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Todd Roeth

The Avett Brothers

From the Bar to the Bell Aimee Johnson interviews a band that started at the bottom and rose to the top Layout by Aimee Johnson

Matt Flynn

  In the music world full of bustle and buzz with elaborate ploys and performances, one band, The Avett Brothers, stands apart. Without the smoke and mirrors, The Avett Brothers came together in 2001, and over the past 10 years have compiled an impressive track record and built up a sizable following of loyal fans with minimal marketing and publicity.   The band consists of brothers Scott and Seth Avett from Concord, N.C., and they broadened their brotherly harmony together with Bob Crawford.   In 2001, Bob Crawford had just returned to school to study jazz guitar, and he began playing the bass. A mutual friend introduced him to the Avett’s who were looking for an upright bass player to add as another member for the band.   “I got in touch with Scott and auditioned for them,” Crawford says. “We started playing together 10 years ago in March.”   In 2007 the trio also added cello player, Joe Kwon, to their lineup.   Scott and Seth are principally identified with vocals, acoustic guitar and banjo, but both brothers also play piano, drums and mostly anything with strings. However, the songs and honest

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lyrics they write together are the brothers’ finest skill set.   The lyrics to “Salvation Song” are a mission-style statement of their purpose. “They may pay us off in fame/ But that is not why we came/ And if it compromises truth then we will go.”   Crawford humbly elaborates on their goal and reason for their music.   “It is a matter of doing it as long as it makes sense. As long as we feel what we are doing is meaningful and has integrity, we will keep doing it.”   Live in concert, the ensemble tears through songs with rowdy energy, popping banjo and guitar strings right and left. Enthused audiences sing along and appear to know every word by heart while they cannot seem to stand still. The heart and energy with which the songs are belted-out may be a clue as to why so many sing along.    Scott and Seth’s songs are brotherly harmony at its best. They have created a seemingly indefinable music genre. They themselves do not even know what to call it.   “I don’t define it,” Crawford says. “I leave it to the people who are listening. I think it has constantly been evolving to some extent, and it is up to whoever wants

Seth Avett, Bob Crawford and Scott Avett at Stillwater, 2005

to have an opinion on it.”   Their music is said to have a diverse combination of folk, bluegrass, punk and rock influences, with which they have amassed an impressive proliferation of honest lyrics.   They debuted in 2000 with a self-titled, six-song, EP. They then distributed a full-fledged album, “Country Was,” in 2002. The heart of their catalogue is the five albums and three EP’s that followed. Their newest album, “I and Love and You” (2009), is their first on a major record label, Columbia/American. The band collaborated with mega-producer, Rick Rubin, and the album has been prominently displayed in Starbucks all across the country.   Their albums offer a generous 112 songs amongst them.   Crawford says they are currently working on a new album but offers no more information other than they just began the process. They will continue to work with Rubin on the upcoming album.   “He [ Rubin] is a part of our team now, and his full extent of involvement has yet to be determined, but we very much consider him a friend at this point, he cares about what we are doing,” Crawford says.   The Avett Brothers career has evolved dramatically from where it started when Scott, Seth and Bob went on the road to land any gig they could find.   Back in 2003, Matt Flynn opened the downtown Augusta bar, Stillwater Taproom, located on Broad Street. He wanted to have a bluegrass, Americana type feel to the music played in his bar. Flynn scoured the Internet looking for regional bands who would be interested in coming to play. He came across a small band from North Carolina, The Avett Brothers.   “They looked kind of interesting,” Flynn recalls. “I figured I would give them a shot, and they came down and played, and the rest is history.”   In August of 2003, Scott, Seth and Bob played at Stillwater

Patrick O. Stephens

Crawford says.   The Avett’s popularity outgrew the small bar, and the venue size in Augusta had to increase to accommodate the crowds. They booked two shows at a larger bar in downtown, The Mission (now Sky City), in February and September of 2006. They reappeared again in November of 2007 to perform at an even larger venue, Imperial Theater.   The Avett Brothers returned to Augusta in 2009 to play a soldout show at the Jessye Norman Riverwalk Amphitheatre, on the Savannah River in downtown, on September 18. That day it poured down rain right up until showtime, but loyal fans still arrived anxious to hear them play.   “They are huge,” Flynn says. “They are actual rockstars now.”   Over the years, The Avett Brothers have built a sizable following,

Patrick O. Stephens

with a $3 cover fee for patrons. The first time the Avett Brothers played in the small bar, Flynn remembers that they were really nice guys. They started to play a couple of songs on the small stage in the front corner of the bar.   “Not too many people were paying attention,” Flynn remembers, “but then they started playing “The Traveling Song,” and nobody knew the song, but they got into the part where they started yelling out towns and they just started screaming and stomping and jumping around on stage. They basically commanded attention from there, and the whole bar turned around and was into them.”   Stillwater’s small stage area was not conducive for The Brother’s rowdy style, but that did not deter them from staying true to their unrestrained performance.   “They can get up and scream with the best of them,” Flynn says, “but some of their really deep-down touching songs are pretty amazing. They have some beautiful ballads.”   Flynn booked the crowd- pleasing band to play six times between the years of 2003-2006.   “Every time they got bigger and bigger,” Flynn says. “It is like people knew that they were a good quality band.”   Crawford remembers their time spent at Stillwater and credits them with helping their career grow.   “It was a great period of our career. We had really wonderful nights there; it was a lot of fun,”

San Fransico, 2010

not just in Augusta but around the country. They have toured and sold out shows from California to New York, as well as the UK.   Nick Blume, 27, is a loyal fan and Avett Brother advocate. He first discovered the band in 2007 by a recommendation from his brother.   “I enjoy The Avett Brothers because of the honest and simplistic lyrics,” Blume says, “but mostly because of the high energy shows that just make you forget about everything else.”   Since then, he has attended six concerts in various cities around the South. He also plans to see them two more times this March.   “I typically tell people who have never listened to The Avett Brothers to check out one of their live shows to get the full effect,” Blume says, “and if not, look up some videos of their performanc-

Joe Kwon, Bob Crawford, Scott and Seth Avett in California, 2009

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es. It is an easy sell from there.”   An opportunity to see The Avett Brothers live, as Blume advises, is approaching on March 27 at Augusta’s Bell Auditorium. Eight years after playing at a small bar in downtown Augusta, the Avett’s have now advanced to filling the Bell Auditorium with loyal fans and hopefully newcomers who might soon convert.   Their acclaim is found in the bars, the theaters, the music clubs and the festivals. Crawford credits the fans and listeners for their continued success.   “It is the listener who the music touched,” Crawford says. “It is not so much the band who makes the music or the person who wrote the song, as it is the listener who has created that meaning, whatever it may be.”

Patrick O. Stephens

Aimee Johnson is a senior communications major on the public relations track.

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The Avett Brothers with guest Langhorne Slim Sunday, March 27, 2011, 8 p.m. The Bell Auditorium 712 Telfair Street Augusta, GA 30901 $37 per ticket 1-877-4AUGTIX or at James Arena Box Office

Scott and Seth at the High Sierra Music Festival, 2010

The Avett Brothers: From the Bar to the Bell  

article published in the Phoenix Magazine, Spring 2011 The Avett Brothers history in Augusta, Ga

The Avett Brothers: From the Bar to the Bell  

article published in the Phoenix Magazine, Spring 2011 The Avett Brothers history in Augusta, Ga