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.

Red, Green or Both?

Santa Fe Getaway

This year Girls’ Trip brought in ladies from CT, CO, OR, FL, AZ, and VA to beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Before this weekend, my only time spent in New Mexico was driving along the I-10 to and from Tucson, which is far from a scenic drive.  I expected to see a landscape very similar to Arizona, but instead saw wide open spaces filled with mesas, rolling hills, and snow capped mountains.

Melanie and I arrived a day early (my mistake during booking, but ended up a gift!) and spent some quality time with Kristin and her family, including her parents, grandma (Omi) and son (lil’ Preston James).  Highlights from our time in Albuquerque included a private tour and detailed history of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center by Ron (Kristin’s Dad); Omi’s amazing hospitality and cooking/baking of quiche, graham cracker cake, and abelskivers (Danish traditional breakfast treat!); a delicious lasagna dinner at the Soliman residence; trying to stay awake and finish strong margaritas overlooking Old Town, multiple cutie-patootie quotes from PJ himself (the cutest 3 year old alive!); a fabulous lunch of authentic NM food at Padilla’s Restaurant (I got the combination platter but would recommend the Carnitas Special on Thursdays…amazing!);  and greeting the other ladies with big hugs at the airport.  A mistake in booking our tickets turned into a wonderful extra day in NM!

Once we got Mackenzie, Melissa and Michelle, we headed North to Santa Fe to start our wonderful weekend!  On the drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe the highway stretched between the various pueblos of NM, and gave us some fantastic views of the jagged mountains interrupted by mesas and rolling rocky hills.  We arrived at “Artist’s Retreat” and were greeted by a better looking Kris Kattan look-a-like named Justin Greene (owner).  He welcomed us into the house, gave us the tour, and proceeded to run down a list of must-see/go places in Santa Fe.  Before he was out of the door, we had scattered throughout the house to explore.  Artist’s Retreat is a perfect use of space with immaculate design…bright rooms, tall ceilings, decks/patios off every room, and one of the best features: a steam room/shower with two shower heads!  We quickly settled in, and started in on perfecting our fresh margaritas…fresh squeezed orange and lime juice, simple syrup, Patron, and Grand Marnier.  It took us a little while, but after some serious taste testing, I think we found the perfect recipe.  The iPod was on shuffle as Kristin prepared dinner and we awaited Zoë and Amy’s arrival.  By the time they arrived, we had finished the Patron and had moved on to his distant and not so cool second cousin José, but we didn’t care.  GT 2010 had finally arrived and there was no place we would rather be than together at Artist’s Retreat.  We fought fatigue from long cross-country flights as we caught up with stories and shared pictures of new babies, boyfriends, and puppies.  One by one the group got smaller, leaving only a few of us who decided to end our night watching YouTube videos of Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns” (a must see!).  Zoe, Amy, Melanie and I trucked our tired bodies upstairs to our “wing” of the house for a night cap, a few laughs, and some more story-telling out on the deck.  This is what GT is all about…relaxing with our best girls from all over the US.  We look forward to this trip every year for very good reason.  Thursday night came to a close as we melted into our comfy beds and dreamed of the weekend ahead of us.

After a tasty Friday morning breakfast of egg casserole (with a little ice…no worries Mel!), bagels and NW Pinon coffee, we ventured up to Ojo Caliente for a day of rest, relaxation and spa treatments.   While we initially had planned our spa day to be at the very highly recommended Ten Thousand Waves, we opted for the more affordable and versatile version, just an hour North of Santa Fe.  As we drove into Ojo Caliente Spa, we saw a rustic adobe village at the base of surrounding rocky hills and mesas.  The unique thing about this spa is its various natural hot springs of arsenic, lithium, soda, and iron, each of which boasted its own healthy benefits.  The day was spent in individual massage, scrub, facial and wrap treatments, with group soaking intermissions in the various springs.  A few of us ventured into the “yoga hut” for an 80 minute class, during which I spent most of my time making sure my bathing suit (yes, I forgot appropriate yoga clothes) was staying put during poses like “happy baby” and “pigeon”.   Following yoga, Melanie and I headed into one of the adobe homes for our hot bath soak and wrap.  A small and stout American Indian woman led us to an individual tub, which we decided to share (to save water of course…we are so green!).  As we became submerged in our hot tub, the sound of small hail pelted the plastic roof above us.  The ominous clouds that had been off in the distance were now on top of the spa and showering us with an afternoon mix of hail and rain.  While we soaked, the others found cover and watched the storm roll through.  I would say that the most interesting and uncomfortable part of my day at the spa, was the “wrap” that followed the hot tub soak.  Having already raised my core body temperature a few degrees, I was then shuffled off to the “Milagro Wrap Room” by the same stout woman, who directed me to lie down and promptly wrapped me in two separate blankets like the tightest burrito this side of the Rio Grande.  While my heart attempted to find a regular rate, I forced myself to get through the next 25 minutes in this cotton tortilla by thinking “happy” thoughts and ignoring the thought that I may not be able to pull a Houdini move and get out of the wrap if I started to have a panic attack.  The guy next to me opted to stay in his burrito an extra 10 minutes…what!?  I listened intently for the little woman’s footsteps down the corridor, and when she entered the room and asked, “Are you ready?” I couldn’t have been happier.  Needless to say, that was a “one and done” experience for me.  Melanie described it as being a combination of two of her least favorite things…being hot in bed and not having free reign of her arms.  We emerged from the adobe home to cool air and the distinct smell of the desert after an afternoon thunderstorm.  What a wonderful way to end our day at Ojo Caliente.

We drove back to Artists’ Retreat and began getting ready for our evening out…dinner and dancing at El Farol Restaurant and Cantina!  Justin had suggested getting a table in the bar area and sharing a dozen of the delicious tapas while the band set up for that evening’s live music…Cuban Salsa baby!  We took our time, devoured the tapas and washed them down with plenty of wine, mojitos, sangria, and tequila shots here and there.  We surprised Zoë with a loud and lovely rendition of “Happy Birthday” and a trio of their best deserts, which I think made its way around the table a few times so we all got to enjoy Zoë’s birthday!  Our waiter, Neal had no idea what he was in for with us, but handled it like a pro!  Following dinner, we were stuffed, satisfied, and ready for some Salsa dancing!  As the band warmed up, we started moving in our seats.  It was about that time.  When the first note came through the speakers, we were out of our seats and on the tiny dance floor just inside the front door.  I assume it was put there so that patrons coming through the door immediately knew what they were in for…a sweaty night of hot moves, big smiles, and frequent cries of “Aye ya ya ya!”.  While we all spent some serious time sweating and shaking our stuff on the dance floor, the award for “Best Dancer and Motivator of Others to Dance” went unanimously to Kristin!  She was in her element and loving the rich Cuban tunes as she pulled complete strangers out of their seats and dragged them on to the dance floor.  She single handedly MADE the night better and brighter for about ¾ of the people in the bar area.  That will be a night that they (and we) will never forget.  For years to come, the cute group of ladies from Texas will reminisce and say, “Remember that beautiful young lady with the beaming smile who got us out of our chairs to Salsa!?  She was the best!”  The characters who graced us on the dance floor, including Eduardo, Amy and her friend (what was her name?!), Coke shirt guy with the cheese grater instrument, the drunk guy who had a crush on Mack, the Ebert look-a-like business man, and others, kept the dance floor full, steamy and fun.  We danced the night away then cabbed it home to get our beauty sleep for our early Saturday morning departure up to the Rio Grande!

Saturday morning came fast, so we pieced together what we each thought would be appropriate for our river rafting trip, grabbed some food, and hit the road.  We headed northeast towards Taos, to meet our rafting guides along the Rio Grande at the Taos County Line.  Soon after arriving at the launch site, our Kokopelli rafting guides showed up, made us sign obligatory papers, and carted us up to the top of our half-day “Racecourse” rafting course.  With helmet, wet gear, and life jackets on, we looked like a family of State-Puff Marshmallow women, but we didn’t care.  We were ready for some white water baby!  We got our safety debriefing on the beach and were ready to head down the river and take on the rapids.  Our guide Brian seemed a little too laidback and skeptical of our abilities on the water so we immediately tested him.  He initially saw eight hung over chicks and thought to himself, “Great, I got stuck with them!?”  He quickly changed his attitude after some teasing, poking and prodding.   After taking it like a man, we could tell that he was a good match for our group.  We jumped in our raft and practiced some strokes along the way when we found our raft in eddy currents.  We were in sync and psyched to hit some rapids.  Initially I was the “hood ornament” of the raft because we had so many rowers.  My job was to sit in the front of the raft, grab onto the side ropes with mouth open and yell while we broke through the rapids.  This basically meant that I got a face full of water while the other girls rowed hard through the rapids.  It was a fun spot for a while, but I wanted to contribute to the physical effort of getting down the river.  Michelle handed over her paddle and took my spot up front, despite her cotton pants that were about to get completely soaked in the next set of rapids (thanks Michelle!).  We made it through a few more sets before Mackenzie took on the “hood ornament” spot for the final stretch and largest set of rapids.  On the second to last set, Brian calmly told us that if we didn’t get this rowing/steering right we would get pinned against the rock and dumped into the icy river.  GREAT!  Perhaps he just wanted to put the fear of God in us or maybe he was really serious about the danger of that particular rapid.  Regardless, our group pushed through the rapids successfully, let out loud cheers and hit our oars together over the raft!  WOO HOO! No sweat!  Our last rapid was one of the best, and also where our pictures were taken.  Needless to say, Mackenzie was under a wall of water and each of us had very distinct and determined looks on our faces that were properly captured in time by the professional photographer on the river’s East bank.  The last stretch of water before our course ended was calm and slow-moving.  Brian gave us permission to take a dip in that icy Rio Grande, which I decided was a good idea after a few minutes of contemplation.  And yes, it was cold, but I am glad I did it.  When will I have another chance to be surrounded by beautiful ladies and scenery along one of our nation’s most well recognized rivers?!  Our rafting ended with snacks and beers on the beach, and picking the guides’ brains for the best post-rafting lunch spot in SF.  The consensus was a restaurant called Tune Up, a quirky, quaint local hangout in SF that is well-known for its fresh and flavorful food.  What a perfect spot to satisfy our post-rafting hunger.  We noshed while recounting our rafting trip and planning our final night in our home away from home.

Saturday night was bittersweet for many reasons (as the last night of GT always is).  Many of us used our post-rafting time to relax, stroll down to peruse the beautiful American Indian art along the sidewalks of The Plaza, grab the best coffee and gelato from Ecoo on Marcy Street, or in Zoë’s case, find the last few ingredients for her birthday feast and begin preparing her take on Tyler Florence’s “Chicken Mole Poblano” recipe.  It is a running joke that when Zoë cooks, we end up eating on “European Time”…meaning somewhere between 10-11 PM.  This year was no exception, although she made every effort to have her dishes ready earlier.  Although we teased her about it, we really didn’t care.  Zoë’s cooking is well worth the wait, and we know better than to complain.  The final product is always woven with intricate flavors, paired with delightful aromas, and sprinkled with a whole lot of love.  Hopefully I don’t have to wait a whole year for another one of her divine dishes!  While we waited, the house was filled with music, jovial chatter and laughter.  The wine was pouring freely and we even had a pre-dinner session of Les Mill’s “Body Jam”, courtesy of Melanie.  She really knows how to distract hungry women and burn calories at the same time!  It was fun to watch the ladies reaction to Melanie’s “personality” as a “group fitness instructor” (they don’t call them aerobics instructors anymore…for fear of bringing back neon spandex thong leotards and leg warmers), and feed off of her energy.  She is one of the best that is for sure!  As the aerobic dancing died down, the time was right around 10:30, and we started placing bets on when the food would actually hit the table…10:47, 10:53, 11:03…At some point, we stopped looking at the clock, set the table outside near the fireplace, threw on our warm clothes and filled up our wine glasses.  Dinner was served and it was to die for.  We raised our glasses to our beautiful in-house chef who proceeded to bless us and the meal with a very sweet and fitting prayer.  As the flavors from the mole sauce, braised chicken, avocado salad, and beautifully matched wine hit our palates, the “oohs” and “mmmmms” filled the air.  Various toasts were given, most of which brought tears to our eyes, and one of which was highly anticipated and didn’t disappoint (Melissa!…cupeth runeth overeth!).  The meal was a perfect ending to a perfect trip.  There we were fireside with our best friends enjoying a special meal to celebrate not only Zoë’s birthday, but also the uniqueness or our friendships and the blessings that have been bestowed upon all of us.  We truly are the luckiest group of ladies.

Sunday morning came too soon.  While handfuls of ladies left at various times to get home to the loved ones who had been missing them, Melanie and I were able to spend some extra time at the house and in SF.  We took one last trip to Ecco, walked around the neighborhood and ended our day at Old Fort Marcy Park.  We walked up through the park to the summit, reading plaques about Santa Fe’s history along the way, and taking pictures of the town down below.  Although we didn’t want to leave, we trucked ourselves back to Albuquerque for a little more time with the Solimans and one last authentic NM meal at Blake’s Lotaburger.  Let me tell you, the Itsa burger with green chilies and cheese gives any burger at In-n-Out Burger a serious run for its money!  Pair that with some fries and a Dr. Pepper and we were thoroughly satisfied!  Kristin dropped us off at the airport and we headed back East.  All-in-all, I would say that this GT weekend is right up at the top of the list.  Every year they seem to get better.  Perhaps that is directly proportional to how much more we appreciate each other with each 365 days that passes.  As the 6th GT came to a close, I think it’s safe to say that we all were ready to start planning the 7th.  Until Jan 1st of 2011, let’s keep these memories close so we can be brought back to SF from time to time.  Love you girls…thanks for everything!

Memorable Quotes: “Can you have a natural C-section?”; “Sorry for giving you the shortened version”; “Intimate moment”; “’I’m going to start the appetizer at 5 o’clock so that we won’t be eating dinner at 10 o’clock”; “Oooooh Mojitos!”; “What is your name?” “Naiz.” “You mean like Maize”? “No Naiz…with a N.”; “You mean Naiz, like nasal?”; “I’m making shhhimple shhyrup!”;

May 24, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Friends, Travel. Leave a comment.

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