Despite low fundraising totals, autism benefit a big success

by Ryan Snyder

Jim Avett takes to the stage of the Flat Iron in Greensboro for the Progressive PIeces autism benefit. (photo by Ryan Snyder).

Let’s not beat around the bush.

There was one man that a Saturday night packed house at the Flatiron came to see among several during the second day of the weekend-long Progressive Pieces, a benefit for the Autism Society of North Carolina. Amidst the faintly uncharismatic, if rollicky showing by the retooled Radials and a particularly spirited performance by Amelia’s Mechanics, a band gaining quite a bit of steam locally, Jim Avett was easily the biggest draw of the evening, but in a real quiet sort of way.

Avett took the stage with his one-man accompaniment to huge applause, but his introduction as Jim “Avrette” was completely mystifying. Still, he shrugged it off like a true Southern gentleman with a quick joke as attendance for Saturday night peaked during his forty-five minute set, the second of the evening.

“The good thing about my sons being so famous is that no one gets my name wrong anymore,” Avett retorted with a wink.

Much less is known musically about the Avett Family patriarch than his critically acclaimed sons, but it’s easy to see where their primary influence lies. While sons Scott and Seth owe a great deal to the musical influences of their father, the elder Avett pays homage to his peers with every song. Occasionally they were in the form of covers, such as Flatt & Scruggs’ “I’m Gonna Ride That Steamboat” and Tom T. Hall’s “That’s How I Got to Memphis.” He’s a storyteller and balladeer with a guitar and minimal need for accompaniment in the vein of John Prine, Bobby Bare and Waylon Jennings. His voice his weathered and gravelly like that of Ralph Stanley, lending even more substance to his harrowing murder ballads set to uncomplicated, yet comforting melodies like set-closer “Naomi.”

The old-school country crooner scoffed at sound problems through the opening of his set, as his accompaniment’s guitar drowned his vocals for a time. Despite rumors that he’d be joined by guests during the evening, nothing ever materialized and it was an even greater surprise not to see him join Amelia’s Mechanics for their performance, given his long working relationship with Molly McGinn.

The trio still genuinely seemed to be the most excited to be there of all the evening’s performers and wore their elation on their faces the entire night. Their set consisted almost entirely of material from their much-anticipated album North, South, set to be officially released at the Blind Tiger in February.

Based on the turnout for the Saturday night installment alone, Progressive Pieces could have been considered a rousing success. If one were to judge it solely on the dollar amount it raised over the course of its three days, one might think it was decidedly less so. Had the admission charge been more than the paltry sum of $3, the total donation sum might have been more respectable, but the event seemed to be just as much about creating awareness as it did generating cash flow. Putting so many bodies through the door on Saturday seemed to accomplish just that. It’s unclear how much of the roughly $1,800 the event raised will see its way back to the local Greensboro chapter after the main office takes its share, but the consciousness that the weekend raised for a grossly misunderstood condition can’t be quantified on any balance sheet.