The Show that Made The Avett Brothers

Paul Siler, Paleface, Steve Popsin, John Dexter and other music folks remember a magical night at Kings Barcade, 20 years later.
By Matthew Busch

Photograph by Eric Lippe

Twenty years ago, Raleigh’s downtown landscape was different: quieter and generally less monstrous in size. The music scene felt similarly intimate; venues made the most of the space provided. The original Kings Barcade was where Red Hat Amphitheater is now. 

We take it for granted that all bands at one point likely played at a smaller scene in their career. And that’s just what The Avett Brothers — who are now selling out multiple nights at big-time venues like Red Rocks  — did on July 16, 2004 at the original Kings, playing for a modest-sized crowd just as they were fighting for recognition. 

Imagine a wild energy bottled up in this small room, the Avetts leaning over the crowd screaming, stomping and flailing. The band’s performing inches from your face, you’re wiping away the beads of Scott’s sweat, you stand motionless unable to identify, define or compare this sound to anything you’ve heard before. The night rolls on, the wave of popularity for The Avett Brothers flows over America and then the world. In the trail behind this star, this concert was like  a flash of light, then gone, swept away in the energy that flowed. 

The building was demolished to make way for Red Hat Amphitheater, and the original recording of that concert disappeared. I wondered if this concert that was etched in my brain was as significant to others as it was to me. 

So I interviewed anyone I could find who was there that night: musicians who played on stage, the sole photographer who happened to be traveling with the band. I spoke with the former owners of Kings, archivists, sound guys, managers and fans. Here’s what a few of these folks remember.

Scott Avett: If We Could Make it Here

I found the poster for the July show on eBay. It’s an early illustration by Scott Avett with hand-drawn lettering, reading, “The Avett Brothers Live at Kings with guest Just about to Burn.” 

Says Scott: “I remember making that poster. I don’t remember how I made it, but I remember doing the drawing which I have stashed away somewhere. Please understand that in my mind, Raleigh was like New York or Los Angeles.  Because of the respect and admiration I had for the place and the creativity that had come from the area, I believed that if we could make a mark there then the rest would take care of itself. I guess it was true. I saw life-changing shows at the brewery and got heckled at Sadlacks harder than anywhere we have ever played.  Kings has the spirit of Raleigh and I think that it is amazing that it is still going strong. The folks in Raleigh are lucky to have it!”

A view from the stage of a crowd at an Avett Brothers show in 2004
Photograph by Seth Edwards

Steve Popsin & John Dexter: The Stage was Set

On Friday, July 17th, 2004, the Out-and-About section of The News and Observer listed musical entertainment for the night: Col. Bruce Hampton would perform at the Lincoln Theatre and the Avett Brothers would perform at Kings Barcade, 424 S. McDowell Street. 

The Avetts were not new to performing in Raleigh, having played three shows earlier at the Pour House (one of those shows was a CD release party for Carolina Jubilee). However, on this night in July of 2004, they were finishing the last leg of a tour. To the musicians who have traveled with the Avetts on this tour, and friends alike, the experience going into this show felt more like a “coming home.” 

At just 18 inches in height, the stage at the original Kings was more than unique – it was transformative. “A friend of mine and I built the stage, but YES, we purposely built it low in height for ‘intimacy factors,’” says co-owner Steven Popsin. Audience members to this day can vividly share with you their experience of this show — if you can find them. John Dexter, a devoted fan in the early years, was celebrating his 25th birthday that night at the show and had this to say: “The show was raw, and like all performances from them, just felt like they were exhausting themselves on our behalf.”

The opening band including Breadfoot and Paleface | Photograph by Seth Edwards

Breadfoot: The Sound was Special

A member of the opening band, Just About to Burn, Breadfoot, recognized the room’s energy and grabbed the minidisc recorder he carried on this tour. “Now, I remember that I went back behind the sound desk, and there was a giant U.S. flag. And what I decided to do was to put my mic behind the flag. And what it helped do was kind of buffer the sound as it hit in the back,” says Breadfoot. As a result, it is a slightly muffled recording, but that is certainly better than a recording ruined from the distortion of a microphone being overdriven from sound ricocheting against a four-wall cinderblock building. The recordings are great, but so are the subtle comments caught on stage during stage banter. 

Several tracks from this July show ended up on “Live Vol. 2”. If you listen carefully to the end of track 17, Please Pardon Yourself, you can hear the clinking of glass bottles and pick up on the sincerity in Seth Avett’s tone as he announces to the crowd “that this is without question the best night the band has ever had in Raleigh.”

Photograph by Seth Edwards

Paul Siler: The Energy Was Special

Paul Siler was (and is) the co-owner of Kings and interacted with everyone — the audience, the bands and the managers. And as he recalls, the energy was there:

“In general, I was just kinda shocked at the response from this approach: traditional music played with a punk rock mindset and energy. It made sense though; this was ripe to happen. There were maybe 75-80 people and a lot of them had driven from Greenville. I remember people saying we had high-dollar beers: Man, it’s nice to be in here in Raleigh but ya’ll hi dollar! Which was true, we had $1.50 PBR’s and $1.75 Budweiser, compared to Greenville college town keg beer prices.  

“They played again in November, and that second show was probably 200 people and you could tell it was about to get big. People knew a lot of the songs, they were singing along and they were SO PUMPED. That sort of thing just didn’t happen much. So you could feel the excitement around them and you knew they were going to work hard and tour like crazy. The funny thing about that night is that after the show Dolph [Dolphus Ramsuer, Avett’s manager] talked to me in the office and was very worried that they weren’t getting big enough, fast enough! I was like, I don’t know man?! As far as I can tell you’re on the exact right track! From 80 people to 200 in 6 months and everyone is talking about the band”  Sure enough, that was almost when they outgrew Kings, though they did play there again in 2011 for a benefit.”

Photograph by Seth Edwards

Paleface: The Night that Made the Avetts

Another musician in the opening band, Just About to Burn, was Paleface. Paleface, or “PF” as he casually goes by in conversation, spoke with me over the phone. Right out of the gate, he says something that stuns me: “I think that night, in particular, was the night the Avetts became The Avett Brothers.” I ask him to elaborate: 

“So we had done a few shows, and they had played one show as a band called Oh What A Nightmare, with a different lineup. But there was something about that King’s show, there was excitement in the air. I remember being in this little backroom/storage room, which doubled as a dressing room; it had a mop and bucket in the corner and no ceiling. But I could hear the Avetts set over this wall, and there was something that clicked in the middle of their set, and it wasn’t so much what they were playing, but the crowd’s reaction to the band.” 

At this point in PF’s career, he was a seasoned musician and intuitively had heard crowd reactions backstage for over a decade before this night. “It’s like Bob Dylan had that idea of ‘becoming,’ and if you’re an artist, you want to be in that state of ‘becoming’, and I think that’s what really happened that night at Kings — they became the Avett Brothers that night on stage, and they all felt it, and anyone who was there, that was paying attention felt it, and I certainly felt it. As they walked off stage, I congratulated everyone, and Scott just looked at me and just gave me this bear hug, and just threw his arms around me and said, hell yeah man that was f…ing awesome.’

These days, Raleigh’s big enough to pull major-label tours through multiple venues in town, but we’ve still got a strong ecosystem of smaller, locally owned venues. So when you casually walk by that parking lot over by the Red Hat Amphitheater and spot that colorful mural touting “Raleigh Welcomes All,” know that 20 years ago on a warm summer night, history was made at that spot — and there are plenty of spots like Kings, Pour House and Lincoln Theater where you just might be able to see it happen again.

This article was originally published on on July 8, 2024.