Avett Brothers’ career rooted on the Eastern Shore

SALISBURY — In 2002, the Avett Brothers packed up their ‘89 Ford F-350 Dually with a camper on the back and left for the Eastern Shore. The original three members of the folk rock band from the Tar Heel State were on their way to their first gig outside of North Carolina at Andy’s in Chestertown.

Andy’s was the anchor of the band’s first regional tour. With later appearances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” The Avett Brothers got their first big break on the Eastern Shore. They returned this past weekend to the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center in Salisbury for Cheerwine’s Legendary Giveback 5 concert — a charity show that raised funds for three organizations including Wags and Wishes based in Dorchester County.

After gaining popularity in North Carolina, The Avett Brothers couldn’t have known with certainty that their trip to Chestertown would help launch a career that has now spanned 16 years and produced nine studio albums.

“We had not been played out of North Carolina, ever,” said Bob Crawford, who has played double bass, and other instruments, with the band since 2001.

Mr. Crawford and Scott Avett, lead singer and a founding member of the band, were on the verge of attending graduate school in the summer of 2002 and decided on a summer tour.

“We were like: There’s three of us; we’re pretty mobile. It’s upright bass, guitar and banjo,” Mr. Crawford said. “That was the first time I used the Internet. I started in March and I would go on the Internet every day, about two hours a day, and would find places to play outside of North Carolina.”

With a start on July 4, at Fat City in Charlotte, N.C., Mr. Crawford knew the tour could be a reality if he had an anchor gig outside of their home state.

“I somehow found (Andy’s) by searching music venues in Maryland,” Mr. Crawford said. “I found her venue. I sent her what would be considered a press kit — which was just a ‘Country Was’ CD and a little one sheet of newspaper clippings.”

“Country Was” is the band’s first studio album, released in 2002. Soon, The Avett Brothers were booked at a gig in Chestertown with a $300 offer to play.

“But then!” Mr. Crawford laughed as Avett and his brother, Seth, joined in. “About a month before the show, she cancelled and said she was nervous about ‘you guys’ and ‘I think you will scare away our clientele.’”

Mr. Crawford quickly sent an impassioned email to the proprietor of Andy’s.

“I said, ‘Oh but we believe in what we do and this is our chance to get out of North Carolina and I’m hinging this whole tour on the offer you made us and you don’t even have to pay us. Just let us come up there and play,’” Mr. Crawford said. “She said, ‘OK’ and we played and she loved us. She was so sweet. She gave me a big hug and she paid us and was so happy and we started this amazing relationship.

“That was probably one of the core building blocks of our early career, being able to go to Chestertown on a regular basis and then build out from Chestertown to Easton to Annapolis to Baltimore to Washington, D.C. It was a key moment in our history and the friendships we made there … Chestertown will forever be an important place to us.”

The Avetts’ recent return to the Shore was a chance to reflect and give back.

“It’s our path,” Scott Avett said. “It’s been our path and it’s how we did it. In our minds, we remember those moments clearly and they’re part of us. We learned so much at those shows and during that time.”

During the summer of 2002, The Avett Brothers played 15 shows in 21 days from North Carolina to the Eastern Shore to West Virginia to Asbury Park in New Jersey to Upstate New York. They traveled in a Ford F-350 four-door diesel dual-wheeled work truck with a camper which broke down. Then they traveled in a conversion van.

“During that tour we would skip breakfast — can’t afford it unless we made it to a Shoney’s,” Scott said. “Peanut butter and honey was in the dashboard with a loaf of bread. That way we didn’t need any refrigeration. We would get a juice or something at a gas station. At night we might splurge and go to Golden Corral or Ryan’s Steakhouse.”

These intimate performances allowed band members to connect with their fans.
“That trajectory was perfectly sensible for us and how we connected with people,” Scott Avett said. “We didn’t have a quick path to popularity. Since we didn’t have a machine behind us, we had no label or nothing like that. There’s never been an element of a faceless public or anything like that.

“All we did on that first tour is we went to all these places where there were other everyday people, like-minded, blue collar folks and we just hung out with them and started that relationship. Our only product was our company, us playing songs and being in the same room with everyone that was there.”

Scott hopes young performers looking for stardom use the band’s success as an example.
“We were fortunate. … You’ll hear from young performers. They’re just trying to get into the Mercy Lounge in Nashville or just trying to get into the Bowery Ballroom in New York. There’s an illusion as to what that will do for you.”

The band performed their last show of the touring year in Salisbury. Scott believes in the support from smaller cities and towns, especially on the Eastern Shore.

“There are a plethora of places to play,” he said. “You can play your life away if you can carry a tune. You can go work and make a living.”

From humble origins of honey and bread in North Carolina and then the Eastern Shore, to success and national tours, the Avett Brothers continue to carry a tune and make a living.

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