When a person in a spaceman costume emerged behind a giant green spaceship with the remaining minutes of 2017 ticking away and was then revealed to be Valient Himself (Herbie Abernathy of Valient Thorr) I wondered whether that vodka and sprite that I’d had an hour earlier was significantly stronger than I thought. I mean just look at everything going on in the picture above. It was a LOT. But I’m getting ahead of myself in this recap of the most recent iteration of New Year’s Eve with The Avett Brothers (and the rest of the Avett family). A very short background for context. I live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. My husband and I are from Indianapolis. All of our family is there and we go back there all the time, including for Christmas. One of my best friends, April, who lives in Indy, told me at Thanksgiving that she wanted to come to Avett New Year’s Eve with me. So on Saturday morning, with three inches of snow on the ground in Indianapolis, April and I hit the road to North Carolina. What should have been a 9 hour drive turned into a 12 hour drive because it snowed nearly the whole way. But what was I going to do…miss New Year’s Eve because of a little precipitation? No way. So we arrived in a snow-free Winston around 8:30pm. When we got up the next morning, April said “when do we have to leave for Raleigh if we want to get the rail?” Then I showed her pictures of people already in line at PNC Arena.
And that was perhaps the first moment that I realized that I was going to have to reveal the depths of my involvement in Avett World to someone with no real knowledge of its existence. See, April’s a big fan of music. She goes to a lot of concerts and is knowledgeable about and loves a lot of bands and musicians. But I think perhaps she hadn’t previously encountered anything like the Avetts. In 2014, I dragged her and her family to the concert in Indianapolis, but that was her only previous Avett experience. (Example: when I asked April this weekend if she knew any Avett songs, her initial response was “I and Love and You” and “the one about Brooklyn.” She knows more now. It’s all good. We were all newbies once.)
So, I had to confess that the “people” in line in the bitter cold on New Year’s Eve morning were friends of mine. And I thought that what they were doing was perfectly reasonable. And perhaps that was the first moment that April truly understood what I’d been warning her about—going to her first Avett New Year’s Eve with ME was going to perhaps be a little bit different than how most people experience their first big show. Example: we had to leave by noon to hang out with the lead singers’ parents before the show. (Sometimes when I write sentences like that and then read them out loud, I do wonder how this became my life…)
Okay, we weren’t really hanging out with Jim and Susie. More accurately, we were hanging out with Jim, Susie, and 100 other Avett fans at the “Official Avett Nation NYE Pre-party Featuring Jim Avett.” April and I walked in the door to the bar and Susie Avett was standing there, so the first Avett fan (of many) that I introduced my friend to on NYE was Susie. Not a bad start. We got to hear Jim play, preceded by a short set by Jeremy T. McConnaha. Jeremy recently released his debut album Conversations, which was produced by Mike Marsh. He has an amazing voice and has written some great songs — check out his album here.
We also met up with my friend Matt at the pre-party. Matt, whom I met at Red Rocks and instantly decided was going to be my friend for life, has been attending Avett shows for a decade but was on his first trip to North Carolina (!) and attending his first Avett New Year’s Eve. When the party wrapped up around 4:45pm, the three of us had to plan our strategy, namely, when were we going to head over to the arena and where did we want to end up in the pit? This was the first NYE for Matt and April. I was on the rail the last two NYEs but I thought that was probably too much for us to manage, especially with such a late start. After we concluded that we were just going to stay in the back of the pit rather than try to push for a space near the rail (meaning there was no rush to get to PNC) we left the bar and headed straight there.
So we got to PNC Arena right about the time that the parking lots officially opened (5:00pm). But we were able to get our Avett Guild wristbands (thank you Travis) and join the line inside the lobby (thank you PNC Arena). And then spend 80 minutes chatting with established friends and making new ones. It was a happy crowd. I handed out Avett News bookmarks. Joel Plotkin gave me a cool bracelet. Jani Parker gave me a cool guitar pick. Joanie Towey gave me a cool sticker. At this point both of my NYE-newbie friends may have thought the Avett Guild line was just a place to get free stuff.
The Avett Guild line got to go through security around 6:20pm and we lined up outside the merch table. Pretty convenient to pick up the shiny and striking event poster by Ken Taylor and the limited edition t-shirt designed by Tyler Wolf and made in North Carolina from North Carolina cotton.
We got into the pit at 6:30pm and stuck to our guns about staking out a spot in the middle of the back. (Surprisingly, nobody was trying to get that spot…they were all going for the rail…their loss, the sound was exceptionally good from our position and we had a great view all night long.) So then we got to wait another two hours for The Felice Brothers to start their set at 8:30pm. At this point, April may have been convinced that attending Avett shows basically involved waiting around and talking to people. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)
The Felice Brothers played a fantastic set. It was unfortunate that more people weren’t there to witness it. (When we were waiting next to the merch table to go into the pit, I saw James Felice standing by himself. I went over and told him that I saw him play with Conor Oberst in Charlotte in October and that I was really looking forward to his set. He is a super nice guy.) For those going to Avett at the Beach, you’ll have another opportunity to see Ian Felice play an afternoon concert. Take advantage of it.
Mandolin Orange came on around 9:15pm. The highlight of their set for me and for April was Wildfire.
They are great musicians and I’ll make sure to see them again soon. Unfortunately, after the rocking set by The Felice Brothers, Mandolin Orange was a little too soothing for my very tired self. April kept poking me and telling me to perk up. “Wait until the Brothers hit the stage,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”
1200 words into this recap and I’m ready to talk about The Avett Brothers now.
The arena went dark around 10:30pm and the band members filed onto the stage. Scott headed for the piano. “Head Full of Doubt,” Matt asked? (We like to guess the next song.) Fastforward to the 0:51 mark in the video below. The first chord is played and Pete let loose with the lights. It was an explosion of sound (from the band and the audience) and movement and visual impact. Yeah, yeah, Head Full of Doubt. Nothing new there. I myself have seen them play Head Full of Doubt 32 times. But there was something really cathartic about that song launching their New Year’s Eve show. The audience SCREAMED “your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected” as Seth made his “talking hands” gesture.
There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right
And it comes in black and it comes in white
And I’m frightened by those that don’t see it
…that’s all true…and boy did that all seem true in 2017. But The Avett Brothers started their set with an explosion of light and sound and a resoundingly positive message: decide what to be and go be it. I literally got a tear in my eye when I turned to April and said “THAT’S my band.” I was just so damn happy to share it with her.
They followed Head Full of Doubt with a high energy Satan Pulls the Strings with a little techno beat in there. From the very beginning, Pete’s lights and set design were ON POINT throughout the show and from my perspective at the back of the pit, made a glorious visual impact on the audience that was difficult to capture on film but very exciting to watch live. That is one downside of the rail—you miss the pretty pretty lights.
Third was Laundry Room, with the crowd bouncing along happily.
Then Old Joe Clark and Vanity. And then one of the highlights of the show for me, a blistering Geraldine. I loved Geraldine last year at New Year’s Eve, but this year’s blew me away too. One phrase kept going through my mind—”Scott Avett is such a ROCK STAR.” (As if we didn’t already know that.)
Kristin Russell had a great vantage point to capture it and to also capture the suits that Scott and Seth were wearing, designed by Elise Fife. The band looked fantastic.
After Geraldine, we were six songs in and I was exhausted. I thought we’d get a “ballad break” to take the energy level down a notch or two. Nope. Instead we got a massive sing-along of Go to Sleep which is always a good time. Bob, Scott, and Seth left the stage and we wondered what was up. Then we saw them again on the big screens, walking through the backstage corridors and then out onto the concourse where they picked up instruments on a small stage to play Shame and Distraction #74. “Do they do this a lot,” April asked? Wide-eyed, I replied “I have never seen this before.”
We watched (along with most of the arena) on the big screens but a couple hundred people flooded into the concourse. I’m so glad DCRANGERFAN got up close video because they allow me to experience it in a more intimate way that I originally did. Check out Scott at the 4:00 mark. Now imagine a new tour of them playing venues like they did in 2006. How incredible would that be?
As the boys came back into the arena, Tania Elizabeth played Le Reel Du Pendu / Les Bars De La Prison. Striking as always. That was followed by Die Die Die. Seth let the crowd sing the entire first verse. We did a pretty good job.
Then a couple of newer songs—Ain’t No Man and True Sadness (rock version).
Then Jim Avett (who definitely needs no introduction) came out to the condenser mic accompanied by Seth on guitar and Scott on banjo to sing Precious Lord. He sounded really good and it was nice to hear both of his sons accompanying him on that song and harmonizing with him. I believe I’ve only seen him perform that previously with Seth. When the song concluded, Jim and Seth shared a hug that was one of my favorite moments of the whole evening.
“Let’s hear it for Dad, ya’ll.”
Scott then came out to the condenser mic solo to perform Murder in the City. April had never heard it before. I kept sneaking looks at her. Seeing her reaction, I wish that the first time I’d heard it was live. So powerful.
Only two more songs before midnight—I and Love and You and Kick Drum Heart. This was not a set list with deep cuts, but it was consistently high energy and FUN.
When Kick Drum Heart was over, there were more than five minutes left until midnight. So Scott and Seth chatted a little bit…
…and then…okay, here’s where stuff gets a little weird even for a seasoned Avett New Year’s Eve-goer…the giant spaceship (designed by Valient Thorr-founding member Tyler Wolf) that had previously gone unnoticed in the backdrop was illuminated in green and then descended to the stage and a spaceman walked out.
And my memory is that April and Matt were both like…”what??” And I was trying to watch the stage and explain Valient Thorr at the same time (unsuccessfully), so I gave up on the latter and said I’d try to explain it later. Around that time, the spaceman’s helmet was dramatically removed to reveal….Father Time. So then Scott and Seth are yelling that the spaceman is Father Time and a bunch of other stuff that made varying degrees of sense (especially from Scott, who was ridiculously pleased with the whole thing) and the guys were all laughing. I turned to April and said “what do you want me to say, they’re goofballs.”
So then Father Time climbs the stairs to his 2018 tower and….has to wait because it isn’t quite midnight yet. Which is also of course hilarious after that whole build-up, but given that he was a little late last year it makes sense that he’s a little early this year. Whatever. It’s New Year’s Eve! And then the countdown commenced and a ridiculous number of balloons were released (including some larger than some audience members).
The band drank champagne and there was lots of hugging on stage and in the audience.
After midnight, Father Time sang Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion with the band, trading lead vocals with Scott while Seth shredded the guitar. One phrase kept going through my mind—”Seth Avett is such a ROCK STAR.” (As if we didn’t already know that.)
and then they launched into a cover of Tiffany’s 1987-mall-concert-tour classic I Think We’re Alone Now. “Goofballs,” I repeated to April, “they are rock star goofballs.”
Father Time then left the stage and The Avett Brothers played Talk on Indolence, Live and Die and a beautiful If It’s the Beaches. They said goodnight, walked off stage, and I turned to April and said “they’ll come back for a three set encore which will include Slight Figure of Speech and then end with No Hard Feelings.” (I never guess right when anything is actually at stake.)
Scott and Seth kicked off the encore by coming to the condenser mic to perform Through My Prayers. “We’re going to do this one for somebody, for some people, who lost someone,” Seth explained. The fact that the guys take the time, especially on a night like New Year’s Eve, to play a song like Through My Prayers specifically for fans who have suffered a recent devastating loss illustrates why a community has developed around them. Yes, they are great musicians and goofballs and a lot of fun, but they are, as Jim would say, also “really good” people.
…and then Slight Figure of Speech. Scott caught the guitar, thus ensuring us luck for the whole of 2018 (thanks Scott)….
…and then No Hard Feelings. Predictable, yes, but ABSOLUTELY the right song to end New Year’s Eve and kick off 2018.
I have no enemies.
I have no enemies.
If you have love in your heart let it show while you can.
There is nothing worth sharing like the love that lets us share our name.
Decide what to be and go be it.
Ain’t no man or men that can change the shape my soul is in.
You and I, we’re the same, live and die, we’re the same.
This set list did not include a lot of songs that I would have loved to hear. But this set list included a lot of songs that I NEEDED to hear tonight of all nights. We are not alone. We’re all in this together.
2017 just felt like an avalanche of cynicism and despair. At the end of a marathon day in which I spent hours talking to friends and hours listening to great music, surrounded by 11,000 people singing “I have no enemies,” I was filled with optimism for 2018.
Say love, friends. Happy new year!