Bob Crawford first met the Avett brothers in a parking lot. The brothers—Scott and Seth Avett—had arranged the impromptu audition through a mutual friend.
“It was a Sunday night audition,” Crawford recently recalled. “They showed up in a gold Ford Taurus and me in my truck, we all got out with our instruments, played and went our separate ways.”
It was a while before the bassist heard back from the brothers. When they did catch up with him, Crawford jumped on board and The Avett Brothers emerged as a trio in 2000.
Hailing from North Carolina, the Avett Brothers produce a rich tapestry of sound. The band’s music pulls from various genres—folk, rock’n’roll, bluegrass, country and ragtime. The trio is joined by touring members Joe Kwon, on cello, and Jacob Edwards on drums.
The Avett Brothers will bring their show to the Wharf Amphitheater in Orange Beach, Ala., March 16. The band will be exploring their six-album catalogue, including their most recent work—“I and Love and You”—produced by auditory-guru Rick Rubin.
“Initially it was very surreal, he has his own folklore, an island unto himself,” Crawford said of the experience working with Rubin. “Then we became more comfortable, we still see him as a legend, he is a smart producer, a thinker, a hearer of music. He is focused period. He pays attention to all the small parts of the work and the whole, all at once. We were fortunate to be in a position to work with him.”
In the early days, it was more humble. Everything was do-it-yourself.
“We booked gigs, Seth had a CD duplicator (not sure those even exist anymore), and he would make the CDs, cut out the covers with an X-ACTO knife and sell them out of an old suitcase,” Crawford recalled.
When he first joined up with the Avetts, Crawford was about ready to trade in the life of a working musician for something more quite and calm. He was tiring of the scene.
“I had been in other bands,” he said. “I was ready to settle down at the time. I was entering grad school in music theory, I thought I would be a music theory professor somewhere, not enter the rat race band world.”
The jack-of-all-trades aspect of a small-time outfit was burning Crawford out. But the Avett Brothers was different—this group seemed to meld nicely both on and off the stage, able to juggle the required tasks comfortably among themselves.
“When you are a local band one person does everything, books gigs, makes flyers, posts the bills, handles the money and finds practice space,” Crawford said. “Now there were three people making that guy. We were focused on music and making music. We went on a three week tour and it was very successful—we learned to work together.”
It was during this tour that they decided to apply for an appearance at the National Association for Campus Activities, NACA. They had a chance to play for student unions all over the states. There was a category for a roving artist—which could be anything from a musician to a fire thrower—who would be a showcase act. They won the contest, and headed off for a summer tour.
“The stars aligned on that tour,” Crawford said. “Playing all those college shows was great exposure. We met up with Dolphus Ramseur, owner of Ramseur Records out of North Carolina. We only knew so much about the music business. He put in the legwork and helped us get a showcase in Nashville. He planted the seed and helped us grow on a path.”
Did Crawford know whether or not he’d stay on that path?
“I wasn’t sure,” he said. “It is not easy to travel and share a close confined space. Being that close is an unnatural state.”
However, Crawford and the brothers have learned to harmonize, and not just musically.
“We played off our strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “To have survived this long gives us a sense of accomplishment, we have grown as a family.”
While the Avett Brothers have certainly grown—they no longer have to sell albums from a suitcase—the band maintains a tight operation.
“Other bands have an 18-wheeler and a bus. We have one bus with a trailer,” Crawford said. “We run smart. Yes, we have added on some other people but as we grow we will grow smart.”
Later this year, the Avett Brothers will release a seventh album—again, the band worked with Rubin on the effort. Crawford said he likes to listen the band’s new recordings in the comfort of his truck.
“I usually listen to it twice then put it away,” the bassist explained. “I listen to it on the CD player in my 1998 Toyota Tacoma—oh and my CD player is plugged into my cigarette lighter—then I put on some Thelonious Monk.”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, March 16
WHERE: Amphitheater at The Wharf, 23101 Canal Rd., Orange Beach, Ala.
COST: $34 and $44