Avett Brothers: raw, rockin’ punkgrass
August 21, 2007
ASPEN It was spring of 2001, and Bob Crawford had gone back to school to study jazz guitar. As a sort of experiment in jamming with friends, he bought a stand-up bass.”Worst case scenario, it would be a nice looking piece of furniture,” Crawford said. “All of a sudden everyone wanted me to play on it.”He met up with Scott and Seth Avett, two brothers looking for a bass player for a new band in Mount Pleasant, N.C., after the breakup of their rock-band Nemo. The meeting ended up in a parking lot. The three of them broke out their instruments – Scott plays banjo and Seth plays acoustic guitar – and walked through some traditional old-timey stuff.
“Then we played an original song,” Crawford said. “This was different. It was just structured differently. It was more intelligent.”Thus began the Avett Brothers, who are set to play Belly Up Aspen on Monday at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $17.The band has been taking the Americana world by storm with a furious touring schedule of 150 shows a year and a literal outpouring of new albums, sometimes two a year. Their latest, a 2007 release entitled “Emotionalism,” was nominated for album of the year by the Americana Music Association.The band has been performing as a trio, but with a little extra punch because Scott plays a kick drum and Seth hits the hi-hat when they really get going.
“It’s like running in place for 90 minutes,” Crawford said. “Once the show starts. The best gigs we have, it’s like starting something rolling downhill. It can get so raw and be so blurred because there is so much sheer energy. The flame gets fanned and it kind of takes over.”It’s not unusual for one of the brothers to break two strings during a single song. Scott plays his banjo with the same level of activity as a Taiko drummer and as soon as the tension builds enough he and Seth start stomping on the foot pedals. Sometimes it looks like Crawford can just barely hold the beat in check as the music gets out of control. “I’ve only broken one string,” said Crawford, sounding almost defensive about his level of craziness on-stage. “I’ve thrown the bass a couple of times. I’ve fallen over. I broke the neck off my bass.”Last year, Crawford did a side project that was more on the jazz side of things, and one of the musicians he collaborated with was Joe Kwon, a cello player.
During the recording of “Emotionalism,” the producer kept saying he thought a cello would sound good. So they brought Kwon in to play and now the trio is a quartet. Still, at the center of the group is the Avett Brothers, who do the majority of actual song writing. And it’s the words, Crawford said, that come first, and the music second.”I think it’s the words that capture peoples hearts,” he said. “People fall in love with the meanings of the songs. That’s what they cherish. But there’s an aspect of the live performance that people love. There’s a pure energy thing. I don’t want to sound like it’s primal, but there’s something simple and raw, and people identify.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org