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Nitty Gritty Dirt Band brings its Americana sound to Spokane this month

Courtesy of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

The band will play the Fox Theater on August 21.

A band that has long stood at the top of the Americana and folk music scene is coming to Spokane.

In 1966 a group of young musicians formed a jug band in southern California. After a few years playing a mix of string band music, ragtime, and country blues, they decided to focus their musical energy on an up-and-coming genre in the L.A. music scene, that was being played by such bands as the Flying Burrito Brothers and Poco.

“We changed gears and became the genre-specific California country-rock band, and that was kind of thing going on at the places we were hanging out like the legendary club the Troubadour in LA,” said Jeff Hanna, a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. “We landed on that, and it worked real well with our sort of folk and bluegrass backgrounds we had. Without over-simplifying it, that kind of describes still where we are right now.”

The group is scheduled to play Spokane on August 21.

The band first rose to prominence with the Jerry Jeff Walker song, “Mr. Bojangles,” in 1971.

But the album it is most identified with is “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a three-record set released the following year that brought the band together with legendary classic country performers. Among them: Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Roy Acuff, and Mother Maybelle Carter, who had been a founding member of the Carter family, which, in the 1920s, became one of the first commercial country musical groups.

The band was able to get these fabled musicians in part because banjo player Earl Scruggs had heard an instrumental he had written performed by John McEuen on the Dirt Band's previous album. Scruggs helped spread the word that the band hoped to record with country players from an earlier age.

“Earl and the Scruggs and Carter families were good friends, so he asked Maybelle Carter if she wanted to take part,” Hanna said. “I remember him coming in the studio and saying, 'How would you like Maybelle Carter coming in?' I was like, 'Get out of here!' I mean she was my first guitar hero."

Hanna says “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” brought a whole new generation of young fans to hear and appreciate the music of older musicians. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's latest album pays tribute to another of his heroes.

“We all came from that generation where [Bob] Dylan was certainly one of the Mount Rushmore figures musically. I saw Dylan in 1964 at my high school in Long Beach. That was a profound experience for me,” he said.

The group released its “Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Does Dylan” this year.

At its performance in Spokane later this month, Jeff Hanna says band members will cover songs from throughout the band’s career when they take the stage at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. In keeping with their appreciation for musicians of an earlier era, he says an older art deco theater is the band members’ favorite type of venue to play.