“That was an idea that our manager, Steve Schweidel, and the guys from Bluegrass Underground had,” lead singer Jeff Hanna tells The Boot. “They got together and thought that would be a great concept …
“We did a PBS special when we did our third Circle record, around 2002, and we shot that in Houston as a pledge drive,” he adds. “We’re just huge fans of PBS. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t love public television.”
The Ryman concert also served as the official launch of the band’s 50th anniversary tour, celebrating five decades of making music.
“It’s a birthday that most people don’t get to have as far as musicians, for starters,” Hanna notes. “We would be crazy not to celebrate it. It’s not something we intended when we started out …”
With more than 30 albums to their credit, Hanna acknowledges that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band have plenty of music that they could perform during their live shows, but they promise to play their beloved hits each night.
“I know as a fan as well, when I go see somebody play, because I’ve been doing this for decades, I’ll be kind of wanting to hear those songs that mattered so much to me 15 or 20 years ago,” Hanna says. “When they pull out the new stuff, it requires a little bit of patience and work from the audience’s part …
“The level of energy you get back from the audience when you’re doing a tune like “Fishin’ [in the Dark]” or “[Mr.] Bojangles,” it’s a really special feeling to see people’s faces and hear them singing along with you,” he continues. “It seems like a cliche, but it really is pretty intoxicating.”
While the NGDB have a packed tour schedule over the next few months, the lead singer admits that life on the road is much different than when they were first starting out.
“It’s more taxing at this point in our lives to go out on the road than it was when we were kids,” Hanna admits. “We could go days just getting sleep on a tour bus, and that was enough, and now you look forward to that hour nap in the middle of the day. Sleep is really valuable to us at this point. We really want to be on our toes and energetic when we hit the stage.
” … Our habits have changed as we’ve gotten older,” he continues. “We’ve done a lot less partying out on the road than we used to when we were kids. You have to dial it down and choose your opportunities. It’s hard work. You can get away with a little bit of that when you’re a kid, but not so much when you’re older.”
Check the PBS website to find out when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 50th anniversary special will be airing in your area. The band’s upcoming concert schedule is available at NittyGritty.com.