FORT LORAMIE — Picking a set list from 50 years of music won’t be an easy task, but it’s a good problem to have for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
Rest assured, founding member John McEuen said fans who turn out Thursday for the legendary band’s performance will hear something worth smiling about.
The Grammy-winning NGDB will kick off the first full day of music at the 36th annual Country Concert at Hickory Hill Lakes with a 6 p.m. performance on the main stage.
McEuen — the man behind the banjo and a handful of other instruments — admitted choosing which songs to include is a bit daunting.
“It’s like your children — which children are you NOT going to invite on the canoe ride?” McEuen said during a recent phone interview from Montreal. “The sets just keep getting longer and longer.”
Pondering the question a bit more, McEuen tackled it from a purely mathematical angle:
“The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has recorded 350 songs, and let’s say half of them are lousy. Then you narrow it down to 70 or 80 … and if we played the best of those we’d have to cancel some of the other acts,” he joked. “But that’s one of the things that makes it exciting — we feel like we’re playing the cream of the crop.”
Instantly recognizable songs such as “Mr. Bojangles” and “Fishin’ in the Dark” come to mind, but McEuen — who shares the stage with bandmates Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden and Bob Carpenter — said the 50th anniversary tour has given the group an opportunity to revisit material from NGDB’s early days.
“One thing that people get to see when the Dirt Band plays is a lot of songs that haven’t been on stage in 30 or 40 years,” he said. “One song that was our first hit, ‘Buy For Me the Rain’ — we stopped doing that song (live) in 1970 — is going over like it was a current hit.”
McEuen said NGDB also plans to do a couple of songs off 1972’s ground-breaking “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” album, which featured traditional country music icons ranging from Roy Acuff and Mother Maybelle Carter to Earl Scruggs, Merle Travis and Doc Watson.
That platinum-selling album went on to be inducted into the U.S. Library of Congress and the Grammy Hall of Fame and stands as a singularly iconic piece of work. The band, likewise, has forged its own place in history along the way. NGDB was the first American band allowed to tour in the former Soviet Union, when they played 28 sold-out shows there in 1977, followed by memorable performances at the 1984 Olympic Games and the inaugural Farm Aid concert in 1985.
McEuen, now 70, said being able to experience moments such as those — and be a part of people’s lives through music — is something he’ll always be grateful for.
“It’s such a privilege to be in people’s lives. People will come up to us and say, ‘We carry your music in our car’ or ‘We listen to it in our boat,’” he said. “Looking out at that audience and seeing a great group of people that we get to play to … I take home an extreme sense of being fortunate that we get to do this and people get to see us do it.”
To learn more about the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, visit www.nittygritty.com. For info on John McEuen, go to www.johnmceuen.com. Ticket information and a full lineup for this year’s Country Concert at Hickory Hill Lakes can be found at www.countryconcert.com.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]