The Avett Brothers bring 3 nights of Grammy-nominated Americana folk-rock to Wolf Trap

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews The Avetts Brothers at Wolf Trap (Part 1)

One of the coolest duos on the Americana folk-rock scene is coming to our backyard in Northern Virginia.

The Avett Brothers play three nights at the rural oasis of Wolf Trap this Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“We always refer to it as the Red Rocks of the East — the national park, the natural beauty around and the acoustic advantages are all very clear,” co-founder Seth Avett told WTOP. “If you’ve been there, then you know. It’s just a beautiful space. It’s an inspiring space, which is helpful when you’re performing, to be inspired anew, to not just skate along on the inspiration that created the songs themselves, but to be inspired in the moment.”

His older brother Scott Avett was born in 1976 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, but the family relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina, where Seth was born in 1980. They grew up in a musical family listening to all kinds of music.

“A lot of it came from our dad’s side, his mother Martha was a brilliant pianist,” Avett said. “Dad always played guitar, we always sang in church, so we were introduced to harmony. … We listened to a lot of country and pop music from that time: Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Hendrix, then Michael Jackson, Hall & Oates. Our dad would play us George Strait, George Jones, Randy Travis, then I personally became one of the millions of Kurt Cobain disciples.”

While Scott had a college band, Seth had a high-school band, which they melded together to form the rock band Nemo. “We built this dream that one day we’re going to have a rock band and take over the world,” Avett said. “Very heavy, pretty punk influence … That band broke up and it was kind of like your high-school sweetheart breaking up with you. … I don’t want to have to do that again and trust five dudes on stage. I want to simplify.”

So, they broke off as a duo, The Avett Brothers, emulating the Americana roots music of Charlie Poole, Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson of the Piedmont of North Carolina. The Avett Brothers recorded their first independent album “Country Was” (2002), which led to the Ramseur Records release “A Carolina Jubilee” (2003).

“We were finding our voice,” Avett said. “There was all this new, very fresh discovery around songwriting and accepting what was natural to us. There is a moment of acceptance where you’re like, you know what, I’m not part of the British Invasion, like I loved Pink Floyd, but I’m not going to create music from 1972 England, that’s not my DNA. My DNA is the bull tallow, red clay of North Carolina and that’s what’s going to be natural to me.”

They followed up with “Mignonette” (2004), named after the English yacht that sank off the Cape of Good Hope in the 1880s, leaving the crew of four stranded on a lifeboat. The cabin boy, Richard Parker, was killed and eaten by the others, two of whom were later convicted of murder. The event inspired Ang Lee’s film “Life of Pi” (2012).

“Mignonette was the name of the ship,” Avett said. “The survivors had to employ the custom of the sea, which is drawing straws and seeing who will be eaten, who will die, who will be used for the nourishment of the bodies of the survivors. They did survive and there was a question about whether or not they would tell the truth.”

After their fourth album “Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions” (2006), their fifth album “Emotionalism” (2007) finally earned them industry acclaim. It was nominated for Album of the Year at the Americana Music Honors, where The Avett Brothers also won Emerging Artist of the Year and Duo/Group of the Year.

“It was surprising that we were gaining momentum,” Avett said. “We hadn’t plateaued like, man, there’s a couple hundred people coming to every show. … You didn’t think that music with a banjo was something you could make a living at, much less gain any popularity. … Around the ‘Four Thieves’ and ‘Emotionalism’ time, we were firing on all cylinders, completely independent. … ‘Emotionalism’ I think of as the pinnacle of what we could do by ourselves.”

This caught the eye of Rick Rubin, who produced their next album “I and Love and You” (2009), again winning Duo/Group of the Year. They continued with Rubin for “The Carpenter” (2012), which earned their first Grammy nod for Best Americana Album, followed by “Magpie and the Dandelion” (2013) and “True Sadness” (2016), which earned Grammy nods for Best Americana Album and Best Americana Roots Performance for “Ain’t No Man.”

“‘I and Love and You’ was our first experience with Rick and it was a technical boot camp in terms of the recording process,” Avett said. “When we got into making ‘The Carpenter,’ we were in the groove of this second big chapter of our record-making. … Since then it’s been a whole different process where we trust ourselves in a new way, we have more tools, we have more patience and a lot of that can be attributed to Rick’s example in the studio.”

Their latest full-length album was “Closer Than Together” (2019), though they also recently released “The Gleam III” (2020), the third in their EP trilogy with “The Gleam” (2006) and “The Second Gleam” (2008). You’ll almost certainly hear this newer material at Wolf Trap because three nights allows more time to play their repertoire.

“With Wolf Trap being a three-night stand, it’s more likely that we’re going to dig deeper in terms of deeper cuts or songs that we haven’t done in a while, the songs we have to re-learn and then feel nervous when we go out and play them,” Avett said. “‘Closer Than Together’ and the newest ‘Gleam’ both have songs that we haven’t played, so we might have to look at that soon, but you can expect it to be all over the map in terms of our material.”

Find more concert information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews The Avetts Brothers at Wolf Trap (Part 2)

Hear our full chat on my podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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