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October 15, 2010

Avett Brothers, former pawn shop regulars, sell out Pier Six Pavilion

When they started touring a decade ago, North Carolina folk band the Avett Brothers nickel-and-dimed their way through 22 cities.

Traveling in a four-door pickup truck, they didn't play fancy venues; mostly just Irish pubs and sports bars.

But since getting signed to music mogul Rick Rubin's label in 2008, the band has upgraded to better digs. In 2009, they opened for Dave Matthews, and earlier this year, for John Mayer.

On their own headlining tour, they've been selling out 1,000-seat theaters like Boston's House of Blues and Tennessee's Rylan Auditorium. Saturday, they'll play a sold-out show at Pier Six Pavilion.

Bassist Bob Crawford said they didn't start out expecting to play arenas. "We never thought about making it big, or what big was," he said. "We've been doing the same thing for ten years. It's been a slow ride for us."

Before their first tour in 2001, Crawford and the namesake brothers, Scott and Seth, were just a bunch of well-read musicians peddling their own brand of sped-up Americana.

Scott was in graduate school, and Crawford was about to enter a graduate program himself. But Crawford convinced the then-three piece band to go on the road.

He sent out press kits in unassuming manila envelopes with just an 8-song album and a letter saying, "We're the Avett Brothers, and here's what we've done." Though he managed to book 22 venues, the tour was a gamble. For one, the gigs didn't pay a lot of money.

"There were times of struggle in the early years," Crawford said. "I had to go to the pawn shop a couple of times." There was the time he hocked a mandolin, then an air conditioner. 

To save money, they ate peanut butter and banana sandwiches on the road and limited themselves to $5 for dinner.

If they didn't have family in the area, they camped out. That first tour made them just $4,000, which they split three ways, with a thousand going to the band's account.

Still, it gave them motivation. "That tour taught us it is possible," Crawford said. "It was a young man's dream to have pulled it off, but we did it with discipline."

Soon after, the Avett Brothers performed at the National Association of College Activities conference (where many schools book talent) and picked up dates at college cafeterias.

It paid dividends: Over the years, college audiences have been a constant support for the band. By 2005, they decided to quit their day jobs and school and focus entirely on touring.

Through the dirt-poor years, Crawford said the goal was only to play more venues to hone their sound. "When we look back on it, we did it because it's what we enjoyed doing," Crawford said.

It's only been since getting signed to Columbia that they've been able to support their families strictly from their music, Crawford said. When they nearly sold out the 8,000-seat Bojangles Coliseum, one of the biggest venues in their home state, Crawford saw it as a benchmark.

"It was an intensely emotional performance because it was our first time performing at a venue that size," he said. "And because it was a homecoming for us."

The venue was enough of a big deal for them that they chose it as the recording site for their third live album, which was released earlier this month and that they're now touring with. At the show, they played fan favorites like "Murder in the City" and "Shame."

Yet, for a band well known for its rambunctious performances, the live album might not live up to the in-the-flesh experience. Crawford himself doesn't know how the album will be received.

He said fans will be reminded of their concert experiences, and he started to say that people who've never heard of the band would get a sample of their brand.

But then he stopped himself.

"I don't know if it's going to be accurate," he said. "The beauty of that show was the pure adrenaline. I wonder how it's going to translate."

Photo: Handout/Baltimore Sun

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Posted by Erik Maza at 12:40 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Music News



I remember going to see these guys in a little bar called Andys in Chestertown. The first time they played it was only a handful of folks there. The second time they came to town Andy was violating fire codes with too many people. The next time they sold out the historic Prince theater in chestertown.......Its crazy how they have gotten so big. Seems like just yesterday I could drink a beer with them after the show.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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