When we told people in Michigan that we were making something of a musical pilgrimage to see The Avett Brothers at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, most responded with blank stares. Perhaps it says something about the people we surround ourselves with, but the CMT- and Grammy-nominated band admittedly remains largely a mystery to mainstream America. My internal hipster feels gratified, taking solace in the banal tastes of the masses–from reality television idiocy to twerking, teenage tabloid queens. Being a fan of a band that isn’t a part of the collective consciousness always feels like membership to an elite club. When you find someone else who shares in appreciation for artists like the Avett Brothers, it inspires a mixture of disappointment (to find out you’re not so special after all) and excitement (to realize the growing appeal of something you love). A cursory review of the band’s Facebook page reveals many besides us whose bucket lists would be one item lighter after making continental treks to see the band perform at the breathtaking Red Rocks.
Avett Brothers at Red Rocks is match made in musical heaven. The band’s sound, like the venue itself, is like something hewn from stone–raw, honest and beautiful. Brimming with natural energy, the band, headed by brothers Scott and Seth, took the stage by storm Sunday evening, bringing to a close its three-night stint in Morrison. After the audience was treated to Scott joining with opening act and folk legend John Prine, this genre-defiant band opened with “Talk on Indolence”, a country-rap hybrid that in three minutes proves why the band inspires such zealous fans, while continuing to narrowly miss mass popularity. From this raucous beginning, the band continued to delight the crowd throughout the evening with a 28-song set list, from high-energy, banjo-wielding, kick-drum romps like “And It Spread” and “Colorshow” to stripped-down, introspective ballads such as “If It’s the Beaches.” The band has an organic and evolving sound–with its recently expanded list of band members (such as Tania Elizabeth, fiddler extraordinaire). Its sound is frenetic, unpredictable and surprising.
One such surprise came midway through the show, when the brothers brought out their father, Jim Avett, a musician in his own right, who, while running a successful welding business in Concord, North Carolina, instilled a love of music in his two sons. The misty-eyed sons revealed both their roots and their humility in a two-song cover of Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis” and traditional gospel tune “In the Garden”. The evening was heavy on deep cuts, covers and possible tracks from their forthcoming 2016 album, resulting in an intimate show, particularly tailored to the band’s most avid followers, who sang along with every tune–even the unrecorded ones. During the rare moments when we weren’t able to sing along with every word, we were reminded of the striking beauty of the venue. The arena itself is stunning, especially as the light changes and hits every crevice. You can see for miles, from Denver’s skyline, to Lake Marston, and beyond. No matter the song, what remained constant throughout the show was the crystal quality of each and every lyric and plucked string, and the passion with which they were delivered, all enhanced by the acoustic perfection of Red Rocks.
While chatting with event staff and fellow fans about our journey, a common question was, “Were you here for the other two nights?” Whether local fan or devoted pilgrim, many appeared to have taken in two or even all three of the weekend shows. Having seen them four times now, it seems that the band is incapable of giving a lackluster performance. Joe Kwon, the band’s rocking cellist and tireless tweeter, posted after Sunday’s show: “3 nights. No repeats. 78 songs.” What became obvious by the time we were on our way back home is that the band approaches Red Rocks as a single performance, moving from fan favorites on day one, to the more obscure tracks by day three.
Part of me worries that The Avett Brothers will lose its unique, raucous intimacy if it breaks through to mainstream success, enjoyed by the likes of Mumford and Sons and the Lumineers, bands that possess a similar folksy-yet-not-quite-definable sound. Regardless, I will continue to serve as one of its most enthusiastic missionaries. Undoubtedly, their cult popularity will always inspire fervent fandom and transcontinental journeys. Only one thing remains uncertain–will we see one, two, or all three nights when we return next year?