By: Kevin Rolfe
For those who’ve seen a concert at Velour Live Music Gallery, you know that your experience there will generally consist of young, college-aged up and coming bands. On the rare occasion you’ll see a band that has their origin in Provo and at Velour return from the road to do a homecoming show. And on the rarest of occasions, you’ll see someone in their 70’s stopping through town to play this venue. Well, last night was that very rare occasion. Jim Avett, the 71 year old father of his famous sons, The Avett Brothers, played what looked like a sold out seated show on Wednesday night.
Before Jim took the stage local band Grizzly Goat opened the show. Lead vocalist Nate Waggoner mentioned that when they had heard that Jim Avett was coming to town, they reached out to his management to attempt to be the support act for Jim. He told us that not long after he received a phone call coming from North Carolina. Much to his surprise, it was Jim Avett on the other line. I know how this feels because that was exactly what happened to me when I reached out for an interview. It’s not every day, or really ever that the artist themselves will be the ones directly responding. But that’s Jim.
The three men of Grizzly Goat switched between guitar, banjo, and mandolin during their set. I thought their songs were sincere, and their performance matched that. They seemed delighted to have some of their own fans in attendance, and they most certainly gained new fans from this performance. For more information on Grizzly Goat, click here.
If I had to choose one word to describe Jim Avett it would be authentic. Jim is simply Jim. He makes no apologies for the man he is, fully recognizing his flaws, his strengths, and his passion. He told us that he would most likely offend us at some point during the night. He didn’t intend to, but he probably would. He took the stage, and sat in a chair, pulled up his 30 year old guitar and spoke for a while. This show was almost half music, and half spoken word. The spoken word was poetic, philosophical, and hopeful. The music was classic, thought provoking, and at times spiritual. I’ve never heard Velour so quiet. The audience hung on every word Jim spoke or sang. He had the respect of everyone there.
Jim has a humility that borders on self-deprecating. He mentioned several times that he wasn’t the greatest songwriter, or the greatest guitarist, or the greatest singer. But the thing is, his self-penned songs, were pretty darn good. And his fingerpicking was exceptional. And he doesn’t give his vocal talent enough credit. In fact, he sang with this low baritone, southern drawled voice for most of the show. And then all of a sudden, in one of his final songs, “Seeing You” I believe it was called, he takes his voice into his upper register and it’s beautiful. As much as I enjoyed his baritone, and as much as it fit the stylings of the songs, I would have loved to have heard this higher register more. I was talking to a guy after the show and we were both discussing how much we loved it.
Jim philosophized, joked, and inspired for much of the show. There were so many great stories that I can’t list them all in this article. But I will mention one. In my interview with Jim a couple of days ago he told me that he was going to tell the young people in attendance at Velour what it’s like to be 71. I left it out of the interview because I didn’t want to spoil it for those going to the show. But because Jim did, in fact, share it at his concert, I’ll share it here. This is what he said.
“In the mid-seventies, we lived in Cheyenne. And I’ve always had old guy friends. They have such great stories to tell. They were mentors for me. One of them was from Ohio. He was about 85 in the seventies. So he was born about 1890. He told me that Veterans Day was a big deal in Ohio. They had parades, and parties, and fireworks, and all that stuff. And this one man was part of an organization sort of like the Boy Scouts. It was their duty to escort a veteran around on Veterans Day. So when he was 10 in 1900, he escorted a Civil War veteran. Now I can’t remember whether he said that he had shook hands with, heard a speech by, or merely saw Abraham Lincoln. I didn’t know Abraham Lincoln. But I knew a man, who knew a man who by God, knew the Man. And if Abraham Lincoln had lived, it would be a whole lot different today than it is. They should have killed that sonofabitch Booth a long time before they ever got a hold of him. But that’s what it’s like to be 71. So now you know a man, who knew a man, who knew a man, who knew The Man.”
The entire audience erupted in laughter and applause. Jim shared stories like these the whole evening. He told jokes like “The two most honest people in the world are little children before they know what not to say, and old people because they just don’t give a damn anymore. The two most honest things in the world are alcohol and yoga pants.” That’s pretty funny stuff right there.
The musical highlights for me began right away. Jim opened his set with “This Old Guitar” by John Denver. It’s a personal favorite, and it opened up the show nicely. Jim made a point of covering songs that weren’t necessarily hits. He told us that if he didn’t perform them, no one would ever hear them. He sang songs from Roger Miller, and The Everly Brothers much to the delight of the totally captivated audience.
He mentioned his sons a few times, and I could tell that the audience always perked up at the mention of their names. He seemed like a proud father, and he should be. Jim joked that his mother was a concert pianist and that her musical talent went right through him and to his sons. Again with the self-deprecation. If anything, I would say his songs were given their sincerity in music, and passion for life and what they do from their father, Jim.
It was a great night of music and storytelling at Velour. Jim is a masterful performer. There is a beauty in his authenticity and a power in his simplicity. He told us that he was going to come back to perform for us again soon. I hope he meant it because I’m very much looking forward to it.