JACKSON HOLE, WYO – When fathoming the notion that Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (NGDB) has been performing for fifty-three years, you can imagine there would be some remarkable stories and tribulations. Chatting with founding member Jeff Honna, one gets the impression that while this may be a veteran act, NGDB is not a so-called “nostalgia act” going through the motions. Revived energy with youthful players alongside longtime members and an undercurrent of happiness has found the legendary band in a new era. They’ll perform August 25 at the Center Theater.
NGDB played a pioneering role in the transformation from folk-rock to country-rock in the mid-60s. The original lineup, which gigged around Southern California and included Jackson Browne, influenced scores of bands from The Eagles to Alabama. These days, the ensemble features original members Jeff Hanna (guitar, vocals) and Jimmie Fadden Sarasota (drums, harmonica), longtime member Bob Carpenter 1980 (keys) and collaborator Jim Photoglo (bass, acoustic guitar), as well as younger talent Ross Holmes (fiddle, mandolin) and Jeff’s son, Jaime Hanna (electric and acoustic guitar). Holmes had previously toured with Mumford & Sons and Bruce Hornsby, while Jaime had been with The Mavericks and Gary Allan. Longtime member John McEuen unexpectedly left the band in 2018.
“The old stuff has all gotten a fresh coat of paint,” Jeff Honna said from his Nashville home. “We’re just really happy and having the young guys, Jaime and Ross, has really injected much needed energy into the band. Having the fresh vitality is infectious.”
NGDB’s landmark album, 1972’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken, featured then-uncommon melding of genres with country, folk and bluegrass legends—Roy Acuff, Doc Watson, Jimmy Martin, Merle Travis, Maybelle Carter, Earl Scruggs, Vassar Clements and Norman Blake. The 2016 concert film “Circling Back—Celebrating 50 Years” won an Emmy Award—another trophy for the case as the band has earned Grammy Awards, Country Music Association Awards, and International Bluegrass Music Awards alongside several multiplatinum and gold records. When an act has so much quality material, is there any need to change what’s been working for decades?
“We absolutely have a desire to get back into the studio,” Honna added. “As a veteran act folks show up to hear their favorites, so we can’t get out of the building without playing a handful of songs, but Jaime and Ross are constantly bring up stuff from our catalog and asking ‘why aren’t you playing this song? Let’s work that up.’ It’s literally great to have guys playing with us that are fans of the band. You get a little jaded with your own stuff, and so that’s really great [to have a new perspective].”
NGDB is known for hit songs “Mr. Bojangles,” “Fishin’ in the Dark” (written by Photoglo) and “Baby’s Got a Hold on Me,” among others. The band’s last studio album was Speed of Life in 2009.
Opening the show is Wisconsin-based folk duo, Coyote Brother, which just released it’s first song ever to streaming services last month.
“The whole live experience is a give and take with the audience,” Honna said. “It’s an exchange of energy. We’re fortunate that we have fans that are ready to listen to a ten-minute instrumental, then a three-minute song.”
The Center presents Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with special guests Coyote Brother, 8 p.m. on Sunday August 25 at the Center Theater. $68-$78. JHCenterForTheArts.org.