Tag Archives: Scott Avett

Fortune Favors the Bold – The Avett Brothers @ McKittrick Hotel

Scott Avett sang, “I will rearrange my plans and change for you,” during the song “If It’s the Beaches” on Wednesday night, at the McKittrick Hotel in New York City. However, I was the one who found myself changing my plans on September 25, 2013 in order to attend a private Avett Brothers concert in The Heath room of the fictional hotel and home of the off-Broadway play, Sleep No More. The band played an eighteen-song set that was taped for the PBS program, Front and Center. The concert is to be aired in early 2014 in support of their upcoming album, Magpie and the Dandelion, being released on October 15th.

After reading a tweet from The McKittrick Hotel, a routine weekday morning at work quickly ended when I made the decision to board a train to New York City. The hotel was giving away a handful of tickets to Avett Brothers’ fans for a secret event at 8:00pm. The details were minimal, but I had made it to Penn Station and I was determined to win. Constant refreshing of my twitter news feed and a mild addiction to social media paid off–I was in.

At the entrance doors of a warehouse in Chelsea, a host read my name on the guest list and invited me in. I was escorted to a dark and eerie elevator and taken to the fifth floor where the show was to be held. The home of the play, Sleep No More, is a 100,000 square foot building that is modeled to look like a 1930’s hotel, known as The McKittrick Hotel. This special occasion was a rarity for the band, as well as for the hotel. While a show is held at the hotel every night, this concert was much different than what usually happens at Sleep No More. Typically, guests are given white masks and instructed not to speak. They wander the rooms of the haunted hotel and follow actors.  Guests experience the play, based on the story Macbeth, in a much different way. They are told, “Fortune favors the bold,” and are encouraged to stand out from the crowd or they just may be taken into a hidden room or given privy information. Those who have seen the play, return again and again because it’s a different experience every time.

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The Heath room, was decorated like a haunted hotel bar–dark, cozy, and a little bit spooky. The walls of the small room were lined with booths and the floor was full of tables set for two. Drinks were being poured at the bar and large HD television cameras were resting on their tripods. The stage sat crowded with instruments as guests made their way to their seats. A Sleep No More mask lay at the foot of the drum kit. The room held 200 people, but it was not full. I took my seat in the front row, ordered a drink, and admired the elegant décor while I waited for the show to begin.

The band took the stage at 9:00pm. As he plugged in his Martin D35 guitar, Seth Avett whispered into the microphone, “It’s so quiet,” and let out a laugh. They thanked the audience for attending and kicked off the set with the song “Live and Die,” from their 2012 album, The Carpenter. As I sat in my chair, I fought the urge to get up and dance. I assumed the PBS cameraman behind me would not want me blocking his shot.

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The band played crowd favorites, such as “Murder and the City,” “I and Love and You,” and “Laundry Room.” Among the set were also new songs, “Another is Waiting,” “Vanity,” “Morning Song,” and “Apart from Me,” all to be featured on the new album. Having attended several Avett Brothers concerts, I had been waiting to hear “Morning Song” performed live. Although I have not listened to the new album in its entirety, I can already tell this song will be a favorite of mine. The show was intimate and unlike any other I’ve seen. The band told stories and joked with one another throughout the set. Between songs, Scott reminisced about visiting New York City for the first time at age 26. He said he was intimidated by the fast paced city life, but has since grown a love for the city, and was happy to be back. “This is very exciting for us, to be playing a place like this,” he confessed to the audience. The band had created a setlist prior to taking the stage, but changed a number of songs on it to better suit the mood of the room. Scott and Seth would have short debates on what to play next in between many of the songs.

The final song of the encore was “If It’s the Beaches.” A passionate love song, played quietly to a room of attentive ears. The audience rose to their feet and applauded the band whole-heartedly, exchanging ear to ear smiles with the band. It had been a special experience for all of us. I joked with a friend, telling her my face hurt because of the permanent grin I had worn for two straight hours.

In groups of ten, we boarded the elevator and made our way to the exit. Once outside, we saw the band hustle into a van to be whisked away. Fortune favors the bold and fortune certainly favored me when I made the bold move to leave work early on a Wednesday morning. I’m thankful for this experience and look forward to reliving it through the PBS broadcast of Front and Center early next year.

The Avett Brothers will stay in New York for the next few days. They are scheduled to appear at New York’s Town Hall for Another Day, Another Time on Sunday, September 29th. This concert event is celebrating folk music of the 1960s. Several other musicians will be joining, such as Jack White, Marcus Mumford, Joan Baez, Punch Brothers, Collin Meloy, Milk Carton Kids, Patti Smith, Conor Oberst, and more. On Monday, September 30th, The Avett Brothers will return to Late Night with Jimmy Fallon for a television performance on NBC.

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The Setlist 9/25/13:

Live and Die

Laundry Room

Old Joe Clark

Down With the Shine

Another Is Waiting

Morning Song

Go to Sleep

The Prettiest Thing (David Childers cover)

Life

Ballad of Love and Hate

Just a Closer Walk With Thee

Apart From Me

A Father’s First Spring

Vanity

I and Love and You

Encore

Murder in the City

Shady Grove

If It’s the Beaches

For the first time in Evolution of a Fan history, we welcome our first guest blogger, Karissa Sevensky.  Karissa was fortunate enough to share a very special evening with The Avett Brothers at McKittrick Hotel this past week, and kind enough to share her experience and photos with us!  Thank you Karissa.

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Filed under Fans, Live Shows

Songwriting Session – The Avett Brothers @ MerleFest

Seth and Scott Avett

Seth and Scott Avett

Halfway through the second full-day of MerleFest, 200 lucky festival goers nestled eagerly into their seats in Mayes Pit-Cohn Auditorium at Wilkes Community College.  Some arrived early to claim front row seats, while others waited in line, hopeful to be let in before the room hit full capacity.  The Avett Brothers, Scott and Seth Avett and Bob Crawford, were whisked in through a side door and waited patiently in the wings for their introduction.  Proud parents, Jim and Susie Avett filed in backstage, and watched as their sons took the stage before a roar of applauds.

For those who were in attendance, this was a chance to ask the brothers any and everything about their songwriting process and style, song themes, production, and evolution.  The 45-minute session was filled with copious bouts of laughter, candid banter, and small but noticeable moments of brotherly love.  While the workshop focused primarily on songwriting, the band managed to squeeze in 3 acoustic songs, one of which was completely new.  This poignant ballad had the audience hanging on each and every lyric that dripped from Seth’s lips, and at the end brought the auditorium to its feet.  It was a very special experience that those 200 people will cherish for a very long time.  For those who were not fortunate to be there in person, here is the transcript:

(The Avett Brothers were introduced and came out on stage, Seth and Scott with their Martin and Gibson acoustic guitars, respectively, and Bob with his stand-up bass)

Scott:  Thank you so much y’all.

Seth: So I thought we were attending a songwriter’s workshop not putting one on.  What’s going on?  (laughter)

Scott:  Ha, come to the festival.  We’d like for you to do this workshop before you play.  We’re going to start by just playing a song.  We would like to talk to everyone as much as we can, because we’ve been to several of these workshops and some of them that we’ve been to, we wish we could have heard more questions.  But we are going to start with a song just to warm up with (strumming)…that falls in the singer/songwriter category.

Seth: So, does anyone have a question?

Scott: Yeah, let’s hear it!

Audience member 1: First of all thank you guys for making music.  You guys are awesome.  Secondly, what was your inspiration for making the song “January Wedding?”  That’s my wife and my wedding song, so I just wanted to know what your inspiration was.

Seth:  Um, well, outside of the obvious – a wedding in January (laughter).  No, that was one that I just wrote…I hate that you are asking a question about one of the more mysterious ones as far as the source, well the theme is pretty obvious.  As far as the writing of it, it was one of the rare ones that I wrote very quickly–10 minutes top to bottom.  That doesn’t often happen.  I’m more of a writer that comes up with an idea, and then studies it and works on it for weeks or months or years.

Scott: That’s for sure (laughter).

Seth:  Yeah, I’m kind of studious about it.  I’ll set up, you know, the coffee and the notebooks and the computer and just work and work on it.  But yeah, just a real life event like most of our songs I guess, are things that we’ve experienced or want to experience, or have learned from or want to learn from.

Scott:  Pertaining to that subject, we are pretty guilty of writing straight from the heart sort of, and exploiting our personal lives quite a bit.  I mean that is our subject matter most of the time.  And [“January Wedding”] would fall into that category.  I don’t know anything about the writing process of that song.  That’s one that Seth brought.  It was in Seth and came out of him.  In fact I didn’t even know until now that it was written quickly.

Seth:  It took a lot longer to record it.

Scott:  But yeah it certainly falls in the category, just like “Murder in the City” of songs that are scary to put out there.  For one, they could be embarrassing and for two they could be exploiting someone we love quite a bit, or an emotion that you had or an emotion that someone else had.

Audience member 2: There are so many songs about pretty girls, how do your wives deal with that?

Scott:  We just tell them that they are not real (laughter).

Seth: I like that there’s an assumption that our wives listen to our music (laughter).

Scott:  I am very thankful to live with a woman who has no idea half the time what I am putting out there.  The audience usually knows quicker than they do.  Luckily they don’t care.

scott

Audience member 3:  How has your process changed from your earlier days?  How has it evolved to where now you are recording with Rick Rubin.  I read a story early on that as a kid you were writing a song about a chicken (laughter).  So how has it changed form then, to your early stuff, to now with Rick Rubin.

Seth:  Despite my brother mocking me, I did attempt to write a song about chickens.  Scott shot them down and it took me quite a long time to get over that (laughter).  Still working on it.  How has it changed?  Scott and I first started writing songs by…I guess our first real attempts, we were putting them on cassette tapes and mailing them to each other.  So that’s changed.  We don’t do that anymore.  We do some version of that.  I think that maybe the process hasn’t changed as much in the writing process, perhaps in the revision process.  Perhaps when we get into the studio and we start to realize that stuff works or not works and trying to be more open to letting it change.  And also, Scott mentioned a vulnerability in songwriting.  It’s sort of realizing when that’s appropriate and when it’s not.  We put more emphasis on that now, and try to take ourselves out of the equation, and knowing that we are trying to make something that’s gonna stay even after we’re gone.  So we can take some of the embarrassment factor out of it.  I don’t think we thought about that as much, early on.

Scott: Personally I don’t sit down and write in sessions until there’s something that we’re working for like a recording or group of demos that have sort of surfaced.  I much more into just letting the things come to me.  I have this junk pile and I saw Chris [inaudible] talk about it once and it’s true to me.  I notice that when Seth and I come together, which we do–we did just a couple of weeks ago–we usually meet at his kitchen table and Seth will have all of these things laid out all perfectly, like recording devices, his computer, stack of notebooks and they are all itinerary.

Seth: 90 degree angles.

Scott: Yeah, then I have napkins and stacks of junk with words on them, written upside down and backwards, and I just plop it down.  I’ll piece together a collage of words that makes a song over a long period of time.  So my process –and I think we can complement each other on how this process has changed, where I don’t force things as much as I once did.  And, that may mean less songs, but I think that’s okay and that’s something we have learned along the way—that less songs is maybe better, putting more emphasis on fewer songs.  But there’s not a lack of them still. We’ve got a lot of them.  We’ve played one that kind of pertains to–in “Father’s First Spring”–it’s very pertaining to a song that’s written very fast and a song that certainly was scary to put out there, regarding exploiting the family, and family experiences (warming up instruments).  This song was written traveling on the bus.  I thought that childbirth would bring this wave of songs in my life that would just be unstoppable and it did not do that.  It was more of a slow…well there was no time to write songs once the kid came along.  This is the first song that came that I remember.  This is “Father’s First Spring”.

(The band performed “Father’s First Spring”)

Scott Avett

Scott Avett

Audience member 4:  What song did you guys have the most fun performing or writing?

Scott: (pause)  Of all time? (laughter).  The consistent answer to a question kind of like that one is that it seems that newer discoveries–as far as songs are concerned, which sometimes can be old songs and sometimes with the songs that were just written–we kind of pull something back and it has a new life with the instrumentation or a new approach, so that song gets pushed to the front, and it’s really enjoyable to play for this moment or time or shows.  Then you will see us playing that song more at shows and whatnot.  That changes, of course, in the recording studio as well.  I think lately, for me personally–well it’s somebody else’s song–there’s a Buck Owens song that we’ve been doing and it’s a lot of fun to play.  It’s just a song that we discovered.  Nobody had ever heard of it until Seth heard it on his record.  But, that we’ve written, lately we’ve been doing this medley thing that we did on TV not long ago with “Kick Drum Heart” and “Geraldine”.  It’s very rock and roll but it’s a lot of fun, and it can just set off and take flight.  I’ve had a lot of fun with that.

Seth:  Yeah.  I just want to point out something that I enjoy, was that she asked the question and Scott’s like, “Well the answer to a question that is very similar to that question is…” (laughter).  I’m seeing Scott’s sort of very easy transition into politics when someone asks a question and [he says] “Well you know what let me answer a different one.” (laughter).

Scott:  I know what’s going to happen.  I’m going to be the writer for Bob’s speeches.

Seth:  That’s right.

Scott: He’s the perfect politician.

Seth:  Classic good looks

(cheers from audience for Bob)

Scott and Bob

Scott and Bob

Audience member 5: This is like the classic songwriting question.  What comes first for you guys, the melody or the lyrics?

Seth:  I’ll answer this question for Scott (laughter).  Scott – while we are highlighting differences between he and I – Scott will sometimes come to me with this idea for a song and be like, “Hey check out this idea for a song.”  He’ll play like 3 or 4 minutes long and then he’ll get done and I will be like, “Well you know, it’s an interesting idea, I don’t know about the melodies.”  [Scott would say] “Oh don’t worry about the melodies.”  And I’m like, “Okay, well maybe we can change a chord.” [Scott would say] “Oh don’t worry about the chords either.”  (laughter).  That seems pretty consistent with Scott.  I think with me it’s kind of either way.  It’s just always changing.  We feel like the really valuable thing to do with songwriting is to really fight tooth and nail against formula, so try not to get into some way you do it all of the time, and you’ll be in better shape.  We’re in better shape when we do that.

Audience member 6:  You guys went from playing on street corners and over the years playing and selling out theaters.  You talked about the recording process earlier.  As far as musical structure and musical elements, how do you think you guys have evolved over the years?

Scott:  Once again I can really only speak for myself because Seth always had an awareness of melody and singing much more than me.  For me, awareness of key and pitch and singing has been something that I know for the first 4 or 5 years of our existence I didn’t pay any attention to at all.  All I wanted to do it to get on stage and move and make an impact – surprise people, or scare people, or excite people, or make people angry or happy or whatever.  I just knew that I wanted to shake things up.  But for development, I think this goes along for both of us, we’ve become much more aware of wanting to make something that is great in our eyes–in the 3 of ours’ eyes.  That will never be reached.  It’s kind of like saying, “Well one day I’d like to be perfect.” Of course that will never be reached but we will always try to strive for it.  So, there’s a natural progression of refinement in our recordings that we have to this day and continuing have been the captains of.  We’ve been very lucky to be the captains of, because we’ve always been allowed to cover our business trail with the art leading.  You know, the art has always led the business.  So we’ve always got to say, “This is what we want to do with the recording.  This is how we want it to work.  This is what we are aiming for.”  And then people get in line and help us.  The answer I’m getting to is just that I hope to refine what it is that we do.  That doesn’t necessarily mean cleaner and more polished because we have quite an interest in albums like “Tonight’s the Night” by Neil Young where you have like a true live experience that happens one time and one time only.  We’re just searching for great art, or no not searching.  We’re trying to make ourselves available for it to find us.

Audience member 7:  Are there any songwriters that influence your songwriting, such as John Prine and Bob Dylan?

Scott:  Both of those for sure.  Townes Van Zandt is huge for me, starting in like 2007.  I’d actually avoided Townes Van Zandt because I didn’t like his name (laughter).  I have no idea what that even means.  I mean I have no idea – total ignorance.  But, when I grabbed on and understood the hopeful darkness that he sort of brought with his lyrics, I felt very akin to it.

Seth:  I know Bob, I and Scott all would say one is Tom Waits.  He’s someone who has no interest in genre or sticking to any genre, which I think is really important for someone who wants to create something and find their original voice, even if their original voice is a crazy circus master, or whatever.  Really, he’s someone who could have just skated along as, in the early days, as “Oh it’s the next Bob Dylan, but on piano.”  There were a lot of “here’s the next Bob Dylan” throughout the years and decades, but he could have kept on making really quality piano music with a trio or whatever, but it’s really nice how when you think he’s going to zig he zags.  He always seemed pretty healthy in his older tunes, and that’s what we’re going for.

Audience member 8:  I kind of have a two-part question.  One, if you guys ever get stuck or have dry spells do you have things that you do to re-inspire yourselves? And also as you’ve seen your audience grow and become a bigger operation, has that influenced knowing that more people are listening and waiting for bigger music.  Does that influence your songwriting?

Seth: The second part of that.  You can’t completely ignore it when you know that you are going to record something and if you share it, there’s at least a good chance that hundreds of thousands of people are going to hear it.  And while there are really positive sides of that, you could just start psyching yourself out.  So I think we’ve worked hard to keep each other grounded, and to find the balance between staying true with it and staying genuine in what we what to do and what really matters.  And also not making it seem like it’s more important because more people will hear it.  You know initially I was thinking that the f-word was going to be in this song, but maybe not so much anymore.

Scott:  The song “Down with the Shine” initially had the f-word in the chorus.

Seth: It was like, this is punk rock–this is good.

Scott: It just was.

Seth:  It was like, “Is this exactly what you want to say?”  I was like, “Well I don’t know if that’s exactly what we want to say.” (laughter)

Seth:  What was the first part of the question?

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Seth and Scott Avett

Audience member 8: If you ever get stuck or have dry spells do you have anything to re-inspire yourself?

Scott:  I just walk away from it whenever I’m stuck, because the more I convince myself that I am stuck, then I’m stuck.  To me there’s a really…I do this with shows sometime. I say, “I don’t care about this,” and just throw it away.  Sometimes I’ll do it with a verse.  Then I can go out, and I can go relax and it just happens that that’s just the best way.  To put all of this importance on one song, you know.  I have, well I guess we have, but I have certainly thousands of ideas that are unfinished that if I really let myself think about it too much, it’s overwhelming and daunting.  But, things just keep moving forward, so I just let it go.  Throw it away.  I’m into that.  I have this definition I came up with, well not really a definition, no.  Seth and I were talking about running.  He ran this relay thing a couple of weeks ago.  We were talking about it and I said, “Well you know all that matters is that you win, right?”  (laughter)  He said, “Oh yeah.”  We were having a laugh about that.  And then we realized the definition of winning, and it got me really thinking about well, no matter who wins the race, whoever is at the pub at the end of the night enjoying camaraderie after this long day of running and you know, exhausting endeavors, whoever is really having the most fun wins.  It doesn’t matter who came across the finish line first, or who did it the best.  That person will still be jealous of seeing the guy that’s like, “I lost but I’m still having fun.”  (laughter)  So you know if I hit like a bad note or something, I have to remember that if I am having fun, if I can define fun, including as many people in a good way as I possibly can and have as much of it as I can, then what I’m doing being stuck or not stuck kind of starts to fall away.

Seth:  I try to zone in on the same thing when Scott hits a bad note (laughter).

Scott: And Seth will remind me every time (laughter).  He likes to do this joke where he comes off the bus and sees whatever nice fella is going to help us at the club or concert or whatever.  And, Seth comes over and says, “Listen these guys on this bus have been riding my coattails since day one.”

Seth: I do like to say that (laughter).

Bob:  Can I just say one thing here?  I just want to say a quick little story.  There was a song—we were about to play a festival—and we were in the trailer 5 minutes before we were going on, and there was a very old song that we’ve been playing for 10 years.  We were practicing, the 3 of us, and we hit a point and Seth said to Scott, “What chord are you playing?” [Scott said] “Well, I’m playing a G.” [Seth said] “Well you are supposed to be playing an E.” [Scott said] “I’ve been playing this G for 10 years!” (laughter)

Scott:  I said, “Why is that important?”

Bob:  I don’t know if the moral is that it’s never too late to be better.  If it’s Seth it’s: “never too late to be better.”  If it’s Scott it’s: “Man I’ve been playing this chord for 10 years!”

Scott:  Here’s the problem, the G in my mind works simultaneously with the move when I hit the drum, and it had to stay there because if I was going to make the move on stage.  [I should just] deaden all of the chords and just do that (does a cool move).

Seth:  Then you could keep the most important part, which is the rock and roll move (laughter)!  The great thing about when that happens, and that will happen occasionally, where I am like, “How can I say this to Scott?  Scott listen, you are just hitting the wrong chord.  I don’t mean for it to be an insult.”  If it’s early in the tour Scott’s like, “Oh yeah, my bad.  I’ll play the right chord.”  But if we are like 2 months in and we are all just ragged, and I’ll be like, “Scott, can you hit the right chord?” and we are just…

Scott:  Then later that day I say, “Seth I’m thinking about quittin’.”  (laughter)

Seth:  Just put like “Quittin’ Hard” on the (inaudible)

Scott:  I’m in my pajamas…toothpaste in my beard (laughter).

seth

Audience member 9: How has working with Rick Rubin influenced your process?

Seth:  Well there are a few answers for that.  He helped us calm down a bit in the studio.  Earlier–this question about playing on street corners and getting in the studio, and actually getting to spend significant time in the studio–um playing on the street corner, volume was more important than anything was, you know.  So, we worked much more on turning our voices into megaphones rather than having good pitch or especially good rhythm.  Working with Rick, it was good because his work speaks for itself, so our ears were open.  We’ve been very guilty of just not hearing a lot.  Early on Bob would try to help us get some things wrangled in and we were just like, “Nahhhh, we’re good to go.  Let’s go on and play right now.”  And you know we would.  And in the process, me and Scott and Bob over 8 years that we were a band before we met Rick and got in the studio to make “I and Love and You”, Bob admits this but I hadn’t really, that our tempo was all over the place.  We stayed together as one voice but we would fly and slow down and fly and slow down, and we were the only 3 that could understand why that was happening.  It was just because of hundreds and hundreds of shows.  So, working with Rick on a technical aspect, he was really good about saying, “Let’s just tear this down for a second and rebuild it from ground up.  Not change the song but let’s just find out what’s happening and why this part feels like, not a disappointment, but just a drop off.  It’s not the part.  The part’s great, it’s good, but we are slowing down for some reason.”  That works on a street corner, but we started having trouble with that working in a room where we really want to hear a song over and over and over and over and over and over.

Scott:  There are 3 things that I notice he does as well.  I think our lives kind of came together at the right time.  I think we all believe that there’s a natural way that a song’s supposed to be and there’s probably several ways that it should be, but we believe it will settle in to a natural –it’s not really in our control.  We just know when we hear it.  Now there’s probably more than one way and at some point you can pick that they are all right, but you have to get it to that general space where nature sort of says, “This work of art has to be like this, more or less.”

Seth: Yeah, because there’s way more ways to over complicate.

Scott:  With that, Rick working in hip-hop, he got good at inventorying parts.  He’ll listen to a song once and say, “Well on the second pre-chorus,” which he names it pre-chorus and I’m the one who’s always like, “Why’s it gotta be called a chorus or pre-chorus, let’s just not call it anything.  What’s it matter?”  But, he’ll inventory everything after one listen and be able to name these parts and where thing mood-wise happen or note-wise or key-wise happen, and then you can all talk about it and play around.  Where the hip-hop part comes in is that he can actually visualize this piece and then switch it around, and play with it in the studio like you would with digital parts.  We don’t really deal with digital parts.  We are pretty dead set on trying to…

Seth: Actually play the song.

Scott: Yeah, um and the third part I forgot.

Audience member 10:  Relating to the last song you guys played.  How does the songwriting process and the touring schedule work together.  Because I imagine it would be pretty frustrating to be inspired when you are seeing the highway every day.  So, do you write more songs back home on break or on the road?

Scott:  It is both.  It’s gotten less to be both as it used to be.  It used to be, you could kind of see the world more when you are in a van, right?  We travel on a bus now more, or on an airplane.  So it’s gotten to be where you are sitting in the coach section of the plane and you really aren’t getting a whole lot of inspiration.  Although, your mind can go a lot of places…I don’t mean to drift.  We have compartmentalized it a little more at home now than we used to.  I think the more we travel, what happens is the more you travel the more you have to travel, and the more you see the more you discover these new words and they have new meanings with new experiences.  So like when you are at the Cliffs of Dover and you are like, “Oh my gosh the Cliffs of Dover, what a great line,” you know.  And what’s happening right at the Cliffs of Dover is that you are on this ferry that’s got swells of 10 ft and you’re looking down one window and seeing the channel and looking out the other in the sky, and it’s like, so what IS happening right now?  So in that regard, being on the road offers all of these new words and new discoveries that have…I always compare it to gold to cash.  You know, you have cash.  The cash is the song, but it’s gotta have the gold to back it up, which has to be the experience or the belief.  You have to actually believe it, because when you try to continue on in your life, I’ve learned and we’ve learned that if [we] try to continue to play songs that we don’t really believe, they just disappear.  They’re not important.  That’s why so many of these old-time songs have lived so long.  They have so many layers of belief and history in them, from so many people, that they are established like a brick foundation, you know–a stone foundation.  We should take one more and then you should play that new song.

Seth: Yes.

Scott:  We’ll just watch you  (laughter).  Let’s switch it up and go right here.

Seth Avett

Seth Avett

Audience member 11: Thank you very much for the joy you’ve given this 40-year-old man…

Scott: Your beard looks great (laughter)…You are out of the service now.

Audience member 11:  Yes I am!  Thank you very much.  You’ve provided the soundtrack for our wedding, thank you.  But my question is, let’s go back to high school age, Seth, Scott, and Bob.  What were you guys running to the store to buy.  I know we talked about Fugazi and all of that stuff, but what other stuff were you listening to 20+ years ago?

Bob: Bruce Springsteen, The Replacements, and Tom Waits.

Scott:  I’ve said this over and over, and I’ve started to not want to say it because I am afraid it will get me in trouble one day, but I just worshiped Mike Patton from Faith No More–Mr. Bungle and Faith No More–and anything that he was doing.  Then all of the grunge stuff was happening, so Alice in Chains and Soundgarden.  Which, by the way, I feel like – Blind Melon – I feel like they were all kind of precursors to what I guess some people call the neo-folk thing, which I think has been going on forever.  But, I think there was a lot of acoustic rock going on within Nirvana, within Soundgarden, within Alice in Chains.  I think “Jar of Flies” was an amazing acoustic record.  But anyway, all of that stuff in high school, that’s what it consisted of…Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Seth: Nirvana obviously, um the Deftones, and Doc Watson—a lot of Doc Watson.

Scott:  So this is interesting, we got on the bus this morning on the way up and we talked a little bit about not wanting to play too much during the workshop, because we wanted to be able to talk, because we love to talk (laughter).

Seth:  We…WE love to talk (laughter).

Scott:  So, um, every once in a while, I would give Seth some type of devisal situation, and he will go through lists of his if I haven’t, and it’s typical for me to forget them or just remove myself from them.  Seth found kind of this list of them that he started pulling from on his own, so this is an indicator of sort of our process—one part of our process.  So, he kind of brought back this series of songs that he’s basically taken ownership of, but we both wrote them.  It’s kind of interesting.  [To Seth] Um, I don’t really think I should try to play, unless I can…

Seth: Um, okay.

Scott: Well, I mean I will try…

Seth: Yeah, just try.

Scott:  Okay, I’ll just do a couple of chords.  So this is one of those songs from this new list that we have that we are just kind of watching the songs happen.

(Seth performed a new untitled song.  Per the band’s request, audio and video of all unreleased songs should not be posted on the internet)

As previously mentioned, the session ended with a standing ovation as the  band smiled, thanked the audience, and promptly left the auditorium.  The following day, The Avett Brothers closed out the festival with a raucous and rainy set on the Watson Stage that left the waterlogged audience begging for more, despite the day’s incessant drizzle.  Rain or shine, these men always bring their best to the stage, and this year’s MerleFest performances were no different.

Here was an especially moving moment from their Watson stage set, where Scott and cellist Joe Kwon performed “Am I Born to Die”.

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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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Avetts and Cheerwine pair up for The Legendary Giveback

Over the last decade, The Avett Brothers have gained attention for their seamless harmonies, heart-wrenching lyrics and frenetic banjo-driven live shows. From humble beginnings busking on street corners in downtown Greenville to sharing the stage with folk legend Bob Dylan at the Grammy Awards, brothers Scott and Seth Avett and bassist Bob Crawford have certainly come a long way on their journey to the top.

Despite the bright lights of success, The Avett Brothers have remained dedicated to giving back to their community. Their most recent charitable venture involved partnering with Cheerwine for the “Legendary Giveback Concert” last month at nTelos Wireless Pavilion in Charlottesville, Va. The concert benefited Operation Homefront, Big Brothers Big Sisters and University of Virginia Children’s Hospital. Additionally, fans who pledged to volunteer in their communities received access to an online live stream of the concert.

The evening in Charlottesville was met with much excitement from fans across the Southeast. Concertgoers began lining up for the sold-out general-admission show as early as 8 a.m. for an 8 p.m. show.

When The Avett Brothers finally took the stage, the packed amphitheater erupted. The Avetts and Crawford were joined on stage by touring band members, cellist Joe Kwon, drummer Jacob Edwards and Paul Defiglia on the keys. They opened with a high-energy version of “Slight Figure of Speech,” and it was clear that these Concord boys came to blow the roof off of the venue.

They delighted the audience with a handful of old favorites, like “Salvation Song,” “Old Joe Clark” and “Gimmeakiss,” as well as new songs from their most recent album, “The Carpenter,” like “Live and Die,” “I Never Knew You” and a crowd-hushing, stripped-down version of “Through My Prayers.”

The entire set was elevated by playful brotherly antics, Seth’s face-melting electric guitar solos and Scott’s kick-drum acrobatics and stage sprints. The evening closed with an old-timey cover of “Alabama Gals,” but could be summed up best by the lyrics of “Salvation Song”: “And they may pay us off in fame but that is not why we came and if it compromises truth then we will go.”

The group’s air of goodwill has become the norm among their most loyal fans, who have organized fundraisers as far west as Portland, Ore. The Avett Brothers have proven themselves to not only be extremely talented musicians, but also a band of brothers working toward the greater good.

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Album Review: The Carpenter

We’ve changed a lot, and no one here can stop that train before it gets to where it’s going

These lyrics resonate with me each time I listen to The Avett Brothers’ new album, The Carpenter. While there are certainly collections of lyrical lessons nestled in all twelve of the album’s new songs, these particular lyrics from I Never Knew You serve as a shot of reality to fans, both old and new. The band, made up of brothers Scott and Seth Avett, bassist Bob Crawford, and touring members cellist Joseph Kwon and drummer Jacob Edwards, is sending a pretty clear message that they are a forward-moving, well-oiled, meticulously crafted machine that shows no sign of pumping the breaks anytime soon–not even for their fans who are waiting at the “I Want More Banjo Station” screaming, “Hey, what about us!?” Didn’t Ill With Want teach you all anything?

Sure, The Carpenter has a more produced sound (um, it’s a studio album), and yes it may teeter on the cusp of mainstream pop music with an Americana twist, but so what!? Music is made to move the listener, to evoke emotion and thought, and that is what The Avett Brothers do best–banjo or no banjo. If the album moves you to tears, laughter, love, goosebumps, or overwhelming joy, well then stay on board and enjoy the ride. If you start to experience motion sickness, please feel free to get off at the next stop and find a different destination, because this Avett train is movin’ on.

For me, listening to The Carpenter is kind of like taking that train ride through the countryside–a thought-provoking experience of varying landscapes for the senses and soul. The brothers Avett, a charming pair of musical vagabonds who never seem quite comfortable sitting still, take listeners on a journey down the path of self-discovery. While they have left deep, muddy bootprints in all corners of the US, their mode of exploration goes well beyond planes, trains, and automobiles, so much so that they spent nearly three years in the trenches mucking through their own very private experiences–both joyous and sobering–in order to put this album together.

The Carpenter certainly maintains a common theme we have seen from the Avetts over the past decade–man searching for meaning through the passing seasons. The opening track, Once and Future Carpenter, stays true to this theme as it portrays the travels of “a poet young and hungry” on the eternal path for purpose. Imagery of spinning slot machines accompanied by lyrics like “sometimes I hit/sometimes it robs me blind” remind listeners that while life’s just one big crap shoot, we have to take risks and make the best of the hand we are dealt.

Although Live and Die is the only banjo-heavy song on the album, I predict some disappointment from fans who covet that gritty punk-bluegrass Avett sound of past albums and live shows. Instead, Live and Die delivers a much more radio-friendly pop sound, and showcases a delicate and happy side of the banjo. This catchy tune is like a big ol’ mason jar full of NC honey, dripping with the sweetness that is Mr. Seth Avett. It doesn’t get any sweeter than this folks. It is a fun and joyful song that I will undoubtedly be singing in and around the house for weeks to come.

Winter in my Heart takes a somber turn as the band openly shares their woes with depression. A poignant admission of falling victim to the black veil of depression, this song will hit home for fans who have experienced their own feelings of hopelessness and despair. The brightest light in this dark song is Kwon’s hauntingly beautiful performance on the cello, which is further elevated by the eery cries of the musical saw (side note: whoever came up with the idea to use the musical saw on an album titled The Carpenter deserves his own Grammy. Seriously, that is genius!). Overall, Kwon adds breathtaking dimension to this already multifaceted cast of characters, and continues to solidify the authenticity and uniqueness of The Avett Brothers.

On a rejuvenated February Seven Avett country charm resurfaces with crisp guitar picking and clean vocals. This song feels like throwback Avett–a simple song with strong and honest lyrics, much like the songs of the musical legends that paved the way for them. Through My Prayers speaks to the heavy regret and sorrow that comes with missing the chance to tell someone you care. Here, Seth shares the story of a painful lesson learned and implores others to show the love in their hearts before it’s too late–no message could be more chilling and appropriate as this on the 11th anniversary of 9-11.

The Avetts take a brief departure from their traditional acoustic sound, and give a slight nod to their Nemo and Oh What a Nightmare roots by bringing out the electric guitar for a few face-melting riffs on songs like Geraldine and Paul Newman vs. The Demons. Paul Newman vs. The Demons offers a new twist on an old theme–not learning from past mistakes (think Distraction #74)–but this time with a very different sound that tends to distract from the album’s cadence. On a positive note, the song does evoke quite vivid Labyrinth-esque images of Seth falling down a dark rabbit hole while being grabbed at by his demons on the way down, only to find Paul Newman there to save him in the end. Seriously, in my mind this has already translated into the most amazing Crackerfarm video. Nevertheless, it will be interesting and exciting to see how this song matures and holds up on stage. Additionally, Pretty Girl from Michigan gets plugged in and ends up as one of the best songs on the album. This song has been a longstanding fan-favorite, so it is nice to see such a smooth transition from the road to the studio.

The infamous banjo returns on Down With The Shine, alongside a horns section that brings in some dirty Bourbon Street undertones. Although this song has been floating around for a few years, it made its first “national” debut on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and has been evolving ever since. More recently the live version has turned into something of a big top waltz with Scott acting as the dramatic ring leader. While this album version is masterfully layered with rich instrumentation, it unfortunately feels bogged down and sluggish in comparison to the live version. Herein lies the magic that is the ever-changing nature of Avett Brothers songs, and also why I don’t put too much stock into the initial “feel” of the album versions of their songs. Inevitably, the live variations of these songs will continue to move audiences and strengthen their already loyal fan base. Fear not weary, doubtful fans, it will be alright.

Deep beneath the mountains of depression, loss, and turbulence that drives the album, emerges a true gem that immediately beams with light. A Father’s First Spring shines brightly in all its glory as Scott shares the overwhelming feelings that accompanied the birth of his first child, Eleanor. To say that this song will move you to tears is an understatement (think Murder in the City, Part 2). Though simple, the lyrics “I was a child before/the day that I met Eleanor” reveal a complex evolution of character. Scott’s mastery of song and story allows him to speak on life’s purest love–that of a parent for his child–and evoke the deepest of emotions, even in listeners who have yet to experience parenthood. This track is a pure nugget of gold–a special gift from a proud daddy to his daughter, all in the name of posterity (of course).

The album closes with Life, which highlights the fragility of our time here on Earth. Themes of faith and love are intricately woven through the song in true Avett fashion. The beauty of this song lies in its simple message to live with intention and keep those you love close, for “we’re not of this world for long”. As the end of the musical journey approaches, Life leaves me with a feeling of hope, promise, and empowerment.

Overall, The Carpenter proves to be a cohesive collection of songs that gives fans a glimpse into the maturing hearts and minds of men who strive to find deeper meaning and purpose in life. The album succeeds in balancing themes of life and death–good and evil–and opens the door to further discovery and evolution. What it may lack in raw energy, it certainly makes up for with raw emotion, like a wound left open for all the world to see. This album bears the souls of a band of brothers who have been up against some very serious life changing events, yet in their transparency fans are afforded the opportunity to listen, relate, heal, and push on to a new day.

The Carpenter, which was officially released today, is available on iTunes and exclusively at Target with bonus tracks* (*Standing With You and Die Then Grow are wonderful additions to the album, and will ease some of the longing for that old Avett sound).

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Music that Matters – Raleigh’s Racing The Cure Benefit

Brotherly Love

There are certain lengths that a friend will go to help another friend in need.  For Grayson Currin, this meant organizing and seamlessly executing the Racing the Cure Benefit for Oliver Gant, a one-night four-venue music event that raised over $45,000 to help a brave young boy fight the battle of his life (Read: Oliver Gant’s story).

Last Friday night in downtown Raleigh, over 1,700 music fans were treated to the sounds of North Carolina’s finest musicians–including The Avett Brothers, The Love Language, Bombadil, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Jack the Radio, Annuals, and The Old Ceremony–all in the name of charity.

The venues, ranging in capacity from ~250 to 800, provided music lovers with a more intimate environment in which to experience their favorite bands.  This was especially true for fans of The Avett Brothers, who currently sellout venues that hold several thousand.  The chance to see The Avett Brothers in a venue that holds 250 people drove some of their more diehard fans to start lining up at King’s Baracade as early as 9 o’clock Friday morning.  By the afternoon, the line of fans camped out in chairs neared the block’s corner.  Curious pedestrians inquired about the line and quickly learned about Oliver’s event.  I can imagine that soon thereafter, a feverish round of desperate texts and tweets were fired off by said curious pedestrians to track down the last few tickets floating around Raleigh.  This was an event not to be missed!

I was lucky, or crazy according to some, to have scored the first spot in line at King’s that morning.  Some people questioned my judgement, my employment status, and my priorities, but I didn’t care.  We should be using vacation days to support events that are rooted in everything good in our world–friendship, music, philanthropy, and community.  These are the things that matter in life.  The experience of connecting with other fans in line, meeting those closely connected to the cause, and standing center stage in front of Scott and Seth Avett while listening to their beautiful music, was well worth the time and energy I spent.  I’d surely do it again in a heartbeat.

Seth Avett

The brothers Avett, stripped down with only a guitar, banjo and microphones, took the stage around midnight.  The crowd erupted with applause and excitement as those homegrown, humble boys from Concord opened with their heart-wrenching family ballad, Murder in the City.   Family is an omnipresent theme at all Avett shows, and it was evermore present that night as Scott and Seth played and sang from their hearts to honor their friend Jed Gant (Oliver’s dad) and his family.  For these Avett boys, family extends far beyond one’s genetic code.  It is a pervasive term that leeches its way into the all of the lives they affect with their music, art, and generosity.

Scott Avett

What was supposed to be a 25-minute set, thankfully stretched into a 50-minute set with gems like When I Drink, January Wedding, Denouncing November Blue, In the Curve, Go to Sleep, I Killed Sally’s Lover, and At the Beach.  Scott and Seth gave every bit of energy they had and looked like they were having a blast doing it as well.  Half-way through the set, after thanking Jed for inviting them to be a part of such an important event, Seth said, “We’re gonna play one of the songs we always used to play back when we first met Jed many years ago.  This one’s called Cigarettes and Whiskey.”  The crowd went crazy as the brothers added their own Cabarrus County charm to this old country classic.  They quickly downshifted into a beautiful version of Doc Watson’s Look up Look Down that Lonesome Road.  Minus a few token cat calls, the audience had hushed to hear that Avett harmony, all while near or distant memories of love lost stirred deep within.  This is why The Avett Brothers have fans lined up at 9am for a midnight show.  Their music digs up raw human emotions that make us feel reborn and alive.  They make us remember what we’ve been through and look ahead to better days.

They ended their set with a song that has become a staple in their shows as of late–gospel hymn A Closer Walk with Thee.  What a fitting way to end a show of this magnitude–with grace, hope and faith.  To Grayson Currin and everyone else involved in making the Racing the Cure Benefit for Oliver Gant a success, thank you for promoting music that really matters and for supporting a cause bigger than all of us.  To the Gant family, our prayers are with you always.  Keep fighting Oliver!

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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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