Last Friday at Charlottesville, VA’s nTelos Pavilion, two legends joined forces for a huge benefit concert billed as the Legendary Giveback.
The show was sponsored by Cheerwine, a popular soft drink promoted as an alternative to the wide world of soda, and featured The Avett Brothers, an alt-folk/rock band that uses acoustic instruments to create and perform original music for their huge audience of primarily young followers.
Photojournalist Milo Farineau and his daughter Izzy were on hand, and they tag-teamed the event, capturing photos of the concert and speaking with Scott and Seth Avett, and Tom Barbitta, Cheerwine’s Vice President of Marketing.
If you look at the photos, or listen to the audio samples from their current album, The Carpenter, you see and hear right away that they are nothing like what we all know as bluegrass, though it was clearly among their major influences growing up. Their stage show and the attitude it conveys is pure rock and roll, but the banjo is a prominent part of their sound, and many of their fans associate their music with bluegrass.
Before the show, Izzy spoke to the brothers about their musical mixed message.
Seth: We love The Dillards, that would be a big one.
Scott: Earl Scruggs, was a huge influence, that was the template for how I learned how to play banjo. That was the only way I played the banjo until I started using it as an instrument to write with as well. And I started gaining interest in older ways of playing the banjo as well as coming up with my own ways, so I would say I guess Earl Scruggs would be the quintessential bluegrass banjo.
Seth: And Doc, you know, he dipped into that quite a bit. He played a lot of different kinds of music but he dipped well into bluegrass and Don Reno, he’s a fellow that I really admire his banjo picking. You never want to say a group or artist that people don’t identify with bluegrass because bluegrass is a very pure, or at least we see it is a very pure kind of thing and there are so many types of music now that blur those lines. And we love a lot of music that blurred those lines initially.
Scott: Old and In the Way, you know, actually that was one of those records that we took the version of Muleskinner Blues, going down the road…. We got a lot of the versions of those songs that we played early on from Old and In The Way recordings, which you would wonder if that is kind of second, or fourth generation bluegrass music, coming from guys in San Francisco or coming from one of the Dead…
Seth: We love Del McCoury. We love his music, but we really mainly just love him as a person, he’s been so good to us. So nice and welcoming.
Scott: We played at his festival, every time we sing in Nashville, we get where we are going…
Seth: (interrupting) When we played at the Ryman, maybe it was our first time selling out, and he knew that was going to happen and he had this welcoming gift waiting there for us as kind of a ‘Congratulations! You sold out the Ryman! He’s just such a gentleman.
Izzy: What are your biggest non-bluegrass influences?
Scott: It’s all the way across the board…. Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Louis Armstrong, Tom Waits, Coltrane, Beethoven…
Seth: We make it a point to find the good in every genre and there’s not a genre that doesn’t have something beautiful to offer.
Scott: I think we’ve always love the extremes of things, and if it was going to be bluegrass then we would find the most extreme version, the best version of it. We would try to find the point (in any genre) where it was being pushed the furthest and take from that.
Izzy: What bands are you listening to right now?
Seth: I’m listening to the Band of Horses record, I’m liking that a lot, and Michael Kiwanuka, he’s out of England. Very beautiful voice… kind of a folk singer, with production that is kind of ’70s soul. Also listening to Brandi Carlisle’s new record a lot.
Scott: I’ve been listening nonstop of Randy Travis lately, relearning all of the great songs that he performed.
Izzy: Scott, do you paint while you are out on the road?
Scott: No, I carve prints on tour. When I’m on the road, it’s a good way for me to learn songs. It is hard for me to just sit and listen and focus on a song. I can learn a song, and there’s no end of songs I need to learn and explore, and if I’m carving, I can learn as well as doing this mindless physical thing and at the same time I can be advancing this visual journey I may be on. At home I have a printing and painting studio, but the carving is something I can do on the road with a table and a chair and a knife.
Seth: We can’t separate ourselves from our backgrounds. There is some connection throughout all of our music from the men and women we come from, our parents and grandparents. We never knew our grandfathers, they passed before we were born, but our dad’s dad was a preacher, our mom’s dad was a one star general in the Army. We are definitely in a large part who we are because of our parents and because of the values and the example they showed us.
Scott: The work effort is more important than the music, the style or the direction of the music ….that was going to happen regardless, that was just the medium we chose to work in. Our father and mother mainly were leading by example, showing us. Dad gets up at 4:30 and is home when the job is done. This thing that looks impossible to do, watch him move this trailer that he just welder together by himself, watch him move it around, a two ton apparatus, by himself and he would just say, ‘If you just do it slow, you won’t hurt yourself and you’ll get it moved.’ Just, that kind of thing, we apply to what we do.
Seth: The aesthetic of a record like The Carpenter, or anything we’ve done before is less important, less worthy of mention than the fact that we are trying to do a lot and do it as well as we can.