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Getting down to the real Nitty Gritty

Music | June 20th, 2024

HPR chats with Bob Carpenter of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

By Sabrina Hornung

sabrina@hpr1.com

When asked if it was fair to consider the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as “the godfathers of contemporary Americana” during our interview, longstanding band member Bob Carpenter chuckled and said, “I think that's for someone else to decide.” Fans can do exactly that during the band’s Farewell Tour, which swings through North Dakota and Minnesota in June.

“I don't know,” Carpenter continued. “I'd say the one thing that that first ‘Circle’ album did, was it started the conversation about people coming together and making records together with each other’s songs.”

The album he’s referring to was the first of three albums that made up, “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” released in November 1972. The band collaborated with a number of famous bluegrass and country western musicians, from Johnny Cash to Earl Scruggs. When asked if they were met with any tension from their collaborators due to their long hair and counter-cultural aesthetic during the Vietnam era, Carpenter was thoughtful.

“Back in those days, in the early 70s, there was a lot of that going on, and none of that really happened on ‘Circle,’” he said. “You know, once you start playing the music, all that stuff goes away, because people realize that you appreciate and you're a student and a fan of what they do. So all those barriers come down.”

Who would have thought that these collaborations would aid in bridging a cultural divide, further proving that music truly is a universal language? It’s all part of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band legacy. The band was established in 1968 and now in 2024 — 58 years later —they are embarking on their farewell tour.

“Rather than just disappearing, we wanted to have a chance to thank the fans and say, you know, if you ever want to see us, now's the time. Because when we go into a town now, this will be the last time we play in that town,” said Carpenter. “So that's the farewell part of it.”

Favorite memories on the road included playing the first Farm Aid concert with Willie Nelson in 1986, with close to 90,000 people in attendance. Carpenter recalls playing Russia and Red Rocks, touring with other acts, meeting folks on the road, participating in various specials, and accepting three Grammys. He considered recording the “Will the Circle be Unbroken” albums to be one of the band’s boldest highlights.

“That was intense,” he recalled. “That was two songs a day every day… with the different artists and it was great. So with that said, that's definitely a high point.”

There are a lot of emotions surrounding the farewell tour. But the band has responded by focusing on the fundamentals.

“Our focus now is staying in shape, making sure we can still sing really good and play really good,” Carpenter said. “We're rehearsing some new, old songs to put into the shows. So that's where our focus is. That's where our energy goes. We'll think about being emotional probably when this is all over.”

This isn’t the first time that the band has had to think about the end of its touring era. The pandemic already forced that reckoning.

“Emotionally, I think we went through this back in 2020, like everybody did,” he continued. ”We got pulled off the road in the middle of a tour because everybody was dying from COVID. And when we went home, we hadn’t played another note on the road for a year and a half, and we thought maybe that was it. We were done. And we didn't even get to realize it. All of a sudden, you're done. You know? So I think emotionally, we thought that was it for us. So we went through that, then so we don't have to go through that now.”

IF YOU GO:

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Farewell Tour

Friday, June 28, 7 p.m.

Shooting Star Casino

777 S. Casino Road, Mahnomen

For tickets: https://tinyurl.com/y7kwbenf

Saturday, June 29, 7:30 p.m.

The Belle Mehus Auditorium,

201 N. 6th Street, Bismarck


For tickets: https://www.bismarckeventcenter.com/events/2024/nitty-gritty-dirt-band

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