Avett Brothers: Torchbearers of folk rock
Sold-out Stubb's show will include favorites, along with some spontaneity
Over the past few years, the Avett Brothers have evolved into a live powerhouse, with thousands packing such appearances as the 2009 Austin City Limits Music Festival to hear and sing along with Scott and Seth Avett as they trade lyrics on Americana, homages to old folk murder ballads and rootsy, acoustic spins on contemporary rock.
The North Carolina band returns to Austin on Sunday night to play to a sold-out crowd at Stubb's, a rescheduled date after canceling an appearance at the Old Settler's Music Festival earlier this year. (They will be without bassist Bob Crawford, who went on hiatus from the band last week to care for his daughter, who is battling cancer). Their fan base is so strong, especially in Austin, they could probably sell out a second night if they wanted.
What's unusual about the band's success is that they haven't put out a studio album out since 2009's "I and Love and You," their fifth and most polished release, which was produced by Rick Rubin. That album won them a lot of fans, but they probably won't release anything until sometime next year.
"We've never just toured for albums," Scott Avett said in an interview last spring. "For the first four or five years of our career we never had proper releases; we were under the radar completely."
Now that they're not-so-under-the-radar, touring remains the focus.
"To follow the lead of bands like the Grateful Dead, it was neither here nor there whether they were a radio band, their bread and butter was concerts," Scott Avett said. "We just put everything into that, whether we get to be on air or miss a marketing opportunity or not, that kind of stuff comes second. The real goods is the show, the interaction, the connection between us and the people who come and love the music and the interaction."
While the band does share some similarities with groups like the Grateful Dead or Phish, you won't hear much instrumental improvisation going on during a show. It's not so much about what new direction the band will take as the audience's relationship with the songs, many of which are heartfelt, relatable confessionals.
That is not to say there isn't an element of spontaneity. Even on a big stage, there is still a kind of thrown-together, coffee-shop feel to their stage presence.
"We usually put a set list together about an hour or 30 minutes before the show and kind of throw it together for that exact moment," Scott Avett said. "Sometimes we change course, because if you hear 50 people scream out a song, we're going to play that song if we can."
Scott Avett also admits that some of the charm from their live show is that it doesn't always go as planned.
"I want to put on a show for people and make people glad that they came. If you go out and see Bruce Springsteen or Prince, they work so hard," he said. "It's based around the best musicianship that they can do and the best songs they can bring to the table that night. A lot of times you'll either stumble in that effort or you'll conquer it, and either way I think people are entertained by that."
In recent months, the rest of the music industry has started to pick up on what fans have known all along about the Avett Brothers. In February, the Recording Academy featured a performance by the band, along with buzzy British folk act Mumford and Sons, and Bob Dylan, in a tribute to acoustic music during the Grammy Awards. After Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers each sang one of their originals, Dylan and his band joined the two groups for a crowded rendition of "Maggie's Farm."
In addition to being a stark reminder of just how potent Dylan's songwriting can be, the message was clear. These two bands were the new torchbearers of Dylan's brand of folk rock.
It's a comparison that Scott Avett doesn't mind at all.
"It's very flattering to hear something like that," he said. "There's no question about it that Dylan is a huge part of the way we formed and what we've listened to as far as our songwriting and development, and it no doubt played a part. Anyone who says he doesn't affect them if they listened to him. I would question that quite a bit."