By Grant Golden
October 29, 2019
You don’t have to be a life-long fan of the prolific Avett Brothers to understand what they’re all about; they’ve been wearing their hearts on their sleeves for the duration of their nearly two-decade-long career. From their humble beginnings in the coffee shops and restaurants of Concord to their sellout stadium shows, Scott and Seth Avett have been slinging their songs of love, faith, and family for all to hear.
It’s endearing to see a band remain as genuine as the Avetts. From their start they’ve been a band strongly rooted in sincerity through their plaintive self-observations, and their most recent record Closer Than Together continues that trend. But, while most Avett records delve more into their own personal triumphs and tribulations, Closer Than Together finds the brothers digging deeper into societal struggles than ever before.
The announcement of Closer… came alongside a letter published on the band’s website that closed with Seth proclaiming that “The Avett Brothers will probably never make a sociopolitical record. But if we did, it might sound something like this.” Despite that claim, The Avetts’ newest record tackles America’s history with systemic racism and oppression, our daily struggle with gun violence, and the ongoing battle for gender equality.
“The bottom line is that if we’re being honest about our artistry, we’re writing about things that are important and all consuming to us,” Seth said earnestly on the warm October morning we chatted. “These topics made their way in because they’re a part of our personal lives, it’s not about joining a conversation or argument, but instead about following the muse or whatever you want to call it. It’s about making something you feel good about sharing.”
At first glance their statement may seem to be dancing around the elephant in the room, but once you dig into the songs on Closer… it’s clear that this is just another way the Avetts bare their souls to their fans.
“In the creation of these songs, it was the same ‘try to be open to the little bolt of lightning of this song idea,’” Seth remarked. “If it feels like it could be a song, let’s chase it. If the idea hits me about the history of America, or how to grow an apple tree…whatever that idea is, if it’s genuine and inspired and has that mysterious spark, I’ll try to chase it.”
That “mysterious spark” Seth refers to has led the Avetts down many different musical paths throughout their career and has led this once stripped-down, percussion-less crew to blossom into the stadium-filling sensation they are today. Through the years the band’s sound has filled out with the flair of synthesizers and strings, all while keeping the same level of raw passion and emotion that fans fell in love with in the first place.
“We didn’t go from a bar or a restaurant straight to the arena, we were and still are able to play a great variety of rooms,” said Seth, “and we’ve been able to fall on our faces quite a few times. We’ve had shows where we didn’t have the tools yet to match the energy of an audience properly or to connect with a person in the back row, because we didn’t have all those tools in place.”
With a fresh new album and a seven-piece band accompanying them each night, the Avetts have clearly found their groove by breathing new life into older songs while maintaining the pomp and grandiose nature of their newer work. Their shows have a natural ebb and flow with reciprocal energy bouncing between the band and the crowd. That’s not something you can teach– it’s something that you get through years of honing your craft. As Seth put it, “you have to accept that tonight these songs are brand new. They don’t have to be what they were in the past. You have the freedom to respond to the room and to these people, You don’t just have to stick them in a box.”
This organic nature of their live sets is what keeps fans coming in droves to support the Avetts on their journey, and it’s why they’ve retained such a powerful relationship with their North and South Carolina fans. For years the Avetts have thrown a New Year’s party in different arenas across North Carolina and this week on Halloween they’ll bring their arena-ready folk-rock to Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, SC. Shows like this and their annual New Years bash (held this year at Greensboro Coliseum) serve as a homecoming of sorts, a melding of their tour life and home life all at once.
“We’re so at ease with these shows, it’s so much more evident and clear to us that it’s just a time for us to get together and have fun,” Seth said. “To be in a place where we’ve been so fully accepted, that’s a beautiful place to be, a beautiful environment to find yourself in…these rooms are so full of family and friends, we just have to focus on being present and giving it all we’ve got.”
Check out the remaining 2019 tour dates for the Avett Brothers and listen to the new album Closer Than Together.