The official bill was THE AVETT BROTHERS headlining, with Ménage and The Truckstop Preachers in opening slots. No advertisements for The Avetts’ New Year’s Eve show at The Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte Saturday mentioned anything about a fourth act that would be performing simultaneously, smiling alongside one of North Carolina’s best bands. Then again, an Avetts date implies crowd participation, moments when the adoring audience is so adamant about singing along that the vocals of brothers Scott and Seth Avett and brother-from-another-mother Bob Crawford sound more like background music than the main event. Saturday, the crowd was overwhelming, barreling out “Salvation Song”–“We came for salvation/ We came for family. We came for all that’s good/ That’s how we’ll walk away”–like a big tent revival stocked with methamphetamines.

That fits. The Avetts preach from pulpits hot with fire and wet with sweat, combining bluegrass and rock ‘n’ roll and a dash of soul in an unlikely manner that, somehow, sounds exactly natural. For the Avetts, 2006 is for the taking. Their third studio album, Four Thieves Gone: The Robbinsville Sessions, will be released Feb. 7 on Ramseur Records, with distribution by Sony. At last, the trio has captured the dynamic of their live show–sing ‘n’ stomp moments subdivided by ballads built on piers of solemn nostalgia or chuckling mirth–and made a cohesive album from it all. When they play the Cat’s Cradle on March 3, the pride of Concord could be well on its way to real national notoriety, especially following a six-week tour with BR549 that starts on Jan. 11. And if the winter tour doesn’t do it, folks will certainly be paying attention to The Avetts at Merlefest, especially after most journalists agreed that they were the best new act at last year’s Wilkesboro festival. Get ready.

MERLEFEST is something of an Avetts analogy this year: If you’re not into the band’s bluegrass genre jolt, several more acts should draw your attention. From NICKEL CREEK, TONY RICE UNIT and JOHN COWAN to GILLIAN WELCH, EMMYLOU HARRIS and BELA FLECK, this year’s Merlefest line-up looks much like an all-star ballot for the festival’s 18-year history. Likewise, the Triangle offers plenty more this season, both in terms of touring acts coming through and local bands with plans for new albums. A quick glance at the Cat’s Cradle line-up is bewildering, as the Triangle favorite once again packs in some of music’s most interesting acts into a few months’ time: SUSAN TEDESCHI, FEIST and JASON COLLETT, NADA SURF and ROGUE WAVE, THE PIETASTERS, MATISYAHU, P.O.S. , BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB, OF MONTREAL, MATT POND PA and THE YOUTH GROUP, STEREOLAB, EISLEY and plenty more.

The six-day stretch of March 8-14 looks to be the club’s busiest, with Glasgow post-rock giants MOGWAI returning on the heels of their fifth album, the forthcoming and appropriately titled Mr. Beast. METRIC–a fiercely independent branch of Canada’s Arts & Crafts collective that plays blistering guitar rock honeyed by the deceptively sweet vocals of Emily Haines–returns four days later, followed by THE SILVER JEWS on March 14. That’s not a misprint: Indeed, David Berman–a guy responsible for some of the last decade’s best Drag City releases of literate, scathingly intense folk-rock (taking liberties with that term, all right)–is bringing his band on tour for the first time. Does that answer your prayers?

No? Praying instead for a Guided By Voices reunion? Well, don’t panic, but ROBERT POLLARD (backed by Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster) returns to the Cradle on Jan. 27, just a year after his legendary band played its last Cradle show. That should allow enough hangover recuperation time to make THE HOLD STEADY’s set at Local 506 on Feb. 2. The Brooklyn rock band is exactly that: A rock band full of twisting riffs and heavy drum hits, fronted by one of the world’s most engaging songwriters and frontmen, Craig Finn. Finn injects his songs with repeating characters and misfits, honest-to-life lines like “The hard drugs are for the bartenders and the kitchen workers and the bartender’s friends. And they’re playing it again.” Some drinking implied. Other 506 highlights include PEARLS & BRASS, THE SUBWAYS, CRITERIA and the fantastically heavy metal bill of EARLY MAN, PRIESTESS and THE SWORD.

One of Raleigh’s best bills comes this year through the power of metal: Stockholm’s OPETH visits the Lincoln Theatre on Feb. 15. Expect death metal built ground-up with an untiring prog influence. Local hip-hop crew INFLOWENTIAL has worked its way to the Lincoln’s big stage, too, and they’ll play the club with Justus League co-founder CESAR COMANCHE and JL emcee MEDIAN on Feb. 9. Kings has former Meat Puppet CURT KIRKWOOD on Jan. 25, followed by mighty SHARON JONES & THE DAP KINGS on Feb. 2. WKNC’s DOUBLE BARREL BENEFIT returns to Kings with DEYARMOND EDISON, WE VS. THE SHARK, THE CAPULETS, A ROOSTER FOR THE MASSES and more on Feb. 3 and 4. Also, make sure to keep an eye on the schedules at SLIM’S, BICKETT GALLERY and TIR NA NOG, all Raleigh clubs on upward booking climbs. Stay tuned for a club resurrection at MARTIN STREET. And the show of the summer may very well happen at Talley Student Center at N.C. State with THE BOOKS, one of the most inventive acts of the past decade.


Whew. Time for a nap.