Avett Brothers’ Roots Remain Strong Amidst Cancer Fight
By Tim Anderl
With a career lasting longer than a decade and producing some of the most raw and organic albums that combine bluegrass, folk and rock in modern music, and trips to Austin City Limits and the Grammys to perform with Bob Dylan, The Avett Brothers are a band that is shaping the modern music landscape in ways few others have. Naturally, when I first learned that The Avett Brothers would be making a pair of appearances in central and southwestern Ohio this year, I was compelled to talk to them.
Seeing the band during Fall 2011’s Orlando Calling music festival, I was perhaps most intrigued by the band’s onstage rapport; a natural chemistry that tells of a group of friends whose comfort and confidence level is high, but it also hints at something stronger. Little did I know when I called Avett Brothers bassist, Bob Crawford, to talk about the band’s upcoming tour and forthcoming album, he’d answer important questions about the band’s uncanny bond and brotherhood and how it has affected Crawford professionally, but more importantly, personally.
A few minutes into my phone interview with Crawford he divulged that he was taking the call from St. Jude’s Children’s Medical Center where his two-year-old daughter, Hallie, is battling brain cancer.
“We discovered that she had a brain tumor on August 28 and right now we’re here in Memphis trying to save her,” Crawford divulged.
In speaking with Crawford it becomes clear that his current concern isn’t whether the 2012 follow up to I And Love And You will top the Billboard charts, or whether the band’s impending tour will go off without a hitch. The health and welfare of his family is his unwavering primary concern. Thankfully, the outpouring of support Crawford receives from the Avetts is also unwavering.
“It is really nice to be on stage with somebody that you’ve known and played with for ten years,” Crawford confessed. “That adds confidence to the performance and comfort to the travel. It was satisfying before the tragedy that we suffered even happened. In going through what my wife and I have been through and the wave of support that has come very personally from the guys in this organization…to have that sort of history with people makes what we do so satisfying.”
“When you go through something like this there is no roadmap for it,” Crawford added. “And the longer it goes on, the more awkward it gets and the more challenging it is for friends and family members. The care and support that we’ve gotten is a strong testament to the honesty and integrity and love that we all share. The roots are very deep here. The roots are big and strong with us for sure.”
While Crawford’s focus is clearly with his daughter, wife and son, and he was uncertain to what capacity he’d be joining The Avetts for their Summer tour, he lit up at the opportunity to speak about one of the his fondest performance memories, sharing the stage with Bob Dylan at the 53rd Grammy Awards.
“It was a very surreal occasion. I’m not quite sure that it really happened, but they tell me it did. We couldn’t have had more fun doing it,” Crawford beamed. “The thing that first struck me and I think the thing I took away was hearing Dylan’s voice off of a microphone. Hearing Dylan’s voice and hearing him talking or something…it wasn’t a recording, it was his actual voice. There it is, it was right there in front of you. And to hear that voice with your own ears and to know who he is, you just never forget it.”
Though Crawford is clearly proud of the work he’s accomplished with The Avetts, he admits that his future focuses, in addition to writing and recording music with his bandmate brothers, includes using the Avett’s profile to raise the visibility of the fight against pediatric cancer.
“My daughter has a tribute page for St. Jude’s. She has raised over $50,000 dollars for St. Jude’s over the past several months. Avett Brothers donated $10,000 of that. But we’re still in the thick of the fight here,” Crawford said. “I think the most effective thing I can do is encourage people to donate money to St. Jude’s.”
“I’ve been able to be here for the whole experience, which is an amazing help to my wife,” Crawford added. “We have a nine-month old son so we are fortunate to be able to do that. But there are families here where the mom is here and the dad is away working and is only able to come every couple of weeks or on the weekend. What these people need is money to be able to maintain their bills and homes while they are here fighting cancer. This is just a small thing, but I’ve been living it for the last six months.”
Despite his family’s battle, Crawford remains connected to his band family and hopes to join them in the not-too-distant future
“I’m hoping to play as many shows as I can this year, and be as much of a part of this big year that we’re about to have as I can,” Crawford said. “To be able to do a couple interviews and talk to people allows me to feel like I’m working a little bit. I need that, to be talking about these things to keep my mind off of other things. Thank you for the opportunity to be able to talk about the things that I love.”
(The Avett Brothers will perform at the Fraze Pavilion in Kettering on June 7, 2012. If you’d like to make a donation to St. Jude’s, please visit Hallie Crawford’s fundraising site here: http://fundraising.stjude.org/site/TR?pxfid=27564&fr_id=1341. Put “Hallie Crawford” in the “Find a Fund” search bar.
Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at TimAnderl@DaytonCityPaper.com.