After more than five decades leading the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Jeff Hanna said he still looks forward to performing.
“More than anything, we love playing live,” said Hanna. “We love getting in the studio and creating as well, but the thing that really keeps it alive for us is going out and playing in front of people.”
The legendary band is stopping by the South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton for a concert on Nov. 8, with Nice Horse opening for them.
“The smaller venues are great for us, because not only can we play for people, but we can engage them, we can talk to them,” said Hanna. “We play a lot of festivals as well, where there can be 60 or 70,000 people in the summertime, but it is tough to hit that back row.”
With a songbook stretching back 50 years and countless hits, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has a lot of music to draw from. Hanna said the crowd at the SOEC is going to hear some favourites, for sure.
“We try to hit the highlights. There are certain songs you are going to hear, like Cadillac Ranch and Fishing in the Dark and Mr. Bojangles. We can’t get out of the building without playing those,” said Hanna.
We’re grateful for those. It’s great to have tunes that people can relate to on such a big level. We are going for some deeper cuts as well. We touch on something from pretty much every record we made. We go way back now.”
The lineup of the band has changed over the years since the band formed in 1966, but Hanna is excited about the current lineup, which incorporates Ross Holmes (Mumford and Sons) on fiddle, mandolin, and vocals and Hanna’s son Jaime (The Mavericks, Hanna-McEuen, Garry Allan) on guitar and background vocals.
“Since May of this year, we’ve officially been a six-piece band with Jaime and Ross, and our buddy Jim Photoglo on bass,” said Hanna. That’s in addition to NGDB co-founder Jimmy Fadden on harmonica and drums, and long-time member Bob Carpenter on keyboard, accordion and bass.
“One of the things people have remarked on is the vocals, they say it is probably the strongest vocal lineup we’ve had,” said Hanna, adding that Holmes came out for a couple of shows in January and Jaimie came out and sat in on a couple.
“It was so magical, it was such a great vibe from the get-go,” said Hanna. “In terms of the energy in the band, it’s the best its been in decades.”
Being in a band for 50 years, you are going to have your disagreements with each other, Hanna admitted, and you can forget sometimes how much fun it is going to be.
“Right now, it is just a blast for all of us,” said Hanna. “I am really glad I get to play music with my kid, it’s fantastic.
“He’s been hearing this music his entire life. As a kid, he would come out on the road with us.”
Hanna said his son has earned his spot in the band, with some impressive musical credentials of his own.
“He’s done this for a long time, without being in the shadow of his dad,” said Hanna. “It’s fantastic, we’ve had a great time together. I’ve not gotten to spend this much time with my kid in years.
“It is so cool and he is a good guy and a great musician and a really talented singer and writer. I’m really grateful for that.”
Doors open for the concert at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 8 at the SOEC, with the concert starting at 7:30 p.m.
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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