The Avett Brothers, who hail from North Carolina, will play a sold-out show at the Riverside Theater Saturday night. If you don’t know them, you should; if you do, I hope you got your ticket. Brothers Scott and Seth Avett and stand-up bass player Bob Crawford have been making waves on the music scene since their 2009 release, “I and Love and You,” produced by the legendary rap and metal producer Rick Rubin.
Stemming from country, the bluegrass subgenre was introduced to America more than 60 years ago with Kentucky’s Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. The music is rooted in a variety of genres, including Celtic ballads and gospel songs. Now, like a religious movement in more than name, a bluegrass revival has swept America, bringing banjo-strumming musicians further north than usual. Saturday’s sold-out show means more than a big night for a band that released 12 albums and EPs before finally making it big.
It also means we might be narrowing our cultural divide.
Waves of cultural tolerance envelop our country during the Olympics. We watch athletes from countries far, far away ski down hills and execute double axels, and the opening ceremony is an extravagant celebration of diversity and peace. Yet when it comes to the U.S., it still seems that Northern noses turn up in the air when it comes to the South and its inhabitants’ musical tastes.
And I’m not quite sure why. Sure, the Grand Ole Opry started the whole country music craze back in 1925, but Nashville didn’t earn the title “Music City” for nothing. The city has seen big talent in punk, R&B and rock and roll. Genres overlap, blend and mash, creating new and unique sounds. Yes, the South is home to more than country music and it’s about time we start giving them credit for it.
The fact that a southern bluegrass-inspired band sold out a Milwaukee venue shows that stereotypes, as strong as they may be, can’t stop the music from missing a beat. Your ears don’t lie. Good music is good music.
Of late, the bluegrass sound has slowly escaped the tight grip of country and shimmied its way into many new genres, inspiring such acts as college “jamgrass” bands and all-female folk groups that focus on the Irish clogging side of bluegrass.
The Avett Brothers’ sound, called “new bluegrass” or “punkgrass,” is a marriage of — you guessed it — bluegrass with folk and punk. It’s a refreshing change of pace. With their killer harmonies and narrative lyrics, I was hooked from track one. If you want to see blasé guys strum on guitars and mumble about broken hearts, go elsewhere. This group has found its voice and the only sound that might drown it out is that of the banjo.
These underdogs are known to be amazing live. They’ve worked hard to get up here. Their first self-released album, The Avett Bros., came out in 2000. Almost a decade later, producer Rick Rubin helped bring out the band’s rock and roll sound on their major label debut, which finally earned them the wider recognition they deserve.
Scott Avett told Rolling Stone he thinks of folk music as early hip-hop. “You’re singing about where you’re from, the hardships and the good times,” he told Rolling Stone. “But it’s always changing. If we try to sound like an old folk record, it would be a bad move on our part because it would just sound fabricated. We gotta keep moving forward.”
And move forward we will — one song, album and concert at a time, leaving stereotypes in silence while treating ourselves to some good, rowdy music.