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Avett Brothers co-headline Ann Arbor Folk Fest

of the Oakland Press

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You never know where you'll find the Avett Brothers playing -- which is what they like best about their career.

The sibling duo from North Carolina and their band -- which headlines the first night of this year's 34th Ann Arbor Folk Festival -- feels as much at home supporting John Mayer or the Dave Mathews Band in amphitheaters as it does at bluegrass festivals. It's comfortable playing clubs or playing for tens of thousands in the fields at Bonnaroo.

In fact, says older brother Scott Avett, the Avetts have yet to play in a place where they feel, well, out of place.

"I'm really proud and relieved, in a way, that we can do that," says Avett, 34, who's been touring and recording with his brother Seth, 30, since 2000. "The idea of setting up 'teams' in music, much like setting up teams in anything, it gets kind of dangerous and pointless.

"We just like playing for anybody -- and everybody, really."

But of all the genres the Avetts have been able to straddle and splice, Avett feels that folk music "is probably the best identity for us."

"It's a broader identity than bluegrass or rock 'n' roll or even country," says Avett, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist like his brother. "Folk can kind of embrace all those sounds. And more than that, it seems like a state of mind or an attitude in general of what it means to be [i]of[/i] the people.

"I think our music kinda leans on that. It's about relating to each other and to someone else -- and to ourselves. I think that's what folk is about."

The two Avetts became the Avett Brothers when Scott's college band, Nemo, broke up and he joined Seth's high school group Margo. Both were playing rock at the time, but Scott began adding acoustic instrumentation to the mix, and the brothers began writing songs for their independently released self-titled 2000 debut. Upright bassist Bob Crawford joined in 2002, and after several more releases the Avetts became a major label act for 2009's "I and Love and You," which was produced by Grammy Award winner Rick Rubin and debuted at No. 16 on the Billboard 200.

"It's a surreal kind of thing to see other people get behind a couple of guys expressing extremely intimate feelings," Avett notes. "Being able to make a living out of that is really a tightrope kind of existence. We have more obligations. We are obligated to take it to that level and then to find out what the next level is.

"That can be taxing in many ways. Sometimes I just have to convince myself to not care one bit, just to say 'Forget about it. None of this matters' and just go out there and play the music."

There are, however, expectations that come with the Avett's elevated status, and the group is confronting them now as they prepare to follow-up "I and Love and You." They've already had one recording session with Rubin, yielding 13 songs, and Avett says the group may add another 12 before figuring out what shape the next album will take.

"One of the things we've learned is patience," Avett says. "Before I would've said, 'Oh, we'll do one more session and finish this thing off.' Now we know we'll just take our time, let the relationships grow with the songs and really give them time to make them the best they can be.

"The best thing is that we feel like we're 14 years old again whenever we go into the studio. It's like G, C and D (chords) or E, A and B all of a sudden sound brand new again. It just never fails. It's that garage band sort of feel -- that's where we come from, too."

The 34th Ann Arbor Folk Festival takes place at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Jan. 28-29, at Hill Auditorium, 825 North University on the U-M campus. The Avett Brothers, Citizen Cope, Vienna Teng, Alex Wong, the Spring Standards, Anais Mitchell, the Paper Raincoat and Theo Katzman perform Friday. The Swell Season, Judy Collins, Mavis Staples, the Doyle & Debbie Show, Red Horse, Eilen Jewell and Newfound Road perform Saturday. Susan Werner emcees both nights. Tickets are $30-$160; Friday is sold out. Proceeds benefit The Ark. Call 734-761-1451 or visit www.theark.org.

Web Site: www.theark.org

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