There aren't very many bands that stay together – or many times alive – long enough to celebrate their 45th anniversary.
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is one of the few. And even more remarkably, the band’s current line-up playing shows throughout the country in honor of this milestone (Bob Carpenter, Jimmie Fadden, Jeff Hanna, and John McEuen ) is made up entirely of either original members or early-adapters to the band.
So to see a group with such history and longevity take the stage at the intimate and pristine KCD Theater Friday night was a special experience.
The band spent their ninety-minute set surveying their full career and putting their own touch on songs from classic artists they’ve played alongside throughout their career.
After taking the stage with “Cosmic Cowboy,” the quartet hit their stride on a roaring version of Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and, a few songs later, took on Paul McCartney and the Fab Four.
"If the Beatles had been a bluegrass band, Paul McCartney's divorce would have been a LOT cheaper," guitarist and singer Jeff Hanna joked. "It would have just been 'I want the truck - and let me keep the dog, too.'" The attentive crowd laughed as the band broke into a twangy, banjo-heavy version of "Get Back."
As the set wore on, the band took turns letting each member own the stage and showcase their own talents. Jeff Hanna and Bob Carpenter played an acoustic version of their song “Bless the Broken Road,” that won a Grammy after it was recorded by Rascal Flatts. Jimmie Fadden showed off on his harmonica, and John McEuen made jokes about not understanding Twitter before leading the audience through “The Ballad of Jed Clampitt” on banjo.
“You don’t know all of the words to the National Anthem, but you don’t skip a beat on that,” McEuen half-joked with just a hint of actual disapproval, betraying himself as the grandfatherly figure he has become.
The unanticipated highlight of the night with Nitty Gritty actually came before the band even took the stage. Larkin Poe, a bluegrass band from Georgia, opened the evening and almost stole the show. Led by twenty-something sisters Megan and Rebecca Lovell, the group showed a knack for strong vocals and impeccable mandolin and steel guitar, and spent their time on stage maneuvering between classic styling and inventive arrangements. Half-way through their 45 minutes on stage, the quartet even showcased a cover version of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop.”
Photo: Brian Eichenberger