Review: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Pack 50 Years of Hits Into Anniversary Show
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performed a sold-out show, "Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Celebrating 50 Years," at the Ryman Auditorium on Monday night (Sept. 14). Taped for a PBS special to be aired early next year, the iconic band invited former band members and special guests, including Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Jackson Browne, to the stage to help them celebrate their half-century as a group.
Introduced by Gill, who commended the way that the group has "kept alive a lot of traditions ... that people tend to forget over the years," Jeff Hanna, Sam Bush, John McEuen, Bob Carpenter and Jimmie Fadden took the stage and kicked off more than three hours of music, memories and nostalgia, in front of a multi-generational crowd that soaked up every note.
The night began with "You Ain't Going Nowhere" and "Face on the Cutting Room Floor." Hanna then invited their first guest, whom he called "one of the greatest songwriters in the world," to take the stage: John Prine, who performed "Grandpa Was a Carpenter" and "Daddy, Won't You Take Me Back to Muhlenberg County," both of which he wrote.
After performing "My Walkin' Shoes" and an instrumental tune featuring McEuen, whose flawless banjo solo inspired him to quip, "Thank you, Earl Scruggs, for giving me a life," Gill was invited to return to the stage by Hanna, who called Gill the band's "little brother."
"This is a neat night for a lot of reasons. All of these people have so many years of history," Gill said. "I was a freshman in high school. "Mr. Bojangles" had come out, and it was a huge hit. I played the banjo a little bit -- not very good, but I was learning to play. There was a rock band in our area in Oklahoma City that was the hottest rock band; they were the coolest things ever. I was kind of a dork, because I played the banjo. They were gonna do "Mr. Bojangles" in their show at the school ... and they asked me if I would play the banjo on "Mr. Bojangles" with them. It was one of the coolest things that ever happened to me, because I was accepted."
Gill performed "Tennessee Stud" and "Honky Tonkin'" before exiting the stage. After the Dirt Band played "Workin' Man" and "Buy for Me the Rain," Hanna introduced Browne as their next guest.
"When we met this guy, he played in our band in the very beginning of our band, back in the early part of 1966 until the middle of the summer," Hanna recalled. "He's an amazing guy, and I have to say, there's so many incredible songwriters on the stage with us tonight. This guy's one of my favorites. He has a true gift and is a true poet."
Browne performed two songs, including "These Days," before everyone left the stage, except for Hanna and Carpenter. The two sang "Bless the Broken Road," co-written by Hanna along with Marcus Hummon as what he described as "a love letter to our wives."
Krauss followed that performance with "Keep on the Sunny Side" and "Catfish John," and she stayed onstage to sing with Rodney Crowell on "Jamaica in the Moonlight." Crowell also sang "Long Hard Road." Noting that his father always had a dream of performing on the Ryman stage, although it "wasn't his destiny," Crowell lovingly dedicated the song to his father, "wherever he may travel tonight."
After the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band sang "Cosmic Cowboy," with the audience singing along to every word, Hanna introduced Jerry Jeff Walker, whose "Mr. Bojangles" earned him a thunderous standing ovation.
Former member Jimmy Ibbotson, who left the band for the second time in 2004, was onstage for the remainder of the show to perform some of the NGDB's biggest hits, including "Dance Little Jean," "Ripplin' Waters," "Fishing in the Dark" and "Jambalaya (on the Bayou)." Saying that he hadn't been on an airplane in more than a dozen years, he added, "There are very few things that would make me do it, but coming here to the Ryman and getting to stir the ghosts in the rafters ..."
Thankfully, the show wasn't quite over yet. The star-studded encore was the iconic "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," with Gill, Krauss, Browne and others joining in -- a fitting tribute to one of the most enduring bands in the history of music.
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