I couldn’t leave Winston-Salem until 2pm today, and then it seemed like all of the road construction in the State of North Carolina is being done on US 40 between Winston and Asheville. To summarize: I did not get to Asheville as soon as I had hoped to. Making matters worse, as I was trying to get my work done so I could hit the road, I kept getting Facebook alerts—people were lining up in the Guild line before I’d even left Winston. I kept trying to console myself—the rail just isn’t going to happen tonight. It’ll be fine.
As I entered my hotel off Tunnel Road, I was confronted with a poster with a large bear picture and the words—”Warning! Bears have been active in the area around Tunnel Road. Be alert!” And then probably something about how bears are wild animals and you shouldn’t feed them or run in complete panic, etc. Welcome to Asheville, folks. With the mountains and the scenery you also get some bears. It’s all good.
My wonderful Avett show partner Carla Moyer swung by to pick me up and we drove the short distance downtown. When we rounded the corner to the front of the arena, it was clear that, as reported on Facebook, people had been camping out all day. We secured our Guild wrist bands from Travis and his helper-of-the-evening Dolph Ramseur and went to the back of the line.
There is no line I would rather wait in than an Avett line. I cannot tell you how many fine people I got to say hello to tonight in that line. As an added bonus, about a half dozen people (some of whom I did not previously know) took the time to tell me that they listened to this week’s Road to Now and enjoyed it. (If you haven’t yet, it isn’t too late!)
The posters for the Asheville double-header were created by Pete Schroth. They are awesome. Pete’s lighting tonight, as you can see in a few pictures below, was also off the hook tonight. Thank you Pete!!
Once the end of the Guild line made it through the doors, I walked briskly to the pit floor. (Do not pass GO, do not collect $200, or stop to get a beverage, or talk to people!) The area around the catwalk was already three or more rows deep, but on the Bob/Scott side, my friends Carey and Ed Rongitsch were on the rail (when are those two NOT on the rail??) and there was no one yet behind them. I then realized that the nice people standing next to them were Danny and Amie Jo Platt. Among other topics discussed, we decided to start a petition to have David Childers open one night at Red Rocks next summer.
Then who comes up behind me to form the third row but Maggie Peacock and Melissa Fisher! So basically Carla and I were surrounded by people that I knew. Nobody in our little area was drinking, or obnoxious, or talking over songs. They were there for the music, and that makes all the difference in the world. I feel awful for the folks who had a more negative experience in the pit tonight, and I know that there were plenty.
Before the music even started, I looked to the area on the other side of the rail, directly to the left of us and noticed that Scott’s kids, Bonnie’s kids, and Bob’s kids were all there (I also think I saw Isaac but I’m not sure) with Sarah, Melanie, Susie, and various other folks. I think that the thing that I will remember most from this night is watching those kids rock out to their parents’ music, and the looks of joy and pride on the faces of their parents when they looked down at them. Case in point:
The show began with three very high energy songs — Head Full of Doubt, Ain’t No Man, and Satan Pulls the Strings. At the end of Ain’t No Man, Seth went into the crowd and then ended up running all the way across the arena and up to the top on the other side. As a result, the intro to Satan was a little longer than usual while we all marveled at his level of physical fitness and how the folks who thought they had the worst seats in the house actually got to interact with Seth. Also during Ain’t No Man, the crowd tried to take over Scott’s line of “isn’t he fine,” but Scott was having none of that, waited until we were all done and then did his own dramatic rendition. Good times.
Satan was followed by a fine version of Laundry Room and then Seth led the crowd to sing the opening verse of Live and Die for him. A country version of True Sadness followed, and then Living of Love.
If I had to pick one Avett Brothers song that I thought summed up the band’s philosophy, it would have to be Living of Love. Under no circumstances did I think that they would play two nights in Asheville without leading seven thousand plus people in a chorus of “Say love / say for me love” and they did not disappoint. It is just a magical thing to hear that many people sing those words.
Scott then took to the catwalk for Murder in the City. Yes, I’ve heard it a million times, but I can’t forget that Susie told me that she still remembers the first time that he played it in their living room, and that his “boys” and his “girls” were in the audience. Pretty special.
We were then treated to a spirited Paranoia and then one of my all-time favorite songs, February Seven.
The condenser mike came out at the end of the catwalk and there was some confusion with trying to fit Bob and his stand up bass down at the end. Once they got situated, we were treated to a delicate and lovely version of I Wish I Was. Jim then joined Seth at the end of the catwalk (to chants of “Jim Jim Jim” for which we were rewarded with a tip of his hat). Jim and Seth performed Precious Lord, which I have heard several times before, but this time Seth harmonized with his father at the end of the song rather than simply accompanying him. I believe that is the first time I’ve heard that. Carol Hines captured it on video from the other side of the arena but the audio is clear.
Tania then took over the condenser mike for Le Reel Du Pendu, which never ceases to amaze due to her talent on the violin and her vocal abilities. As she finished up the song, the band got ready to leap into the next song. That song was Colorshow.
Until that moment, I was happy with the show. It was high energy, the set list was full of crowd favorites, and the folks around me were having a good time. But Colorshow…man. They may have played it this way before, but if they have, I haven’t heard it. It was deliberate, methodical, and electric. DCRANGERFAN was there, friends, and he captured it for folks at home.
Colorshow was followed by a great version of Salina—nothing beats Salina when they are actually IN North Carolina. “One day I’ll / someday I’ll / come hoooooome” reads differently in a city that they referred to as a second home, when their entire families are in attendance.
And then they played Pretty Girl from Raleigh, which Seth joked was written for Joe Kwon. This is after he led the arena in shouting Joe’s name in response to the question “what is the name of our cello player?” Can I say how generous this band, especially Seth, is to each member’s contributions? He led cheers tonight for Mike Marsh and Joe Kwon and Tania. Can I also say that I totally called Pretty Girl from Raleigh, but since I didn’t tell anybody I called it, I guess that doesn’t count. Love this song. Thank you DCRANGERFAN.
Then we got Tom T. Hall’s Homecoming, which they’ve played several times in recent weeks but I got to hear for the first time. Loved it. Once again, thank you Carol Hines!
And then a one-two punch of Perfect Space and Slight Figure of Speech. Scott did toss the guitar, the guitar was unharmed, and I did not capture a photo of it. I did, however, capture these:
And then Seth sat alone at the piano and sang Chris Cornell’s Preaching the End of the World. This is only the fourth time that song has been played. I got to hear one of the previous three times—at Banjo B Que in Evans, Georgia back in May. I was absolutely livid that I could not hear the song then because of all of the drunken chatter. LIVID. Well tonight I got to see Seth play it twenty or so feet away from me while the people around me were in hushed silence. I do not get teary at Avett shows. I got teary. Thankfully DCRANGERFAN captured it.
That beautiful moment was followed by Go to Sleep, which I also would have been astonished if they did not play in Asheville, and a long but electrifying Pretty Girl from Chile. I believe that I’m on the record that I’ve heard Pretty Girl from Chile enough times. I take it back, okay? They killed it tonight. Slayed it.
AND THEN, the rest of the band left the stage, and Scott and Seth went back to the condenser mike to play Ten Thousand Words.
The versatility and musicianship that they showed tonight was stellar, but I think nothing shows that more than a transition from Pretty Girl from Chile to Ten Thousand Words. And yes, that is Seth on the electric guitar.
That’s it for the main set. As we were waiting for them to retake the stage for the encore, a security guard nearly jumped over Ed to run back through the crowd to address some kind of disturbance. Apparently people got drunk and rowdy. I do not know because our attention turned back to the stage.
The encore consisted of Old Joe Clark, The Fall, and Life. The Fall and Life and two of my favorite songs, but sadly I can’t tell you much about the encore because between the heat and my bum feet, I had to go get a bottle of water and sit down for a minute. This is the first time I’ve ever left any concert before it was over. I was pretty sad. I found some fellow exiles in the back—Tonya Riddle, Jani Parker, and Anne Hall—and we commiserated about life on or near the rail. It can be grueling.
So the highlights for me were Colorshow, Pretty Girl from Raleigh, Homecoming, Preaching the End of the World, and Ten Thousand Words. But all in all, this was a solid, high energy show. It really could have been New Year’s Eve. It will be interesting to see what they play tomorrow. (November Blue. Come on guys, November Blue!)
It also occurred to me tonight that rather than just give you my impressions of the show, I could interview some people. This turned out to be a better idea in theory than in practice. Most of the people I tried to interview that are over the age of 10 seemed unable to come up with anything more than “it was great!” or “it was amazing!” on the spot. It was great and amazing. I concur. I did get some slightly more specific impressions from a few folks:
Jani Parker—”As usual, it was high energy, lots of fun, and non-stop excellence. It was my first time on the cat walk and I’m spoiled forever. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to not be on the cat walk. I was literally inches from the guys.”
Tonya Riddle’s 80-year old mother Nadine who was attending her first Avett Brothers show—”I loved it!”
Carla Moyer—”Their musicianship was so evident tonight, with everybody covering for the keyboards and Bonnie coming in. She was just so subtle but so focused. You think about their songs and their music, but then when they come out like they did tonight you remember what great musicians they are. Being so close tonight, and seeing how into it Scott was…just wonderful.”
Michael Ganz—”Pretty Girl from Chile was an epic tale of awesomeness. Colorshow was a methodical, rocked out version. First time for me for Pretty Girl from Raleigh, so anytime you get a first song it’s great. I was six inches away from them for Ten Thousand Words. When you’re close enough that you can hear them without the microphone—Seth was singing away from the mike, just singing the song, not for the crowd. Amazing. The Chris Cornell song…man…”
Carol Hines—”It was an amazing show, as always, and Homecoming was the best part for me.”
The kid contingent was eager to tell me what they thought:
Gabriel Ellerbee—”I thought it was AMAZING and The Avett Brothers. they’re just awesome! But I only had three inches of space so I got to sit with the lighting guy. It was AMAZING!”
Phoebe Hines (age 7)—told me that Ain’t No Man was her favorite song and she had a great time and Pete gave her his set list.
So there you have it folks. It was great. It was AMAZING. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow night brings!