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