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The Nitty Gritty On Namedropping — Wireless At Billy Bob’s

June 22nd, 2009 · Tags:Arts · Cities

As the crowd rose to leave the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band concert at Billy Bob’s mega-tonk in Fort Worth, this lady says: “That was the best concert ever … except for The Eagles.”

Lady … The Eagles are “new kids in town” compared to The NitGrit … I mean, these guys date back to the time of The British Invasion, yet they have stayed true to their bluegrass, jug-band roots all these years. They good at it too.

Jeff Hanna, vocalist

Jeff Hanna, vocalist

I think writing about the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is a perfect gig for PingWi-Fi … I mean what is more wireless than acoustic music, right?

Ha … speaking of Brits, the Grits took a time out during the show to defend the cross they bare for their flavor of Americana music.

Banjo man-mandolin-steel guitar dude John McEuen said his brother questioned him when he first picked up the banjo: “If the banjo was any good, The Beatles would play one.” (Actually, that is an interesting thought, given the Fab Four’s beginning as a skiffle band …)

To support the point, front man Jeff Hanna piped in that “if the Beatles were any good, they would have played a banjo,” totally tongue in cheek … or was it?

But their best joke: “One thing is for sure, if The Beatles had been a bluegrass band, Paul McCartney’s divorce would have cost him a heckuva lot less money.”

Well … NGDB ain’t The Beatles, but they are an institution in their own right. Look up their Circle Be Unbroken recordings and look at the who’s who of American music playing on the projects. Look at their list of Grammys … recognized by The Library of Congress … Country Music Association album of the year … etc.

They were the first American band to represent behind the Iron Curtain, before the fall of communism, back in the old U.S.S.R. — now that’s some historical significance!

They immortalized the Bojangles, soft-shoe character in song, even though Ronald Clyde Crosby (JJW) penned the tune.

And they were contemporaries with another famous American bluegrass band — The Grateful Dead. In fact, they played a tune they learned from Jerry Garcia during the Fort Worth set.

The Dirt also played “Going Up The Country,” popularized by Canned Heat in the ’60s (Woodstock) for the Cowtown crowd. Check out the Canned at:

Canned Heat

And if you’ve been around a bit you know there is an entire movement surrounding Beatles music done through the moonshined, bloodshot eyes of hillbillies — known as Beatlegrass.

So, yes, NGDB covered a Beatles song … where are my notes? Was it “Get Back”? OH well …

John McEuen, strings

John McEuen, strings

If anyone had told me the Dirt Band would cover Bruce during the show, I would have guessed Hornsby … but no … they did a nice rocking version of Springsteen’s “Cadillac Ranch” (speaking of my favorite monument to road trips …).

For any Jimmy Buffet fans in the crowd, they played their hit that sounds as if it could have been inspired by the leader of the Parrot Heads, the islandy “American Dream.” (Actually Rodney Crowell penned the song.)

“I think Jamaican in the moonlight
Sandy beaches drinking rum every night
We got no money, mama, but we can go
We’ll split the difference, go to Coconut Grove …”

Everything was so well done … so tight … with vocals true to the caliber of the band’s recordings through the decades … so it was a pity when faulty sound equipment stole the show.

Do you know the song “The Broken Road” made into a hit by Rascal Flats? Guess whose song that is … NGDB! They played it the other night, featuring keyboardist Bobby Carpenter on vocals — the first guy to ever record the tune. Well … I still haven’t heard his version, because his microphone failed for the entire song … pity.

If you think this blog entry is long now, just be glad I don’t gush for a while about how good “Mr. Bojangles” was live. The sentimental side of me wanted to shed tears for the poignant tale of “how a dog and he traveled throughout the South” … but then the more cynical side of me wanted to get on stage and howl the part of “Teddy” the dog featured in the old recording … LOL

Thank goodness the band didn’t make us wait until the encore for Mr. Bojangles. They gave us what we wanted about two-thirds through the set.

They played a nice cover of Little Feat’s classic “The Weight” … “take a load off Annie” (confession, I always thought it was “Fanny” …)

Little Feat

Jimmie Fadden, harmonica, drums

Jimmie Fadden, harmonica, drums

Perhaps the most impressive thing of the show? How many drummers have you seen who play harmonica solos while they keep time on the skins? Drummer Jimmie Fadden still got it going on — singing, drumming, playing the harpoon.  Not to be outdone, McEuen demonstrated a difficult chord on the guitar, played with one finger … and his nose.

So … what would be the encore song?

What else — the gospel classic and Dirt mainstay “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”

Did I call it before the encore? … Well yes … but, I mean … they have three LPs named after the song … go figure.

Know what I saying?