A Night with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 50th Anniversary Tour brings the iconic band loved by generations to Maryville. Courtesy of The Clayton Center for the Arts.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 50th Anniversary Tour brings the iconic band loved by generations to Maryville. Courtesy of The Clayton Center for the Arts.

I had never set foot in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre that resides on our campus until Oct. 7 of this year. The beautiful theatre lured me out of my dorm that evening to participate in the musical revelry that is the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 50th anniversary tour.

The Dirt Band (as they are called by fans) are not, however, just a run of the mill ensemble that your grandparents listen to. Few bands ever make it to a 30th anniversary; fewer still achieve the bragging rights that come with attaining a half-century career.

It was under this impending monolithic career that I took my seat and prepared for the show. I nearly wondered aloud if the band that I had heard as a kid would be recognizable at this point of their career. Would their voices and musical skills sound like the old tracks my parents played to me as a child?

The band opened with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” a vivacious folk song that called to mind the country rock sounds of the earliest incarnation of the Eagles. As the night progressed, the Dirt Band showed a knack for many such covers, including hits and standards from the genres of Bluegrass, Country, and Classic Rock.

Of these covers, a handful stand out as notable in a variety of ways. For instance, I was not expecting to be regaled with two Hank Williams songs, “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” and “Honky Tonkin’” or by a Bluegrass version of the Beatles’ “Get Back” and The Band’s “The Weight.”

The high point of the night, however, centered around one particular cover song played two separate times and in two different keys. It was clever move to play “Rocky Top” to the crowded theatre, as it was met with cheers by the audience who sang along.

In addition to covers, the band played an impressive array of original music during their set.

The band energetically and endearingly played such Dirt Band classics as “Working Man,” “Mr. Bojangles” and “Fishing in the Dark”—all of which encouraged crowd participation. For a band with 50 years under their belts, it was rather astounding to hear voices lacking the slightest ounce of wear.

It must be stated that, for a group of men approaching or past age 70, they still possess a steady form of onstage energy. As the night wore on, the members of the band didn’t. I suppose that when you spend your nights doing what you love, you seldom grow tired of it.

Early in the performance, lead singer Jeff Hanna, made the joke that the Dirt Band would probably still be playing shows at their 100-year anniversary. Few bands ever reach a half century anniversary, and as some of the attendees departed the theatre that night, it was perhaps easy for them to believe the joke. Fifty years, after all, is a long time…

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