Cabarrus

Launching musicians from a Concord porch

When the Concord-based band the Avett Brothers took the stage Oct. 13 for their first performance at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Dolph Ramseur was right there with them.

He's been there from the beginning.

He's been there since he first saw Scott and Seth Avett perform in 2002 outside Wine Vault, a popular late-night hangout in the University area.

When they met, half of what the Avetts played were covers of other artists' songs. But it was the songs they'd written themselves that drew in Ramseur.

"I knew they had something special I couldn't put my finger on," he said.

Years later, Ramseur, the Avett Brothers' manager, is watching as the band sells out arenas and appears on late-night television shows.

Ramseur, 41, launched Ramseur Records in 2000. To date, the label has released nearly 40 albums.

"I don't look at it as work in a lot of ways," he said. "I'm having fun."

Ramseur described his label's collection of bands as alternative indie folk rock with "Americana flavor here and there."

He's just a fan of songwriters and good performers, he said.

"I look at my label as a mixed tape I make," he said. "I hope people like it."

Ramseur grew up in the Odell area of Concord. A tennis player, he graduated from Ferris State University in Michigan in 1991 with a degree in professional tennis management.

He taught tennis across the country and landed a job at the Cabarrus Country Club in the late 1990s. Later, he worked for his father-in-law at a venture capital business.

Music was always his passion, Ramseur admitted. He had never been a performer, but he had read about music and studied music since he was young.

After his father-in-law's death, he threw himself into the music business.

Running his business from his Concord home - where stacks of CDs fill his sunroom - he oversees the musical careers of several artists, booking shows and tour dates, planning albums and recordings, organizing publicity and using social media such as Facebook to promote his bands.

His most successful act so far, the Avett Brothers, began small, performing at festivals across the Southeast.

But the band had a knack for winning over crowds. It never failed, said Ramseur, and that's a rare thing.

"To see people right on the spot converted to fans...It was amazing," he said.

He doesn't do contracts, and he's a fan first

Considered one of the most successful independent labels in the business, Ramseur Records has expanded in the last decade.

Ramseur manages most of the bands on his label, which is somewhat unusual in the business. That's how he did it when he started because he didn't have any rules to play by, he said. Now he thinks it might have contributed to his success.

And he doesn't do contracts. He makes deals signed by a simple handshake. It's unusual, he admitted, but it works.

Ramseur has been working for nearly four years with the critically acclaimed Carolina Chocolate Drops, a three-piece, old-time string band from Durham.

Some of his up-and-coming artists include Frontier Ruckus, Paleface and Samantha Crain.

Crain, a folk rock artist from Oklahoma, has received coverage in Spin magazine, Rolling Stone and the New York Times.

Crain has been working with Ramseur for almost three years. She said he's the type of manager more interested in music than money.

"Above anything, he's really just a fan of music," she said. "I don't know anybody else in the music business right now that is truly just trying to put good music into the system."

Letting go

Ramseur Records' first big album came in 2003 with the Avett Brothers' "A Carolina Jubilee," their album released on Ramseur's label.

The Avett Brothers' 2007 album, "Emotionalism," was Ramseur Records' first to make the Billboard 200 chart, reaching 134th.

But in 2008, the band left Ramseur's label, signing instead with music mogul Rick Rubin's American Recordings.

The Avett Brothers' 2009 "I and Love and You," their first album produced by Rubin, reached No. 16 on the Billboard 200.

Letting the Avetts go was the smart thing to do, said Ramseur, who remained as the band's manager.

"You have to know your limitations," he said. "We could have kept putting out albums, but this would have give the band the best chance at success. Why hinder that?"

The Avett Brothers released a new album, "Live, Volume 3," on Oct. 5, and they've had some major performances recently, including their show at Radio City Music Hall and a September appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!."

They're also planning material for their next record, said Ramseur.

As for the future of the Avett Brothers, Ramseur said it's up to them.

"I'm willing to trust their artistic direction," he said.

Ramseur said he hopes he can help leave behind a musical legacy. He pointed to the work of the Avett Brothers, saying he believes they're the greatest songwriters to ever come from North Carolina.

"What they're leaving behind could be in any museum in the world," he said. "It's art."

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