Last Thursday, Holmes Drive and the parking area behind Holmes Convocation Center were closed to traffic all day. Semi-trucks were parked there instead, with people unloading equipment from the trailers in the morning. If you were to walk around behind the convocation center, you would see two black tour buses gleaming in the sun. Around 6 p.m., fans started to line up outside the northeast and southeast entrances to the arena, holding tickets and talking excitedly.
“An Evening with the Avett Brothers” scrolled across the marquee. One of the most popular bands to come out of North Carolina was about to play a sold-out show at Appalachian State University.
The Avett Brothers concert was first announced in an e-mail sent to all students back in April, notifying them of the concert as a special back-to-school celebration.
Four offices and organizations collaborated in order to make the show a reality: the Office of Arts & Cultural Programs, University Athletics, the Office of the Chancellor and the Appalachian Popular Programming Society.
“University Athletics wanted to do a big back-to-school fest, and they wanted to bring the Avett Brothers, but the cost was high,” Randy Kelly, APPS advisor and program director at Plemmons Student Union, said. “They reached out to the rest of us and asked if this was something of interest that we could all come together on; if we all pooled our resources, maybe we could make it happen.”
The concert was also added to the end of the Appalachian Summer Festival, an annual festival series which brings a wide range of performances to Boone over the summer and has an average audience of 27,000.
As the festival has greatly increased in popularity since its beginnings in 1984, as well as the expansion of the university, bigger acts and artists are able to be booked to play in Boone.
“The process can become challenging, trying to coordinate with artists to route us in their tour,” Anna Gaugert, director of marketing and public relations at the Office of Arts & Cultural Programs, wrote in an email. “With Boone being somewhat remote, we try to look for artists on our ‘wish list’ that are touring on the east coast during the festival.”
“Because the Avett Brothers have often been mentioned as an ideal choice for a large-scale concert, we explored the idea, and discovered that the band’s touring schedule allowed for a concert date in early September,” Denise Ringler, director of the Office of Arts & Cultural Programs, wrote in an e-mail. “The festival saw this as an opportunity to support a cultural event targeted to students.”
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Because of this collaboration between the three offices and APPS and the desire to offer students a special “welcome back” event targeted to them, reserved-seating student tickets were able to be sold early for only $20, much lower than normal ticket prices for the Avett Brothers.
Early in the morning of April 20, a line of students began to form outside the ticket desk in the student union, eagerly waiting for the office to open so they could claim their tickets. Throughout the day, the line grew longer, extending far down the hallway. Tickets for the public went on sale May 2, and by mid-August, the show for the North Carolina favorites had officially sold out.
Scott and Seth Avett grew up playing music together and with their family on their Concord, North Carolina farm, but their official music partnership didn’t begin until the late 1990s when they started a rock band called Nemo. Eventually, they switched to playing music more based in folk and old-time traditions, with Scott on the banjo and Seth on the acoustic guitar. After recruiting Bob Crawford on the stand-up bass, the Avett Brothers recorded their first full-length album “Country Was” in 2001.
The next 15 years for the band was a frenzy of touring and recording. Eight full-length albums, two EPs and three live albums followed “Country Was,” with the band growing in popularity with each new release. The band grew in size as well: cellist Joe Kwon joined the Avett Brothers as a permanent member in 2007 with the release of “Emotionalism.”
In 2008, the Avett Brothers signed with producer Rick Rubin at American Recordings. A year later, “I and Love and You” was released, and the band has since produced three more albums with Rubin. Three touring members also joined the Avett Brothers: Paul Defiglia on keyboards and bass, Mike Marsh on drums and Tania Elizabeth on fiddle.
The Avett Brothers’ newest album, “True Sadness,” was released in June, and with it the band earned their first Billboard No. 1 hit with “Ain’t No Man.”
As North Carolina natives, the Avett Brothers are no stranger to most venues throughout the state; in fact, they’ve even played at Legends before, in 2006. At the time, tickets were only $8 for students and $12 for the public.
The Avett Brothers had performed at Bonnaroo the summer before coming to Legends, and at the Manchester, Tennessee music festival, their tent was packed to full capacity with listeners. Their manager realized that the band was worth more than he’d been charging, and raised the price, Kelly said, but they still sold out Legends.
Legends, the only club of its kind on a college campus in the U.S., has had a history of bringing bands on the verge of making it big. Up-and-coming artists will play premium clubs as they work their way up, Kelly said, and Legends is known as one of the premium clubs to play in the southeast. At one point, the Legends lineup included Dave Matthews, Hootie and the Blowfish and Widespread Panic in the same year.
“They were national acts, but they weren’t at the coliseum level yet,” Kelly said. “Legends wasn’t getting unknowns. Legends was getting certain people who had buzz all around the country and they were going to make it big.”
“The Avett Brothers were pretty popular at the time, at the Legends level,” Kelly continued. “Now they’re coming back to Appalachian and they’re a surefire coliseum sell-out everywhere they go.”
Sure enough, ten years after their show in Legends, the Avett Brothers proved their current stardom by packing Holmes Convocation Center with both local and out-of-town fans, Appalachian students and Boone community members, those who have never seen them in concert and those who have seen them multiple times. Doors opened at 7 p.m. and people began streaming in, finding their seats, making their way across the general admission floor to stand in the front row, and checking out the merchandise table, where concert posters depicting Yosef holding a banjo were being sold. A huge backdrop of the cover of the Avett Brothers’ new album, “True Sadness,” hung down behind the stage.
Around 8 p.m., as the show was scheduled to begin, John Carter, co-anchor of WBTV Charlotte, appeared onstage to make announcements, acknowledge the university departments that coordinated the event and urged the crowd to give the Avett Brothers a warm welcome, saying, “We’re supporting the home team tonight!”
Soon after this, the lights cut off and the band made their way onstage to overpowering cheers from the crowd. Without any hesitation, the Avett Brothers started the show with the instrumental “D Bag Rag” from their second album, complete with kazoos.
From there, the concert was a whirlwind of both old and new Avett Brothers songs, as well as covers such as an intense rendition of Doc Watson’s “Country Blues.” From classics such as “Talk on Indolence” and “Murder in the City,” to their new No. 1 hit “Ain’t No Man,” to fan favorites such as “I and Love and You,” the band never lost their characteristic energy. That spirit was infectious, and the crowd sang and screamed and danced with them every step of the way.
“The energy in the crowd was really strong because most people knew all the words, even from some of their earliest songs,” junior exercise science major Rachel Cates said.
At one point, Scott Avett threw his guitar high up in the air with the intent of catching it, but it landed in the crowd, who then pushed it back to him.
After 28 songs, including a three-song encore, over nearly two and a half hours, the Avett Brothers said goodnight with the ending of “No Hard Feelings.”
“It was beyond expectations,” Caroline Chambers, a freshman biology major, said after the show. “I’ve been to one of their concerts before, and they never fail to throw an energetic show.”
The band threw out their picks and drumsticks to the crowd, waved goodbye one last time and left the stage. As fans began to file out of the convocation center, excited conversations raving about the show could be heard. One girl held the remains of Joe Kwon’s cello bow.
The nicest thing about the band coming to Appalachian, Cates said, is that it may open the doors to potentially bring in other big-name artists, such as The 1975, who will be playing at Holmes in November.
“Larger concerts around here are hard to come by,” Cates said. “So this is a great opportunity to feed into the demands of college students who may not get to see these performers otherwise.”
Whatever the future for the Avett Brothers or for Appalachian State, those who went to the concert aren’t likely to forget it anytime soon. The performance felt very personal, Cates said, probably heightened by the fact that the band was playing in their home state.
“I had the time of my life,” senior sociology major Lakenn Reynolds said. “That was my tenth Avett show, and I couldn’t be any happier to have seen them as a student here.”
Story by: Adrienne Fouts, A&E Reporter
Photos by: Dallas Linger, Photo Editor