Nashville’s Nitty Gritty Dirt Band have been a country music institution for the past 50 years with the same core members — a noteworthy achievement by anybody’s measure.
The band, including Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden, Bob Carpenter and John McEuen, return to Lethbridge to play the Enmax Centre Oct. 7.
They never expected to be still playing together 50 years later.
“No, to be honest, I think when a bunch of guys, especially when we were teenagers when we got started, I don’t think we expected it. Being together for 10 years would have been quite a goal for us, but 50 is pretty incredible, so we’re sort of shocked and surprised and grateful to have been able to do this for so long,” chuckled Nitty Gritty Dirt band singer/multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hanna.
Hanna credited their core of dedicated fans for the band’s longevity.
“Yeah. Certainly we’ve been fortunate to have really loyal fans and along the way pick up new fans. One of the things that seems to happen with our band is sort of in the tradition of the Grateful Dead. We’ll get generations. We have the first generation of fans turn on their kids to our music. And they play our music to their kids so we’ll have three generations lot of time when we’re playing shows. So that really helps. A Dirt Band show can feel like some kind of an an event for our fans, and we‘re grateful for that,” he said.
“We’ve made records all throughout our careers. We’ve been lucky. That’s been a big part of what we do, and again, some of it has been blind luck. There’s a lot of the bands who started when we did aren’t together anymore. So it’s not lost on us how lucky we are to be able to do this. And we‘ve all been healthy and we get along well. There’s no one thing, it takes talent it takes hard work but there‘s also that kind intangible as it were that makes it all click. But 50 years, that’s crazy,” he continued.
“When were playing live there’s kind of a shorthand, we can sort of make eye contact with each other and let’s stretch this tune out a little bit or do something different here. There’s a certain rhythm to what we do that having played this long it’s second nature to us. And that’s great. You can’t get that when stepping on stage with someone new each night,” he said.
“That’s certainly part of it. I think it’s important to recognize our strengths and each other’s strengths, and be reminded of that because you can take it for granted sometimes when you’ve been playing together with the same guys for decades. But that’s one of the great things about playing live, is having folks go, ‘man, Bob Carpenter is sure a great singer or, god, John can play anything with a string on it. It’s good to hear that. It’s good to be reminded of that. That’s part of the beauty, I think, of playing with your friends”
They have released a few different projects to mark their 50-year career, including a new anthology out at the end of September
“We’ve got a couple of things. A new package coming out at the end of September that is 39 tracks. (Anthology 2) There are some hits on there but also more like some deeper tracks, music from ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken,’ and three volumes of that. Some album cuts our fans seem to really love and some stuff we love too. It’s sort of an anthology package,” he said.
They have also released a greatest hits package called “Fishin’ in the Dark,” which includes their many best-known hits, like “Fishin’ In the Dark,” “Cadillac Ranch” and “Face On the Cutting Room Floor” and of course “Mr. Bojangles” and a lot of the country hits like “Long Hard Road” and “High Horse.”
“Then there’s a live album we recorded at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville that came out about a year ago called ‘Circling Back’ that features a bunch of our friends. I think they’re playing it on CMT Canada. It’s a 50th-anniversary concert featuring a bunch of guest artists, great guest artists, friends of ours like like Jackson Brown, who was part of the band in their early days as well as Alison Krause and Vince Gill, to name a few. An that’s a DVD as well,” he said.
Jackson Brown played with the band in their early days before embarking on a successful solo career including numerous hits like “Running on Empty,” “Lawyers in Love,” and “She’s Got to Be Somebody’s Baby.”
“The circling back concert is the first time we actually recorded with Jackson Brown. We had done some playing with him informally, but he left the band before we started making records. He was in the band for the first three or for months or so back in ’66. We did 10 or 15 shows together, he left to pursue a songwriting career and that’s when John McEuen joined the band and not long after John joined we got our first record deal,” he related.
“The core of the band, me and Jimmy McFadden and John, have been playing since 1966 and then Bob Carpenter, who is the new kid, has been around for 37 years. So he’s got tenure,” he laughed.
They have a lot of fun planned for Lethbridge.
“Wel,l if I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise, right? No, I’m kidding. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. You’ll hear ‘Fishin’ in the Dark’ and ‘Cadillac Ranch’ and ‘Mr. Bojangles.’ But we try to touch on pretty much every era in the band’s history going all the way back to our first single called for ‘Buy Me For The Rain,’ that came out in 1967. We just started recently doing that one again and people really seem to love it. So we’re happy to do that, We just try to shake it up and keep in interesting for ourselves for the audience I know, as a fan, when I go to hear somebody play, I’m hoping that they’re gonna play X,Y and Z as far as the hits go, but I’m also hoping they might get to one of those album cuts that I really loved. So it’s challenging when you’ve made 40 albums. But we do our best,” he said.
“But our main goal is for folks to have a good time. And that’s one of the thing that I think our band is really good at.”
They love playing Canada
“We always are. We’ve played Canada a lot. We went through a period where it seemed like we went up to Canada twice a year every year. And did a lot of touring. But it got to the point where we felt we might be just wearing it out a little bit. Let’s give it a break. So this year especially because we’re at the tail end of this 50th-anniversary celebration, we really wanted to put together and extensive tour for Canada. So we’re super excited to be coming up there in October. Canadians fans have always been really great and really loyal and enthusiastic and just incredible,” he said.
“We’re really stoked to be hitting the road and playing in your neck of the woods next month. It’s always been a great time for us playing up there, The Dirt Band always got big smiles on our faces when we play up there,” he said.
The Nitty Gritty Dirt band play the Enmax Centre, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $65 and $75.