In 1966, the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, the Merry Pranksters held their first Acid Test, Lyndon B. Johnson was president, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band formed in southern California. Forty-four years later, the Dirt Band plays on. And it’s not a “featuring original member so-and-so” type of band either; theirs is the rare story of a group of musicians so perfect for one another that the sonic glue has held solid.
Guitarist/singer Jeff Hanna and guitarist-turned-drummer Jimmie Fadden remain from the original lineup. Banjo player John McEuen joined three months after the band formed, but his rookie status is relieved by keyboardist Bob Carpenter, who, having joined in 1977, will always be the new guy.
Nitty Gritty solidified their reputation in 1972, releasing the iconic Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which features folk/bluegrass greats Mother Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Roy Acuff, and Earl Scruggs. Their evolving sound steered the progression of modern country music, with late ’80s radio hits like “Fishin’ in the Dark” and “Baby’s Got a Hold on Me” ushering in the era of polished country songs with bluegrass instrumentation.
Beyond just continuing the tour behind decades-old hits, what’s most remarkable is that the Dirt Band continues to produce. 2009’s Speed of Life features 11 original tracks, none of which show the band’s age. Recorded live in studio, the band sounds both authentic and fresh.
They’ll likely play the classics at the Boone Hall BBQ and Bluegrass Festival on Sunday, but it’s no watered-down reunion tour. The Dillards (a.k.a. The Darlings), Blue Plantation, and Homeboy Reunion fill the bill.