Faded denim, t-shirts and scattered 24 oz cans of Coors Lite Beer. Scalpers flash tickets to the fans who arrive in boatloads. At the booth, two staffers distribute from the stacks of red and blue “Will Call” tickets. This was the scene outside the UMBC Event Center last Friday night.
Inside, three-time Grammy-nominated band, The Avett Brothers, are preparing to take the stage. The venue is packed. The audience stands shoulder to shoulder in the lower and upper seating levels, the buzz of excited chatter dominates the air. The band appears promptly at 8 p.m. — spotlights dim, fans rush as close as they can get to the stage.
The music is southern and simple but captures the complex highs and lows of everyday life. The Avett Brothers sing about family, friends, magic, love and heartbreak. At times it is just the band’s two brothers, Seth and Scott Avett, and other times the brothers are joined by their four accompanying members: drums, piano, cello and bass.
By the third song, The Avett Brothers are showing off their musical capabilities. Scott Avett, clad in a plain white tee, arms himself with a four-string banjo and begins to pick a rhythmic tune. Couples in the audience hang on to each other and sway to the soft folk music. Their music is like a time capsule — the brothers pine for love, acceptance and happiness.
The majority of the set is acoustic, which allows for each of the band’s instruments to shine. Two acoustic guitars, one electric guitar, one banjo, three pianos, a drum set, a violin, an electric bass, as well as an upright double-bass played by band member Joe Crawford.
And in their more upbeat songs, the bass drum shakes the floor and calls the crowd to their feet. The vocal harmonies of Scott and Seth reverberate nicely, and here and there the violin sings out with them.
When Seth Avett takes the stage alone and flips his six-string over his chest, the fans lose it. A blue spotlight singles him out as he sings a cover of “Her Eyes Dart Around” by the Felice Brothers.
“And her eyes dart ’round and fall on the ground/ And her lips move along to an old country song,” he sings. In the crowd behind me, a girl swoons. “He’s so cute!” For effect, Seth holds the guitar over his shoulder and plucks slowly. There’s a pendant on his string necklace that makes him appear ordinary.
Towards the later part of the night, the band performs a slower song called, “Who Will I Hold.” Fans sing the words, lyric for
lyric. “Now, these victims of love, most hopeless of all/ The fortunate prisoners in an infinite war/ They turn on themselves, it’s pure sabotage/ Silver spoon babies with Tupperware hearts.” In waves, the audience holds up lighters and smartphone flashlights.
For the next song, Seth Avett slings a cherry red Les Paul over his shoulder. The guitar’s tones are clean and crisp until halfway through the song he takes center stage in a fiery solo. This is akin to an epic rock ballad, along the lines of Lynryd Skynyrd’s hit song “Free Bird.”
Seth ends his solo and sings out in falsetto. The stage lights glow red and sweep across the crowd. In front of me, a short brunette wearing a pair of blue overalls and dirty white converse claps along and stomps her feet. It seems as though she is lost in the music along with her peers.
Meanwhile, Scott Avett has taken a seat at one of the three on-stage pianos, where he plays along and contributes vocals to his brother. As the epic continues, the band becomes absorbed into the fun they are having.
The fedora-wearing drummer with his tie undone, the cellist who spins his instrument around and sings along to the words with the quiet pianist. Then Seth Avett launches into another guitar solo. He exits to stage right, protected by a small security entourage, and makes his way through the large crowd.
He’s up the stairs, moving through the second level seating areas while bending and hammering on the strings. He gives the audience the works and they take it in with gratitude. Nearby, a gray-haired man closes his eyes and does his own air guitar solo.
The song ends on a jagged, crunchy arpeggio. “Thank you very much!” Seth shouts. But the set isn’t over. The last song of the night is slow and more nostalgic than anything else they’ve played. A disco ball descends. “I am a breathing time machine,” the audience sings. “I’ll take you all for a ride,” the brothers sing back to them in a loop. Seth encourages the audience to cherish the moment, and then the moment is gone.
“Thank you, Baltimore, y’all are beautiful!” he says, and the band disappears from stage to a chorus of stomps and hollers.
Photo Credit: The Avett Brothers performed at the UMBC Event Center on Friday, September 13. Photo by Ian Feldman.