Tag Archives: Jim Avett

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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Interview – Dolph Ramseur

dolphramseur

Thirteen years ago, Dolph Ramseur left the tennis court to start his own independent record label, Ramseur Records. He had no real experience in the music industry, but was armed with a deep-seated passion, blue-collar work ethic, and relentless determination–three key ingredients for success in any industry.

Today his roster includes bands like The Avett Brothers, Langhorne Slim and The Law, Bombadil, Paleface, Jim Avett, David Wax Museum, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Samantha Crain. After over a dozen years in the business, Ramseur still maintains a humble demeanor, a sweet southern charm, and a homegrown love for music. Simply put, he is a fan just like the rest of us.

Recently, Evolution of a Fan caught up with Ramseur via phone to learn a bit more about the man behind the music:

EOAF: Good morning Dolph, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Briefly, what is a typical day like for you?
Dolph Ramseur: Well, I get about 250 emails a day, and then on top of that, mix that with phone calls and instant messages. But, it’s really just sort of making the foundation for the artist, building upon that, trying to see what is coming in the future, what’s down the pipeline and plan for that accordingly–whether it’s tour dates or recording.

EOAF: So are you pretty hands on with promotion and booking for some of your lesser known bands?
DR: To a certain extent we are. Some of our acts don’t have booking agents so we have to find shows for them. But then the ones that do [have booking agents] we help out with the promoters, and getting the word out about shows and when do tickets go on sale, and how do we promote these shows, and what kind of Facebook ads are we going to take out, and what should we post on the website. There’s a lot of moving parts.

EOAF: Do you have a fairly large staff to do this or is it still a pretty small operation?
DR: Well, we are still small. I have an employee in Nashville, one in Los Angeles, and then one in the Winston-Salem area, and I am in Concord, NC.

EOAF: So you are still working out of your house?
DR: Yes, we all do that.

EOAF: That’s convenient.
DR: Yeah, we’ll its got its advantages and pitfalls, as anyone who works out of their house will tell you.

EOAF: That type of flexibility sort of allows you to move where you need to go. Do you often get on the road to support your musicians?
DR: Yes, although I can’t do it as much as I used to, just because it’s so busy on all aspects of what we do. But, yes, I get out quite a bit.

EOAF: What would you say over the past year has been one of your highlights of being at a show?
DR: Well the two shows with The Avett Brothers at Red Rocks this past year were great. Seeing The [Avett] Brothers down in Atlanta in front of 12,500 people was pretty special as well, because I was at the first show when the guys played in Atlanta. You know you go from playing to 50 people to 12,500 and you see the growth of the band. It’s pretty amazing.

EOAF: Does that shift ever seem overwhelming? Do you ever ask yourself, “How did we get here?”?
DR: Well, I know kinda how we got there. It was a lot of hard work, and a lot of talent from the band. I feel like we’ve got one of the best fan bases in the world. So, you mix all three of those things together and some special things can happen. But in some ways I’ve lost scope of maybe how big it is, and maybe that’s a good thing. I mean, I saw the guys play to 8 or 9 people in Charlottesville, VA 10 years ago and they put on the same show to those 9 people that they did at their last show in Charlottesville to over 4,000. So, I think we all have blinders on when it comes to that. We are thankful that we have that kind of crowd, but it’s not something that we, I mean, it is what it is.

EOAF: Now some of the bands that I believe you have on your roster now were introduced through your relationship with The Avett Brothers. Do you kind of keep an eye on their opening bands as a way to find new talent?
DR: It just depends. I find them everywhere.

EOAF: Are you actively looking for new talent, or do you feel like you are pretty much at capacity at this point?
DR: Well, we are pretty full, but you never know what you might come across that strikes us. That’s sort of a hard one, you know, because you just kind of get bit by the love bug on it, so I just don’t know.

EOAF: You’ve probably served as a mentor for the musicians that you manage, but do you also serve as a mentor for your staff?
DR: There’s a lot of give and take with my staff. I always had the saying, ‘big team, little me’ so we always learn from one another. I’m learning something everyday at this job. So, we share the knowledge of this, and I think the main thing that we are trying to do is to have fun doing this, because there are so many people working jobs that hate their jobs. My staff and I are really lucky because we are doing something we really love and have fun doing. As far as being a mentor, I’m not sure. I think we are all in this together, so it’s not necessarily that kind of role I’m playing.

EOAF: As a manager, how would you define your job. What are the important qualities that you think have led to your success?
DR: I guess, well, you see in some ways I don’t even feel like we are in the music business. I’m in The Avett Brothers business. I’m in the Carolina Chocolate Drops business. I’m in the Bombadil business, the Langhorne Slim business. I feel like all of these acts we work with are all handmade kind of acts. They are all unique. They are all different from the norm. It’s tough for me to answer. I’ve been at this now for about 13 years and I had no experience of it before getting into it, so maybe I had no bad habits and I didn’t know the pitfalls necessarily. We kind of just went by the seat of our pants. But, you know, I’m from a very blue-collar family, so I’m just a hard worker first and foremost. I show up everyday, and I care. If you show up everyday and you care about what you are doing, it’s almost hard not to have success, because there are so many people not showing up with that passion. I can’t speak for those folks, but we just take a lot of passion and pride in this, and I want everybody on the planet to hear these acts.

EOAF: That passion and that gut feeling you get when you find a new artist, or hear someone like Langhorne or Paleface, does that feed into your decision to bring them on? Would it be difficult for you to represent someone who you didn’t have that feeling about?
DR: Yes, it would be tough. It just wouldn’t be fun.

EOAF: You’ve said in other interviews that you are really just a fan of music, and that is kind of what got you into this. Do you think your musical tastes have evolved since staring Ramseur Records 13 years ago?
DR: Well, I’ve always been left of center when it comes to music, so I like all forms. If anything I get jaded because I hear so much stuff, and it’s hard to digest so much music that’s coming at me sometimes. My father was a big Johnny Cash fan. He was a big Hank Williams Sr. fan. He was a big Roy Orbison fan. He loved The Platters. He was a big Pavarotti fan. My father is about as blue-collar as you are going to find. He didn’t go to college, real hard-working fella. So, he exposed myself and my sister to a lot of different kinds of music. So maybe I get that a little bit naturally. He also had a thing when it came down to gospel music, he would rather have someone who was not a great singer but put a lot of heart and soul into it as opposed to a great singer who was just going through the motions. I learned that early on from him. I don’t know how much my tastes have evolved, because I just like so much stuff.

EOAF: You grew up surrounded by all of that great music. Do you actually play an instrument or sing?
DR: No. I do not. I keep telling people that I am one of the world’s greatest musicians, I just haven’t found what instrument will get it out of me. I do not play, and I think I learned that from tennis. I taught tennis at country clubs and I went to college for tennis and I kind of lost the passion for that because I did it so much. I’m almost glad I don’t play an instrument, because it kind of keeps me from overloading too much.

EOAF: When you started Ramseur Records, did you start it with the intent of putting out albums and being a manager, or did that combination evolve over time?
DR: Yeah, it kind of evolved. Again, I really didn’t know what I was doing at all.

EOAF: And starting the label came out of a relationship with Martin Stephenson?
DR: Yes. Martin had gone through the whole gambit of the industry from being an independent artists who got signed to a major label. Martin, very much like The Avett Brothers, never had radio success, but he was selling thousands of tickets in the UK, and really doing well. He had a very similar story to what The Avett Brothers have going on, where they have kind of danced around mainstream success but sort of still stayed under it. That’s kind of what Martin did. So, I learned quite a bit from Martin and he is very similar to The [Avett] Brothers and he’s got the same gift they’ve got.

EOAF: How did you meet him?
DR: That kind of goes back to me being a music fan. He had left major labels and went through the indie route and was putting out records on his own, and I reached out to him. He noticed I’m from NC and he’s a bit of a fan of music from this state, like Doc Watson and Charlie Poole and the Piedmont blues players from the state. So we just struck up a friendship, and I told him that he should come over to NC and I will introduce you to some pickers. That’s kind of how it all happened. I really didn’t have any real idea of getting into the business. When I met Martin I could see where musicians need help, and they need some support and someone to help and put fuel on the flame.

EOAF: So, a manager is like a Jack-of-all-trades. You have to do everything, wouldn’t you say? You are the sounding board, you book, you promote, you do all of these things.
DR: Yes, definitely.

EOAF: In that light, I saw that The Avett Brothers recently released their first single off of their next album. Are you involved in those types of decisions, like which single will be released, album art, song sequence, etc?
DR: That’s a yes and no type of question. It differs for every act, because some acts will want our input on a certain aspect of the [process]. Like, some may want to know feedback on a single. Some may be dead set on a track listing and some may be dead set on artwork. Some will need help on artwork, and some will need help on the track list. It varies from case to case. We are and we aren’t, just depending on what the project is, where the artist is. Sometimes the artist may change where they need help, because they are so close to the project. They sometimes need help from someone that’s got a little separation from it.

EOAF: In terms of an artist like Langhorne Slim, his last album, to me, was Grammy-worthy. Does it ever surprise you when things don’t get as much attention or the attention you think they deserve?
DR: No, no. We are just thankful for the attention we get and we can’t sit around hoping and wishing and ‘what ifs.’ We have to play the deck of cards we are dealt. You know that album to date has sold 22,000 copies. That is a lot of records for an independent act like Langhorne. I look at all of then albums like babies. You want them to grow up and do well. Sometimes they do and sometimes it doesn’t stick. It’s hard to say what America or the world wants, and the way certain things go. You know, who knows? I have no clue.

EOAF: How do you find a balance between managing all of your acts?
DR: It’s hard for me to know what time is spent on what. With some of my acts, certain employees will spend most of their time with those certain acts. Of course I spend most of my time with The [Avett] Brothers, with The [Carolina Chocolate] Drops. So it’s just kind of hard to say how that time is divided up. I’m so close to it, it’s hard for me to kind of step back and see it.

EOAF: Can you speak about your handshake contracts? Why does this work for you and has it ever backfired?
DR: No, it hasn’t backfired and I don’t know, I just got into this business to have fun. I feel like if so much energy is spent on that kind of stuff it just sort of takes the spirit out of things. That’s not to say that you can’t have great spirit and great goodwill between two people in a contact, but I just kind of like the old thing that you get further with shaking hands than balling up a hand in a fist. Again, I don’t recommend it to other people. I just do my own thing.

EOAF: What kind of advice would you give to a rising musician who is looking to get signed or looking for someone to represent him/her?
DR: I would say more than anything would be to try to master your craft, and also try to realize that no matter how great you are, there’s always ways to improve. I don’t really deal with anyone like this, but I kind of sense that some artists think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. A lot of times that’s sort of when they plateau and never kind of get any further down the road than they already are. I feel like if you are an artist who is always trying to push the boundaries of what you are doing and always trying to improve as a singer, as a songwriter, as a performer, I would say definitely master your craft and a lot of things will fall in place with that. Also, there’s this sort of sense that you’ve got to get this success right now, and I don’t feel that’s the case. A lot of times people who did have success quickly, it would be a rocket ship–as soon as it goes up, it’s coming right back down. You have to think of it more as a balloon ride. Also I always say to steer clear of the American Idol, The Voice, those kind of things. I just kind of feel like that’s all smoke and mirrors in my opinion.

EOAF: Charity appears to be a big part of your business model. Why is that so important to you? Was that something that you thought of from the beginning, or has that just evolved over time?
DR: That might be my family background. I feel like all of my family has sort of had that mindset. We’ve all been pretty fortunate and hardworking. My grandparents where cotton mill workers, and they were real thankful to just have a job, and they were really active in their church and in the community. I remember my grandfather, who was born in 1902–my other grandfather was born in 1900–but my Grandpa Ramseur I remember, as a kid, every Thursday he would dress up in his Sunday best and go to the hospital and just pray for people in the hospital. He’d just go room to room and ask them if it was okay if he could pray for them. He did that for years. So, I guess I get it kind of honestly.

EOAF: Is there anything coming up in the near future, like the My Favorite Gifts Christmas Album, that you have in the works?
DR: There might be some things in regards to St. Jude with Bob’s daughter. Hopefully there will be some things that will come from that. We’ve got a new Cheerwine campaign with The [Avett] Brothers, the second installment of The Legendary Giveback and that’s going to be pretty exciting. We are always looking at things and seeing what might work. There are a lot of things being done that no one even knows about. We are fortunate to be in a position to help.

EOAF: That is awesome, and the fan base definitely takes it to another level as well. They organize their own fundraisers. I’ve seen it in action. It’s pretty amazing and inspiring, and it’s nice to know that you all have a piece in that, and that you’ve inspired other people as well.
DR: I can’t speak any more highly for the fan bases that [our] bands have. We are so fortunate. I feel like all of the acts realize that they wouldn’t have the careers they’ve had without the fans for sure. That’s another thing that I think has benefited me is growing up in the hub of NASCAR. When I was a kid, Richard Petty would sign autographs until nobody wanted one, but he would always thank the fans and let the fans know that without the fans he wouldn’t have the opportunity or then platform to do what he does.

We’d like to thank Dolph Ramseur for his time and contribution to Evolution of a Fan. To learn more about Ramseur Records and the artists, please visit the official website and Facebook page.

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Spring Music Festival Spotlight – MerleFest 2013

Racn - 2002

MerleFest, April 25-28, 2013 @ Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro NC

MerleFest is a family friendly music festival that was founded in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson — son of American music legend Doc Watson.  For over 25 years, the festival has maintained its original purpose–to raise funds for Wilkes Community College while celebrating “traditional plus” music. Today, MerleFest is considered one of the top music festivals in the country, drawing more than 75,000 festival goers and some of the biggest names in traditional bluegrass, country, Americana, folk, rock and more.  This year’s festival will feature over 90 musicians on 14 stages over the course of four days, so festival goers are encouraged to download the MerleFest app before they arrive to ensure the ultimate festival experience!

In true MerleFest fashion, festival organizers have gone above and beyond to congregate the best of the best at WCC.  This year’s lineup features rising musicians like The Black Lillies, Pokey LaFarge, and Delta Rae alongside industry vets like Jim Lauderdale, Jerry Douglas, and headliners The Charlie Daniels Band, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Warren Haynes & Gov’t Mule. Additionally, local favorites, The Avett Brothers, have signed-on to closeout the festival on Sunday afternoon, but not before their talented father, Jim Avett, takes the Creekside Stage to perform a special family gospel set.  In addition to this year’s stacked lineup, Sam Bush will host an all-star tribute jam on Saturday night to honor the life and music of the festival’s founding father Doc Watson, who sadly passed away last year.

While it is true that MerleFest mainly involves relaxing and enjoying the company of old and new friends while taking in amazing live performances, there are also several opportunities for fans to get involved and play some music themselves.  Musically inclined fans can join others to pick, sing, and learn at Jam Camp, Pickin’ Place, and The Songwriters’ Coffeehouse.  Young festival goers may enjoy spending some time in the Little Pickers Family Area, while fans of all ages can venture out into the WCC campus woods for a Nature Walk.  MerleFest also features a series of contests for musicians and songwriters, including The Merle Watson Bluegrass Banjo Championship, The Doc Watson Guitar Championship, and The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.  The twelve finalists for the CASC will perform on the Austin Stage on Friday, April 26th at 2:00 PM, and will be judged by a panel of music industry professionals, including Jim Lauderdale.  The first place winner will receive a performance slot on the Cabin Stage that evening.  All proceeds from the CASC benefit the WCC Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship.  And, last but certainly not least is the Saturday night Midnight Jam — a fun and often rowdy festival tradition!

If you are looking for a music festival to kick off the spring season, MerleFest is for you!  Load up your car, head out to Wilkesboro, set up a tent at one of the many surrounding campsites, and be prepared to have your mind blown by some of the music industry’s best.  Multi- and single-day tickets are still available. For more information about MerleFest, musicians, and festival events, please visit  www.merlefest.org.

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Jim Avett @ In Your Ear Recording Studio – Richmond, VA

Storytelling and Songs

Storytelling and Songs

To launch their 2013 concert series, JAMinc.–a local non-profit organization that promotes music appreciation through education, performance, and support–brought in singer/songwriter/master storyteller Jim Avett from Concord, NC to perform for a sold-out crowd at In Your Ear Recording Studio in Richmond, VA this past Friday night.

As a part of his collaboration with JAMinc., Jim spent time before his evening performance visiting two Richmond schools–Maggie Walker Govenor’s School and Douglas Freeman High School. This push to get talented musicians into Richmond area schools is part of the core mission at JAMinc. Over the past decade, they have successfully reached over 47,000 K-12 students in the Richmond area.

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

During his time with the students, Jim shared his stories and songs, and offered them encouragement rooted in reality. He “encouraged them to be the best they can be,” not only in music, but also in life. This “just do your best” theme is pervasive in any music from the Avett family, indicating a firm belief that each of us has a purpose in life, and doing our best is always enough to make an impact.

Later that evening, music lovers gathered in the listening room at In Your Ear Recording Studio for Jim’s show. Many of those present had never seen Jim perform live, but were eager and excited to hear the music of the Avett family patriarch. Little did they know, they were not only about to hear a gifted singer/songwriter, but also one of the best storytellers this side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Unlike the crowd, I have had the pleasure of seeing Jim Avett perform several times. While no two shows are alike, I have heard most of his stories a time or two. Though he is always quick to apologize for his redundancy, it is in his redundancy that lessons are reinforced and new connections to music are created. Therefore, it’s not surprising to still find myself completely engaged and entertained when he dives into one of his old trusty tales about getting his first guitar, the art of picking, or his admiration for great songwriters like Tom T. Hall. Somehow Jim’s stories never wear thin. They never get old. Perhaps it’s his lighthearted country charm and down-home humility, or the simple wisdom and appreciation for what is true that keeps listeners like myself coming back for another helping of Jim Avett.

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Photo by: Andy Garrigue

Flanked by lead guitarist Ray Morton and fiddlers Ali and Justine Parker, Jim took the stage in his trademark cowboy hat and black leather vest, and did what he does best–took listeners on a musical journey through his life. During the first half of the show, Jim wove childhood stories in with the songs that have shaped him into the musician he is today. His set list was thoughtful–deliberately complimenting tales about growing up in the foothills of NC, learning his first guitar chord progressions, and stealing history lessons from Johnny Horton songs. He delighted the captivated audience with classics like, All I Have to do is Dream, Wreck of the Old ’97, Sink the Bismarck, Keep on the Sunny Side, (Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine, and Hey Good Lookin’.

After a short intermission, Jim, Ray and Ali returned to the stage to play original tunes from Jim’s most recent albums “Tribes” and “Second Chance”–and you better believe that the stories continued as well. As Jim explained the details behind each songs, it was evident that he not only writes from personal experiences, but also through a keen observation of others, which he displayed in songs like Willard and Decisions. Through his tough facade, hardened by a lifetime of honest and dirty work, a sweet and candid family man emerged as he spoke fondly of his his wife Susie and their three children. With ease, he admitted his propensity for writing love songs, before transitioning into some of his favorites including Leaving Knoxville, Through the Passing Years, Tribes, and Saying Goodbye. Jim also treated the audience to a new song called, World Goes Round and Round–a heartfelt story of a grandaddy walking along a wooded path with his granddaughter and offering up a lifetime of advice.

With his first performance in Richmond, VA on the books, Jim proved, once again, that he is a master of lyrical imagery. With his stories and songs, he painted a picture of a simpler, fonder time that many of us long for, as we forge ahead into the tech-savvy, hustle-bustle world in which we live.

In a city so defined by its history, Jim Avett has gifted Richmond with his own little piece of the past–a kind reminder that sometimes we must look back through the history of music to allow ourselves to evolve and move forward in our own story and song.

Take a listen to a short interview with Jim just before his set at In Your Ear Recording Studio:

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Leaping into 2012…an extra day of music!

Rockin' my new Little Martin in 2012!

Happy (belated) 2012!  This year is slated to be jam-packed with shows (and reviews!) across the music spectrum.  So far, I have several shows under my belt and on the books,  including:  Jim Avett, Overmountain Men, Mipso Trio, The Darkness, The Avett Brothers (NC and CA dates), The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Merle Haggard, Paleface & Mo, and more!  I am excited to share these experiences with you all.

Another wonderful thing about the year 2012 is that it is a Leap Year, and the calendar gods have granted us an extra day to do with what we wish.  What will you do with your extra day?  I know that my extra day will be filled with as much music as I can cram into it.  Music is a part of my daily routine — in the car, at the gym, at work, in the kitchen while I cook, at late night jam sessions, and even in my dreams.  I don’t even attempt to imagine a world without music — just seems unlivable!

So let us appreciate an entire extra 24 hours of  music in our lives this year.   Cheers to a fabulous 2012!

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Interview: Nick Bailey of Nick and the Babes

Nick and Graham Bailey

Songwriter Nick Bailey isn’t just writing music for TV shows; he’s writing his life’s soundtrack.  From guitar teacher to banker, singer to guitarist, and songwriter to DJ, Bailey is proof that when music is your passion, it will sneak into every facet of your life — yes, even banking.

A native of eastern NC, Bailey started playing music at the age of 13 years after receiving his first guitar for Christmas.

“I got a guitar and [my twin brother] Graham got a drum set.  He wanted a guitar but I said, ‘No you can’t get a guitar if I am getting a guitar’.  Back then I wanted to start a band because I was really into (shamefully) Guns N’ Roses.  When that song You Could be Mine came out I saw the video and watched the bass player, because I thought he was playing a guitar.  I thought, ‘Man that guy is so cool.  I want to learn how to play the guitar’.  That was really what made me want to pick up a guitar, which is just funny to me now,” he recalled.

After a year of music lessons, Bailey and his brother formed a 90’s cover band with their childhood friend Rob Wank.  Soon after, the twin brothers found themselves playing their first gig at the tender age of 14 years at a bar in the historic waterfront town of New Bern, NC.  Little did the brothers know that many years later they would reunite with Wank under the new band name Nick and the Babes (NATB).

“It’s kind of funny that we’ve come full circle.  [Rob] and I both played in a bunch of other bands.  We’ve known each other since high school.  We know each other very well, so it’s cool to have him back.  He is very versatile, and basically my wing man in the group,” Bailey said of his bandmate, who now plays keys, banjo, and mandolin while adding harmonies for NATB.

Though Bailey’s journey as a musician started that fateful Christmas, he never had goals to study music formally.  After only a year of instruction, he stepped away from lessons and began experimenting on his own.

“As far as the composing goes, that was just something that I had to just kind of plunder through.  I wasn’t a music major at [East Carolina University] or anything.  I stayed away from that.  I am not one of those guys who sits there with a classical guitar and reads music.  I felt like if I went to school for music I may end up hating it.  I didn’t want to have music homework.  I’d rather learn about the theory on my own and discover it through learning songs.  So I just learned it by doing it,” he said.

Thankfully, his self-taught approach has worked.  After two years of persistent emails and calls to a top TV music composer, Bailey was signed on to compose music for TLC’s show Nineteen Kids and Counting.  Soon thereafter he was hired to work on various TV series like Crime 360, Pit Bulls and Parolees, and Last American Cowboy.  To date he has written music for nearly 50 different episodes, and was just singed on for another season of Nineteen Kids and Counting.

Over the past few years Bailey has become accustomed to the process of TV music composition.  Typically, he is given an idea or direction from which to work.  Sometime he gets to view the scene for which he is writing, other times he does not.  Regardless of the amount or type of direction, Bailey’s job is to complete the scene with music–a process that can be both exhilarating and daunting at the same time.

“I was doing a scene for Animal Planet and they sent me this video clip from a helicopter viewing over this mountain.  They said, ‘Write something epic and grand for this scene’.  I thought that was pretty cool and I was inspired [by the video].  Sometimes they will say, ‘We need you to watch this movie and listen to the score and write something similar’.  They give me good direction as far as what to write.  I am familiar with a lot of different music, which does help me out with the TV music writing.  People tell me what they want and I can create that,” he shared.

Bailey draws his inspiration from a very eclectic background of musical influences, including funk, Motown, grunge, folk, jazz, indie rock, and more.  This aids him when he sits down to write a TV score, but can make the process difficult when sitting down to write songs for NATB.

“To me it is easier [to write for TV] than sitting down and trying to create an identity for yourself.  That is what you are essentially doing when you sit down to write.  You are creating a brand and an identity that people can latch onto or relate to, like a certain sound.  Sometimes I struggle with that.  I like so many different bands, so finding that perfect mix of everything is sometimes a struggle,” admits Bailey.

Rob, Nick, and Dail

These days when he is not up against a TV deadline, teaching guitar lessons, DJing, or working at the bank, Bailey sits down with his Martin acoustic guitar to write new material for NATB.  While the band’s sound continues to evolve, Bailey often describes it as ‘Americana’, which encompasses a number of different genres.

“I am trying to get [our music] to sound like NATB as opposed to sounding like another band.  A band like The Avett Brothers did something amazing because there really aren’t other bands out there that sound like them.  You can’t call them bluegrass, or indie rock, or folk because they really aren’t those things.  When I go to write, I try to write in a certain vein and not steer away from that.  I am not going to write anything that sounds like Metallica, but it is fun to try to mix everything that I like,” Bailey said.

Just as the music of NATB has evolved, so too has membership since the band’s 2007 inception.  Currently NATB is made up of Nick on guitar and vocals, Graham on drums and vocals, Dail Reed on bass, and Wank on keys/banjo/mandolin and vocals.

Though their touring schedule was sporadic this past year–all band members have other full-time jobs–show attendance was great and reviews positive.  They shared the stage with the talents of Jason Isbell from the Drive-by Truckers and Jim Avett, and developed relationships with a number of creative NC musicians.  One particular musician is Bob Crawford, bassist for The Avett Brothers.  It was through Crawford that the band was asked to perform Christmas Time is Here on Crawford’s My Favorite Gifts Christmas Album this past year.

“Initially the Christmas album was supposed to come out last Christmas and we were just going to be session musicians with Samantha Crain.  Thankfully it didn’t come out last year because then Bob approached me and said that he’d like to produce a track for NATB for the album.  I said, ‘Absolutely’.  We went to the studio where The Avett Brothers [recorded some of their music].  To be in the same studio where all of that happened was really cool for us,” recalled Bailey.

My Favorite Gifts Christmas album showcased the music of many popular and up and coming musicians, including The Avett Brothers, Paleface, Jim Avett, David Mayfield, Jessica Lea Mayfield, The Wood Brothers, The David Wax Museum, Overmountain Men, and Mark Crozer.  The album was produced by Crawford and Dolph Ramseur (Ramseur Records) with the intent of sharing unique holiday music in the name of charity.  All profits from the album will be donated to The Vickie Honeycutt Foundation, which benefits teachers with cancer.  This very important detail appealed to Bailey’s philanthropic side.

“[Crawford] told me profits were going to a charity for teachers with cancer.  My mom is a teacher, and there has been cancer in my family.  I have lost several family members to cancer.  To be involved in something that would benefit something so personal made it even better.  That was definitely a major motivator for us to do it right.  Being part of the bigger cause was definitely a cool thing for us,” Baily added with a smile.

Bailey also has high hopes that the Christmas album will expose NATB to a wider audience.  He is eager and excited to get the band back on the road touring and into the studio to record a full-length EP of new material this year.  In the meantime, Bailey continues to pursue his passion of music with an easy attitude and steady patience.  Experience has taught him that works.  I am sincerely looking forward to the catching the next episode of Nick and the Babes.

Nick and the Babes @ The Tipsy Teapot

Many thanks to Nick Bailey for taking the time to do this interview.  To learn more about his TV work, visit his IMDb page.  To learn more about Nick and the Babes, visit their website:  http://www.nickandthebabes.com/.

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December Music Mindblower – Finding Local Music

Technology is quite mind-blowing, isn’t it?  We live in a day and age when online music sources like Spotify or Pandora can recommend new music to you based on your preferences.  While I often marvel at the sophistication of these programs,  I also try to remember the magic that occurs when a friend or stranger recommends new music, rather than a computer.

As my musical tastes evolve, so do the avenues through which I find new music.  In eastern NC, you would be hard pressed to find big name acts playing in your area so you have to dig a little deeper and do a little more investigating to find talented musicians in the region and even across the state.  Since moving to NC, I have learned to rely on the magazine Our State and the spin-off TV program on UNC-TV to aid me on my quest of musical discovery.   Where better to learn about local music than from the people who are hitting the dirt roads, sidewalks, and jam sessions in all corners of the state?  Each month I await the arrival of Our State in my mailbox, eager to learn not only about the music of NC but also about all of the citizens who make this state a wonderful place in which to live.

While I can’t wait to receive my January issue, I am especially excited to see the next Our State program on UNC-TV next month.  On January 5th, 2012 (8pm) Our State UNC-TV will present a segment on the music and everyday life of Jim Avett.  Avett, who is often mentioned in reference to his sons Scott and Seth (The Avett Brothers), deserves attention and accolades all his own.  Whether perched on the front porch swing with his wife Susie or atop bales of hay in their old barn, Avett talks candidly with Our State about the blessings of raising their family on a working farm, the importance of staying grounded in faith, and the joy of being surrounded by great traditional music everyday.

Please check your local listings and tune in on January 5th at 8pm.

For those of you not in NC, go out and find resources like Our State or your local PBS station so you too can stay current on the people and events that make your state great!

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