Nitty Gritty Dirt Band musicians are returning to perform their classic folk-rock tunes for their ever-fervent Red Deer fans.
How fanatically loyal are local ‘Dirt Heads’? Zealous enough to have long-ago snapped up every ticket to the group’s Oct. 10 sold-out show at the Memorial Centre.
Local fans were always so extraordinarily exuberant that the legendary American band decided to record the album, Live Two Five from three concerts recorded at the Red Deer College Arts Centre in 1991.
The group’s singer/guitarist Jeff Hanna said he just listened to that live 25th-anniversary album, produced by T. Bone Burnett, and could still hear that one Red Deer guy “who wouldn’t stop whistling…
“That’s what we wanted! We wanted to make sure that energy level was cranked right up in the crowd,” he recalled, with a chuckle.
“We’d been playing all over Western Canada, and we just loved Alberta. We thought, if we’re going to do a live album, then let’s go to Canada to do it. In fact, let’s go to Alberta!”
Twenty-five more years have passed since that time-honoured live recording was made, and the group is now on the last leg of its 50th anniversary tour. The musicians have become like a couple that’s been married so long they think alike and are in perfect step with each other.
In fact, Hanna noted that the roots-country-rock group has outlasted many a first marriage. “I hate to say it, but I don’t think any of us are married to their first wife anymore,” he admitted. Yet, the core Nitty Gritty musicians — Hanna, drummer Jimmie Fadden, banjo/fiddler John McEuen (who’s back after a prolonged break), and pianist Bob Carpenter (who’s been with the band since 1983) — are still making sweet music together.
Joining them for this half-century tour is guitarist/bassist Jim Photoglo, who co-authored one of the band’s biggest hits, Fishin’ In the Dark. (“Better put that in there, for Red Deer fans,” said Hanna, who believes the chart-topping, platinum-selling song is a local favourite).
Other Nitty Gritty hits include Mr. Bojangles, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, House at Pooh Corner, I Saw the Light, and Fire in the Sky.
So what’s the secret to the band’s long-lasting musical success?
Hanna admitted that hard work and talent can only go so far. “I think it’s about giving each other enough space,” he said — and being able to laugh thought the tense moments resulting from too much travel and too little sleep. “Collectively we have a good sense of humour.”
Most importantly, Hanna feels a deep appreciation for what wonderful musicians he plays with nightly. “These guys are really, really good … They are great singers and musicians, and I think we are all really lucky.”
When the group was started in Southern California in 1966, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was pioneering a hybrid brand of folk/country mixed with rock, that still resonates from radio today, from groups such as The Lumineers.
“I’m a big fan of The Lumineers,” said Hanna. Perhaps it’s not entirely coincidental the younger group hails from Colorado, where the Nitty Gritty musicians had made a home in the early 1970s, before the musicians spread out all over the country, from Los Angeles to Sarasota, Florida.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was recently inducted into Colorado’s Music Hall of Fame.
Hanna, who based in Nashville, is humbled whenever he hears a young musician call the band an influence. He’s also grateful when he sees the children of original fans now bringing their kids to the shows.
With an anniversary CD out, and a contributed track on a tribute album to John Fogarty, the Nitty Gritty musicians are going strong. And Hanna confirms there are no plans to retire, ”as long as everyone is still into it, and is healthy…
“We realize how very lucky we are to be able to do this. It’s a pretty sweet gig” — especially playing for fans in Red Deer, he said.
“Red Deer is fantastic! We’re always excited to be back — especially this time, under the banner of our 50th-anniversary tour. It makes it all that much more special.”