The Avett Brothers - Westville Music Bowl - May 31, 2022
I've had a lot of time to reflect on this concert. Normally, its memory would be largely lost to time and the photo roll. Instead, it will forever be one of the hardest and most important concerts that I've been to. It was the first concert of any size that my kids had all been to with me. It was also six weeks after my wife Kate had passed away.
I made attendance mandatory. Somehow it seemed important for us all to be there together. I felt half-crazed - like Clark Griswold trying to get the family to Walley World, only sadder. For me though, the Avett Brothers were the perfect fit for the family, even if the idea of a concert seemed ridiculous. The band had been on the stereo at home, the kids knew some of the songs, and it was a hometown show. But more importantly, getting out and doing something together after such devastating heartbreak seemed symbolic, even defiant. I knew we had to pick ourselves up and prepare to re-enter the world socially. This was how I had expressed myself most of my life, and when things are rough, you fall back on the tools you know best.
I had so strongly believed in the power of music to heal, that it wasn't an option to question that tenet. Of course, that's all easier in theory than in practice. I'm in no way suggesting that anyone grieving needs to simply "get off the couch" and go to a concert, or anything like that. We all handle grief in our own ways and at our own pace. Somehow for myself and my family, this seemed like the right thing to do. At least I hoped so.
The evening's performance gave us back what we were there for. It gave us time together outside of the home. It let us out of our routine for a few hours. I think a lot of the music went over my head at the time, even though I'm a long-time fan. I remember being so concerned for the kids and how badly I wanted it to mean something to them. There were snacks, we got merch.
Looking back at the video, I shouldn't have been surprised that the few clips I have immediately struck me, and the lyrics too. The opening track was a cover of David Childers "Don't Be Scared" According to No Depression it is "not just a song about dying; it's a love song that Childers says merges the physical and spiritual worlds". And that's the place our family found ourselves, in between those two worlds.
"Don't be scared
Of what your heart wants
Fear not the silver
Winged glory of love
Fear not the fact that living
Do not be scared of becoming
The songs on the setlist in Westville that night reveal titles that a therapist could explore for hours, although they speak for themselves.
"Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise"
"I and Love and You"
"Murder In the City"
"Die Die Die"
I knew in advance what the final encore would be, and had prepared for it. "No Hard Feelings" was nearly the choice to play at the service. I didn't hold it together well. It didn't matter. We were there.
"And love in thought, love in the words
Love in the songs they sing in the church
And no hard feelings"
I still don't know what the kids got out of the evening. It wasn't the love of my music, but hopefully of the art itself. It's become important to each of them. One has seen Snoop Dogg. One has seen Taylor Swift. The other got tickets to see her soon (Indy Nov '24). I love hearing them talk about albums, lyrics, and tours. They get it. On the harder days, when I am all out of advice and I see the headphones on them, I know they are finding comfort there. Music does not expect anything from us, it only gives back.
I know Kate would have encouraged us to attend that evening together, as a family. And in the same light, it seems important to share this story here, for the next person who needs it.
Even when you think you can't go on, you can. There's no choice.