Albany’s best kept secret, Eastbound Jesus, started a rainy and windy day playing a free show at Jillians of Albany for a packed house prior to The Avett Brothers taking the stage a few blocks north at The Palace Theater on Sunday April 22nd. The fans that came looking for free music and respite from the rain got both, with the local flavor of EBJ warming the crowd up for two hours with foot tappin’, dancefloor stompin’ and some of the most energetic music that a band can pour onto an audience. Playing Nine Pound Hammer and referring to it as a staple of all bluegrass bands brought a bit of the group’s roots out into the set and reminded some in the audience of the traditional music they continue. A few dancin’ music tunes drew the seated from the audience to the stage and delved into a classic version of Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm. The music and style of EBJ is a little more Greensky Bluegrass and Railroad Earth than more traditional acts, leading to a larger audience in due time. The night was capped off with The Ballad of Eastbound Jesus, a single among many contenders throughout the night. My first Eastbound Jesus reaffirmed all that I had heard, and this band has a great future coming to them.
After dinner and an early show, we walked up to The Palace for The Avett Brothers show. Two first time bands in one night and already I was sold on one. My experience with the Avetts was limited to their albums which I found enjoyable but without hearing them live the jury was out for the time being. The Avetts wound up giving a stand out amazing performance that showed why they are part of the bluegrass renaissance in America. The audience was predominantly made up of post-college and thirty-something women with their boyfriends in tow when a gaggle of girls wasn’t with them. After a few songs I was taken by the energy of the group and the music – it was summer time poolside happy hour music, tailor made for a good time, like Will You Return, which was touching and upbeat and had a great line ‘Why can’t you see yourself as beautiful as I see you?’
Scott Avett performs with the intensity of Yonder Mountain String Band’s Jeff Austin and mentioned that they played The Lark (Tavern) on their first tour ten years ago. January Wedding was a sweet soft song off their latest album I and Love and You then the band took a moment to allow Scott a solo, followed by this brother Seth on guitar. Seth spoke about William Kennedy (to loud cheers), as he had been reading Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game and said he had been ‘coming to Albany in my head for quite a while’ and that it was nice to be here. The full band came back to the stage for At the Beach and the crowd sang along with glee to this and many songs. The title track to their latest album I and Love and You was soft but a great start to the album upon another listen after the show. Kick Drum Heart serves to be the band’s signature song, eliciting audience response with clapping and intensity from the musicians. A multi-song encore was capped nicely by Talk on Indolence, another invigorating song with rapid fire lyrics and sing along lyrics.
As bands like The Avett Brothers and Eastbound Jesus continue to play to broad audiences, folk and bluegrass-based bands will continue to break into mainstream music and bring the roots of American music to new life.