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The Daily Tar Heel

Jim Avett maps out success


Jim Avett might not be as famous as his sons (yes, that Avett family), but for Jim, that’s what he wants. He plays the Local 506 on Wednesday.

I was late. On the way to interview Jim Avett over a plate of Lexington’s famous vinegar-based barbecue, I had veered right when I should have veered left.

It was so plainly illustrated on the napkin set before me: The first thing Avett did when we finally sat down was pull out a pen and show us where I had gone astray.

He wasn’t angry — “After all, who hadn’t been lost before,” he assured me ­— he just wanted to make sure I knew the right way to go. I was a newcomer to this town and especially this side of town, and Avett sympathized.

“I’ve been to Lexington a bunch of times and I have no clue as to how I ever got out of it,” he said. “I just started driving one way and just kept on going until the sun set on my ass and I got out of town.

“But anyway, all right – go ahead.”

I wanted to know if Avett had watched the Grammys, and wondered how spectacular it must have felt to see his sons, Scott and Seth Avett of the Avett Brothers, share the same stage as Bob Dylan.

But Mr. Avett was quick to quell any notion of a sudden prideful epiphany. For him, the Avett Brothers’ performance at the Grammys was just reaffirming what he already knew.

“It does a daddy or a mama good when other people recognize or validate what you saw in your children a long time ago,” Avett said. “I was no more full of pride for our children on Grammy night than I have ever been.”

Yet in all his modesty, Avett couldn’t stop some semblance of awe from beaming through.

“Whoever thought that I would be kin to anybody in the same room with Bob Dylan?”

Avett is a man who speaks in stories, ones that begin in bygone eras and end with swift anecdotes that plant you firmly in the present. Despite the fame that surrounds him, he maintains his normalcy.

If you forgo an attic of nearly 70 guitars, Avett is almost passable as “normal.” Tuesday and Thursday nights are spent picking at a converted car repair shop with a “bunch of drunks and rednecks,” a description Avett uses endearingly. And in his free time, he writes and records songs to keep him busy.

His music is probably what you would imagine the Avett Brothers’ to sound like in forty year’s time: calm and downtempo. Where his sons would scream, Jim croons softly over an accompanying fiddle or harmonizes with female backing vocals.

His 2010 release Tribes shows a musician in his maturity. The storytelling ability present on his album carries through to his conversation.

“I did a lot of growing up in the foothills of North Carolina, back up around a little place called Hudson, between Lenoir and Hickory,” Avett said. “My daddy was a preacher. We moved around. We got a lot, a lot of hero worship out of my daddy. My uncles — those were my heroes.”

And those heroes taught Avett what it meant for him to be a man.
“You have to have people show you the right way of doing things before you can do things right, right?” Avett said. “Surely, you can’t do the right thing if you haven’t been shown the right thing to do.”

Avett’s eagerness to scribble a map on a paper napkin made sense — where most would have accepted apologies and let the tardiness slide, he wanted to make sure that my mistake was one that I learned from.

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