It’s the Fourth of July at Summerfest at the Marcus Amphitheater before The Avett Brothers are to perform their headlining set. The venue was sparsely populated during openers Warren Haynes and Brandi Carlile, but the venue had to fill out before the guest of honor, even if the band being a late addition to the Big Gig lineup limited awareness. Unfortunately, that was not the case was wrong. When The Avett Brothers took the stage, the venue has entire rows that were nearly empty. The first three sections closest to the stage were filled nicely, but the five behind it, still under the roof, were barren. The bleachers and lawn seats had a decent amount of folks in them, and the vast gap of available seats between was a strange sight to behold. To the credit of all the performers, they didn’t even seem to care.
Warren Haynes, of Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule fame, took the stage first followed by Brandi Carlile whose mountain twang carried far on songs like “Wherever Is Your Heart” and her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.”
Then just before 10 p.m., the night’s main attraction, The Avett Brothers, took the stage. Wishing a happy Fourth of July to everyone, they, fittingly, kicked into “America the Beautiful” before increasing the intensity for a high-energy rendition of “Live & Die” which featured the wondrous sight of cellist Joe Kwon dancing with his instrument and pogo-ing up and down.
The Avett Brothers are a pretty chill group in recorded form and Americana tunes aren’t traditionally wild. Still, this live show—under-attended as it was—brought no shortage of excitement and energy. Though the North Carolina folk band played acoustic instruments, they conveyed the energy of a rock concert. “Headful of Doubt” and “Slight Figure of Speech” became entirely different songs live with multiple instances of soloing from nearly all band members that were cut with long tangents of rock solid improvised collaboration. It was great, plain and simple.
The Avett’s also threw a new track into their set titled “True Sadness” and then brought back Brandi Carlile for some three-part harmonies on “Murder in the City,” followed the folk-standard popularized by The Carter Family “Keep on the Sunny Side.” Mixing in other crowd favorites like “Laundry Room” and “I Killed Sally’s Lover,” the Avett Brothers’ 90-minute set showcased each member, and the crowd was enthralled with each and every track up to the closing song of the evening’s encore, “I & Love & You.” All things considered, it was a lovely finish to a night of Americana jams on America’s birthday.
Despite the overly ambitious choice of venue, most those who turned out likely left glad to see The Avett Brothers in Milwaukee. With any luck, it won’t be too long before they return to Summerfest…perhaps on a grounds stage this time around.