Avett Brothers – Bojangles Coliseum April 9, 2011

I can remember standing in the offices of the editor for the local Alternative Weekly paper and saying the following: “I know this will not win me any points, but I just don’t get the Avett Brothers.”

That was a little over a year ago, and since that time I have attended two shows by the Concord based Americana/Bluegrass phenomenons.

Let me go ahead and eat crow.

Part old time tent revival, part festival rock atmosphere, part family reunion with talented kin… all these things would be apt descriptions of the feelings of an Avett’s show, especially this homecoming on April 9 at Bojangle’s Coliseum in Charlotte, NC.

Arriving on stage after a blistering set from Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, the Avett’s core trio gathered around a single condenser microphone like a radio show of old and serenaded the hometown audience with the John Denver classic, “Back Home Again.” The smiles on the faces of both Scott and Seth Avett were merely reflections of the joy that would be found on the faces of the sell out crowd for the next two hours.

I could easily fill this space with a set list and review of the performances, but to me- the whole Avett thing, and what is causing them to grow at  an exponential rate is more than their songwriting and abilities. It is the sense of community and belonging that they allow their audiences to experience. I say this not to take anything away from the songs, some of them like “Murder in the City” are simply beautiful and brilliant in their simplicity and truth.Others are also, simply- fun.

But the sense of being a part of something is the true experience of an Avett’s show. When I mention the family reunion above- I mean it. You truly get the feeling that those guys up there, are only on stage as a formality- they could just as easily be sitting around picnic tables filled with fried chicken and devilled eggs. Sure they have a bit more talent than Uncle Joe and his kids, but there is not a sense of separation between the audience and the crowd. The “thank yous” that are given out after each song are as sincere as the hug you receive from that second cousin you do not remember ever seeing before. The Avett’s have earned the position they are in, and have mastered the art of inclusion amongst their fans, yet they present none of the holier-than-thou attitudes found in most attainers of  newfound fame.

Rarely am I moved at a rock show, but when the majority of the audience raised their hands to the sky (much like those having a moment of spiritual release at a baptist tent revival) during the refrain of “I and Love and You,” I could easily imagine these guys having a altar call, and like their fellow hometown boy, Billy Graham, having 90% of those in attendance coming forward to profess their faith.

Faith that rock may not be dead, it just might be led by a banjo and cello.

The Damnwells …setting a new path with new record, No One Listens to the Band Anymore

Every band that sets up in the basement or garage has the dream of getting that big shot: opening slots on bills with your heroes, rock stardom…a major label record deal.

The Damnwells have lived that dream, opening on tours for bands such as Cheap Trick, signing deals with Epic records and recording big budget albums. The lead singer of the band, Alex Dezen, also holds one of my favorite rock and roll moments- watching him sing “Surrender” with Cheap Trick , his face frozen in a grin like a child who has met Santa…

The Damnwells have also experienced the sometimes-devastating reality that follows achieving the rock and roll dream- being dropped by the label and left to their own means. Unlike so many bands that go through this experience alone and unnoticed, for the Damnwells, the rise and subsequent letdown was documented in the film, Golden Days. (now available on DVD)

“One of my best friends had an idea to document our rise to stardom, and was able to capture so much more,” said Alex Dezen , lead singer and songwriter of the band, by phone. “I am very glad that he was there, because it helped deal with all the stuff that was going on.

For many bands, the death of the major label dream is also the death of the band.  Not so for the Damnwells… Alex Dezen turned this experience into a rebirth.

After the drama of recording the album, Air Stereo, Dezen returned to school- earning his Masters in Creative Writing from Iowa. “Returning to school was what was needed to refresh after the experience documented in Golden Days,” said Dezen.

During this time, Dezen and band recorded an album called One Last Century, and in a strange twist, gave it away for free via Paste Magazine. This seemingly counterproductive decision turned out to be a shrewd move. Using the email addresses captured in the giveaway, the band began a fundraising campaign via the website pledgemusic.com. The initial goal of raising $20K was exceeded by more than 200%. These funds are allowing the Damnwells to release their new disc without going into debt. The fans have become the record label…

Utilizing this “new” method of fan-support is not that odd to Dezen, “For centuries, artists would be paid to produce art for a benefactor- supported in total by the recipient of the art, ” said Dezen. “This is really no different, just a return to those days before capitalism took over art.”

The result of this fan-funded project is No One Listens to the Band Anymore, a record that fully represents the lyrical and melodic mastery of Alex Dezen, and the concise mood-fitting music the band is known for. The release more than delivers on the expectations of those supporters who donated over $40,000 to make it happen, with highlights being the stunning, “The Great Unknown,” and “Let’s Be Civilized.”

The album was released on March 15, and is available on iTunes and through the band’s own webstore.

March 29 finds the band returning to North Carolina soil for the first time since 2006,  with a stop on their headlining tour dropping them at King’s in downtown Raleigh.

“During the fundraising on pledgemusic, we kept hearing people say, “Come to North Carolina”, and discovered we have a pocket of fans in the state, so we are happy to be able to play there on this tour,” said Dezen.

Every band begins with a dream, but not every band is adept at adapting those dreams to the reality of the musical landscape of the 2000’s.. The Damnwells are not only evolving, they are helping to set the new model.