When singer-songwriter Jim Avett goes on a concert tour, there’s no entourage and no lavish, customized bus.
“I’ve just got a car,” he said flatly, speaking by phone from his family farm in Concord, North Carolina. “I travel fairly light. I put two guitars and my clothes in there. I don’t carry sound equipment. If the place I’m playing doesn’t have it, I’ll do without. It’s simpler that way.”
It’s not necessarily what you’d expect from the father of the Grammy-winning Avett Brothers, but that’s the way it is. Since 2000, brothers Seth and Scott and their bandmates have become one of America’s top folk rock groups, sometimes teaming up with their sister, Bonnie.
But when the elder Avett comes to play a solo show Sept. 21, at Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre, you’ll see him onstage alone with a guitar — playing, singing and telling stories.
“My son Seth and I were talking. I said I learned guitar so I could sing songs, and he said, ‘Dad, you learned guitar so you could tell stories,’” Avett said. “I did a little local gig and they told me to play for 25 to 30 minutes for 158 travel writers, and Seth said, ‘Let’s see, that’s two songs and one story.’”
It’s true, the elder Avett loves to tell a tale. An interview with him quickly progresses from straight questions and answers to a series of yarns about what he’s done, where he’s been and even what he’s read.
He likes a good murder mystery, but he has a keen interest American history, from the Gold Rush to construction of the transcontinental railway to the advent of the explosive nitroglycerin.
“I love to read, I never read a book on my own until after I graduated from high school. Now, I’ve got 3,000 books,” he said. “We don’t have cable TV.”
At 70, Avett has plenty of history of his own. He grew up in North Carolina, surrounded by music.
“My father was a preacher,” Avett said. “My mother was a concert pianist, but when they got married, she became the church organist.”
After high school and a brief stint at college, he served in the Navy, and then pursued a 35-year career as a welder that led him to Alaska and Wyoming and finally to bridge-building projects in the south.
Throughout it all, he also played guitar, sang and wrote songs. He had been in bands, and even recorded a little in the ’70s, but in recent years, his musical career has taken on a new life.
In 2008, he recorded “Jim Avett and Family,” a gospel music collection with appearances by Seth, Scott and Bonnie Avett. In 2010, he released “Tribes,” an album of his original songs, including “Naomi” and “Fight with a Bottle of Booze.”
“I write to educate. The reason to write songs is to affect people’s lives,” Avett said. “It’s not to get onstage and show off. It never has been for me.”
Still, his new, more public career took on a new dimension with the release earlier this year of the new documentary film, “May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers,” which naturally features Jim Avett in an important supporting role.