I admit it: I came late to the game. Only a couple of years ago, a friend suggested The Avett Brothers’ Emotionalism as the next album I should buy. Priority number one. And when I say “suggested,” I mean threatened my life if I did not obey. He, like all newly won Avett disciples, was eager to spread the good word about the trio’s inimitable cocktail of musical genres propped up by poignant lyrics and the ability to flat out jam. Despite arriving to the party seven years late, I fell hard and fast for Seth Avett, Scott Avett, and Bob Crawford (and frequent touring fourth member, Joe Kwon).
After my initial introduction, it took a couple of years before the opportunity arose for me to catch a local live show. Word on the street was that The Avett Brothers had a reputation for rambunctious, high-energy performances, and I was ready to give my right pinky finger to see them in concert. Finally, a St. Louis show was announced, and I immediately got tickets for June 25, 2009. The day Michael Jackson died.
I spent the three hours leading up to the concert glued to my television as the news reported that The King of Pop was dead. As a self-professed complete and total child of the ‘80s, I did have an at-the-time inexplicable emotional reaction to his passing. I felt blindsided, I felt sad, I felt stupid for feeling blindsided and sad. However, we all know how music and memories unite with an indivisible force. My childhood was wrapped up in Jackson’ s music, and I later realized that deserved some small-scale mourning.
I arrived at the show that night in less than a perfect concert-going mood. I plopped down in a balcony seat, wishing to bask in the darkness of my perch on high rather than be an active participant of a raucous crowd. By only the second song of the set, the crowd leapt up on its feet with such momentum, I thought my fellow balcony mates were going overboard into the pit of dancing below. The energy was infectious, and all individual tributaries could be traced back one original source: The Avett Brothers. I gave in.
They kicked, stomped, headbanged their way through a raw and riproarin’ set list that included too many fan favorites to count on my fingers and toes. They simultaneously played a smorgasbord of acoustic instruments, displaying incredible talent and bad ass dexterity, pickin’ and a grinnin’ like nobody’s business. At one point, Scott Avett began a tiptoe dance sequence, channeling Michael Jackson, as a nod to the recently departed. Or, perhaps it was just my imagination…
The Avetts stopped to catch their breath on emotional shots to the heart like “Murder in the City, “I and Love and You,” and “The Perfect Space.” It’s quite possible that I’ve never heard songs performed with such a sense of invited vulnerability, like opening the door to welcome soul baring, night after night, in front of an audience of thousands.
When the boys took their final bows, the lights came up, and The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” was the first song played over the venue’s sound system. No one stepped a foot toward the exits of the building. Instead, the entire crowd stayed to pay a small dance tribute to Jackson and to savor the brilliantly endearing, Avett Brothers romp they had just witnessed for a few minutes longer. Concertgoers were all but singing “Kumbaya” together around the campfire.
It was then that I realized the connection between the massively significant news of the day and my first Avett Brothers concert. The Avetts are innovative trailblazers just the same. They blur the lines between folk, bluegrass, rock, pop, country, and punk to concoct a distinct sound like no other I’ve heard. They write touchingly pure lyrics. They put on fiery, mind-blowing, ball busting (crotch grabbing?) shows.
And they provide the soundtrack for memories, music entirely inseparable from experiences. I am looking forward to their return to St. Louis for round two.
He (Seth Avett) said it: “I think on the whole the album makes some comment on the fact that we are young men, but that youth is fleeting and it goes by very quickly. When you’re moving out of your twenties and into this time when you’re hoping to build something, it’s a beautiful thing and a scary thing. It still feels like things are up in the air like they were in your twenties when everything was up in the air and you didn’t know what the hell was going to happen and who you were going to be. But during that time you start gaining the tools you’re going to use in the rest of your life.”