Words and Photos by: Jerry Friend
North Carolina's favorite son's The Avett Brothers, performed their 20th Annual New Years Eve show in Raleigh, on Sunday night with one of South Carolina's favorite son's, Marcus King. Thousands of fans gathered to say "so long to 2023 and welcome 2024". They delivered a celebration to be remembered. Home State New Years Eve shows are a tradition for the band. Not even the Pandemic Lockdown of 2020 would stop them from ringing in 2021 with their fans as the band chose to celebrate with a livestream that year for 150,000 viewers. .
This night was filled with reasons to show pride about the music coming out of the Carolinas. Families seemed well represented, both in the crowd and on the stage. Both of the bands welcomed special guests including Marcus's wife, Briley Hussey, who was born in Kinston, NC. They met at one of his performances in Raleigh, and later got engaged at Red Hat Ampitheater where they met. She is also a singer, and a fashion social influencer on Instagram. She joined him for a series of songs, that included "Oh My Delilah" and Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" during his opening set. Later, Jim Avett, the father of Seth and Scott Avett, joined their band for the traditional song "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" during their highly energized set leading up to the countdown to 2024.
Marcus King, who is originally from nearby Greenville, SC, but now lives in Nashville, warmed up the crowd with a blues intro and then played the appropriately titled cover song, "What Are You Doing New Years Eve?" A tune from famed songwriter, Frank Loesser known for hits from both his early career in Hollywood like "Baby It's Cold Outside" and "Heart and Soul" as well as songs from later in his work with Broadway musicals like Guy's and Dolls. King's set was a mix of his own music and cover songs, like "Honkey Tonk Hell" by Gabe Lee, and Chris Stapleton's "White Horse". In the last couple of years, Marcus moved to Nashville to work with Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys.
After living there and working on new music with Aurebach, Marcus added a second guitar player to his band. Drew Smithers, a protege of slide guitar master, multi-instrumentalist, singer songwriter, Jack Pearson, known as one of the greatest session players in Nashville, and has worked with music legends from the world of jazz, rock, blues and country including The Allman Brothers Band, Gregg Allman, Vince Gill, Jimmy Buffett, Tommy Emmanuel, Joe Bonamassa, Charlie Daniels, Keb Mo', Delbert McClinton, Earl Scruggs, Chris LeDoux, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Mac McAnally, Amy Grant, Groove Holmes, Mike Snider, Faith Hill, Ronnie Milsap, Jimmy Hall, Gov't Mule, Buddy DeFranco, T. Graham Brown, Shelby Lynne, Jimmy Raney, Vassar Clements, Bonnie Bramlett, Mundell Lowe, The Jordanaires, Jim Horn, Lee Roy Parnell, Kirk Whalum, Martina McBride, Taj Mahal, Trace Adkins, Dr John, Sam Moore, Eric Church, John Hiatt, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and the list goes on and on. The addition of Smithers to the band, creates a dynamic that allows both players to riff off of each other and also frees Marcus up to play keys, focus more on delivering his emotional vocals.
King also surprised the crowd when he sat at the piano and broke out "Hold Me Closer Tiny Dancer" an Elton John favorite. Just after this he brought out his North Carolina bride for the aforementioned songs. Then he sang his own "Wildflowers and Wine" followed by Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman". He sang a few more of his own songs, including once of his biggest fan favorites, the mournful "Goodbye Carolina" before closing his set with the his last cover song from the incredible Delaney and Bonnie "Coming Home".
After a brief intermission the crowd was ready for The Avett Brothers to launch into their highly charged set. It began with their first special guest of the night, Mickey Rapheal, born in Dallas,Texas, Raphael is most widely known for being Willie Nelson's harmonica player for over three decades.Raphael played throughout the years with a variety of artists, ranging from Elton John, U2, and Motley Crue to Vince Gill, Emmy Lou Harris, The Mavericks, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Neil Young. He began on a platform in the rear of the arena playing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" to start the performance, and then the band launched into "Bleeding White" while all the members came out onto the stage dressed in stylish white tuxedos. The band went into fan favorite "Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full Of Promise" from their 2009 release I and Love and You. The band's set list included songs from throughout musical catalog, "Morning Song" from their 2013 release Magpie and the Dandelion was played along with "Laundry Room", and then "Hard Worker" from 2004's release Mignonette followed by the band's treasure "The Ballad of Love and Hate" from their 2007 release Emotionalism, which helped propel the folk band towards success and introduced fans to the addition of cellist Joe Kwon to the lineup.
The band placed some Traditional songs throughout their set, which ushered the return to the stage for Mickey Raphel, including "Black Mountain Rag" reportedly written by Leslie Keith, the fiddle player for The Stanley Brothers, also played and recorded by North Carolina's Doc Watson. The banjo driven tune "The Fall" from their 2006 release Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions was next and another fan favorite song from Emotionalism, "Go To Sleep" followed by the title track from their 2018 release Who Will I Hold which led the band to another of their earliest songs "Salvation Song" from 2004 with a fine display of the vocal harmonies that the Brothers are well known for delivering to their audiences. With Raphael still on stage, they broke into Willie Nelson's "Bloody Mary Morning" sandwiched around another Traditional song "Old Joe Clark" a ballad about a Kentucky Mountaineer that was popular among soldiers from Eastern Kentucky during World War I.
The band then brought out Jim Avett, to help them through "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" This popular Christian song was written in 1907 and often goes unattributed due to it's age and the length of time it has been in the Public Domain but the lyrics were written by Ada R. Habershon and the music was composed by Charles H. Gabriel who is said to have composed as many as 8,000 songs, many found in Christian hymnals. That got the crowd into that "Holy Ghost" spirit, as the night just seemed to add more energy to the crowd as we moved closer to the midnight hour.
The band continued their march towards midnight, with another original this time from their 2016 release True Sadness, the soulfully laid down tune, "I Wish I Was" delivered like the love letter that it was intended to be. Worth mentioning here, at the beginning of the show I met a couple who had just gotten engaged, this seemed fitting to talk about in memory of this night. I met them in the GA Pit area while talking with another couple that I recall were from Greenville, NC, and the next song which was first played by the band at Peasants on 09-19-2003 "Swept Away" a sentimental fan favorite as it seemed like the universe had aligned on a night meant for reflection of the past, the promise of the future and made for lovers. There's a photo of the newly engaged couple in my gallery. I wish them all the best. The band's set continued with another song off of the 2013 Magpie and Dandelion release, "Vanity" which can certainly threaten any relationship was followed by 2009's "Kick Drum Heart" which sounded more upbeat, playful and hopeful like nod towards the promise of love.
The show continued with their next song from further back in their discography to 2008 from The Second Gleam recording with "Murder in the City" is a lament exposing the thoughts generated by a fear of being murdered most likely written during their time in New York City. This was followed by more Traditional fiddle music, a medley of songs that have a French Canadian/Creole background. "Le Reel Du Pendu/Les Barres De La Prison" which I believe translate to The Hangman's Reel/The Bars of the Prison both songs about a son regretting his actions that will either keep him away from his family forever or lead to his death. These songs made me think that they could have been possible inspiration for Queen's smash hit " Bohemian Rhapsody"
The band continued with another song played from 2016's True Sadness recording, perhaps the darkest period of their set, playing "Satan Pull the Strings" followed by another song that hints at how life can change in an instant "Live and Die" from the band's 2012 release The Carpenter. Everything before this was a very entertaining leading up to that moment that we were all preparing for on this night, the countdown to midnight.
The arrival of the New Year has been ushered on by the Father Time figure portrayed by Valient Himself, who walks through the arena from the back of the floor section, up to the stage preparing the crowd for the countdown and the big moment by launching some confetti before joining the band for the stroke of midnight and the beginning of the New Year's Day. As the clock strikes twelve, there's a giant balloon drop across the arena, with even more confetti and the band plays the Traditional song "Auld Lang Syne" this was followed by the band playing for the first time, the Led Zeppelin cover song "Rock and Roll" with Valient still on stage the brothers play the final song of the set "Ain't No Man Can Save Me" another tune from their True Sadness release while the balloons continued to be bounced by the overjoyed crowd for what seems like forever during those songs.
As if that wasn't enough, the crowd was eager for more and the band soon returned for their encore performance launching into another cover song. This one was "The Prettiest Thing" from Mount Holly North Carolina's own singer/songwriter, David Childers. The band, once again dug deep into their catalog playing another song from their 2006 release Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions, this time selecting "Talk on Indolence" which seemed fitting for a crowd that had been up all night drinking and celebrating. Finally, at the end of a long night bid the crowd farewell with another fan favorite from the True Sadness song "No Hard Feelings" at that point, it would be easy to believe it would be nearly impossible there were any hard feelings to be found in the arena.
Overall, it was a really great way to say goodbye to whatever your feelings were about the previous year and to welcome whatever 2024 might have in store for all of us. The band promised crowd, that they hoped to be playing more frequently for their fans in the new year.