Headed for show in Greeley, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band lights it up in Denver

October 20, 2018 

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Terry Frei 

 

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Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is at the top of the Paramount Theatre’s marquee Friday night in Denver.  

 

DENVER — On the night before the iconic group takes the stage at the Union Colony Civic Center in Greeley, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Friday night again illustrated why it’s laughingly inaccurate to portray it as simply another act drenched in and cashing in on nostalgia.

It still can bring it.

In Denver, the six-man Nitty Gritty Dirt Band lived up to founder, lead singer and  guitarist  Jeff Hanna’s recent characterization of the current band as an energizing mix of long-time and relatively new members that is getting better each time it performs.

(Among the places Hanna took that stand was in a pre-tour conversation with the Tribune, leading to my October 15 column. Read it here.)

Monday’s Greeley Tribune, with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on the cover and a conversation with guitarist and lead singer Jeff Hanna prominently featured.

At the Paramount Theatre Friday night,  Hanna repeatedly poked fun at the group’s senior-citizen status.

Yet while noting it was formed 52 years ago,  he never mentioned that he is 71 years old.

That was smart strategy, because part of the fun was to either try to do the math or to sense the mental math going on around you.

He’s gotta be, what, 70?

At the very least?

Hanna neither looks nor sounds anything close to that.

The true Dirtheads, those who have cracked double-figures for the band’s shows, whether they live in New York or Greeley, have a sense for all of that.

But at a 2018 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band show, it’s still mind-boggling from the start, and it becomes more so with each song.

Hanna remains the front-man star, doing most of the talking and kibitzing with the audience, plus the familiar turns as the lead singer.

Maybe this is an accident of the set list, but I doubt it. Late in the show, it’s almost as if he taunts you. After all the singing and secondary guitar work, as the others take solo turns as if it’s a calculated rotation, Hanna cranks it up on the guitar.

Whoa. This guy can play, too!

As Hanna discussed with the Tribune, the real genius here is the adaptability of the group.

It isn’t even about genre. Country? Americana? Country rock?

Why split hairs? Why insist on categorization because Billboard does?

The most recent changes in the makeup include the additions of Ross Holmes (violin, fiddle, mandolin) and Jaime Hanna, Jeff’s son (guitar). As it turns out, Jaime eventually shows late in the night that he’s a major-league vocalist, too, and all six in the band sing.

Saying he steals the show sells other short, but … well … Holmes, 34, steals the show.

The neat part of that is that you get the feeling that the others are cheering him on. Actually, you even see it.

Much of the Friday night show, and I assume it will be the same Saturday night in Greeley and beyond, was an obviously calculated distribution of the featured turns, including with the other Nitty Gritty Dirt Band veterans, Bob Carpenter and Jimmie Fadden.

Carpenter is a wizard on the keyboards and Fadden repeatedly mystifies with his work on the drums and harmonica. As Hanna marvels, Fadden plays both “simultaneously … at the same time.”

 The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

 

Saturday, October 20, 7:30 p.m.

Monfort Concert Hall at Union Colony Civic Center

701 10th Ave.


 

Yet as Hanna promised, the group avoids making the checking off of the big songs into a by-rote performance of the “hits.”

They become opportunities to showcase the diverse talents on stage.

I admit I was surprised that “Fishin’ in the Dark” on Friday night in Denver was more of a singalong than “Mr. Bojangles.” Maybe that will change Saturday night in Greeley. Maybe not.