I spent most of the last day At the Beach talking to people for Tim’s “We’ve All Got an Avett Story” series. I had breakfast with three fellow fans, and when I asked them about their first Avett concert experience, they each described it as a singular, transformative experience—”the day that changed my life,” “mesmerizing,” and “moving.” A few hours later, I sat down with my friend Amy Lauder Erickson, who expressed a similar sentiment and then added: “I’m not a religious person. I never really understood religion. But going to Avett Brothers’ shows made me understand what people get from going to church.” She had no idea how prescient that statement would be—it was an day in which we all found a little faith.
After lunch with Amy, Riley and I conducted our daily census of iguanas on the property and then spent a little time in the shade before making our way to the Hacienda lagoon to hear Jim Avett play. Jim, of course, is the son of a minister and although he would be the first to tell you that he is not preaching himself, his concerts are imbued with life lessons. Jim always notes that all the religions in the world share a common principle: The Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In other words, he says, it is a universal principle that we should treat each other with care and with love. Go through life with humility, knowing that when you reach the end of your journey, your material achievements will mean nothing, and all that will matter is the impact that you had on other people. I don’t care what you believe in, Jim told us that afternoon, but you have to believe in something.
Here is audio of Jim performing his song Signs:
The Head and the Heart opened for The Avett Brothers on their final night. Here they are performing Rivers and Roads.
As soon as The Avett Brothers took the stage, it was obvious that something was very wrong with Joe Kwon. Rather than bouncing around the stage with his normal energy, he sat in a chair, standing only when he needed to reach the microphone to contribute vocals. He drank water between songs and looked wiped out. Rick Ross took this photo, which says it all.
The next day, Scott posted a message on Twitter:
That’s how we all felt. At one point, the crowd even started a chant of “Joe Joe Joe.”
This night in Mexico was my 44th Avett Brothers show. It was definitely one of the top three set lists I’ve ever heard.
The band opened with Die Die Die (“Nobody knows what lies behind / the day before the day we die”) and then Shame (“My life is different now I swear / I know now what it means to care / About somebody other than myself”) …
… followed by the sole repeat of the Beach, the country version of True Sadness and then Nothing Short of Thankful with a pretty memorable call and response between Scott and Seth.
Next up was a beautiful version of January Wedding.
At this point, I was happy with the show. Nothing really unexpected, but the crowd was mellower than it had been the previous nights and Scott in particular seemed to be trying to compensate for Joe’s diminished energy. Once again the band was relaxed and happy and that was communicated through the music.
But then, for me at least, the concert hit another level with the next song—February Seven. This is one of my favorite Avett Brothers songs and this version was gorgeous. Unfortunately I can’t find a video online.
February Seven was followed by a full band version of Jim Avett’s song Signs.
It was pretty cool hearing the whole band play Signs just hours after Jim and Bonnie performed it. And they followed it with November Blue. It was my first time hearing November Blue since Seth started playing the piano part. I fancy myself a bit of a November Blue connoisseurr. I’ve heard a lot of versions of this song. This one brought tears to my eyes.
My favorite Avett Brothers song was followed by the first two Avett Brothers songs I heard, the ones that made me fall in love with the band in the first place—Head Full of Doubt and I and Love and You. I’ve heard both of those songs in concert dozens of times, but both are just so meaningful when the crowd is full of people who sing along, especially in such a beautiful setting.
The condenser mic then came out and Scott, Seth, and Bob performed a delicate version of I Wish I Was and Backwards with Time.
The energy level then got kicked back up with Laundry Room, Old Joe Clark, and Ain’t No Man, followed by a cover of the David Childers’ song The Prettiest Thing. (Next time, wouldn’t it be great if David Childers could play a sunset gig in Mexico? Just sayin’.)
We were then treated to a great version of Talk on Indolence and then the band lined up as if they were going to play Victims of Life. I turned to my friend Matt and said, “no repeats and they’re going to repeat Victims? What’s up with that?” Scott asked if we were ready, and then Seth began to play what appeared to be Victims … until he then stepped to the microphone and sang “Well I guess it would be nice…” (You know, from George Michael’s Faith?) If the crowd’s initial response was muted, it was because we were shocked. “They just Rickrolled us,” Riley said in astonishment. Indeed they did. They seemed inordinately proud of the fact that they tricked us. It was awesome.
There were no more tricks. Instead, they finished out their main set with a beautiful version of If It’s the Beaches. When Paul left the band, I was worried about how it would impact Beaches, but they’ve adapted without sacrificing the richness of the arrangement. A night in which we receive February Seven, November Blue, and Beaches is a wonderful night indeed. The song begins, of course, with the lyric that was running through all of our minds—”Don’t say it’s over.”
They came back to the stage for three songs—The Traveling Song…
…Slight Figure of Speech, in which both Scott and Seth sat on the edge of the stage while Seth performed a blistering guitar solo…
…and finally, No Hard Feelings.
Listen to the crowd signing along at the end—”I have no enemies.” If you’ve seen May it Last, you can imagine what it must mean to Seth to have thousands of people singing that refrain back to him. He mined his soul so that we could have something to believe in. Messages of love, and forgiveness, and humility, and community. With that refrain still echoing in my heart, I embraced my friends and we all headed back to the real world—rested and ready.