“Every show is on the brink of falling apart, and that’s what people like about it,” Avett sideman Joe Kwon said in a Web video. The electricity created by the band’s wild banjo-driven jams repeatedly brought the Arlington crowd surging to its feet.
With Scott and Seth Avett on piano, guitar and banjo, Bob Crawford on bass, cellist Joe Kwon and drummer Jacob Edwards, the band filled the theater with music that had the kick of moonshine and magic of moonlight. Produced by UCSB’s Arts & Lectures, the two-hour show featured Avett’s lyrical charisma and raw instrumental energy.
Hailing from Concord, N.C., the Avett Brothers’ acoustic roots remind one of Santa Barbara’s finest bluegrass band, The Cache Valley Drifters. With David West on banjo and Mike Mullins on mandolin, the Drifters were well ahead of the curve crafting complex covers of Cream and Jimi Hendrix classics. The Avett’s’ compositions incorporate traditional Appalachian folk melodies and lyrics that describe youths’ fleeting presence. Their songs are rowdy, uplifting and poignant. The band’s vocal dynamics and bright harmonies define their music.
While there have been many past brother acts, the Avetts’ song craft is unlike any predecessor. They have kept their music from being easily defined by introducing an eclectic blend into their campfire coffee. The Avetts’ influences include country storyteller Tom T. Hall, Georgia fiddler Charlie Daniels and acoustic avatar Townes Van Zandt. A strange mix? Maybe not. These three masters spin songs about life’s forgotten anecdotes, the strong pull of home and happiness hiding over the horizon.
By updating the definition of “Old Time” music, the Avett Brothers have avoided becoming another fuzzy Indi band. The hint of their future success was revealed in 2000 while at East Carolina University. The trio’s nucleus was forged with the addition of bassist Crawford. Their first rehearsal was held in an empty parking lot on a warm Carolina night.
Although the Avett Brothers developed a local loyal fan base, the band’s future seemed uncertain. Considering the lure of graduate school, they booked a monthlong summer tour. It turned a profit and planted the seeds of the band’s phenomenal grassroots following. They never looked back, and the songs kept tumbling out.
“It’s what we feel we were born to do,” Seth Avett said in a recent interview. “It’s our life blood.”
From 2002 to 2008, the Avett Brothers released five studio albums of originals and several live anthologies on Ramseur Records. With their maturing discography and tour credits, A-list producer Rick Rubin came calling. Upon signing the band to his American/Columbia-Sony record label, Rubin said, “The purity of their message and emotional resonance of their songs stop you in your tracks.”
The band’s newest album was recorded mainly at Rubin’s Malibu studio. The record had a successful run up the charts, peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard Top 100 and was applauded for its searing songs of love and loss. The Avett Brothers’ Santa Barbara show featured extended cuts off the new album, including a showstopping version of its title track, “I and Love and You.”
The cachet of recording with Rubin has introduced the Avetts Brothers’ music to a national audience. They opened for the Dave Matthews Band in 2009 and will sandwich dates with John Mayer during their summer tour, which includes Scotland’s Glastonbury Festival. The band’s stirring Arlington show confirmed its innovative roots-driven music will remain in the spotlight for a long time to come.
If you missed the Avett Brothers’ show or need a helping of first-class bluegrass, check out Peter Feldman & The Very Lonesome Boys (with David West) at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Santa Ynez Valley Grange Hall, 2374 Alamo Pintado, Los Olivos.
— Noozhawk contributor Mark Brickley is a freelance writer in Carpinteria.