Every Tuesday morning for 37 years, a woman named Ethel Lace went fishing in a small lake two miles from where she lived. One Tuesday, she got sloppy knocking back whiskey on her way there and was run over by a freight train. Death didn't stop Ethel from fishing, though. She still goes, every Tuesday morning, in a different form. She's not a ghost who's out to haunt—she's a ghost who likes to fish. People at the lake feel her as she chills their skin, and they hear her casting her line.
Ghosts like Ethel are all around us, barely out of reach—sitting in empty chairs, standing by beds, walking through halls and streets. They could be there guarding loved ones, or they could be previous occupants of the place, souls with unfinished business like catching fish. If we're open to them, they can be felt. They're not ghosts who haunt—they're just a presence not of this earth.
The songs of North Carolina band the Avett Brothers are open to this presence. In their quieter, reflective, harmonized, and lyrical moments, brothers Seth and Scott Avett emit a pureness that makes your hair stand on end. These are songs for departed souls who are still here. It's not sad music, it's just folk and bluegrass with voices that aren't of this earth. These acoustic sounds resonate with complete transparency. The Avetts play and scream with louder rock and roll, but that doesn't rub through to the afterlife. It's songs like "Murder in the City," "Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise," and "I and Love and You" that are sung for the Ethels of the otherworld. Scott Avett sings, "When I leave your arms/The things that I think of/No need to get over-alarmed/I'm coming home." Got the chills?
Seth Avett spoke from his North Carolina home. He may or may not have been fishing.
Do the Avett Brothers believe in ghosts?
I think there are spirits, yes. I try not to mess with them much.
Are there many haunted places in Concord, North Carolina, where you live?
That's up for interpretation.
You and Scott grew up on a farm in Concord, near Charlotte?
Well, it wasn't so much a traditional farm like you'd think. We weren't harvesting crops to live on and sell. Our dad was a welder and ran a welding business. We did grow things, and had some animals and some land, but it wasn't all we did.
Did you ever help deliver any baby cows or horses?
[Laughs] Yes. There was one time I helped deliver a horse.
With afterbirth and stuff?
I guess that's part of the territory.
And you guys are NASCAR fans, right?
I like it and respect it, but I'm not a fanatic like some people. We grew up close to where the Charlotte Motor Speedway is. NASCAR is a huge part of life around here. It's a big business. People love it. It's a great sport. Great competition. Incredible to watch.
You ever been in one of those things? How fast do they go?
I haven't had the chance to get in one yet. I think they go around 200 miles per hour.
Talk about the show y'all are going to play that's getting simulcast at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
We're playing at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, and they're going to simulcast the show on the big Jumbotron screen inside the speedway. They say the screen is the world's largest HDTV. They're going to have concert-grade speakers, and people are going to be able to watch from the infield of the raceway. We're really honored. Growing up, like I said, the Charlotte Motor Speedway was such a big deal to us and the area. It's exciting. That's where we're from.
Will there be a race going on during the concert? That would make it exciting. People could watch you guys and be dodging cars going 200 miles per hour. Fun for the whole family.
I don't think they've thought about having an actual race go on. You're right, that would make it interesting. We like for people to be able to watch and hear us and not have to dodge cars traveling at high speeds. Or low speeds.
What if only kids under 10 years old could drive? Come on, let's do this.
Interesting twist. I still don't think it would work. Don't mean to come down on your idea.
In your song "I and Love and You," you say that "I and love and you" are three words that became hard to say. Why was that? Why are they three words that were hard to say?
Over time, some things can beat you down if you let them. Those words become harder to say the further away you get from yourself. But if you can remember what they mean, there's strength there. They're how we end our phone calls and our letters. At the bottom of a page, they carry a weight. Sometimes they're hard to remember, but we have to know they're there.