On Scene: A Gritty night at the pavilion


— People clutching drinks were still filing into the Strings Pavilion when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band jumped into its first song July 3.

I admit, I was skeptical of the crowd. A lot of folks were wearing heels and shawls and such. They looked polished and preppy, not ready to rock with a raucous bluegrass band. Would the audience get into the down-home music? As someone whose mother taught her that if a mandolin's playing, you ought to be dancing, I was nervous.

I should have known better.

The venue had sold out. The organizers opened up lawn seating at 9 a.m. the day of the show, and people were lining up for tickets at 7 a.m., Strings spokeswoman Julie Taulman said. The 100 lawn seats sold out in 20 minutes.

The crowd reflected that enthusiasm, participating vigorously. The audience members clapped, sang and hollered, their cheers booming around the beautiful new venue.

The band, which I hadn't seen before, steamed through an outstanding set. They nailed "Will the Circle be Unbroken," "Long Hard Road," "Face on the Cutting Room Floor" and other numbers.

Lead singer Jeff Hanna and his bandmates tossed in plenty of banter. They joked about a brother who said that if the banjo were any good, the Beatles would have used it.

"What if the Beatles had been a bluegrass band?" Hanna asked. The Dirt Band then launched into a sprightly version of the Fab Four's "Get Back."

Hanna then joked about being cloudy in the head because of cold medication.

"We got to tour with Willie Nelson a lot over the years, speaking of being a little foggy," he said. That took the band to a song drummer Jimmie Fadden wrote at Farm-Aid in 1985: "Workin' Man (Nowhere to go)."

The Dirt Band show a particular highlight for me. Hearing "Mr. Bojangles," I marveled at hearing a crowd that spanned generations sing along.

As the audience stood and roared for an encore, I was ashamed. I judged the good folks of Steamboat prematurely, forgetting that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band has had 40-some years to collect fans of all stripes.

They closed with "The Weight" by The Band. After another standing ovation, I tumbled out into the night with a sheepish grin on my face, thrilled.


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