Even for a venue as iconic as Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, it was a very big night. On a September evening, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band celebrated fifty years together and paid tribute to the overwhelming success and cultural impact of their Will The Circle Be Unbroken projects. They did it right, gathering old friends, former bandmates, and the NGDB’s extended musical family.
Performers included the current band—original members Jeff Hanna, John McEuen, and Jimmie Fadden—along with Bob Carpenter who’s only been there a little more than 35 years. Two alumni were on hand, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jimmy “Ibby” Ibbotson and a surprise to all but the hardest-core NGDB fans, singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, who played with the earliest version of the band in high school and has never done a formal reunion. Guests from the Circle II and III projects included Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, and John Prine. Rodney Crowell, writer of several of their biggest country hits, was there, as was Jerry Jeff Walker who wrote “Mr. Bojangles,” the band’s breakthrough 1971 Top 10 pop hit. The band was augmented by three instrumental masters, all veterans of NGDB recording sessions—Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, and bassist Byron House.
No surprise, the concert was sold out for weeks. Luckily for those not in attendance, it all was taped for a PBS special, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band And Friends 50 Years…Circlin’ Back!, airing in March. The crowd reflected the various incarnations the Dirt Band has gone through in a half-century of music, from young fans of country radio hits like “Fishin’ In The Dark” to families of three generations, all of whom grew up with different phases of the resilient group. Read entire article »