As it was, the crowd that was at the Crossroads showed an amazing amount of fanatical dedication. Through not one or two, but repeated torrential downpours and lightning scares, the crowd never wavered or thinned. They certainly ran for cover quite a few times, but other than that, everyone who was there seemed to be rather aware of what issues an outdoor concert presented. The exception to that seemed to be the fact that very few folks didn't know that umbrellas were not allowed inside the venue, hence the large number left dangling on the entry gates.
The Avett Brothers are a band that rocks. You can try and dance to it -- they're not going to help, but you can try. The band is suited to playing outdoors, that's for sure. Acoustic instrumentation always lends itself to summer nights with lots of beer, and even the amazing amount of precipitation couldn't dampen spirits (again, pun intended), despite the 15-minute delay due to lightning concerns. If I could have stretched out on a blanket and knocked back beers while this show was going on, it would've been one of those perfect concerts.
Honestly, by the time the Avett Brothers went on, I'd been soaking wet for about three hours. It'd rained off and on for the entire time I'd been down in the Crossroads, with intermitent bouts of no rain that lasted just long enough to make me feel like everything was safe. Still -- the Avett Brothers are somewhere in that nebulous region inhabited by Against Me! in terms of underground appeal (they'd been making records for a good long while before a major label deal came their way) and sonic dynamics (lots of hoarse shouting that wouldn't be out of place on a Hot Water Music record). Really, the Avett Brothers share more with the whole folk-punk scene and bands like Ghost Mice, Defiance Ohio, and Andrew Jackson Jihad than they do with the jam band crowd courted by Wilco.
Sadly, the money is where the hippies go. Avett Brothers, please remember that you're a band with some balls, and don't go after the noodle dancers. I don't want you to be my disappointment the next show you play.
Railroad Earth's fanbase seemed to delight in the rain, dancing up a storm (pardon the pun) from the instant the first notes came issuing off the stage, totally not bothered by things like mud or traditional definitions of rhythm. I wish I could say that their music filled me with the same enthusiasm, but it didn't. I appreciate the fact that every band is someone's favorite, but I cannot for the life of me understand why so many people knew the lyrics to all of Railroad Earth's songs.
Railroad Earth is a jam band in the surest sense of the word. They have that strong focus on country and bluegrass, with a funk-influenced bassist, and that sort of vague world music thread running through it all. I don't mean "world music" in the sense that you can say that they're strongly influenced by reggae, Afrobeat, or salsa or anything like that. It's world music in the sense that lots of songs sound like they were lifted off Paul Simon's Graceland album.
And the bluegrass? At one point, frontman Todd Sheaffer announced that they were going to do some pickin' for us. They just played really fast, and they weren't terribly good at it. John Skehan flubbed about three or four notes on the mandolin, and...let's just be honest here. Maybe it's because I've listened to too much jazz, and that makes me an elitist snob, but I was of the belief that improvisation was based on the premise that the band branched out from the themes inherent in the music, and then worked their way back to the source material. That is "jamming." Jamming is not meandering away from whatever you were playing, going on interminably, and then simply looking at each other and ending with some sort of power chord. That's wankery, and I don't appreciate it. Multi-instrumentalist Andy Goessling's thing with two saxophones was total bullshit, as well.
I think that's why the Avett Brothers were such a breath of fresh air. They play like punk band: four members, no solos -- just ripping songs one after the other, and moving around on stage like they're having fun. Railroad Earth looked like they were so impressed by what they were doing that they couldn't be bothered to actually enjoy it, whereas Scott Avett was bouncing around on stage looking like a caffeine-addled pirate. Hell, Joe Kwon managed to rock out with a fucking cello.
Here's how a show works, if done properly: the audience is interested in what you're doing more than you are. Work out the amazing things you can do with a guitar in the practice space, and entertain when you're on stage, not the other way around.