalf of the board of the Educational Center I express my warmest gratitude to Tom and Shelia, for the genesis of this evening and for all of the energy, time, and effort that has gone into the development of the evening.  They called together one of the best planning teams that you could imagine.  (Multiple thank yous).  Last and most important, most deeply appreciated…the man himself Scott Avett.  Scott recognized also as Tom and Shelia talked to him about the educational center and the work we do, that we had much in common.  Our work using varying arrow in all sorts of different forms, is also Scott like your work, connecting to the spirit lying in the center of all of us.  You made a stupendous commitment to come to us and be the center of this benefit.  How do we say thank you when the words “thank you” will never be adequate?  Your gift to us is of yourself and your sacred artistic expression is beyond mere words.

Tom Schultz:  I am glad you all could come over tonight.  I met Scott in 2003 when he wandered into my studio and asked if he could hang a few paintings up.  So, I knew that he had a little band, which nothing much has changed if you were able to convince yourself that the Grammy award stage was a bar and Bob Dylan was your bartender.  I could go there.  I want to talk a little bit about these paintings.  I’ve spent a lot of time with these paintings.  I’ll tell you a story.  I have a dog, Olive, and I walk Olive every night at 10 o’clock.  I meet people.  Some of you here have met Olive.  We are on the lookout for unusual things.  Last Fall we were walking in Elizabeth, with the skyline of Charlotte visible to us and Olive stopped.  I’ve learned to stop when Olive stops and see what she’s looking at.  Well there was a two-point buck and a doe that were walking across the asphalt, and disappeared into someone’s yard.  I thought that wildness in this sophisticated urban area was a juxtaposition.  It was just a marvel for me.  So, let me tell you about these paintings.  When you see the color under the arm that is painted so deftly, you are dealing with something wild that is also sophisticated.  When you see one brush stroke that defines an entire toe so clearly and succinctly, you are looking at something wild that is also sophisticated.  I often compare Scott’s work to writers like early John Steinbeck. Sometimes I think that there’s an air of grit to the reality that he portrays.  There is a bit of wildness in sophistication.  I hope you recognize that and after looking at these paintings, accept Scott’s invitation to you to find the wildness in you that’s wrapped up in your sophistication.  My son Isaac, who is also a painters, tells me that when I like someone’s art work I say, “Yeah they can paint.”  But when I really love someone’s art work I say, “That make me WANT to paint.”  So Scott I am going to ask you to wrap this up man, because I want to go paint.  Ladies and gentlemen, Scott Avett.

Scott Avett:  First of all let me say thank you to Tilly and the Educational Center for having me and allowing me to do this.  For reading the mission statement with a mission of the EC and the importance and the power that they imply and put on story as a tool for spiritual enlightenment and seeking, seems right in line with what I do, and what my brother and our brothers do.  I’d also like to say thank you to Shelia and Tom, with all of my heart, and the committee called Team Avett.  Some of the other Team Avett that we have with our band, well I don’t want you all to get into anything (laughter)…Thank you so much for making this happen.

When I think about this location here, Charlotte, South Charlotte in particular, I think about this story every time.  This year, different from the talk that Shelia and Tom saw me do, I told myself, “You know I am not going to write anything. I’m not going to think about anything.  I’m not going to plan anything.”  And so for the past four months I kept this discipline of being really lazy (laughs) and not planning anything.  And so, here’s my lead-off story.  I just figured that the story is so important.  Any lesson and anything that is important within the story, it’s implied as the Educational Center implies as well.  And it says it directly that we are, and I am not really any kind of authority, and I can’t even pretend to be.  I have been butting my head against the wall a lot of my life trying to be an authority of certain things and every year that goes by I realize how ridiculous that is.  I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like 10 years from now.

But, being in South Charlotte makes me think about meeting these girls in high school at the beach.  And exchanging numbers with them – me and some friends of mine from Concord – and coming home from the beach and preparing to come to Charlotte with this friend of mine to meet these girls and take them on, not a date, but an outing because it was during the day.  Now, coming from Cabarrus County, we were soccer players and we’d come to South Charlotte to play soccer tournaments and soccer matches, and we were destroyed every time.  I mean, on and on, from when I was a little kid playing rec to high school and getting beat like 19-1, 14-2 (points).  There’s one of them back there right now.  That was my interaction and dealings with South Charlotte, other than it being this mansion on a hill place.  I remember going through there seeing houses that I thought, “Nobody knows the people who live in those houses.  Nobody does.”   I don’t know if people do live in those houses.  Do they ever come out and the people who do come out, do they live in those houses?  They seemed so far away from the road literally and also metaphorically.  So anyway, that was my experience with South Charlotte.  So in preparation to go pick these girls up that we met at the beach on an outing, I decided, “Well, soccer is popular in South Charlotte.”  There are really good soccer players there, so I’m thinking, I’ll wear a World Cup t-shirt. (laughs)  You know the World Cup t-shirt with the soccer ball with the planet on it.  I thought, “Oh this is good, this is good.”  So, I’m a shoe guy so I am thinking, “What shoes should I wear?”  Well I had these blue puma indoor soccer shoes, and they are suede.  I realized today just thinking about this “I had blue suede shoes!”  (laughs)  So to complete the look I go to the drawer and get my Umbros–my blue Umbros.  So I’ve got my sort of World Cup America look going on.  And anyone who knows what Umbros are, they are like wearing boxers in public.  It’s like this new fad where some people wear pajamas in public, and I’m like, “Uh, it’s kind of crazy!”  So anyway, we hand-picked a friend of ours who had a convertible because we thought that would be pretty cool.  So it was me and this farmer friend of mine and a guy we thought was kind of uptown from Concord, who lived on Union Street so he was more city-oriented.  We went up and met these girls and I mean, I am sure during the day I was like, “This is going okay.  That look that they gave me when I walked through the door wasn’t that bad.”  Looking back on it, they were nice.  They went out with us and probably chose a place where they wouldn’t see any of their friends.  I remember thinking that I didn’t really hear back from them so I guess it didn’t really go so well.  But now looking back I just appreciate their sympathy (laughs).

But as I thought about that story, it led me on to think about the differences between going up in Charlotte and growing up in Cabarrus County.  I was thinking about the perspective I had and the forced need to use my creativity.  Being in the woods for long hours with nobody else, and fashioning toys and guns out of branches…My point is that being around less people, other than family –my brother, sister, mom and dad– we didn’t have any neighbors at the time.  It got me thinking about the things that we did and the things that were forming us and the things that were growing meaning in our lives–the experiences that we had, with the push and the pull and the conflicts that we encountered.  And it made me think about this story that happened maybe a year before I came here dressed as a soccer player for a day (laughs).  I thought about the trouble that I could get into in Cabarrus County and the space that you had and the opportunities that you had to really wreck some shop really.  I remember a friend of mine coming to me and saying (he was an older friend…I was a freshman and he was a senior).  His name was Ryan.  Ryan had a girlfriend named Katrina.  He said, “We need to steal Katrina Avenue, the sign.  It is going to look good for me to have this sign.”  I was 14 years old and so I said, “That sounds like a great idea.”  You aren’t a burglar if you are stealing from the government, right?  There was just something about it that felt okay.  (laughs).  So we employed another friend of ours, another Scott, who was also a 17 year old.  We agreed that Friday night we would go steal Katrina Avenue.  So we went out Friday night.  We had all of this open space and much less people.  We started the night early to get Katrina Avenue, but it was very difficult and we didn’t have the right tools so we gave up on it.  But we decided we would just carry on the rest of the night and we will steal some other signs.  I mean this is 14 years old, in a car by myself with these guys just looking for trouble.  So, we agreed that Scott and Scott would be dropped off at a stop sign at a golf course, and that we will steal the stop sign since we can’t get the street sign.  We would just push it down and take the stop sign.  So, we agreed that the little Honda that Ryan was driving would drive around the neighborhood and head back once we had the stop sign, and we would get in.  I remember him driving away and it was really moonlit out there and as the car was just scooting off, the sign comes down and we were there with our tools and there was just something thrilling about taking this sign down in this neighborhood, this golf course neighborhood.  You know we’re getting one for the team.  So, Scott and I start working on this sign.  We pushed the sign down and we’re working around this with our ratchet.  We’ve got a ratchet and adjustable screw drivers and wrenches just in case.  Ryan’s gone, he’s going to be gone for a couple of minutes.  I heard some of this rustling around at the ranch house across the street and I knew the family that lived over there somewhere.  But we’re still working.  It got kind of quiet and we heard just a huge “KABOOM!”  I was like, “What is that?!”  That was a car backfiring.  Somebody’s over there and they cranked their car and it backfired.  I actually had a buddy that had a Jeep and we would drive around Concord and downshift so it would backfire and scare people.  So, I am instantly thinking that the car backfired because that’s something we do in Cabarrus County.  (laughs)  With that we both decided that we were going to head Ryan off at the path and we are going to go ahead and get out of here.  So we go out in search of the car and here comes Ryan in the little Honda and hop in.  And I am the youngest so I have to get in the hatchback (scrunches his body into a ball), because it’s a two-door.  Well we go around and end up at a dead end, and we have to go back to where we heard the car backfire.  We had to drive back by there and we were kind of scared because we knew someone was out there. So we all decided that we were going to cruise by there and everybody agreed that we were going to drive slow, cruise by and we didn’t see any sign, we would be good.  They probably called the police so we were going home.  This was really dumb so let’s just go home.  So we are cruising along and I was crunched up in the back looking through this foggy window and as I look I see this guy behind a chain linked fence.  I just see someone pacing then all of a sudden there was glass breaking and the KABOOM again, and it was like, “Pa-ching-ching!” (high pitched noise of a ricocheting bullet).  And a bullet goes through the front door panel of the car and through the center console of the car and through the laces of the Converse All-Stars that Scott’s wearing.  And it pops the laces.  It doesn’t go through his foot, just through his shoe.  Of course everyone in the car, Scott and I broke out in a giggle because we were terrified.  We were hysterical.  Ryan drops his head and just drove.  Of course the police were on their way and of course the man who had shot at us had called the police as well so there was a strange thing going on there. So we get taken in and we get arrested.   I am 14 years old so the police officer obviously knows that I am going to tell.  (laughs) And I did tell the whole story and I sold them all out.  To think that that glass in the room was just a mirror and everyone else in the room watching and thinking “Just tell them we weren’t there.”  I spent 4 or 5 hours at the police department and at the end my dad comes and picks me up.  My dad talks to the police a little bit and we walk out.  They are like “Okay, goodnight, we will see you at court.”  As he picks me up the first thing he says is “I need to go to the grocery store.  I need some bread. Mom needs some bread.”  I said, “Ok.”  He said, “I think I want some gum too.”  I said (laugh), “Ok.”  So we are on the way to the grocery store and I said, “Dad I guess I’m really, really in trouble.”  He said, “Son, I think we are going to lower your curfew a little bit and you are going to be in all sorts of trouble with the judicial system so there’s no point in grounding you.  What am I going to do?  I’m not going to whoop you.  You are terrified right now, as you should be.  You are going to make these mistakes, and I just don’t want you to get killed along the way.  You’re going to get hurt and I don’t want you to get hurt beyond repair.”  How lucky was I to have gone through that.  I mean it was just a mindless thing to do but at 14, especially 14 for a boy, mindlessness is like growing hair I guess.  It’s something that we have a lot of or are starting to have a lot of.  So I ended up having 24 hours of community service, and I marked it as an experience that changed my life.  I never vandalized and I never went on a vandalizing outing again, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.  It was a ridiculous thing to do.  But, I think at that moment, not just my dad’s wisdom or my dad’s experience, that was the only thing that showed me that I should listen to it.

What happened next over the years, at 15 my relationship with me and my dad grew closer and stronger in his invitation to work with him on the bridges he was building.  My dad was a welder.  He is still a welder, but is now retired from it.  He invited me at 15 years old to come work with him as a laborer on the bridge, which I don’t’ think I wanted to do but I felt like I needed to or I would be a failure if I didn’t step up to the challenge. So it was not for anything that he had done.  This was just a feeling from within.  So I went work with him on the first job on Independence Blvd.  For some reason, that story that I just told led to this and two incidences on the bridge.  The first day I went to work with my dad I remember hammering to beat down this piece of metal to get it prepared to weld, and I remember this is the first job I was ordered to do and I am swinging this thing and I let that thing rip right out of my hand.  I just see this hammer headed down to Independence Blvd and cars just flying back and forth and it lands right there at the white line.  Cars are still just going back and forth.  I’m like, “Okay, cool.” So nobody saw it and I am like this (acting like nothing happened) (laugh).  So, I was done with the hammering and had to move on to the decking.  And decking was like this long and this tall and it’s steel, it’s pure steel, and it’s heavy.  I am 15 so I am moving through them really fast and I do like 40 of them–taking them in popping them down, taking them in popping them down.  I am thinking this is great.  Dad’s going to come over and tell us we can leave soon.  It’s getting late in the morning and he’s going to take me to lunch.  You know, I’m the bosses son!  I am just worn out and getting dizzy you know (laughing).  He says, “Alright you guys got it I will see you later in the day.”  I’m thinking well I guess I am staying for the rest of the day.  At 15, I am looking back and thinking about this bridge work and thinking about being up there on that bridge and thinking about my own kids and sending them out on the bridge and thinking, “Wow, you know, talk about letting go.”  But it’s the right thing to do.

Later in my experiences with my dad on the bridge, I would still be laying deck out and the trick is that you have angled iron between and there are lips or L-shapes that you are throwing the decking down between and you are just throwing them down and you go.  So you pop a couple in as you go, and then you come back and screw them all out and secure it and the concrete goes down.  Well Dad’s rule was consistency.  You keep 55 mph for 8 hrs you get farther than if you do 75 then 45 then 75 then get a ticket 85, get another ticket, get arrested.  You know you’d take a couple days to get where you are going.  So what he said was to do one piece of decking at a time.  Put one piece down, put a screw in it, and then put another piece down.  Me and the guy that I was working with felt like we knew enough that we’ll put two down and we will fly through this.  So we are putting two down and I’d put the screw in.  The thing about putting two down is that you have one foot on the angle and one foot on the decking.  Without screws in it, you could just do this (acts it out) and it would slide out from under you.  You’ve got 30-40 feet beneath you to road.  It was unmarked road that wasn’t in use yet.  So we are laying out two and I’ve got one foot on an angle and one foot on a piece of decking, and I go to screw it down and  it’s going fine.  We are cheating the system.  We’re cheating Dad’s advice.  The guy I am working with sort of kicks the decking to get it in place and before I know it this thing slides out from under me and in a split second all I see is road and concrete and decking falling.  I’m falling and one of the pieces of decking comes up and cuts my arm and the next moment I am back up on the angle.  Just 30 seconds later and I’m thinking, “Okay, I was  just  free-falling and I grabbed this piece of rebar and pulled myself up.”  I walked back up and I was like, “Cool, I’m not even shaking.” Thirty seconds later I am just shaking and in shock.  My dad comes over about another minute later and says, “Okay let’s get back out there.”  I’m thinking, “You’ve got to be joking right? You saw what just happened. I’ve gotta collect myself.”  That was tough.  That was traumatic.  He said, “If you don’t come out here now you will never come out here again. You’ll be scared of heights the rest of your life.”  So I went back out there.  What that story made me think about was, where in the world does this urgency and this work ethic that I know that my brother and I talk about a lot, we actually try to keep it at bay, but where did it come from?  As I tell those stories about working on the bridge it’s just no mystery as to where that discipline comes from.  It’s the same discipline that told me, “Don’t write down and outline for this talk.  It will come to you.  Whatever these stories are or whatever you are going to talk about will happen.  Nothing wrong could happen so just do it.”  So this work ethic grew throughout my life which helps push this need for me to make sure that this gallery is full or a calendar is full or a map is connected and each dot on the map is connected closely and carefully.

After thinking about those stories I started thinking about this thing that I had read – a small essay out of a group of writings called The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin.  John Ruskin is a writer who I was introduced to through reading Tolstoy, which has become the centerpiece to my inspirational writing and spirituality and Christianity and understanding.  And how it can be misunderstood by so many and mistranslated by so many.  But John Ruskin, in The Stones of Venice, he has an essay called, The Seeing and Feeling Creature, which says that artists are put on this planet to do two things, but in total he’s really describing three things.  He says we are here to see, and to feel, and to document.  The artist can try to think, but he’s not here to do that.  He can try to explain and analyze, but he’s not here to do that.  He can go to parties, but he’s not here to party.  He can’t.  He really can’t.  He can go to the bar and pretend that he’s going to sit down and drink with the rest of the guys, but it can’t last long.  It won’t last long because as soon as he feels something he has to act on it and move on it.  The documenting, which is the third thing in this description and I believe this is true and I understood when I read it, quite a bit.  I recall going to parties growing up and even now when you want to be a good time guy, and you want to be there with everyone else and something creeps in and something has to be done.  It’s a total curse.  And it’s not romantic and it’s really not emotional and it’s sometimes very anti-emotional.  Well maybe emotional isn’t the right word, but maybe it’s not passionate in the way people like to describe passion.  “Oh he’s such a passionate person. I would love to be around that person.”  I doubt you would because you are going to be quickly moved out of the way so that he can get to this documentation.  That they must…that they are just robots in trying to make happy, which is the best thing that I can really say as far as explaining why I do the work here that I do.

I didn’t realize that I was a storyteller until I was asked to do this talk and it made me think about it.  I didn’t realize that my brother and I, regardless of if I make paintings or not and the pictures made stories, that we were storytellers until I started thinking about it.  By default or directly, we are certain storytellers.  That’s been something that the Educational Center has taught me.  In this one event, I didn’t even know about the Educational Center before, but it’s been an amazing exchange in that regard.  But, The Seeing and Feeling Creature hit home for me and when I think about the work ethic that sort of directs me and directs my hands and that directs the work order of the schedule that I feel like I should keep, the “seeing and feeling” philosophy don’t jive so well or work together so well because when you are seeing and feeling everything and you’ve got a schedule to keep and a place to be and some people who need to count on you, you just  might not be there, because you might feel something that you have to go take care of.  I’ve had this experience where I’ve gotta be somewhere and I am driving, leaving home, and I drive by the farm that’s near my house and I see a horse that had died the night before.  As morbid and it will sound, I can’t help that I had to turn around and go get my camera and photograph as much of it as I could.  I don’t’ know why.  It could sound grotesque to some people, maybe not to a [person] who is going to come and take the horse away, but for most of us it’s kind of like, “Well, why would you want a picture of that?”  Well I don’t know, but I do know that when I am standing there taking a picture and being late for my appointment, which may be art related, it’s this weird conflict that is happening.  This “seeing and feeling” is actually taking away from the “seeing and feeling” that happened.  There is definitely something that’s happened to experience this body that no more soul will inhabit, that it is just this piece of future dirt.  That’s real interesting to me.  With the “seeing and feeling” and the work ethic, there’s a balance that is ongoing for me and at the moment as I think about what I am called to do and my obligations to the visual and through song and through story, it feels in order.  But in the next moment it very well could flip over and find itself off the rails.

This opportunity to speak came at a time where self-awareness is not a big part of my life at the moment.  A year ago, when Shelia and Tom were so nice to come see my talk I was still talking about this self-actualization that maybe I heard about in psychology class in high school, and talking about self awareness and still this hope for control of something. The opportunity to do this talk came at a time when self-awareness is relatively ailing for me.  That made me think of a story.  This year Seth and I were invited to go to a forest fire benefit show in Texas.  We got a call from our booking agency that said, “Ray from Asleep at the Wheel is playing as Willie Nelson’s band at this event.  It’s going to be Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, The Dixie Chicks and George Straight and you’ve been invited to come and sing with Willie Nelson on stage.  It’s going to be a great event.  It’s going to be huge!  It’s going to be 16-18,000 people all around in the big stadium.  It’s sold out and it’s a great opportunity.”  It could have been any event for us to go and share the stage with Willie Nelson, we would have jumped on it.  So I said that we’d love to and we made the agreement.  They came to us and said, “What songs would you like to do?”  I said, “Well I think we’d like to do one of our songs, one of Willie’s songs and then a gospel song.”  Then they came back and said, “Well, Willie doesn’t do other people’s songs and he only knows two gospel songs.”  So we said, “Well, what two gospel songs does he know?”  They said, “Well, Will the ‘Circle be Unbroken’ and ‘On a Cloudy Day’.”  So we said, “Well okay we will do those two and then we will do one of his, that’s fine.”  So we show up that day and they say, “Willie wrote a song called ‘Roll me up and Smoke me when I die’.  We’re going to do ‘Roll me up and Smoke me when I die’, ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’ and ‘On the Road Again’.”  It was going to be the grand finale for the show.  We were like, “Whatever!  We will play it.”  Well Ray was on the bus with us and he said, “I don’t even know what key the song is in.  He told me “C” but I’ve never even heard the song.  We’ll be on stage to play it.  It doesn’t look like we are going to get a sound check.  Willie won’t show up until 10 minutes before the show so forget about that anyway.  So it looks like the first time you are going to be on stage with me or Willie Nelson is when we are going to play.”  We were like, “Okay, sounds good.”  (laugh).  This is like a huge group of people–cowboy hats, trucker hats.  You’ve got Lyle Lovett wandering around. The Dixie Chicks haven’t played in 5 years. George Straight has more #1 hits than anybody in history, so this is just a great event.  Early, you know the nerves are definitely starting to twist, because I am thinking, “Man I can’t play lead in “E” for ‘On the Road Again’ on the banjo.  I’m not even capable of it, and maybe I am in “E” sometimes and maybe I don’t even know!”  I am thinking this is going to be crazy.  I am not too nervous about going on stage for the first time with Willie Nelson in front of people, that’s okay.  But, if he calls on me to do something I don’t know.  We are getting close.  The stage manager calls us over and it’s almost our big moment.  Willie’s doing his thing and the show is amazing.  Such a tale, such a road that he’s seen and such a life that he’s seen.  We are watching all of this up on stage and the stage manager says, “Look we aren’t doing this ‘Roll me up and Smoke me when I die’ song.  The band doesn’t know it, you guys aren’t going to know it, so we’ll just skip it.  So ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’ and ‘On the Road again’.”  I was like, “Cool.”  That was like a pound of weight is lifted off and I’m feeling better.  We’re waiting and we’re looking at the teleprompter up there and it’s like giving the songs and the setlist and here comes ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’ and we’re thinking, OK and he says, “Okay GO!”  Seth and I go out there and we are trying to maintain our composure.  We get our instruments up and I plug in the banjo and Seth’s plugging in the guitar.  Willies’ just looking at us and smiling.  They told us, “Willie’s just going to love having you up there.  He loves playing with as many people as he can. It’s going to be great.”  So he’s looking and he kind of looks over with a question expression on his face.  He kind of walks up and he looks down at the banjo and he says, “mumble mumble…what key?”  I thought, “Did he just ask me what key?”  I said, “Key of G?” and he said, “What song?” There were like 16,000 people and I was like, “Will the circle be Unbroken?”  He looked over at Seth and said, “Key of G?” and Seth said, “Yea” and he said, “Well alright!” (laughs).  And he’s just like 78 years old and his hands and everything are just ripping it up and so graceful and not missing a note.  I’m just watching his fingers just move, and I look over and he’s just grinnin’.

But it was a great experience and it made me think about self-awareness and that 10 years ago when I started on this journey that I am with the music, I probably would have looked at that in such a different way.  I would have thought, “How in the WORLD does he not know what song we’re going to play?  How in the world does he not know, maybe, where he’s at? (laughs)” That’s not what I thought at all.  If I would have attempted that 10 years ago I would have been as ridiculous as I was to steal a stop sign.  To even judge that or to even think that I have a right to assess that would be crazy because Seth and I have looked at each other plenty of times and said, “Are we in Ohio?” (laughs).  We know where we are, because we talk about it all day.  We ate here and talked to everyone that was there.  We know the people there by name!  It’s just the self awareness of where you are and my point in all of that is there really is much less of a tale or a path that I think about with the work.  There’s a little bit of a direction.  I really don’t have much faith in a future for it.  I don’t really bother with that.  I do have faith in the direction, but you know, it’s right now.  It’s this moment and I’m going to do what I can to make the next piece and understand why I am making the next piece.  When I see something and feel it, I know to go and do it.  And I know the things that I don’t think that I did well I try to do them better the next time.  That’s pretty much the mathematics to that.  And the work, I am careful to walk around and talk about meanings or hidden meanings because I think when I get to try to sound sophisticated or complicated or speak in big words it’s just because I am lying or I just want to hear myself talk.  I really don’t want to lie and I really do get tired of hearing myself talk believe it or not.  Although I am the one who is usually outside of the bus keeping fans longer than they are wanting.  They are like, “You really should go inside.” and I’m like, “Well hold on, you should hear about this one time when Seth was like this…let’s talk about this painting….you want my autograph?!”  and they are like, “No it’s okay.”  (laughs)

So those are my stories, and I do think that I have learned most importantly that all of these pictures are stories and I do have something to say, I certainly do and I can speak on all of them.  But I am really thankful that the Educational Center put that reflective device in front of me to help me realize that WOW, there are a lot of stories here and I need to document them.  This life and the facet of stories that are in them being told every moment, in short and in long, it’s a beautiful thing. To think that there is not a spiritual accompaniment, we can all talk about what we know, and it’s jibberish probably, but we all know that there is something we don’t know.  I think we can all agree on that.

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Evolution of a Song – “Rejects in the Attic” – Part 1

It has been almost four years since Seth and Scott Avett debuted Rejects in the Attic at an intimate Merlefest songwriter’s workshop.  That morning, fans nestled into the 200-seat auditorium with grand hopes that they would witness something truly special.  I doubt that any of us were prepared for this song and the palpable heartache that echoed through Seth’s microphone.   Once an orphaned sheet of scribbled lyrics buried in a disheveled pile, Seth dusted off Rejects, dismantled it and pieced it back together, replacing Scott’s pain and vulnerability with his own.

As fans, we speculate on what may drive the emotion behind such a heavy song–despair, regret, shame, hopelessness.  Though we will never fully understand the twisted path a song takes from start to finish–even when written by two brothers, years apart–it was clear that on that day, as Seth sat with his journal and heart left open for the world to see, the pain behind those lyrics being uttered in public for the first time was fresh and present and very personal.

Seth’s face told a story of sleepless nights and mental anguish. With eyes shut, the weighty lyrics left his lips to find sympathetic ears and sturdy shoulders.  Suddenly, we realized that we were there to share the burden.  We held our breath and took it in, collectively acknowledging the therapeutic exchange that was unfolding before us.  We were not just a passive sounding board that day, but rather a living, breathing levee taking on a flood of emotion.  And just when we thought the chairs may buckle beneath us, Seth opened his eyes, looked to the sky and asked us for more.   We obliged, hopeful that whatever role we played that day for him allowed those holes of pain to be filled in with new found joy.

As Seth closed the song, an almost embarrassed smile spread across his face like that of a grade school kid who just finished reading aloud his first poem in English class.  That bashful authenticity reminded us all that even though we often find ourselves separated from them by a steel barrier or tour bus window, we are all just a bunch of rejects riding through this crazy, beautiful, painful experience together.

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