The Avett Brothers Headline Clearwater Jazz Holiday

[Many thanks to Paul Harris for his guest review of The Avett Brothers set at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday in Clearwater, Florida on October 22, 2017!]

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Not so long ago, Clearwater Jazz Holiday festival official rules list of things “not allowed” could have easily included “The Avett Brothers.” This is, after all, one of the nation’s historic jazz festivals where the likes of Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz graced the downtown waterfront stage.

But last night, the genre-defying Avett Brothers headlined the festival’s closing night. It was the North Carolina-based band’s third performance on this stage in the past five years closing a festival steeped in tradition, but one that the Avetts have helped re-define and re-energize as much as any other musical act over the past 38 years.

Seth paid homage to the festival’s legacy midway through the band’s 24-song set. “We had a chance to spend some time with the festival organizers this morning,” he said. “It’s just dawning on us how special it is to be included.”

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Grace and humbleness, trademarks of the brothers and their bandmates, carried the evening. But moments before the Avett Brothers were set to take the stage, an unwelcomed isolated rain storm passed through, pouring a hard rain on the masses. (And unfortunately, umbrellas are on the rules list of things “not allowed.”) The rain shower passed as quickly as it came. The band took the stage twenty minutes behind schedule and brought the drenched crowd back to life with a rollicking Die Die Die to kick the show off.  From there, it was straight into the “country” version of True Sadness and the cadence was set for an up-tempo show.

Toward the top of the set the brothers brought the fuzzy, synthetic, industrial drive from the studio to life in Satan Pulls the Strings. The traditional version of this one has frequently served in the opening song slot for Avett shows going back several years.  But the funkiness of this version seemed to fit the space and time to a tee. Crowd still wet. Headlining a festival welcoming of new genres. Why not blast thru a techno-influenced “devil song” with acoustic stringed instruments a-blazin’?

Seth would take to the mic a few tunes later to introduce Homecoming, the Tom T. Hall cover that debuted in Birmingham last week and was played for three shows in a row now. Seth introduced the song with heartfelt words about the influence of Hall’s music on their lives.

From Tom T. the boys rolled through Ain’t No Man (complete with Seth – wireless mic in hand –

disappearing into the audience for most of the song) then Go to Sleep before settling in on the edgy You Are Mine, featuring staccato fiddle licks that provided a fresh groove compared to the recorded version. Either intentional, or the audio engineer had Tania turned up a tad high, it was electric and added even more breadth to the evenings’ smorgasbord of genres.

Yes, they played November Blue. It was awesome.

We were also treated to Seth’s playful C-Sections and Railway Trestles, his autobiographical account of the birth of his son, penned in the hospital Labor Delivery Room. The audience reacted with laughs and applause throughout the song’s sprint, proving that people can and do pay attention for more than five seconds in a world of over-stimulation.

From there, several Avett Brothers concert staples fell in order, with the band sticking to the published set list from start to finish (except with the omission of I and Love and You).

The Clearwater audience erupted with the encore leading You Don’t Know How it Feels, paying tribute to one of Florida’s favorite sons the late Tom Petty. Will You Return brought fond memories of the live-from-the-bus video that has logged more than 1.3 million views on YouTube. The passion and high-octane energy from that bus could have lept onto the stage before us as if ten years since never happened.

And then the 38th annual Clearwater Jazz Holiday was closed with the emotional masterpiece No Hard Feelings. But above the final cheers for The Avett Brothers rose the self-evident impact of this band on our hometown’s historic festival. The passionate troupe from North Carolina that helped re-shape this festival has now embodied an equal part of Jazz Holiday’s tradition for years to come.

And will they come again? We surely hope so.

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