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The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Comes Full Circle with 50th Anniversary Celebration in Nashville

by Rich and Laura Lynch

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band played the first of two much-anticipated performances on Friday, December 02, 2022 at the CMA Theater to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the release of their heralded album Will the Circle be Unbroken. The venue choice was appropriate, too, as the spectacular sounding, intimate and circular shaped room located within the confines of the Country Music Hall of Fame provided a welcoming environment for fans and band alike.


The whole crew at the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 50th anniversary celebration in Nashville.

Yes, this was sure to be a special night as founding members Jeff Hanna and Jimmie Fadden, along with Bob Carpenter, were reunited with long-time former Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member John McEuen and former founding member Les Thompson for this momentous occasion - and just like on the original record they would be joined by many special guests and some of the finest players in Nashville including Jerry Douglas, Carlene Carter, Shawn Camp, Charlie Cushman, Stuart Duncan, Trey Hensley, Dirt Band members Jaime Hanna and Ross Holmes, and many more surprise guests.


Longtime members John McEuen and Jeff Hanna reunite in Nashville.

The evening was set up as a night to remember what happened just across the river in 1972 at Woodland Studios (survived two tornadoes and the NGDB!) in East Nashville when Earl Scruggs, Roy Acuff, Doc Watson, Mother Maybelle Carter, Jimmy Martin, and many others joined the Dirt Band to record a 38-track set that according to Billboard Magazine, "managed to cross multiple gaps - generational, cultural, stylistic and geographical - in an era when America was divided by urban violence and the Vietnam War." Film clips were shown throughout the night to underscore the historical importance of the original sessions.


The circle remained unbroken in Nashville.

There were many musical highlights over the course of the quality two-hour show but our top moment came when vocalist John Cowan added his powerful chops to help lift "Dark As A Dungeon" from dreary to divine. Shawn Camp added a good helping of those Johnny Cash vibes during several slots on the revolving door stage that saw the cast constantly shift from song to song. Trey Hensley impressed on guitar and proved just why he took the bluegrass world by storm when he first stepped on the Grand Ole Opry stage as a precocious 11-year old more than two decades ago. Of course, the night wouldn't be complete without the show closing title song we all came to hear that added an exclamation point to an already excellent musical experience.


John Cowan provided our musical highlight of the night.

As instrumental as the players were there was a significant amount of equipment on stage including a single drum, stand-up bass and fiddles and banjos galore. When Jeff Hanna picked up a washboard he said this was actually his second scratcher as his first and the one used on the record being honored - was on display in the big hall behind him at the CMHOF. Carlene Carter pointed out that the autoharp being used for the show was made from the wood of a tree planted by her grandfather also containing a bridge that was constructed from a piece of the Carter family cottage.


The circle remained unbroken in Nashville.

The record itself "had a significant long-tail effect. It went gold in 1973, platinum in 1997, and earned induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry. Additionally, six of the album's tracks were heard during episode six of the 2019 PBS documentary Country Music: A Film by Ken Burns," continues Billboard's Tom Roland in a piece contextualizing the album's impact. Now, a new book - Will the Circle Be Unbroken: The Making of a Landmark Album, 50th Anniversary - beautifully illustrated by John McEuen gives an inside look at the making of WTCBU covering each of its thirty-eight songs and sharing previously unseen photographs taken by the author and his brother Bill McEuen, who produced the recording. Essays by Dirt Band members Jeff Hanna, Jimmy Ibbotson, Jimmie Fadden, and Les Thompson; foreword by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan.


Two big memorable nights at the CMA Theater in Nashville.

Related Links: For more information on the NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Nitty Gritty Dirt Band | CMA Theater


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