Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performed at the original Mississippi River Festival (MRF) in 1975 and 1976. The Mississippi River Festival Revisited’s (MRFR) double-bill blockbuster show with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band includes the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, who played the MRF during the 1976 and 1977 seasons.
EDWARDSVILLE — Nitty Gritty Dirt Band came a long way since their days as teenagers in a jug band of the same name.
The guys evolved quickly to country rock as they discovered music such as that of The Byrds and their seminal album, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo.”
“We liked the sound of that,” said founding member, vocalist and guitarist Jeff Hanna during an interview with the Telegraph, ahead of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s concert Friday, marking the Mississippi River Festival Revisited’s second show, with the band now on its acclaimed 50th Anniversary Tour. Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performed at the original Mississippi River Festival (MRF) in 1975 and 1976.
The double-bill blockbuster show with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, who played the MRF during the 1976 and 1977 seasons, starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 29, at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Vadalabene Center.
Celebrating their Golden Anniversary together, the iconic and profoundly influential Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, often are cited as a catalyst for an entire movement in country rock and American roots music.
With multi-platinum and gold records, strings of top 10 hits, such as “Fishin’ In The Dark” and “Mr. Bojangles,” multiple Grammy, IBMA, CMA awards and nominations, the band’s accolades continue to accumulate.
Their groundbreaking “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” album has been inducted into the U.S. Library of Congress, as well as the Grammy Hall of Fame. Their recording of “Mr. Bojangles” also was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2010. In 2014 “Fishin’ In the Dark,” the longest recurrent country radio song of all time, was certified platinum for digital downloads by the RIAA.
Today, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band also includes founding members Jimmie Fadden, on drums, harmonica and vocals; John McEuen on banjo, fiddle, guitar and mandolin; and, “the new guy” since 1977, Bob Carpenter, on keyboards, accordion and vocals. They continue their non-stop touring in their 50th year together.
Recent tour stops included Stagecoach, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and now the Mississippi River Festival Revisited (MRFR).
The tour and related projects for Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 50th anniversary are extensive. Last September, they played to a sold-out crowd at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville with some close friends — Rosanne Cash, Alison Krauss, Vince Gill to name a few — to film a 50th anniversary special, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken: Farther Along,” airing on PBS since Marchand now on DVD.
“One cool thing for us — and has a lot to do with PBS — people don’t go, ‘You guys are still playing?’” Hanna said continuing to explain with a wry sense of humor. “We’ve toured every year since 1966. I think that’s one thing that sets our band apart — we never stopped. We’re a working band. We enjoy playing and we didn’t have the luxury of a villa in France to retreat to.”
On tour, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band plays hits spanning their entire career, which started strong in 1967, with their first hit to reach the top 40, “Buy For Me The Rain.”
“That was pretty great for teenage guys in L.A.; it was number one in L.A., where we lived. We thought we were invincible,” Hanna recalled about the band’s breakout days after forming in California in 1966.
The guys re-learned the song for the 50th tour, along with several others from their early days. They will play about two hours Friday from their deep songbook from each decade of their career through the present.
“One thing fun for us is dusting off songs we haven’t played in 35 years,” Hanna said. “People love it.”
They really hit the big time with “Mr. Bojangles,” originally written and recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker, released by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1970, becoming a top 10 single in 1971.
“That was our first taste of real success. It’s a wonderful tune,” Hanna said.
The group has lasted longer than virtually any other country-based group of their era with multi-platinum and gold records. Their groundbreaking 1972 “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” album assembled the living legends of country, bluegrass and mountain music to record what many critics have hailed as “an American treasure.”
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band paved the way for generations of what’s now known as today’s “cross genre movement” and “Americana.”
“Music relating to and probably our own, in terms of current acts in Americana, I feel as if we’re under that term, as well,” Hanna said. “The term didn’t exist when we started out. I personally really love the genre, it’s very broad, inclusive.”
Newer and emerging Americana artists also keep Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s legacy alive, Hanna said.
“Another thing about Americana that I love, it’s not shiny pop music, it’s authentic, less ageism,” he noted.
Most recently Nitty Gritty Dirty Band was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, class of 2015, along with Poco, Firefall and Manassas.
From the original Mississippi River Festival’s debut in 1969 through the summer of 1980, the outdoor music series attracted more than 1 million concertgoers. Memorable performances by legendary artists still keep memories of the MRF alive through books, websites and social media. Now music fans can relive MRF memories — and create new ones — at the Mississippi River Festival Revisited concert series sponsored by the Bank of Edwardsville and presented by Carmen Concerts.
Tickets for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the Ozark Mountain Daredevils cost $20 general admission; $30, $40 and $50 reserved; and $80 for front row, which includes a meet-and-greet with the bands.
Tickets are on sale at www.ticketreturn.com. For more information about the Mississippi River Festival Revisited concert series, visit www.carmenconcerts.com, email email@example.com or call 618-670-3394.
Reach Jill Moon at 618-208-6448 and Twitter @jill_moon.