For five decades, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has remained one of the most iconic names in American roots music. With one foot planted in the traditions of country-folk and the other pointing toward something new and unexpected, the group continues to tour and release music, influencing multiple generations of audiences and artists along the way. Nearly a dozen of those artists join the group on this year’s Nitty Gritty Dirt Band & Friends – Fifty Years, Circlin’ Back! PBS special, which won a Midsouth Regional EMMY® for Special Event Coverage at the 31st annual award ceremony at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Hall on Jan. 21st. Produced for PBS by Todd Jarrell, Todd Mayo, Steve Schweidel, and directed by James Yockey, Circlin’ Back ran nationwide in conjunction with a PBS pledge drive in March 2016 and is the most successful music-based fundraising effort for the network in decades.
Recorded live at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band & Friends captures a group of longtime road warriors who’ve yet to lose their grit, joined onstage by John Prine, Sam Bush, Vince Gill, Jerry Jeff Walker, Alison Krauss, Rodney Crowell, Byron House, and Jerry Douglas. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (and early Dirt Band member) Jackson Browne joined in, along with longtime member Jimmy Ibbotson, while a sold-out crowd sings along in the background. From country classics to deep cuts, the tracklist finds bandmates Jeff Hanna (guitars/vocals), Jimmie Fadden (drums/harmonica/vocals), Bob Carpenter (keyboards/accordion/vocals) and John McEuen (banjo/fiddle/guitar/mandolin) swapping harmonies, trading solos, and shining new light on a catalog of vital, vibrant music.
The Midsouth EMMY® chapter received nearly 900 entries, which were judged by the Northwest Chapter based in Seattle, the Suncoast Chapter in Florida, and the Upper Midwest Chapter in Minneapolis. Nominations were announced on Thursday, November 17 and the video stream is archived.
Long before Americana music had a name, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band helped lead the charge, mixing elements of country, bluegrass, folk, mountain music, and rock & roll into a sound that celebrated the full range of American music. The guys were traditionalists and trendsetters, performing songs that nodded to the past while still pushing toward the future. Released in 1972 – just six years after the group formed in Southern California – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will the Circle Be Unbroken still stands as one of the most beloved albums in the country catalog, pairing the young band with legends like Roy Acuff, Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, and Mother Maybelle Carter.
Many decades have passed since that milestone album’s release, with the members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band now enjoying their own legendary status. They continue to blur lines between genres, however, and Circlin’ Back accomplishes something very similar to the classic Will the Circle Be Unbroken, pairing the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with the hit-makers, rule-breakers, and iconic figures of today’s roots music community. This time, Hanna, Fadden, Carpenter, and McEuen are the elder statesmen, passing down their influence and inspiration to a younger class without giving up the torch just yet. There’s more music to be made, after all. More shows to play. Another half-century to chase down. The circle rolls on.