A Bit of Wildness in Sophistication – The Art of Scott Avett


This past Friday night I was witness to something remarkable, something magical.  In fact, I was more than a witness to this event.  I was an active part of it, an integral piece in the puzzle of community.  So too were the other 200 people who were present.  No piece was more important than another.  Rather, all were necessary to make the evening as powerful and memorable as it was.

It was to be an evening centered around the art of famed musician Scott Avett, co-frontman of The Avett Brothers and a native to Concord, NC.  However, it became so much more.  The fundraising event entitled, The Paintings of Scott Avett: Exploring Story and Spirituality was the brainchild of local artist Tom Schultz and his wife Sheila Ennis of Empathinc..  It was organized and executed flawlessly by a passionate and dedicated team of individuals, all working towards a common goal–to support one of Charlotte’s most valuable resources, The Educational Center.

I approached the evening with eagerness, curiosity, and excitement.  As I ascended the stairs to the second floor gallery, a mist of celebrity blanketed my thoughts.  This was going to be a very unique opportunity to be in the presence of an artistic genius away from his usual musical arena.  While my endless appreciation for Scott Avett’s talents was the driving force of  my attendance, I was surprised to find an anticipation bubbling up inside of me for something more.  It wasn’t until I walked into the gallery that I began to understand what that “more” was.

The gallery, which was actually an empty second story condominium two days prior, had been transformed into a maze of rooms adorned with Scott’s masterful oil paintings, charcoal sketches, and linocut prints.  People filled each room–mingling, laughing, eating, drinking, visiting, and carrying on.  I was drawn to familiar faces, and with the first hug and smile the mist began to clear.  While I was certainly in the presence of greatness, it was not simply in the form of one man, but rather in the group as a whole.  On that night, in that second floor gallery, community trumped celebrity.

Midway through the night people gathered around the front foyer of the gallery, eagerly awaiting the centerpiece of the event–storytelling by Scott Avett.  First, Sheila took a moment to share her thoughts about the event with us.  She highlighted the history and mission of The Educational Center, as well as its accomplishments.

“[The Educational Center] has been nationally acclaimed [as] a pioneer in research of religion education, particularly in the methodology called maieutics, which is the Greek word for midwife, and it means as a teacher or facilitator, you are not the authority.  You simply help another person work what that person may already know,”  Sheila explained.

As an educator myself, this resonated with me.  So often in formal education we get bogged down by authority and power and lose sight of our mission to facilitate learning.

Tilly Tice (President of the Board of Directors of The Educational Center) followed Sheila and commented on the theme of synchronicity that led up to the evening–a theme that by that point was more than palpable.  She thanked Scott Avett for his support of The Educational Center through his participation in the event, and praised him for being “committed to moving beneath the layers of human stories, of personal history, and experiences to discover deeper levels of spiritual reality and knowing.”

As Tom stepped up to the microphone, the anticipation for Scott’s talk grew even louder.  Tom, like Scott, is also an artist and a storyteller.  Through a few brief stories he explained his connection to Scott and how he relates to Scott’s paintings.

“When you see the color under the arm that is painted so deftly, you are dealing with something wild that is also sophisticated.  When you see one brush stroke that defines an entire toe so clearly and succinctly, you are looking at something wild that is also sophisticated.  I often compare Scott’s work to writers like early John Steinbeck…sometimes I think that there’s an air of grit to the reality that he portrays.  There is a bit of wildness in sophistication.  I hope you recognize that and after looking at these paintings, accept Scott’s invitation to you to find the wildness in you that’s wrapped up in your sophistication,”  Tom shared.

We hadn’t even gotten to the man of honor, yet I was already inspired by the passion and spark that came from Sheila, Tilly, and Tom.  I was not expecting this feeling, but welcomed it freely.  As Scott stepped out before us, his presence alone commanded respect and attention.  Perhaps it was the fact that the majority of those present are inspired daily by the lyrics of his songs, the earthiness and ease of his voice, his humbleness, or his homegrown charm.  The room was quiet, and we were all ready to listen.

Though he admittedly didn’t outline the conversation that followed (“for the past four months I kept this discipline of being really lazy and not planning anything”), Scott seamlessly wove themes of family, discipline, work ethic, and self-awareness together as he danced from story to story.  He was funny, expressive, honest and revealing in front of his audience.  It was plain to see that he came by his storytelling talents honestly, as his dad Jim is the original Avett storyteller–although I suspect there was a long line before him as well.

Scott candidly discussed the push and pull struggle of balancing this learned discipline and work ethic with his innate artistic drive.  He felt best to explain this through the writings of John Ruskin, in particular an essay entitled The Seeing and Feeling Creature.  Scott explained:

“Artists are put on this planet to do…three things.  [Ruskin] says we are here to see, and to feel, and to document.  The artist can try to think but he’s not here to do that.  He can try to explain and analyze but he’s not here to do that.  He can go to parties but he’s not here to party.  He can’t.  He really can’t…As soon as he feels something he has to act on it and move on it.  The documenting, which is the third thing in this description and I believe this is true and I understood when I read it, quite a bit…With the seeing and feeling and the work ethic, there’s a balance that is ongoing for me and at the moment as I think about what I am called to do and my obligations to the visual and through song and through story, it feels in order.  But in the next moment it very well could flip over and find itself off the rails.”

Again, Tom’s theme of wildness in sophistication emerged in Scott’s words.  This theme has invaded much of what Scott Avett shows to the public, both in the recording and art studios.  There is a constant state of re-balancing taking place to keep the wildness at bay, but also to ensure that it isn’t smothered by the sophistication.

As the evening carried on, the energy continued to grow.  Scott had shared with us his stories and his outlook, and now it was our turn to share with others.  We made connections that will guide us along in our spiritual journeys.  Like-minded people from all walks of life created an experience that fostered community, and that was just the beginning.

The next day I returned to the gallery to pick-up the piece of Scott’s artwork that I purchased.  The rooms were quiet and the sun shone in through the windows, creating a new perspective on the space and his paintings.  However, the spark and the energy that permeated through the space the night before remained.  Could we go back and do it again?  I wish we could, but in all honesty it wouldn’t be the same.  The synchronicity of that evening was a once in a lifetime alignment of our lives that we will remember for years to come.

To see some of Scott’s art please click HERE


February 28, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Emotion, Friends, Life. 3 comments.

Lessons from Max


A jar full of coins sat perched on the top shelf.  Shiny dimes and nickles, pennies and quarters danced in the afternoon California sun that peaked through the glass patio door.  My grandpa was so proud of his jar of coins, and I, his youngest grandchild, was always in awe of him and his collection placed far above my reach.  Over a lifetime, my grandpa Max experienced more than I can ever imagine…the Great Depression, World Wars, growth of labor unions and negotiations, lasting love, presidential elections and assassinations, birth of children and grandchildren, terrorist attacks, and all of the small, personal moments in between.  He was a man who valued hard work and honest ethics.  He possessed a stoic and strong determination to succeed for the betterment of those around him and his family.

A pioneer in the U.S. labor movement, Max became an integral part of our nation’s history during a time when protecting workers’ rights wasn’t popular.  His work wasn’t always met with the same level of enthusiasm and regard that he believed it deserved, but he understood his mission and he pushed through the barriers.  He was a laborer, supervisor, organizer, and elected official during his 66 years of service.  Even when his brain wasn’t as sharp as it used to be, or his body felt weak and fragile from rounds of chemotherapy, he still woke up everyday to walk his dog, put on his slacks, button down, and loafers, drive to the office, and sit proudly behind his desk, ready to work.

I always loved listening to his stories, even when I had heard them over and over again.  He never completely lost his Arkansas twang, despite spending the majority of his life in Arizona and California.  I loved his voice and missed it when he was gone.  So  much so, that after he passed I called his Arizona apartment from time to time just to get the answering machine and feel a tiny bit closer to him.  “You’ve reached ###-####, we’re not here to take your call right now but if you’d leave your name and number we’ll get back to you…Goodbye!”  Although I haven’t heard that in about 6 or 7 years, I can still hear his twang.  Thank God.

During the 27 years that I had with him, I carefully watched his routine and learned some important lessons that I carry very close to my heart today, and hopefully forever.  These lessons, timeless and true, thankfully sneak into my everyday routine like a dog sneaking up onto the couch or bed to be close to his owner.  The end result is comforting and calming, and I’d surely miss it if those lessons failed to appear.  Not all of Max’s lessons were learned from watching him do something, but rather what I didn’t see him do.  And these lessons were formed from a granddaughter’s perspective, young and naive at times, but boy did I love my grandpa.  I am sure my father, his son, may have seen his father in a different light, and if we sat down and compared “notes” they may reveal a few discrepancies.  But, that’s okay.  We learn from our own experience, and surely I have learned lessons from my dad that were passed down from Max as well.

Lesson #1: Work hard and take pride in what you do – Max grew up during a time when putting in long, hard days on the job was just what you did.  He arrived to work on time, prepared, and ready.  He took pride in how he presented himself, both in his dress and attitude.  He worked hard because he wanted to keep his job, show his loyalty, and take care of his family.  Back then, this level of respect for work was the norm.  Max valued his 66 years of service so much that he wrote a memoir of his life, most of which was his union work.

Lesson #2: Save your pennies for a rainy day – When Max would take his dog Puff on walks in the morning, he would drive down to the grocery store and walk through the parking lot looking for dropped coins.  The money he found on his walks, coupled with loose change in his pockets was placed in the jar on the top shelf.  However, Max’s jar of coins wasn’t for decoration.  Once it was full, he’d roll the coins (before there were automatic coin rollers..which took a WHILE!) and bring them to the bank to either cash them in or put the money in savings.  He was a master investor and saver, but still managed to live a very comfortable life full of nice amenities.  I think this is because while he worked hard to provide for his family, he also valued the smallest unit of currency, the penny, as a very important part of his saving strategy.  This is why to this day, if I see a penny on the ground, I think of him and pick it up for my “jar on the shelf.”

Lesson #3: Reward yourself – A long, hard day at work deserves a reward don’t you think?  Max surely did.  Each night at 5 pm, my grandma Sweetie would fix up two cocktails, a martini for Max and Jack Daniels and ginger ale for herself.  They would have their very own happy hour at home!  Even Puff the dog got a little treat during happy hour (or yappy hour for him!).  If you spend your life waiting for someone else to reward your hard work, you may be waiting for a while.  So take time out of your day to reward yourself and relax.  I love this lesson!

Lesson #4: Keep your mind and body moving – A rolling stone gathers no moss, correct?  Well this goes for people too.  Max stayed physically and mentally active up until the last few months of his life.  He went to work everyday until he was 82 years old.  And even in the later years of working, though he was given less and less responsibilities, every one of his employees and co-workers VALUED his presence in the office and recognized his role in the organization.  He served as a vast resource of information and experience, and was able to use that to stay involved in his work.  Physically, he took time out of his morning and evening to take Puff for walks or perhaps spend 15 minutes riding the stationary bicycle.  Whatever it was, Max made an effort each day to keep a sharp mind and an able body, and that is something admirable.

Lesson #5: Love your family and make sure they know it! – My grandparents raised my dad and aunt during a time when overt emotional expression wasn’t customary.  Family roles were well-defined and for the most part emotions were kept to a minimum.  To show love and respect for your family, you served your role and provided them with things like food, shelter, clothing, education, etc.  While there are surely exceptions to this rule, Max and Sweetie definitely did not show their love as openly and freely as many people do today.  However, as Max approached his last few years of life, I witnessed a change in him.  He began being more affectionate, saying “I love you” before hanging up the phone, and joking around more than he had in the past.  It made me think that he was trying to get caught up on all of those times he didn’t express himself, and I appreciated that about him.  In his golden years, he was able to make a change that made his family very happy.  It’s never too late to let your family know how much you love and appreciate them.  Never.

While the list could be much longer, I think these 5 are the most important lessons that I take away from my grandpa Max.  Even though cultures shift and family roles get redefined, I hope to always keep these simple lessons in the forefront of my thoughts and actions.  He deserves to have his legacy honored and passed on.

June 25, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Emotion, Life. 1 comment.

Alley 51109

Alley 51109

Crushing gravel beneath my tires

As I pulled in the alley and parked

With little to go on, the moment was ours

You surrounded me there in the dark.


Harmonies filled the space around us

And you watched me with eager intent.

Idling engine faded as I refocused

On the lyrics and all that they meant.


Time floated slowly through the stars above

And all between the alley trees.

Time stopped for a moment just because

He tired from rushing moments like these.


We sat and stared at the dashboard glow

As the music came to an end.

A forehead kiss, it was time to go.

Knew I had to see you again.

February 17, 2011. Tags: , , , , . Emotion. Leave a comment.

The River’s Song (When His Mistress Sings)

I told my lady I’d be gone for the day.

Needed a break from the noise around me.

She smiled and kissed me, had nothing to say.

Think she’s finally figured out not to hound me.

Now I walk alone on the back beaten trail,

Straight down to the James River’s shore.

Jump the tracks, right over that old rusty rail.

Just a poor man’s Magellan for sure.

The river is roaring her song in my ears.

I’d tame her if only she’d let me.

Her music is loud which is why I come here.

I come often, for fear she’ll forget me.

Though you may not hear it, her lyrics are clear,

Drowning more than we know.

The sadness and sorrow, the pain and the fear

That plagues River City below.

Upon her rocks I sit and reflect

On life, death and all in between.

I tell her of triumphs along with regrets

Tell the tales of the places I’ve seen.

‘Cause the river don’t judge.  She don’t cast a mean eye

When I dump my heart in her waves

Her song just gets louder as she patiently tries

To sing all of my troubles away.

The river is roaring her song in my ears.

I’d tame her if only she’d let me.

Her music is loud which is why I come here.

I come often, for fear she’ll forget me.

April 28, 2010. Tags: , , , . Emotion. Leave a comment.

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