LEARNING FROM THE BEST | NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND’S JOHN MCEUEN SHARES HIS LEGACY — AND TALENT — WITH THE NEXT GENERATION
On a sweltering September Sunday, Ojai was the site of a rare and wonderful performance. No one advertised it, and the occasion was kept deliberately hush-hush. But the lucky few who showed up at Topa Mountain Winery on Sept. 18 enjoyed an afternoon of fantastic bluegrass music, from a family with a rich legacy.
John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band took the stage with sons Jonathan and Nathan for an unforgettable afternoon of music and storytelling.
McEuen is one of the most respected names in bluegrass and folk music. The singer/songwriter is a master of the banjo, guitar, fiddle, piano and mandolin, and has worked with some of the biggest names in country, Americana and rock ’n’ roll. Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash are just a few of the famous musicians with whom McEuen has performed or recorded over a career that spans five decades.
As a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, he helped pave the way for roots and contemporary country rock. The band is currently touring in celebration of its 50th anniversary, and McEuen took time off between Orange County and Nashville to make a special appearance with his sons in Ojai.
McEuen has a strong association with Ventura County. “Ventura was our first out-of-town job,” McEuen recalls. “We played at the Hey You Coffee House for $90. We each ended up with about $12, which basically paid for the gas.” The band went on to bigger and better things, of course: It was featured in the movie Paint Your Wagon; and its 1972 album Will the Circle Be Unbroken was such a showcase of musicianship and talent that it was inducted into the National Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress. Strings of hits, critically acclaimed albums, awards and an ever-changing lineup followed.